Big Ideas Curriculum

What is ‘Big Ideas’?

Big Ideas is an approach to curriculum design that was developed in the USA by science educators in 2010. They argued the content of the science curriculum did not build an interconnected understanding of science over time. Since this argument was made, many subjects have recognised the problem in their own area: there is a lot of content, but it is disjointed and does not allow an increasingly rich and connected understanding.

Reference: Harlen, W (2010) ‘Principles and Big Ideas for Science Education’ in Association for Science Education, p. 1

The Big Ideas approach to curriculum design can be imagined as ‘hooks’ upon which to hang smaller pieces of information. This allows a connected and increasingly sophisticated understanding over time. In Big Ideas thinking the ideas themselves are not set, and they will differ greatly across subjects. Big Ideas demands coherence in planning and encourages progression in curriculum design.

You may have heard of Big Ideas for Religious Education, a series of books written by Barbara Wintersgill and her team. This curriculum is much smaller than Wintersgill’s project, focusing only on two religions at GCSE, but it follows the same thinking.

An introduction to Big Ideas by Barbara Wintersgill

The thinking behind Big Ideas in Wintersgill et al’s original publication can be found here

A consideration of how Big Ideas might be put into practice


What is this curriculum resource?

This curriculum covers Islam and Christianity at GCSE and supports the Beliefs and Practices questions (Paper 1).

The curriculum is fully planned and resourced. You will want to take some time to read through the material and as you do you will see an overall plan, individual lessons and resources to support the lessons. Learning objectives are given and the Big Ideas background thinking is made clear.


What Big Ideas are used in this curriculum resource?

This curriculum resource was designed by a group of Heads of RE from various schools in London, Birmingham and Hastings, supported by RE Adviser Kate Christopher. This group of teachers spent time discussing the ‘hooks’ that the subject knowledge on the GCSE specification could hang on. These Big Ideas were chosen to help students make sense of the particular information required for Islam and Christianity beliefs and practices at GCSE.

5 Big Ideas have been identified. Full details are given within the curriculum resource. They are:

BELIEFS   –  Religion has beliefs

DIVERSITY   –  Religion is diverse

CONTEXT     Religious worldviews and practices have a context

ETHICS  –   Religion has an ethical dimension

PHILOSOPHY     Religion raises philosophical questions  


A note about Worldviews

Big Ideas thinking came to the attention of educators in the UK around the time the Commission on RE’s report introduced the term ‘religion and worldviews’ to describe the future direction of the subject. Although Big Ideas did not initially use the language of worldviews, it is closely aligned to a worldviews vision. Big Ideas draws on context and diversity to yield a wide understand religion and worldviews. Big Ideas also looks at content through multiple lenses in order to gain a rich understanding.

In this Big Ideas curriculum for GCSE the term ‘religion’ is explored as a category to support the GCSE specifications for Christianity and Islam.

Curriculum Resources for AQA Christianity Beliefs and Practices

Curriculum Resources for AQA Islam Beliefs and Practices