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Curriculum Development | Digital Curriculum | Lesson Plans | Classroom Planning

What Is a Curriculum and How Do You Make One?

April 4th, 2024 | 14 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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Any new CTE teacher has a lot to learn when transitioning from a career in the industry. You know the core concepts and skills related to your subject area, but it can be tough to feel comfortable, especially if you are new to a classroom environment.

As a CTE curriculum developer, we've heard that new CTE teachers are often unaware of what educators mean by the word "curriculum."

Since "curriculum" can mean different things in the context of education, new teachers can sometimes be confused about what exactly a curriculum entails.

Some teachers may use the term “curriculum” to refer to the information they teach throughout a class, while others might refer to "curriculum" as specific lessons or resources they intend to use in the classroom. Finally, a school, institution, or district can refer to their standards or class sequence as “curriculum.”

All of these variations makes it difficult to know what a curriculum really is.

In this article, we'll explore the standard definition of "curriculum" and how to create a curriculum on your own.

You'll also discover how adopting a comprehensive curriculum system can make your life as a new teacher easier.

The Definition of Curriculum

A curriculum is a collection of lessons, assessments, and other academic content that’s taught in a school, program, or class by a teacher.

With that in mind, a standard curriculum typically consists of the following parts:

  1. Purpose Statement: What will this curriculum achieve?
  2. Outcome Statement: What will students be able to do with this information?
  3. Essential Resources: What will you use to teach your class and what will students use to learn?
  4. Strategic Framework: What teaching approach will you use?
  5. Verification Method: How will you know that you’re effectively teaching?
  6. Standards Alignment: How well do you adhere to federal, state, and school standards for your course?
  7. Course Syllabus: What will you teach and when?
  8. Capstone Project: What final accomplishment will your students use to prove what they’ve learned in your class?

Now that you know what a curriculum is, let's dive into how you can create each part of it.

1. Purpose Statement

The first part of a well-articulated curriculum is a statement of its purpose.

A purpose statement is a brief explanation of the need that your class fulfills at your school, community, or education as a whole.

Purpose statements work best when they’re simple. As the old adage suggests, the best ideas are the ones that you can express in a single sentence.

Whether you need one sentence or five, it’s important to keep your purpose statement concise for the sake of your colleagues, administrators, or even classroom evaluators.

If you’re having a hard time wording your purpose statement, you can try answering a handful of questions to get started:

  • Why do students need to know the information in your class?
  • How will your class prepare students for their futures?
  • What makes your class different from other classes in your school?

Answering any of the above questions (or all of them) will at least help you discover your purpose statement, if not write it completely.

For example, students may need the information in your class on soft skills so they can practice career essentials. Learning soft skills will greatly help your students' future ability to earn and maintain a job.

Your class may be different from others by focusing on soft skills like communication, professionalism, and more. Once you have written your purpose statement, you can move on to the equally important Outcome Statement.

2. Outcome Statement

An outcome statement is an official list of the goals you have for students who take your class.

Outcome statements are similar to purpose statements in that they convey why your class is important.

However, outcome statements are distinct in that they focus on what you want students to know after the class concludes.

For example, you may pioneer a digital literacy class in your middle school. Your outcome statement — and the goals you have for your students — could include:

  • Demonstrating safe use of online resources
  • Identifying whether an online source is trustworthy
  • Committing to stand against the epidemic of cyberbullying

It’s important to note that these goals are all in addition to the grades you’d give in any other typical class.

Students will still have to complete lessons, homework, formative assessments, summative assessments, and other projects that are graded. However, this is a standard part of any class. As a result, you don’t need to say you’ll use “grades” as a measure of whether students have met your class’s goals.

Instead, your goals should be directly related to your class, how it functions, and how your students’ lives will improve as a result.

Once you have your outcome statement down on paper, it’s time to start thinking about your class details!  

3. Essential Resources

Your essential class resources include anything you need for your students to teach everything in your class.

For traditional classrooms, this section of the curriculum is easier than others because it includes a short list of textbooks, notebooks, and maybe writing utensils.

For modern classrooms, this list can get surprisingly long — sometimes with dozens of items!

That’s because modern classrooms have a demand for teaching the same material in multiple ways. This allows teachers to accommodate students who learn differently without leaving any of them behind the rest of the class.

In addition to simple notebooks, textbooks, and writing utensils, you may also discover that you need:

  • Computers
  • Internet access
  • Visual aids
  • Projectors
  • Interactive screens / Smartboards
  • Game materials
  • Other rooms in your school

This is just a sample listing — you may discover that you need more classroom materials as you develop your curriculum!

There’s nothing wrong with that. If you only have a rough idea of the teaching resources you’ll need for a class, you can always come back to this section after you complete the rest of your curriculum.

Once you’ve completed this section, it’s time to discuss how you’ll teach your class.

4. Strategic Framework

Your strategic framework shows the different teaching methods you’ll use to help your students learn.

