Curriculum Mapping: Definition, Purpose, and Tips

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Curriculum mapping is a reflective process that helps teachers understand what has been taught in a class, how it has been taught, and how learning outcomes were assessed. The curriculum mapping process results in a document known as a curriculum map. Most curriculum maps are graphical illustrations that consist of a table or matrix.

Curriculum Maps vs. Lesson Plans

A curriculum map should not be confused with a lesson plan. A lesson plan is an outline that details what will be taught, how it will be taught, and what resources will be used to teach it. Most lesson plans cover a single day or another short time period, such as a week. Curriculum maps, on the other hand, offer a long-term overview of what has already been taught. It is not unusual for a curriculum map to cover an entire school year.


As education has become more standards-based, there has been an increased interest in curriculum mapping, especially among teachers who want to compare their curriculum to national or state standards or even to the curriculum of other educators who teach the same subject and grade level. A completed curriculum map allows teachers to analyze or communicate instruction that has already been implemented by themselves or someone else. Curriculum maps can also be used as a planning tool to inform future instruction. 

In addition to assisting with reflective practice and better communication among faculty, curriculum mapping also helps to improve overall coherence from grade to grade, thus increasing the likelihood of students achieving program- or school-level outcomes. For example, if all of the teachers in a middle school create a curriculum map for their math classes, teachers in every grade can look at each other's maps and identify areas in which they can reinforce learning. This also works well for interdisciplinary instruction.  

Systematic Curriculum Mapping

Although it is definitely possible for a single teacher to create a curriculum map for the subject and grade that they teach, curriculum mapping is most effective when it is a system-wide process. In other words, the curriculum of an entire school district should be mapped to ensure continuity of instruction. This systematic approach to curriculum mapping should involve collaboration among all of the educators who instruct students within the school.

The main benefit of systematic curriculum mapping is improved horizontal, vertical, subject area, and interdisciplinary coherence:

  • Horizontal coherence: Curriculum is horizontally coherent when it is comparable to the curriculum of an equal lesson, course, or grade level. For example, the learning outcomes for a 10th-grade algebra class at a public school in Tennessee are horizontally coherent when they match the learning outcomes of a 10th-grade algebra class at a public school in Maine.
  • Vertical coherence: Curriculum is vertically coherent when it is logically sequenced. In other words, one lesson, course, or grade prepares students for what they will be learning in the next lesson, course, or grade.
  • Subject area coherence: Curriculum is coherent within a subject area when students receive equitable instruction and learn the same topics across subject area classes. For example, if one school has three different teachers who teach 9th-grade biology, the learning outcomes should be comparable in each class regardless of the teacher.
  • Interdisciplinary coherence: Curriculum is coherent in an interdisciplinary sense when teachers of multiple subject areas (such as math, English, science, and history) work together to improve the key cross-curricula skills that students need to succeed in all grades and subjects. Some examples include reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.

Curriculum Mapping Tips

The following tips will help you through the process of creating a curriculum map for the courses you teach:

  • Only include authentic data. All of the information in a curriculum map should reflect what is actually happening in a classroom, not what should be happening or what you wish was happening.
  • Provide information on a macro level. You do not need to include detailed or specific info about daily lesson plans.
  • Make sure that learning outcomes are precise, measurable, and clearly identified.
  • It helps to use action-oriented verbs from Bloom's Taxonomy to describe learning outcomes. Some examples include defining, identify, describe, explain, evaluate, predict, and formulate.
  • Explain how learning outcomes were achieved by the students and assessed. 
  • Consider using software or some other type of technology to make the curriculum mapping process easier and less time ​time-consuming
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Schweitzer, Karen. "Curriculum Mapping: Definition, Purpose, and Tips." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Schweitzer, Karen. (2020, August 27). Curriculum Mapping: Definition, Purpose, and Tips. Retrieved from Schweitzer, Karen. "Curriculum Mapping: Definition, Purpose, and Tips." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).