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Curriculum planning for a trainee teacher

“It is teachers who breathe life into the prescribed curriculum, making geography accessible and interesting for students.”

Mary Biddulph, 2017

Topics on this page:

Curriculum planning as a trainee teacher | Develop your curriculum understanding | Scheme of work | Writing a scheme of work | Stages in planning a scheme of work | Review your scheme | Examples of schemes of work | GA member sharing: schemes of work


While you are training, and in the early years of your career as a geography teacher, you will be working with the department’s curriculum plan for geography and the general aims of the school curriculum. You need to understand the rationale and structure of these and the department’s aims for geography education, so you teach lessons towards these goals.

In most departments, the detailed plans will be constantly be discussed, evaluated and revised; for example to accommodate new content, different teaching strategies, new technologies such as GIS and/or revisions to examination specifications. 

As a trainee you should participate in meetings where curriculum is discussed, if you are invited, and as you gain experience you will contribute to these discussions based on your geographical knowledge, understanding of geography pedagogy and your experience of teaching and planning with the existing departmental curriculum. Make full use of such opportunities to develop further your curriculum understanding.

When you are a full-time member of a geography department, you will share in the responsibility for curriculum design and have the opportunity put into practice the geographical and pedagogical knowledge and experience you have built up. The 2019 Ofsted inspection framework for schools sees an ‘ambitious’ curriculum as important and has a focus on the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum.

All teachers are expected to be fully aware of the curriculum in their school. They should know how and what curriculum decisions are made in their school and the role teachers have as curriculum makers. For an overview of the curriculum in today’s schools see the articles below.

Curriculum planning as a trainee teacher

While you are undertaking training, you will be working in the context of the curriculum that the geography teachers in the school have planned. For most of the time you will not have a ‘clean sheet’ to plan your own curriculum or units of work. However, discuss with your geography mentor some aspect/s of the curriculum where you can plan a unit of work for yourself and go on to teach it. In other words, to have an opportunity to do some curriculum making.

A unit of work, sometimes described as a scheme of work or a medium term plan can cover anything from two or three lessons to a half-term or term. It is a sequence of lessons that develops one theme. In order to become a professionally competent and reflective teacher, you need not only to understand the principles of curriculum planning and development but you should also have practically planned and taught your own unit of work (scheme of work or sequence of lessons). On this webpage we use the term scheme for all of these.

You might find it interesting to read NQT’s view of curriculum making (source: Interpreting the 2014 Geography National Curriculum Framework). This shows that opportunities are made to be taken!

Develop your curriculum understanding

The DfE frameworks sets the expectations of what you should know and know how to do.

Carry out these four activities that are found on these pages. These will give you some in-depth understanding of how a geography curriculum is structured and the factors that must be considered when it is constructed.

 Scheme of work

The geography curriculum framework for a school is the main document that sets what geography will be taught and how this will be structured and organised. This needs to be broken down into shorter, working plans for teachers to use in their day-to-day teaching. These are generally known as schemes of work. These are further broken down into plans for lessons.

Your learning objectives can rarely be achieved in just a single lesson – it is the lesson sequence that is important for learning. Mark Enser (2019) points out that you should not see lessons as ‘blocks of time’ but consider them as part of a sequence of learning. He writes:

Over the course of this sequence you will have set a challenge, explained the content, modelled what success looks like, given students practice tasks, questioned them and given feedback.

  • Refer to The Principles of Practice in Enser (2019) p 129 onwards, to see an example of sequencing learning in a GCSE topic.

As a trainee teacher you need to know how to plan a scheme of work, although you will not be expected to plan all the schemes you teach. However, you will have this responsibility later in your career and should know what the process entails. Look carefully at examples in the school in which you are teaching and/or from the examples listed at the end of this paper before you start.

Before you start, read the other webpages about curriculum planning in this section. This should make you realise that there is considerably more to teaching that merely ‘delivering’ a curriculum unit by unit. Experienced geography teachers flinch at the notion of ‘delivering’ which suggests a view of geography teaching which fails to acknowledge the important part played by the learner in the process.

Discuss and identify with your geography mentor a scheme of work you can plan and teach. This means you will base your lessons on the contents of the department’s geography curriculum plan but you will do the detailed planning for the sequence of lessons that make up your ‘scheme of work’. Try to plan a scheme for at least one class in each key stage you teach.

Even though you are only planning a short unit, you should consider how to build learning progression into your scheme. Refer to Planning for continuity and progression before you start. Discuss with your geography mentor, what work the class have done before the unit you are planning so you can build on their experiences and previous learning. Looking at their workbooks can help you to identify the students’ starting point.

A scheme of work must implement the agreed school geography curriculum. The scheme will provide the details of the subject content to be taught, the teaching strategies, the learning activities and the resources to be used. It also should make clear how learning will be assessed. It is a working document and should include some flexibility to cater for changes that are required as it is taught.

  • Refer to one or more books in the GA’s Teachers’ Toolkit series for Key Stage 3 and GCSE. These provide good examples of units of work and include a medium term plan.
  • Browse the examples of schemes of work further down this page.

