Curriculum Mapping (10 Tips)

Updated: Jul 12

Curriculum mapping sounds completely overwhelming to me. You might even be asking yourself, what is curriculum mapping? How do I map out my curriculum? I have been there. Questions circle through my mind, like a tornado, when I started to think about mapping out an entire school year.


Where do I begin? How do I map out a whole year? What prep should I do first? How do I use materials from last year? What do I want to create? What should I get rid of? How do I make each lesson engaging? What are my assessments for each unit? AHHH STANDARDS!!

Stop. Breathe. Repeat (until calm).

All of the above questions, plus the 1,000 others, are fine to ask. But I had to force myself to stop worrying about every detail. Maybe you can relate to all of this. The task of curriculum mapping seems too daunting to tackle. So let's all breathe and do this thing together. Let's first start with what I call the "big picture" approach. :)

1. Start with every nine weeks (or break your time into four, manageable chunks of time).

Our school year is broken into four nine weeks (approximately 9-10 weeks/quarter). However, your school operates, divide it into four sections. Tackling each section will make the planning less daunting. Do not try to do the whole year at one time or you will be far too overwhelmed. Grab your school calendar some paper (or a laptop) and breathe.

2. Select a question, theme, or goal for each of the four chunks of time.

For example, here are the questions I asked myself for the first quarter:

-What are students' weaknesses (writing and reading)? What gaps do I need to address? What do my students dislike about English class? Who are they as people? Who are they as learners?

Here is a basic example for you.

First-quarter themes: -Grammar and reading literature

First-quarter goals: -Fix any gaps with grammar issues (M.U.G.S.--mechanics, usage, grammar, and spelling) and hit/preview all Common Core Standards pertaining to reading literature.

Using this approach helped me make sure each quarter is rooted in the areas I want to focus on the most, without making it overwhelming.

3. Type/write a general overview of each day, within the first quarter.

These need to be quick, bullet-point types of comments for each day. For example, one of mine reads intro colons, notes, guided practice, and independent practice. That's all it says. I have resources already created that correlate to colons (a notes handout, guided practice included in the PowerPoint, and an independent practice activity in the form of a WS).

I already know correct colon use is a part of my ELA 9 standards. Colons are an objective I need to hit, and the list above will take a class period. Having an entire quarter planned out, with a bullet point approach, will save you TONS of planning time. It will also allow you to focus on the engaging, "fun" parts of a lesson, rather than stressing over when you will hit certain content.

This portion will take you the longest, but I promise it will be worth it. I was able to map out my entire year (for two preps) over the course of three days. It would not need to take that long, but I removed a book and added a whole new unit. If you have minor changes, you could easily do this in a day or two.

4. Use this basic outline for the final three quarters/semester/year.

Once you get in the swing of it, I guarantee it will be easier. Use the same outline and map out the rest of your school year. Give yourself a lot of grace. You will find it easier the more you get into the rhythm.

5. Keep in mind holidays, snow days (if you have those), conferences, state testing, etc. when you schedule.

This point might seem silly, but it is something that can be easily skipped over. Last year, I planned an overwhelmingly engaging lesson the day after a late night of conferences. I immediately regretted it. I was exhausted, but my students were energized = not the best combo. Essentially, keep in mind the time of year and try to align the amount of work to what is going on with the schedule.

6. Plan with your team.

I am fortunate to have an awesome team to bounce ideas off of. This allows you to make sure you're not only mapping out the curriculum for the grades you teach but the ones above/below. Curriculum mapping should be fluid for both teachers and students.

It also never hurts to bounce ideas off of other teachers outside of your team. It is always a win when your lesson includes information from multiple subjects. I try to do this, as much as possible, but I know it's an area of improvement. I do however ask other content teachers what they are working on quite regularly.

A few reasons I like checking in with other content teachers: 1. I can ask students about other classes when they get done early with work. 2. I try not to assign a huge assignment when I know they have others due (but it happens).

7. Share your schedule with your team and other content teachers.

I know my co-workers will appreciate having a rough outline of what students are working on in English class. I do not expect them to plan around me, but I do expect them to assist me. My school is small and very team-oriented.

I appreciate it when teachers call me and ask, "Hey, what can Seth be working on in Math for English. I see he has a few missing assignments, and he got done early." If this would work in your school, I have found it to be highly effective.

8. Work backward when planning.

I was taught to work backward with units, which is the best method. However, sometimes you will need more time than you anticipated. Give space for extra time. But always keep in mind your end goal. Are your independent/guided practice activities going to make them capable of reaching the long-term goals?

I often work backward with my English 3 course, which is responsible for the school newsletter. We have a deadline for the end of the month, so I need to give them ample time to work on their pieces. In this scenario, I work entirely backward. Figure out what the best approach is for you.

9. Schedule rewards/parties.

My principal always stresses the importance of motivating with incentives. I always felt like it was a nice way to say a bribe, which is kind of true but an incentive sounds better. ;) These rewards do not have to be anything expensive, and they can really help motivate students. I have a blog post all about my favorite types of incentives. I think this list will serve you well. Sometimes you just need to #treatyoself (that's for my Parks and Recs fans).

10. Be ok with it all not going as planned.

Learning is not always fluid. There are always surprises when it comes to teaching. Unexpected hiccups are a part of the job. You can plan as much as you want, but be flexible and adjust to what happens along the way. Take the time to readjust and makes changes for the next year. You will never have a perfect year because education is always changing. So take the time to make adjustments to your plans and curriculum.

I wish you all the best of luck with your curriculum. It can feel so daunting, but I promise you it will be worth it.

With love and lots of coffee,

Amy (Coffee Stained Lessons) ☕

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