Some of the most common strategy frameworks and teaching strategies include:

  • Lecture
  • Online learning
  • Blended learning
  • Cooperative learning
  • Differentiated instruction
  • Gamification

We’ll start with the oldest and most well-known form of education in the world — lecture.


Every teacher has experienced (and probably delivered) lectures.

Lectures commonly take the form of an educator standing in front of their students and delivering information orally.

Teachers may choose to use visual aids like whiteboards, chalkboards, smartboards, or demonstration materials, but these resources all revolve around the lecture itself.

Lectures are considered the standard in education because they’ve been used since before the time of Socrates. Essentially, it’s the classic way to teach students of any age.

However, while lecture is a core aspect of every classroom, today's technology allows teachers to reach students in other ways. This means you have other opportunities to supplement your lectures with other teaching strategies that help you further connect and engage learners.

Online Learning

Online learning means you’re using education tools that exist on the internet to help teach your students. Sometimes, these tools are called cloud-based education solutions because they’re accessible 24/7 from your web browser.

Online learning is a great way to reach students who are both experts and amateurs when it comes to using technology. That’s because these online tools are designed to be as simple as possible while offering an outstanding educational experience.

Digital learning tools work well for delivering videos, graphics, activities, self-paced lessons, and other teaching resources into a classroom.

Finally, digital instruction is also a cornerstone teaching strategy in a larger educational concept — blended learning.

Blended Learning

Blended learning is the practice of using multiple teaching strategies in a single class.

So when you use lecture, online learning, and textbooks to teach your students, you’re technically teaching with blended learning!

Blended learning is an effective education strategy because it teaches students the same information in multiple ways, giving them the advantage of hearing critical information multiple times and learning through a variety of strategies.

By practicing blended learning, you acknowledge differences in your students’ learning preferences and create ways to help all of your students learn.

You can even go the extra mile with blended learning and include a highly-specialized form of teaching that also allows your students to socialize with one another. This strategy is called cooperative learning.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is the practice of creating small groups of students in your class and having them teach one another.

The core of cooperative learning is based on trust and accountability. Students learn different parts of a large concept and teach that information to one another. Through this method, every student gets a strong idea of a concept while meeting and interacting with their peers.

At the end of a cooperative learning session, it’s important for you to pull your entire class back together to talk about what they learned. As the different groups speak, you can correct any misinformation that different students may have acquired.

Altogether, you cooperative learning helps your students discover a new concept while meeting one another and taking responsibility for a portion of their education. This kind of work can also be helpful if you want to use our next teaching strategy — differentiated instruction.

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction means tailoring your teaching strategy to students’ individual learning needs.

Differentiated instruction is often used interchangeably with the concept of an individualized education plan (IEP).

In a nutshell, this means you reach out to students based on how they learn best. From an instructional standpoint, this may involve providing specialized instruction and accommodations to ensure students are able to achieve their very best in the classroom.

Practically speaking, this could involve some students using a pen and paper to complete assignments while others work from a computer. It might also involve using printing out lesson pages or using translation tools to help ensure every student succeeds.

You can even seek out (or create) games that help students learn in an increasingly-popular process called gamification.


Gamification is the process of taking your classroom materials, turning them into a challenge or competition of some kind, and having students participate according to a set of rules.

One of the most commonly-used gamification methods is a simple Jeopardy! game where students or teams get points by answering questions correctly.

Math teachers may play “around the world” with flash cards in their classes. Health science teachers may create a game around building a skeleton for human anatomy and physiology.

Regardless of how you choose to help students learn, gamification is proven to improve long-term information retention in students of any age. It’s just another fun way to add variety to your classroom!

At the end of the day, all of these teaching strategies can help your students learn. But when you choose teaching methods to include in your curriculum, there's still another crucial instructional component to consider: you need to verify that your students are learning!

5. Verification Method

Your verification method tells administrators, colleagues, and even parents how you’ll measure success in your classroom.

You have dozens of options when it comes to figuring out how you want to gauge student progress in your classroom.

However, two methods stick out above all of the others in terms of effectiveness and popularity. These two methods are called formative assessments and summative assessments.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments work best when you use them to evaluate how much (or how well) a student is learning in a class. You’re examining how well students are “forming” information and connections in their brains.

Formative assessments are great because they let you see how well your students learn without grading them for every single assignment they complete.

You can have a lot of fun with formative assessments too! Because they’re not always graded, formative assessments can go in almost any direction, including:

  • Quizzes
  • Games
  • Projects
  • Presentations
  • Group activities

The main goal of formative assessments is understanding what your students do and don’t know. This gives you essential information to incorporate in review activities when you get closer to the end of a unit or marking period.

If most of your students struggle with a certain topic, you know you have to go over it with students before the class ends. If one or two students struggle, then you can approach them on an individual basis to customize a remediation plan for them.

Then, whenever you conclude a major portion of your class, you can use a summative assessment to see what students have learned!

Summative Assessments

Summative assessments work best when you use them to evaluate what a student has learned in a class. You’re testing the “summary” of all information that students have learned throughout a unit or marking period.

