Curriculum Mapping vs. Lesson Planning: Two Models for Great Design

Curriculum Mapping vs Lesson Planning? What do they mean? Why should we do it? This post is about our journey.

This year we have begun curriculum mapping in our grade level meetings. It wasn’t an easy start, but nothing new ever is. With our growth mindset running wild, we knew we would get EVENTUALLY, but most teachers don’t do well with “eventually.” We like to KNOW IT ALL and KNOW IT NOW. Before our first meeting we watched the following 5 minute video. Our principal handed out a sheet with for our notes. It’s a great 2 minutes.

This set the conversation in motion, but we didn’t really “get it” until we got into “it” during our meetings. However, we had to come to some understandings about the differences between curriculum mapping and lesson planning.

Product vs Process

When curriculum mapping, we are looking at product, not process. We are looking at what “product” do we need to deliver at the end of the road. Our reading program is divided into ten units. We have 3 weeks per unit. When we start our curriculum mapping, we start with a 15 day calendar. At the end of our 15 days, we want the students to … (summarize, compare and contrast, sequence).

We also know we would like time to intervene for students who are struggling, so we decided our final assessment can’t be on Day 15. During those 15 days, we decide what skills the students will need to know. We also make sure we are delivering with skills with a gradual release of responsibility. We don’t describe the process.

We don’t determine the exact plan for making sure the skill is achieved, we just focus on the broader view. Once the broad view is sketched, a plan for each lesson can be created.

Common vs Formative

During curriculum mapping, common assessments are discussed, created, designed, and results are interpreted. By definition a “common assessments” are used by everyone, so the assessment represents a guaranteed outcome.

Using these common assessments, teachers can also determine possible interventions and enrichment activities to be used, but the specifics of both are for lesson planning. The lesson plan can contain the needed interventions and enrichment activities based on the individual needs of each classroom.


I love this header. WWWW vs H is easier than saying “WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? vs HOW? A curriculum map will contain the who, what, when, and where of the lesson. WHO needs to know WHAT by WHEN and WHERE will the learning occur.

If we use the example from the video, the students (who) need to identify the layers of the earth (what) by the end of the term(when). We will have learning in the classroom, at centers, during STEM time, and in the outside classroom (where). Curriculum mapping also makes sure the written/taught/tested is carefully dissected.

By contrast, the lesson plan for each teacher will tell exactly how that teacher has planned for her class to get to that understanding. One class may use an apple, while another uses a Styrofoam ball, and yet another teacher could be crazy enough to use paper mache (yuck).

Framework vs Details

Curriculum Mapping vs Lesson Planning? What do they mean? Why should we do it? This post is about our journey.

Finally, we can use many things to help with both our curriculum mapping and lesson planning. In Virginia, our state provides our Standards for each grade level. Some school systems take those standards and develop frameworks.

Some teachers are blessed enough to have curriculum frameworks and continuums provided for curriculum mapping. (The funny thing is, they don’t necessarily feel blessed.) Other teachers have to use state standards to create their curriculums BEFORE they can start planning.

This is definitely a “grass is greener” issue. The framework can provide the skills and outcomes, the details are provided in the lesson planning.

We are just getting started, so sometimes we still get “stuck in the weeds” and try to dig into lesson planning during our mapping meeting.

Why map? Why not just jump in and start planning. Well, my best answer for that is you have to know where you are going in order to know if you get there.

You also need to know what you need to know when you get there. Curriculum mapping ensures everyone knows the Who? What? When? and Where? of the lesson.

The end game of written/taught/tested is the testing standard for each of our students, so we have to make sure our lesson plans reflect the skills at the correct levels. A Guarantee.

That’s why we map.

Cathy Collier
Curriculum Mapping vs Lesson Planning? What do they mean? Why should we do it? This post is about our journey.

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