1. Start with a strong theme or topic

The myth of a linear curriculum

Atypical class will contain…

  • Students who find it hard to work together through to those that are excellent team leaders
  • Students who have forgotten their number bonds to those who are faster at maths than you are
  • Students who would struggle to turn on a computer to those who could build one in the dark!!

This is the beauty and frustration of teaching ‘real’ people.  As a teacher you need to have strategies for increasing and decreasing the challenge of any part of any lesson if you are to maintain a personalized approach.  Don’t get too hung up on the order that concepts are developed.  Almost all teachers around the world have very little control over such national and regional curriculum decisions.  Just make sure your topic has a common and clear theme to hang all your work around and the content flows from one idea to the next in the form of a story.

The Beauty of a Topic with a Strong Theme

You will be teaching a topic, typically for around 6-20 hours.  If it has a strong theme then everything can be hung onto this theme, and regardless of the range of starting places for your students there is a sane and logical idea that holds it all together.  In the following example the topic is “The Earth in Space” but the same starting point can be used for any set of content that can be grouped into a topic.  Typically there will be a curriculum list detailing all of the items that need to be delivered through this topic.  There may also be a list of skills to practice and learning competences to develop.

The Earth in space


  • Rock cycle and types of rock
  • Plate tectonics
  • Earthquakes, P waves and S waves
  • Continental drift

Subject specific Skills

  • Improve Scientific investigation skills including, predicting, planning, taking results, analyzing, concluding and evaluating in order to suggest future improvements

Generic competences

  • Improve literacy and numeracy
  • Improve one or more of the core SECRET skills including
    • S – Improve student skills of self management
    • E – Improve skills of engagement
    • C – Improve creativity and problem solving
    • R – Improve reflection
    • E – Improve skills of enquiry (which overlap particularly well with subject specific skills in this case)
    • T – Improve team working skills and collaboration.

Such a list will be taken as the starting point for personalization.

If it doesn’t fit don’t force it

I once visited a secondary school who had a termly topic across all curriculum areas. Students were clearly confused why square numbers were being discussed in the context of the ice age and polar bears!!! One said “I know it is in the theme, I get that, but I’m pretty sure I would find it easier if it wasn’t”.  You can take a break from your theme to focus on a skill and then return.  Pupils will tend to appreciate the honestly!!

Teaching a ‘Module’ or Lesson Series

For most teachers the world over, the year involves one or more modules of work which must be planned for, taught and assessed.  You must identify the content, concepts and skills required and figure out a way of providing opportunities for pupils to learn these by numerous routes.

A PLC is an excellent way of ordering this material in ways that make sense to you and allows you to build a story.  For example, if you are teaching the Solar System you can list all of the items of knowledge that are needed, all the concepts required and then arrange them in a logical order.  Teachers often start with key words and concepts because, like a game of Taboo, it is hard to teach much of the content without reference to these key terms.  What shape is the Earth?  Why don’t people on the other side of the Earth fall off? Etc. are all essential concepts required before you consider what a Planet is, otherwise a number of students will never realise they are actually on one of these planets themselves.  I observed a lesson last year in which every child could answer division questions correctly but not one understood the concept of a fraction.  This is a good example of how some concepts need to come before others if you are to help pupils learn more deeply.

How to do this

Write down something that you would like all pupils to know after your lesson.  Write it in language that all the pupils will understand and write it as a question.

In the next column or underneath this question, write an answer.  While writing your answer make a note of the key words and ideas you are relying on.  Are you certain all pupils will already know these key words and ideas?  If not, or if you are unsure, add a question before that covers it.  For example “Is the word ‘Advice’, a noun or a verb?” may need to have entries before it such as “What is a Noun and can you give examples?” and “What is a Verb and can you give examples?”

The Q/A page you end up with will be your PLC with all the concepts mapped into the correct order.

Some people choose to highlight any entry in their PLC which is revision.  We know that learning needs to happen in cycles and we need to keep returning to concepts and ideas so it is likely that quite a few of the entries in your PLC have been used before in other PLCs.  This is not an issue.  If you do choose to highlight revision items then go to great lengths to make sure pupils don’t perceive themselves as foolish for having forgotten the content nor frustrated for learning it again.  Talking openly about the need to keep revisiting knowledge and concepts is a valuable thing to do.

Avoid the temptation to break up concepts too much.  If you do need to break a concept up for a pupil, make sure you provide harder, less structured questions at the end of the PLC that bring together the training from earlier on.


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