Storyline Design Process:

Building an NGSS Storyline with Learning Performances





Step 1:  Bundle the Performance Expectations

Identify all performance expectations within the storyline.

NOTE: 3-6 standards is a reasonable number for a unit of instruction. Elementary units can be found on the Standards page. Lower elementary have three science units and upper elementary have four science units. The NGSS doesn't specify units for middle school and high school.


Step 2:  Anchor Model

Create an anchor chart (i.e. conceptual model) for the entire unit.  The anchor chart should include the content and concepts for all standards in the unit.  These terms be found in the vocabulary section on each of the individual standards pages. (e.g. MS-LS1-2)  Sample anchor charts are also included on the website.  (e.g. 1-LS3-1

Consistent icons and graphics should be used in the anchor chart and in the models that students create in the unit.  Appropriate Crosscutting Concepts should be added to the anchor chart whenever possible to give clarity to the content. 

Note:  The anchor chart is used by teachers to plan and implement the unit and should not be posted in the room at the beginning of the unit.  It should be built with the help of the students.

Step 3:  Enduring Understandings

Write Enduring Understandings for the storyline.  Reference the anchor chart while completing the next three steps. 

NOTE: Enduring Understandings are important, transferrable ideas that students should retain years from now.  

Step 4Essential Questions

Identify 1-2 Essential Questions for the unit.

NOTE: Essential Questions are open-ended and provocative.

Step 5Order of Performance Expectations

Determine the order of experiences for the storyline.  Think strategically and determine the order you will address the concepts on the Anchor Chart.

NOTE: Do not order the unit through the lens of a science teacher.

You might consider the starting place based on…
Concepts that are more familiar, relevant or interesting to students.
Work from large concepts to smaller concepts (e.g. In Biology, you could move from the organism to the organ to the tissue to the cell. In Chemistry, you could move from a glass of water to the atoms within the water.)

Step 6:  Assessments

Review or create exemplar performance assessment/s to ensure that all concepts have been captured on the Anchor Chart.

NOTE: Look at the STEM Gauge, Next Generation Science Assessments, and the Stanford NGSS Assessment Project for direction. Sample performance assessments are also included on the website.

Step 7:  Phenomena - Anchoring and Supporting

Brainstorm a list of at least twenty phenomenon for the unit.  Sample phenomenon are included on each of the individual standards pages and can also be found on the Phenomenon Master List.  A scientific phenomenon is any event that is observable and isn't always phenomenal.  Select an anchoring phenomenon from this list that address the majority of standards.  The remaining phenomenon can be used as supporting phenomenon within the unit.  Students should be attempting to construct explanations of scientific phenomenon everyday in class.  An anchoring phenomenon guides the entire unit and should address the heart of the unit based on all of the standards.


Anchoring phenomenon:

  • Build curiosity and wonder

  • Are complex - the answer should not be apparent right away if at all

  • Are local

  • Change as needed from year to year

  • Sample - The Collapsing Train Car

Supporting phenomenon:

  • Support student learning of individual concepts

  • Have simple explanations

  • Used to be called "demonstrations"

  • Sample - Fire Piston

Step 8Learning Performances

Create common learning performances that are essential for all students to experience.  Each learning performance should include a core idea, a science and engineering practice, and a crosscutting concept.  Use the planning cards to created the learning performances based on the anchoring and supporting phenomenon.



LP1: Students will ask questions about energy transfer within a particle's motion, thermal energy, insulation phenomenon.

LP2: Students will develop a model to demonstrate energy transfer and particle motion within a particles, motion, thermal energy, insulation phenomenon.

LP3: Students will observe and analyze the temperature and feeling of an object/material and how it feels. (energy and matter)

NOTE: Learning Performances (LPs) are the storyline of the unit. They are the mileposts within the unit.

Learning Performance statements always begin with, “Students will…”, and include Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Content.

Step 9:  Learning Experiences

Use a bulleted list to brainstorm possible learning experiences that will address the learning performance.  Learning performances should build towards performance expectations in the unit.  

NOTE: Learning Performances are set and required experiences for students.  The strategies used in the classroom are flexible and determined by the teacher and based on best practice. 


LP1: Students will ask questions about energy transfer within a particle's motion, thermal energy, insulation phenomenon.

  • Gather questions
  • Sort/classify questions
  • Prompt them toward asking energy transfer questions ("How is it possible for this massive train car to collapse with nothing crushing it?")
  • Save questions for later reflection (notebooks or wonder wall)

NOTE: Learning Performances are set and required experiences for students.

The strategies used are flexible and determined by the teacher and based on best practice.

Step 10:  Storyline Title

Rename the unit to reflect the heart of the learning based on the concepts captured on the Anchor Chart.

NOTE: Do not use the unit titles as given in NGSS. A first grade unit should not be named From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes.