How to Plan The Story of the World History Curriculum

I’m so glad I found The Story of the World (SotW) curriculum for history!  So far we’ve used and loved Volumes 1 through 3, and I just finished planning Volume 4 for the upcoming school year.

I’ve already talked about how we customize SotW in our homeschool. In this post, I’ll show you how I tackle planning it. 

Step 1: Lay the Groundwork

Before I even crack open the SotW book, I get a few other things in place to make the job easier. 

First, I figure out our school calendar for the year. You can see (in way too much detail) how I do that here. This gives me two key pieces of information I’ll need for planning out SotW: the number of school weeks and the timing of breaks

Now, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you might guess that there will be a spreadsheet involved here somewhere soon. And, if you guessed that, you’d be absolutely right.

The second thing I do is setup my Lesson Planning Spreadsheet for the school year. Since this isn’t my first rodeo, I just make a copy of last year’s file, delete the old lessons and I’m ready to go. At this point, it looks like this…

Blank Lesson Planning Spreadsheet for homeschool

If history is the first subject I’m planning, I update dates, breaks and holidays to reflect this year’s school calendar, which doesn’t take long.

Homeschool lesson planning spreadsheet noting updated dates, holidays and break weeks

Once this is all setup, it’s smooth sailing. Well, actually we haven’t really even started yet… so I guess there’s still a long way to go… but the sailing will be a lot smoother with the groundwork in place.

Step 2: Outline the Year

If you’re reading this, I presume you’re already set on using Story of the World (though this method can work for most subjects and curricula). And I’m guessing you already know which volume you’ll be covering. 

If not, though, the next step will be to decide which of the four SotW volumes you’ll be covering this year and how much of it you want to get through. We’ve always done one volume each year, but you could easily do one volume over two years or just cover certain topics and skip others.

Once you know the scope, you can outline the year by figuring out which chapter(s) to do each week. I do this by looking at the Table of Contents which lists all the Chapters plus all the sub-sections. 

Since there are 42 chapters in each SotW book and our school year is typically 36 weeks long, I can almost do one chapter per week but not quite. So, I look for short chapters (with only one sub-section), or topics that seem like they go together, and I plan to cover two chapters a week a few times to get down to 36 lessons.

Story of the World Volume 1 Table of Contents with note showing combination of shorter lessons

This year I struck homeschool-mom-gold because the previous owner of my copy of Volume 4 already did the same thing! She had penciled in weeks to double-up that made sense to me so I just used the same chapter breakdown. 

I write down the chapters in my spreadsheet and it looks like this…

Homeschool history planning spreadsheet showing curriculum chapter titles outlined

Step 3: Add the Details

Here comes the fun part. 

Unfortunately, it’s also the time-consuming part. 

But, don’t worry. You can add as much or as little detail as you want to at this point. Some people (sadly, not me…) could stop here just knowing the chapter for the week and spontaneously choose activities and books throughout the year. 

I, however, need a little more of a plan in place for things to work well (or at all). So this is when I buckle down and spend quite a few hours planning over the summer to give myself an “open-and-go” experience during the school year.

I start by opening up to the first chapter in the Activity Guide to get the lay of the land. 

Side Note: If you haven’t gotten the SotW Activity Guide, you might as well just go ahead and buy it now. You can get it used for around $10 last time I checked and it’s SO FULL of awesomeness. If you’re using SotW for anything more than literature to read, you really just need to have it.

Anyway, this is when I think about where each kid is at academically and what type/level of work they’ll be doing. 

This year, for example, my preschooler will do the coloring pages, listen in on the reading if she wants to, and do 4-year-old versions of any fun activities throughout the year (that is, I’ll print her a copy of whatever cool history craft there is and she’ll cut it up randomly and glue it to the table). 

Each week, my 3rd and 6th graders will both listen to the reading, answer review questions orally, complete their history timelines and do map work like we’ve done in the past.  My 6th grader, who has some good writing experience under his belt now, should also be able to complete the outlines and writing assignments in the Volume 4 Activity Guide. And I’ll have my 3rd grader write or draw three facts he’s learned from each chapter. 

Another side note: I try to keep in mind my plans for other subjects and how those might impact this one. For example, I know the writing program my oldest will be doing this year is focused on creativity, imagination and descriptive fiction writing. So, the outlines and more report-like writing assignments in history should help balance his writing experiences.

Once I decide what their baseline weekly work will look like, I add it on Week One of the spreadsheet. (FYI, the examples I show here aren’t all from Week One since it didn’t have all the aspects I want to show you). I already know that doing two days of history per week works well for us, so I use that as my framework. I label the work “Day 1” and “Day 2” rather than “Monday” or “Tuesday” so I can freely move things around during the school year, depending on our plans for that week. 

Story of the World weekly work added in lesson planning spreadsheet

After that, I take a closer look at the suggested activities for the chapter. I try to pick one that isn’t too much work for me and that my kids will enjoy. I write down the supplies I’ll need and use purple text for anything I don’t already own.

Every few weeks, we might take a break from extra activities or do an extra-special-big-messy one. But I’m always looking across the spreadsheet to other subjects to make sure I don’t schedule too many big projects in a given week.

I make a quick note (in green) of the timeline figures we’ll need for that lesson and take a few minutes to check which of the recommended reading books we own or are available at our library. I use purple here, too, if I don’t own them, so I can see at a glance any books I need to get ahead of time. 

History lesson planning details including projects, timeline, books and supplies

If a week seems light on content or, on the other hand, if it’s too much and potentially not that interesting, I’ll find a YouTube video or online game to supplement or summarize as needed. I save those links in a folder on my computer and highlight the video title red in my spreadsheet (if you haven’t noticed, I love color coding). 

Homeschool history curriculum supplemental videos added to lesson planning spreadsheet

Planning the first week always takes a long time. It takes me a while to get my bearings and sort out how the year will flow. But once it’s done, I can use it as a template and just copy/paste to the other weeks. After that, it’s mostly just a matter of skimming through the supplemental activities (crafts, timeline figures, and books) for each chapter and updating those sections of the remaining weeks. 

As risky as it is, at this point I do also print out all of the student activity pages in advance. There’s always a chance we’ll change gears and I’ll have wasted a lot of effort and paper. But so far, it’s worked out and I’m happy to have basically zero prep work for history during the school year.

Binder of pre-printed Story of the World student activity pages

While I still have a good overview of the year’s topics in my head, I take a quick look at our history shelf and other non-fiction books plus other links and websites I’ve saved in a general history folder on my computer.  If anything jumps out at me, I’ll add those videos, books or links as additional supplemental options for our lessons.


Honestly, a lot of people could get away with just highlighting or circling the activities they plan to do in the book. But I love having it all in one place, next to all the other subjects, so I can see what each week will look like overall. And the color coding helps me see everything I need, for all subjects, at the library or the store. It also helps ensure we don’t have a week with videos or online games in every subject.

It does take more time (usually about 10-15 hours of planning), but by the time we get to fall, everything is 100% planned and ready to go!

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How to Plan the Story of the World History Curriculum