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Knowing what to teach and when is a common source of anxiety among novice teachers. Many states, districts, and schools help teachers pace their lessons with a curriculum guide. Though sometimes stringent, these tools can make teaching more focused.

What Is a Curriculum Guide?

Teachers don’t walk into the classroom not knowing what to teach and when to teach it. If education worked that way, it would be chaotic! Instead, states, districts, and individual schools help define what material teachers cover by creating a curriculum guide, a guide that outlines material teachers need to cover.

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Although a curriculum guide can range from very specific to a general outline, teachers from early childhood education to the professional world use them for direction when planning.Depending on the institution, a curriculum guide might be subject- and/or grade-specific. For example, an elementary school might have curriculum guides for math, science, social studies, and language arts for each grade level from kindergarten up.Within each subject, the guide outlines objectives, or standards, that students are expected to meet by the end of a set time frame, usually the school year.

Some guides are specific, providing details on what is to be taught and when, as well as how instruction should look. For example, a math curriculum guide might direct a teacher to teach fractions in November and then further break down the content to day-by-day instruction on numerators and denominators. It might even provide steps for teacher instruction and possible tasks for practice and assessment.

Using a Required Curriculum Guide

If you’re given a curriculum guide to use, you’ll likely be expected to follow it. Check around with other teachers, your instructional coordinator, or your principal to determine to what extent you are to use the guide and how much autonomy you’re allowed.

If you’re expected to follow the guide closely, it will make planning easier, but it might be frustrating if your students don’t pick up a lesson at the suggested pace. Before completing your plans, read the next section completely before writing anything down. This section could be a week, two weeks, or even a month, depending on your planning expectations. This will give you a chance to view the entire scope of the portion you’re meant to teach, as well as possible suggestions or extensions. Once you’re comfortable with the content, use the guide to determine how many days are necessary to teach each lesson. Add notes to help yourself clarify later, if necessary.If you’re given more freedom with the curriculum guide or your guide is more open-ended, you’ll have more say in your planning and therefore be able to pace according to student needs.

Be careful, however, to not fall into the zone of treading water. While you want all students to master content before transitioning to a new concept, sometimes it’s necessary to move to the next lesson and provide additional support to students in need.

Creating Your Own Guide

Making and using your own curriculum guide will take time. Look at it as a multi-step process that will need to be revisited every so often to make sure it’s up-to-date and remains research driven.

You can write a curriculum guide in four steps:

1. Plan

To create to an effective curriculum guide, you first need a plan. Creating an entire curriculum plan can be overwhelming for one person. If possible, pull a team of qualified people together to work with you.

Next, research your content areas. Look for the latest proven research methods and pedagogy. Usually, someone’s blog isn’t proven research. Instead, seek published articles from a reputable site.

Finally, determine the needs of your students, and identify any roadblocks or issues that might prevent you from reaching objectives with them.

2. Create

Once you have your plan in place, begin creating your curriculum guide by identifying and defining objectives. Many states and districts have grade or content goals to help you. Determine the sequence of appropriate instruction if your guide includes pacing.

Identify materials and resources necessary. Finally, develop how the lessons will be assessed, and create measurements for teachers to use.

3. Implement

You and your team might decide to put the new curriculum guide into teachers’ hands right away, or you might choose to pilot a few teachers at a time to work out the kinks.

Whichever you choose, make sure you provide a time and place for feedback. This will help you and the team make any changes necessary to ensure the success of the curriculum guide.



Using data from teacher surveys, student work, and any other parent or administrative feedback, look objectively at your curriculum guide. To make your curriculum guide an effective learning tool for your school or district, plan a detailed review at predetermined times. This will help your team with its current guide as well as future curriculum development.Curriculum guides don’t just come from thin air. Often, classroom teachers are part of the team responsible for creating them, and being part of that process can be a valuable learning experience. If you’re given the chance to be part of a curriculum writing team, go for it!

Lesson Summary

Curriculum guides are documents used by states, school districts and individual schools to guide teachers in their instruction. Many guides are detailed, giving teachers a specific scope of what to teach and when.

Many provide additional resources, such as necessary materials and assessment tools. Some curriculum guides are less detailed and offer an overview of goals and objectives while allowing individual teachers or schools to develop lesson plans determined by student needs.Many times, students are called to be part of a curriculum guide writing team. In the process, follow four steps to make sure the guide is feasible for use: plan, create, implement and evaluate.

Whether you’re using a stringent guide or a more open-ended one, having a starting place when planning for student achievement helps all teachers focus their instruction, leaving time and energy for the important stuff – teaching!

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