There are range of planning grids and framework available on the web and in texts, but you should start with the format used in the school or Table 2.5. There is no ‘right’ way to plan.

  • Discuss your ideas for the topic and how you intend to teach it with your mentor. Show them your plans before you teach it and adapt as necessary.
  • If possible, teach it to two different groups, making changes to meet the needs of each group.
  • Evaluate the scheme in detail. You should include the feedback you receive from your mentor/tutor and evidence of students’ response and learning.
  • Consider how you would make changes if you taught this unit again.   

Stages in planning a scheme of work (Based on Source: QCDA 2009)

Key points to remember

  • Keep in mind, all the time you are planning, the learning intentions taken from the geography curriculum.
  • Put learners at the heart of the process – what experiences will the students bring with them?
  • Focus on the key geographical knowledge, concepts and skills you intend to teach BEFORE considering case studies, resources and learning activities.

Designing a scheme of work

Step 1 –What are you trying to achieve?

  • What are the aims and the purposes of geographical education in the school?
  • Refer to the national requirements – KS3 Programme of Study or examination specification
  • How does this scheme fit into the school’s geography curriculum?
  • Brainstorm what geography will the unit of work include? (Roberts (2017) Figure 1 p 50)
  • What prior knowledge are students likely to have? (Roberts (2017) Figure 4 on p 53)
  • Will this scheme be a geographical enquiry? (if so refer to Planning for geographical enquiry)
  • Set your purpose for this scheme (consider aims, goals, learning objectives and expected learning outcomes). Give it a title to make the purpose of the learning explicit.
  • Use a grid to plan the scheme. Complete the aims/goals/objectives for the scheme in relation to the knowledge, conceptual understanding and geographical skills you want students to learn. (See Enser’s (2019) fertile questions p 19)

Step 2 – How will you organise learning?

  • How will you take account of students’ prior learning and their needs and abilities?
  • Develop a sequence of learning using key ideas or key questions for lessons. How will students progress and how will their geographical thinking become more sophisticated. (Refer to Planning for progression and continuity)
  • What learning activities and teaching strategies will be used? Identify appropriate resources. Indicate how these link to specific learning intentions.
  • What opportunities are there for review and spaced practice?
  • How will the scheme support students’ literacy and numeracy?
  • Where are the assessment opportunities and what evidence is to be gathered?

Step 3 – How well are you achieving your aims?

Before you finally complete the scheme:

  • Check coherence – is the content achieving the goals you set?
  • Consider how well the scheme will include all the students in the class, and accommodate this if you have not already done so.
  • Is it manageable within the timescale? Where can you build in flexibility if it is needed?


  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. London: Routledge, Chapter 2.
  • Enser, M., (2019) Making Every Geography Lesson Count, Crown House Publishing.
  • Harris, M. (2017) Becoming an Outstanding Geography Teacher, Routledge, Chapter 2.
  • Roberts, M. (2017) Planning for enquiry in Jones, M. (ed) The Handbook of Secondary Geography. Sheffield: Geographical Association.


  • How successful was it in achieving the students’ intended learning? Could this be improved, and how?
  • What went well or badly? Does this suggest that changes are needed?
  • Were there any difficulties faced by students that you did not anticipate? How would you cater for this on another occasion?
  • Did the scheme restrict opportunities for flexibility and ‘unexpected’ learning?
  • Did the students enjoy the work? If not, what changes do you suggest?
  • Were the resources appropriate? Were they accessible for all students? Did they provide a range of information from different perspectives?
  • Did the sequence of content lead the students forward in their learning? If not, what would you need to do? 

Examples of schemes of work

It is often helpful to explore several examples of different schemes of work before you write one for yourself. Look at the GA’s Toolkit Series which each includes a medium term plan. Below is a further selection of plans that you could review and discuss with your mentor. You will see that the formats vary a good deal, from an ‘overview’ to considerable detail.

Several of the schemes are driven by key questions – others have objectives set out as ‘to do’ statements. You may want to discuss these different approaches with your mentor. All the schemes include teaching strategies/learning activities, but not all include assessment and differentiation. You might want to discuss this with your mentor.

  • Planet Earth Year 9 Scheme of Work from The Angmering School (available on the
  • Landscapes Year 8 Scheme of Work from Durrington School (available on the
  • Example of a KS3 curriculum plan with scale as its main organising concept.
  • May, C. (2014) Overview of Year 7 scheme of work – download as an additional resource for Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Conlan, L. (2014) The Geography of Food scheme of Work – download as an additional resource for Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Kitchen, R. (2013) What is geography? A Y7 unit of work – download as an additional resource for Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Conlan, L. (2013) Environmental concerns and conservation – download as an additional resource for Teaching Geography, Spring.  
  • Graham, B. (2003) ‘Greener future for farming’, Teaching Geography, October. This article includes an example of a scheme of work.
  • The RGS curriculum resources for the 2014 National Curriculum

GA member sharing: Schemes of work

There are plenty of schemes of work to explore in a Google Drive curated by Catherine Owen including curriculum maps, examples of spiral curricula and synoptic approaches. These are working documents that teachers are currently using in their own schools. They have been shared as is – without any additional input from the GA.

Explore schemes of work