Writing curriculum

Posted: 2017-08-07 , Modified: 2017-08-07

Tags: curriculum

Parent: Education


See also my presentation for ESP, “Why your math textbook sucks” https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/27883775/wiki/files/Why%20your%20math%20textbook%20SUCKS.pptx

Here are some thoughts on writing curriculum I’ve had while working at Gliya (an educational startup).

Preliminary thoughts

First, read Winston’s advice on writing (What I learned from Patrick Winston). Excerpt:

Begin each chapter (and begin each lesson in a classroom) with an empowerment promise - what you will be able to do after the lesson - and show that you have delivered upon that promise at the end of the chapter. For an example of a chapter opening, see http://courses.csail.mit.edu/6.803/chapteropenings.html.

Break up into large number of sections/subsections for easy reading. (This limits the amount of time you have to read before you get to a place when you can pause, a kind of “local goal” you can keep aiming towards.) Lots of titles together act as a road map, and point out the salient points of each section.

Making section titles complete sentences helps the reader summarize the main point achieved from reading the section.

Parallel structure is good organization. (Ex. between congruence and similarity)

On empowerment

Always, always maintain an encouraging tone. When you give the student instructions, make it seem like the student is ACTIVELY doing something CREATIVE, rather than just following instructions.

If followed consistently this makes a big impact on the tone of the whole lesson.

Chapter openings

At the beginning of each chapter, have a summary and visual organizer of the material to motivate the reader. The summary should + give an empowerment promise: what will the reader have gained from learning these cells? What will (s)he be able to do that (s)he couldn’t before? Aim for concrete examples (ex. measure the height of a tree, rather than measure the height of tall objects). + give a quick summary of the different cells, how they relate to each other logically. Give a visual road map (“advance organizer”). + show how the lessons fit into the bigger picture – how they extend what the reader has already learned, and how they will enable the reader to learn future lessons.

Good organization will make students feel like they’re making concrete progress, and organize in their minds how all the different lessons they learn are related.

The 5 S’s, applied to textbook writing

Include all the following:

For instance, here’s how I implemented the 5 S’s in the Similar Triangles.


The 5 elements of a story are:

A good curriculum should contain a narrative, that satisfies the following.

Details matter! Try to be as specific as possible. Rather than “model airplane” for instance, write “model Wright Flyer (the Wright brothers’ plane).”


Try to include a few problems with stories attached (stories that use characters in the “world” you developed, in situations they would encounter – NOT random characters taken off the street like John Doe). Start with these problems if possible.

Organize similar problems together, with guiding text! (For instance, in problem solving with similar triangles: Multi-step problems, computation problems, How does it all fit together?)

Don’t just put a random progression. Each problem should have some important key idea, that makes a student remember the problem.

Reason before fact!

Use concept boxes as salients. Keep the text in the boxes short, punchy, and memorable.

Encourage students to ask questions, so put questions in the solutions at difficult points where an intellectual leap is necessary.

Diagrams, diagrams, diagrams! Using different colors, bold lines, and hatching helps to emphasize different parts.