Summative assessments tend to be more rigid when it comes to your options because they require objective criteria for you to grade.

As a result, teachers use summative assessments like:

  • Tests
  • Final exams
  • Written reports
  • Essays / papers
  • End-of-class projects

All of these summative assessment options come with answer keys or grading rubrics for the sake of quantifying what students have learned in your class.

These grades are often weighed more heavily in comparison to other factors like classroom participation and homework. In many classes, students don’t pass the course unless they get a satisfactory mark on their summative assessments.

Naturally, it’s up to you to determine how much you want to weigh these assessments. The most important part of summative assessments is a clear vision into what your students have learned. This is especially important if you work in a state that has a lot of standards and requirements for the classes you teach.

6. Standards Alignment

Your alignment with existing standards ensures that you’re teaching your students the proper information to help them succeed in life.

Most of the time, you’ll get a list of standards from your state department of education to guide you in the information they’re supposed to teach students. This information varies from state to state since public education requirements are often determined at the state level. You may also get a list of standards from your district or even your immediate supervisor that ensures you teach the same information as a teacher in another school.

Overall, standards ensure a degree of uniformity in curriculum for important topics. When everyone has the same requirements, it helps guarantee that students have learned the same fundamental information they need to succeed professionally.

If you’re having a hard time finding your state, district, or school standards, check first with your immediate supervisor. If that doesn’t work, you can always ask your colleagues or contact your district office.

Once you’ve found your standards, it’s time to map your curriculum to those standards so you ensure you’re teaching the information that’s required.  

Curriculum maps are tricky to create, if you’ve never made one before. It’s phenomenally helpful for most teachers because a curriculum map shows you exactly what you need to teach, when, and the materials you need to teach it. With the help of a curriculum map, most teachers find teaching easier during their next academic term.

Once you have your curriculum mapped to your standards, it’s finally time to jump into what you’ll teach in your class by creating your course syllabus.

7. Course Syllabus

Your course syllabus tells your administrators, colleagues, and students about the specific information you’ll teach your class.

A syllabus is typically an extensive document, detailing each lesson to be taught, the day on which lessons will be taught, the homework to be assigned, and the expectations of students at the end of each unit.

As a result, the syllabus is the area where most teachers spend the bulk of their time in planning. It takes a lot of time and energy to create a document that showcases exactly how your class will work day by day. This is even more stressful if you teach a semester- or year-long course that covers a wealth of information.

If you’ve never created a full syllabus before, check with a peer, mentor, or supervisor to see if they have a template you can use. If you can't find a template, you can always look online for a sample syllabus. Plus, if you use a digital curriculum, you may be able to use included instructional resources to make creating a syllabus more straightforward.

Before you finish your syllabus, you have one exceptionally important part of your curriculum you'll need to include. Because your curriculum is designed to challenge your students and build a core basis of knowledge and skills, you should consider including a capstone project that meets your course objectives,

8. Capstone Project

Your capstone project is the final assessment of your class that you use to gauge how much students have learned throughout the marking period.

The most common capstone project is a cumulative final exam. Other options include certification exams, presentations, and graded projects. 

The most important part of your capstone project is the explanation of why this project proves a student’s learning progress in a class.

What is the quantifiable metric you’ll use to gauge whether your students have learned? When that metric is applied to your capstone project, why are you confident that your students have succeeded in their learning goals?

Those questions are all great to answer in your curriculum, and they give your administrator and students an excellent insight into the culmination of your course.

With your capstone project detailed in the final portion of your curriculum, you're ready to submit your course syllabus and start teaching! you can take a breath.

If you've done all of this work by hand, it probably took you a long time. However, it's possible to adopt an existing curriculum and save yourself time when planning for the new school year.


Adopt a Comprehensive Curriculum

A curriculum is an essential part of the teaching experience. It's the guiding framework that helps ensure a successful course for both instructors and their students.

In this article, you've read about the many elements that make up a standard curriculum. When you use these features in tandem, you're able to demonstrate the importance of your class, the objectives you'll achieve, and the work learners will need to accomplish to be successful.

Unfortunately, a curriculum can create a very long time to create. Tasks like writing out a syllabus and considering and planning a capstone project can take many hours of your time.

However, there is a solution that saves educators many hours in the planning process and helps create a cohesive learning experience for all students. To help their students succeed, many teachers use the comprehensive curriculum from iCEV.

With iCEV, you'll receive robust instructional materials--including premade lesson plans, multimedia presentations, and engaging projects and activities--that will help your students succeed. Plus, with features like automatic grading, you'll save hours in the classroom and be able to plan, teach, and assess your students within the same system.

Best of all, you get hundreds of curriculum hours of content to fill the classes you need to teach!

Want to learn more about iCEV? Visit the CTE curriculum page!

You'll find information about iCEV's comprehensive curriculum solutions for CTE so you can decide if it could be the right fit for your students: 

Explore the iCEV Curriculum Solutions