Using Curricula and Syllabi as Data

Document Type


Publication Date




  • To examine existing curricula and syllabi as data
  • To draw conclusions and claims from systematic examination of curricula


  • Paper
  • Pens
  • Copies of curricula and syllabi
  • Highlighters in multiple colors (note: green, yellow, & pink are used as examples here)
  • Flip chart paper/whiteboard
  • Markers/dry erase markers in matching colors to the highlighters

Prepare Before

Write your research question on the flip chart paper or whiteboard. Consider your group size to make sure there are enough copies of curricula/syllabi and highlighters for each group (i.e., in larger groups with many curricula, perhaps each group will look at a different curricular unit. In larger groups with only one or two curricular units, perhaps small groups will look at the same section of a curricular unit as another small group, and then compare).

Warm Up

Have participants individually journal on the following questions:

  • How do you know when an educational activity will have an impact on you?
  • Think about activities you do in your classes and outside of school. What are the qualities of a useful activity?


Discuss color coding and create a key on the whiteboard or chart paper.

  • Example:
    • Green highlighter = we should definitely come back to this. This activity or idea seems important to the work we’re trying to do.
    • Yellow highlighter = this seems important but something about the activity seems inauthentic or off. We will need to tweak this to use it.
    • Pink highlighter = this does not seem useful to us. We will skip this.

Look at an example lesson from a unit and discuss color coding as a group, and see if color coding needs to change based on the example. Discuss how to handle disagreements as a group. What if one person thinks we should use green and come back to the activity, and another person thinks we should use pink and skip it? How will we decide how to move forward?

Once the team has agreed on a color coding scheme, break into small groups of two-three people to discuss and code a portion of a curricular unit (perhaps 3-4 lesson plans). Keep track of justifications made when choosing which color is right for the activity. Write these down in the margins or on separate paper. Keep track of how many activities you have coded into each category

Share the number of activities in each color category and make overarching comments (e.g., if every activity from this unit was coded green, perhaps the unit itself would be useful for the whole team to look over and consider. If every activity was coded red, perhaps the team should no longer include this unit as a possibility). Share an example of a “green” activity and justification for labeling it as such. Share an example of a “yellow” activity and justification for labeling it as such. Share an example of a “red” activity and justification for labeling it as such.


Ask participants to individually respond to the following reflection questions:

  • Having coded several lesson plans and heard about others’ coding experience, what conclusions can you draw about what activities feel most useful to your group?
  • What common attributes did “green” activities have?


Looking through already existing curricula on your topic can be a helpful conversation starter and step to developing your own educational materials to address your issue. If you bring the same kind of systematic processing to looking at curricula as you would to looking at other sources of data, you can move forward with creating your own materials from an informed position. Drawing conclusions about what seems like it would work in your context, and why your team thought that, can help you design your own materials based on the information gleaned from conclusions and claims from the process.


Underline a conclusion you wrote in your reflection that you think is justifiable according to the color coding, justifications, and share out from the team. In a go-around, each person share their underlined conclusion. Record these on the whiteboard or chart paper.



If your team is looking at developing an educational workshop or series of workshops to address an issue, it may be useful to systematically look through already existing curricula on your topic. You might want to ask local schools if you can see their curricula on the topic, gather materials from local non-profits that are trying to address the issue, and google to find already existing materials publicly available online. The idea is to get an idea of what’s already out there, and what can be learned from those materials as you move forward with developing your own.