Image by Jo Guldi

How to write a scheme of work: 10 tips

by FGTO on July 26, 2011

A good scheme of work is fundamental to progress and makes assessment so much easier.

So….the holidays are starting – Traditionally, the summer term is the time of year when you speak enthusiastically (well, maybe) about how you’re going to revamp/review/re-write your schemes of work so you can hit the ground running without a care in the world in September.

The holidays (hot and sunny, of course) stretch out in front of you and you think you’ve got all the time in the world to get it done.


With a least a week to wind down and a week to wind up at each end, plus a holiday if you’re lucky, plus all the household jobs that have been waiting all year, plus – oh, yes, having a rest as well, that six weeks is gone quicker than J K Rowling makes a million. (Sorry about the comparison – I know it hurts!)

Here are ten tips to help you to make some progress towards your bullet-proof scheme of work. Well,  “bullet-proof” scheme of work  is a bit of a dream. In the  words of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder:
“No plan survives contact with the enemy!” *

They are not definitive, nor is this the only way to approach the task… but they might just help to get you started.
Much of this will be common sense… but it’s easy to lose sight of the obvious when you’re actually out there in action or new to the task.


1.  Start with the overview

Start from the skeleton overview of the year, key stage or syllabus. It’s so easy to come across something that sparks off a “great idea for what we could do with the kids” and proceed to weave it into a scheme of work, or even build a whole scheme around it, come hell or high water.

Note these ideas down for reference, but don’t let them dominate your planning. Stick to what you need to teach.
Use sticky notes or a mindmap or other flexible system to organise your thoughts. You’ll need to move things around as you re-think.
NEVER try to write it straight into the template you’ve been given or have devised!

Map out which elements of a unit will be taught when. E.g Year 6 First half Autumn Term, Materials and their properties, second half, Humans and other animals. (This implies a modular approach to the planning, but it also applies to more integrated curricula.  It’s the level of detail at this stage that is important in the planning process.

2.  Lay the foundations

Invest a little time in finding out what they should already know, understand and be able to do. A scheme of work should build on what’s gone before, not re-cover old ground, no matter how much you think they’ve forgotten. You don’t have to teach everything about materials or humans and other animals.
Of course, what they should know, understand and be able to do, is not exactly the same as them actually knowing, understanding or being able to do, but at least it gives you a point a which to pitch the planning. You can only find out the facts of the situation by questioning and observing the students.
(Quick tip – direct questions such as “Have you done electricity before?” invariably generate the puzzled look and the answer “No”. Looking at it from their point of view – they’re expecting to learn something new, so aren’t really in a position to mind-read what you might be going to teach them. If they give you a confident “Yes”, they might be doing themselves out of something exciting. Better to say something like “You might remember doing some work before, looking at how you can light bulbs by making complete circuits… “etc.)

 3.  Map the REAL time

Draw out an overall calendar for the year and calculate how much time you will really have available for your scheme of work. Be aware that a half-term project when you have one lesson per week is only the equivalent of about 6 hours (even with homework) as lesson time will always be lost settling in, re-capping etc.
Also take note of bank holidays, events etc. which can knock out your timing, and also hit the same classes who have their lessons on Mondays and Fridays. I have known situations where on a two-week timetable, a class timetabled on Monday one week and Friday the second, lost a lot of teaching time over the year.
Be ambitious (but realistic) in what you can reasonably cover. Too fast/too slow are equally damaging to learning.

4.  Include key dates

Include deadlines for key submission dates/parents’ evenings/report-writing etc. – along with warning “alarms”. E.g. If work has to be submitted by end of April, then make sure there’s a warning in the plans in January to give people a realistic chance of getting stuff in.


5.  Add the next levels of detail

Once you’ve got the overview in place, add the next levels of detail. (Still using notes so they can be rearranged).
What needs to be taught in each element? E.g. if you’ve decided that Year 6 are learning about Materials in the first half of term one, decide what elements of the scheme will be taught, then what that entails. See example below.
Map out how that will be split across the weeks available.
(At this stage, splitting it between lessons is a bit too arbitrary as you won’t know what time will be needed for different activities.)
Grouping and classifying materials
Pupils will learn:
- how to recognise differences between solids, liquids and gases, in terms of ease of flow and maintenance of shape and volume.

    • What are the characteristics of solids, liquids and gases that we can use to classify them?
    • How do their characteristics make them useful for different purposes?
    • Can solids, gases ever have the same characteristics as liquids?

Changing materials
Pupils will learn:
- about the part played by evaporation and condensation in the water cycle

    • How the water cycle works;
    • Why the water cycle is so important and how it maintains balance in the environment;
    • What happens when part of the cycle doesn’t work? (E.g. flooding/drought etc.)

Assessment for learning:
Planning for assessment for learning at this stage will make it far easier to carry out and will inform how the teaching will be done.Identify how you will know if your students are learning -

E.g. (Assessment criteria in italics)
Pupils will learn:

  • how to recognise differences between solids, liquids and gases, in terms of ease of flow and maintenance of shape and volume.
    • What are the characteristics of solids, liquids and gases that we can use to classify them?
      Pupils will be able to:
      Describe the distinct and shared characteristics of solids, liquids and gases.
      Identify and group materials as solids, liquids and gases.
    • how their characteristics make them useful for different purposes?
      Pupils will be able to:
      Talk about why we might use solids, liquids and gases because of their properties.

7.  Make links

Always try to link to other subjects, contexts and experiences. Remember, if a pupil asks you, “Why are we doing this?” and you don’t have an answer…. well, why are you doing it?

 8.  Evaluate and value the work you’ve done before

Use what’s worked well from previous schemes of work, as long as if fits in with new developments. Check first whether it really enhances learning, or is just something that works and is “nice to do”.
Select resources and activities to support the learning objectives – not vice-versa.

9.  Know when to stop

Don’t try to plan everything down to the last detail. This leads to lack of involvement from other teachers using it, mechanical teaching and stress for you when they “stray off the script”, or something else throws a spanner in.

Leave room for a change of plan “on contact with the enemy”

 10.  Self preserve!

Start by not beating yourself up for not getting through the mountain of work you’ve set yourself, then take each stage separately one bit at a time.

 * Actual quote ”No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength”


Photo credit: Studying proctor - Jo Guldi


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Minerva November 1, 2012 at 10:25 pm

First off I would like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which
I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center
yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out.
I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the
first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just trying to figure out how to begin.
Any suggestions or tips? Kudos!


2 FGTO November 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

Thanks for your comment Minerva.
Don’t have any easy answers yet I’m afraid. I tend to have lots of ideas reference materials and connecting thoughts and gather them all together in a mind-map or Evernote. It then takes me a while to let things ferment and I end up drafting/re-drafting several times before finally hitting ‘publish’. The main thing is just to start writing and worry about refining it later. Get all your ideas down in front of you and then start ordering and re-wording. Don’t get so hung up on the opening paragraph that you don’t get to write the rest.I wish I could be more prolific and when I’m not trying to do too many other things maybe I’ll focus enough to solve the problem. ;-)
Let me know if you have any good ideas in the meantime.

Now I must get on with the next post….well overdue!


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