Designer Teaching: How to ‘Jigsaw Map’ your curriculum

Curriculum mapping is difficult.

Often, the conflict between how to teach and what to teach makes the mapping exercise fraught with pitfalls, and curricula can become a less-than-coherent string of units, linked only by assessment.

Moving into the third year at a new school, I’ve been wrestling with these issues. What is the skills to content ratio? How best to map the necessary skills across key stage 3? How to decide which units should house which content? And so on.

My solution, as ever, has been rooted in design theory – start with the parameters, and work towards an essential simplicity. With each of the following steps, the details of a curriculum map should, in theory, plan themselves, leaving only the creative task of resourcing and crafting specific units of work.


Step 1: Work out your pieces

When you start a jigsaw, you have to turn all the pieces face-up and find the edges, asap. This is a neat metaphor for stage one of the mapping process, where you should ascertain exactly what it is your curriculum needs to satisfy.

As an English teacher, the National Curriculum APP criteria are decent enough summary of skills that the curriculum needs to satisfy. That said, you need to work out your school’s particular needs, linked to ethos and vision. This will in turn lay out your objectives and steer you towards the most effective (and relevant) content to include. Here’s a blast of my department’s initial brain dump:

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The trickiest aspect of this is in deciding exactly what you want to cover, skills-wise and content-wise. but once you know, you know what you’re aiming for.


Step 2: Evaluate what you already have

Call it an audit, call it review, call it reflection, call it whatever you want, but it is imperative that you start by evaluating your existing curriculum offer. I got my department together and we had a frank and open discussion of every unit of work we had taught so far, using the SWOT (Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats) protocol.

Then it was a simple case of typing these notes up and compiling them for future reference. This proved invaluable in step 3 (below)…

swot mac

Step 3: Match skills to content

We spent an entire afternoon on this. Simply put, this stage involves deciding which units should contain which skills and content. Once you start doing this, it quickly becomes apparent where your skills gaps are, which gives a useful steer as to what to focus on in particular units. The huge benefit of this is that teachers won’t be left to try and cram EVERYTHING into every unit of work, because careful decisions have previously been made regarding which skills can be addressed where.


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Step 4: Sequencing

This is the fun bit. I did this with my department kinaesthetically, whereby we wrote each unit of work (including a summary of skills and content) on separate slips of paper, ans shuffled them round on a huge grid (masking taped on the floor) representing the 18 half terms of Years 7 to 9.

This jigsaw approach encouraged flexible debate over how to sequence key stage 3 and, again, made it super-obvious what was missing from different sections of each year.

It also helped us to think strategically about which skills to introduce when, and when to return to them, rather than a vague ‘let’s hit everything at some point during the year’ approach.


Step 5: Check the big picture

Getting bogged down in detail is the biggest booby trap of the curriculum mapping process. Once you have an outline, leave it a while (I left it two weeks), then return with fresh eyes to see if it all makes sense. To extend the jigsaw puzzle metaphor, this is the part where you scrutinise the picture on the box with a cup of tea, before deciding which area to tackle next.

It may be useful to link this to some kind of critique of your school’s wider vision, as well as some cross curricular  opportunities (depending on how slick your school wants to be).


As it stands, I’m currently at this stage with my department. What’s refreshing about having gone through the steps above is that I don’t feel too anxious about finding ‘the right texts’ or revamping existing units of work, because the objectives and parameters are so clear. In fact, we’re fine-tuning the skills map to ensure that all the relevant Learning to Learn skills are being introduced. The energy of lesson planning etc can wait, and it should be obvious what needs to be planned.


Let me know how you map your curriculum, and feel free to tweet me a question or two.

Yours, in teaching,

-Unseen Flirtations

ps: I did not complete this puzzle. Sorry.


TES Teaching Resources


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