Curriculum coherence – threads of key concepts

One way of creating coherence in a curriculum is to pay close attention to the key concepts for each subject.  These key concepts go by other names such as big ideas or threshold concepts.  Whatever they are referred to, they are concepts that, once understood, transform a child’s understanding of that subject.  They can also be developed across year groups – they are not taught as one off ideas, they are a thread through the entire curriculum with children developing a more complex understanding as they get older.

Deciding on the key concepts starts with research.  There are a number of sources of information to gain a better understanding of them.  Mike Askew has written about the big ideas in maths.  The Association for Science Education (ASE) has published Wynne Harlen’s big ideas in science.  And of course, the national curriculum purpose of study and aims sections for each subject contain the concepts if you know what you’re looking for.  Further (great) advice on the matter can be found in the subject association websites.  They require a membership for access but are well worth the subscription.

Below are what my school has settled on for key concepts in each subject.  There is also a link to the relevant subject association where one exists.  Hope they’re useful.

English


  • Structure of a sentence
  • Words, phrases and sentences have an effect on the reader
  • Structure of stories
  • Imagery
  • Sound and phoneme / grapheme correspondence
  • Word decoding / sight recognition

English association website.

Maths


  • Estimation
  • Equivalence
  • Classification
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Position on a number line
  • Meaning of symbols
  • Sequences
  • Place value

Maths association website.

Science


  • All material in the universe made of tiny particles
  • Life
  • Gravity
  • A force is required to change an object’s movement
  • Organisms have a finite life span
  • Organisms require energy and materials and often have to compete for them
  • Genetic information is passed down to offspring
  • Finding the cause of phenomena
  • Explanations best fit the facts at a point in time

Science association website.

History


  • Significance (people, events and developments)
  • Continuity and change (chronology)
  • Cause, effect and legacy
  • Perspective and evidence

History association website.

Geography


  • The physical world
  • Place and space
  • Human environments
  • Scale
  • Interdependence
  • Change

Geography association website.

RE


  • Worship
  • Symbols
  • A good life
  • Holy places and pilgrimage
  • Key figures
  • Life after death
  • Celebration
  • Scripture

RE association website.

PSHE


  • Identity
  • Relationships
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Risk
  • Diversity and equality
  • Rights, responsibilities and consent
  • Change and resilience
  • Power
  • Career

PSHE association website.

PE


  • Practice
  • Conditioning
  • Performance and evaluation
  • Teamwork
  • Strategy

PE association website.

Art


  • Depth
  • Light and dark
  • Proportion
  • Mood / Colour
  • Texture

Art association website.

Music


  • Practice
  • Performance
  • Beat
  • Style
  • Musical structure
  • Musical dimension
  • Scales

Music association website.

MFL


  • Pronunciation
  • Intercultural understanding

MFL association website.

DT


  • Product evaluation
  • Design
  • Make
  • Evaluate

DT association website.

Computing


  • Digital literacy
  • Algorithms
  • Programming
  • Debugging
  • Networks

Computing association website.

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