Develop Your Own “Big Ideas for RE” Curriculum

This guidance is designed for teachers or those who create RE curriculum documents (e.g. an agreed syllabus conference) who want to produce a unit of work using the materials published on the website ‘Big Ideas (Bis) for religious education (RE).

See also ‘How to write your own unit of learning.

First principles

Big Ideas have several powerful functions designed to make a subject challenging, interesting and coherent. Two of the most important principles to bear in mind are the following:

The focus of pupils’ learning in a BI curriculum is the Big Idea itself. This is one of the most important differences between the BI approach and more traditional approaches.   In order to write a successful BI unit, you will need to think differently. Most of us are accustomed to thinking and planning in terms of substantive knowledge e.g. ‘I’m writing a KS2 unit on Islam’.

In the world of Big Ideas we have to think instead e.g. ‘I’m writing a unit about why religions/worldviews are diverse and why they change’. You could write this unit with reference only to Islam, or any single tradition, but pupils will encounter a wider range of reasons if you illustrate the points you make with the best examples you can find. These are likely to come from different religions / worldviews.

The focus on the BIs as the object of learning is particularly important for enabling pupils (and others) to see coherence in the RE curriculum.  This has not always been a strength as RE can include so many different pieces of content, often in the same year, that it is sometimes difficult to explain what the subject is.  But with only six Big Ideas to think about rather than the mass of available substantive knowledge, the Big Ideas curriculum has a core of six recurring themes which, unlike substantive knowledge lend themselves well to differentiation.  

The second key focus of BI-based learning is transferability. The Bis are the core feature of the RE curriculum from ages  5-18.  The intention is that because they are expressed In general rather than religion-specific terms, pupils will learn that they can be transferred to other contexts throughout life.

For example, a tourist encountering Islamic art for the first time on a holiday in Morocco, who never learnt about Islamic art in RE lessons but did learn about BI2 at every key stage, will hopefully remember that in religious contexts, art is used ‘to express and support faith’, that it ‘contributes to national cultures’ and that it can be interpreted differently according to individuals’ perspectives. 

These reflections should enable our tourist to ask more searching questions that take his/her understanding beyond the usual observations of beauty and the skill of the artist.  

Pre-planning: thinking it through

The following example uses the three things you will need for planning a unit of work. They are all available on this website.

  1. The Medium-term plans: see, for example, medium-term plan for BI2 ages 7-11.
  2. The Pre-planning sheet [see below]
  3. The Unit of work planning template [see below]


We introduced this planning aid quite recently and found it to be helpful.  It can be used at the beginning of the process and guides you through the questions you need to ask. It should help you keep the BI in focus. The last column is for jotting down ideas for substantive content.



People often express their feelings and beliefs through art, music, poetry, story, drama and physical movement – both creating and observing/performing. These creative forms of expression also play important roles in most religions and cultures.


If you use the pre-planning template to make decisions about substantive knowledge and learning activities, writing the unit should be considerably easier and most importantly, you should remain focused on the BI.

Transfer the BI(s), the TRQs and Los from the pre-planning sheet.


This guidance is intended for those involved in writing an agreed syllabus or equivalent using the materials made available through the Big Ideas in Religious Education project.

What are the most important principles to bear in mind when writing a curriculum based on Big Ideas?

Big Ideas are powerful planning tools and they require writers to think differently about the RE curriculum.  For example, if you are planning a unit of work for BI2 using Islam and Hinduism to illustrate how people use art to convey their beliefs, you must at all times think and talk in terms of ‘pupils learning about how people express their ideas and beliefs through the arts’, not in terms of pupils learning about Islam and Hinduism.

This is not to disregard the importance of religions and worldviews.  But substantive knowledge has limitations as a basis of long term learning because it is difficult to use as a foundation for progression in the quality rather than the quantity of   pupils’ learning, To get the best for pupils out of Big Ideas, it is important that you understand and put into practice the following principles. 

  1. Be realistic about the relevance and importance of religion in pupils’ lives. We know from the census and various surveys that the majority of people in the UK identify themselves as people of no religion (Nones).   Most pupils in our schools (with the possible exception of schools with a religious character) are in this category.  Research shows that while Nones have little interest in institutional religion and religious authority, they are not necessarily atheist and many of them are interested in religious, moral and spiritual ideas.
  2. Look for the ‘relevance’ of RE not only in terms of the direct impact of religions / worldviews on pupils’ personal lives (which is probably minimal) but in terms of how religions / worldviews continue to shape our world. This century has been marked by the recognition that no-one can ignore the indirect impact of religion on their lives.  The Religion Media Centre website provides daily updates on many and varied religious issues that appear in the media. It provides valuable free resources for this approach.
  3. Remember that ‘transfer of learning’ is a key concept in the BI approach. By focusing their learning on the general concepts in the Big Ideas (general in that they are not specific to any one religion/worldview) pupils should gain understanding that transfers to new context, hopefully throughout their lives.    
  4. Use Big Ideas as the criteria for the selection and prioritising of subject knowledge in the curriculum (see ‘How to plan and write a unit of work using Big Ideas). 
  5. Use the Big Ideas as the criteria for assessment,   It is more important to check pupils’ learning against the age-related  BI narrative than the individual learning objectives. 

See also ‘How to write your own unit of learning.

What do we get?

The Big Ideas(BI) curriculum materials are available on this website, free of charge. These include:

    1. A full explanation of the theory behind the BI curriculum. You will find on the website copies of our two publications on Bis.
    2. The six Big Ideas identified in the project, set out in increasingly challenging expectations for age groups 5-7, 7-11, 11-14 and 14-18.  These form the basis of aims, learning objectives, progression and assessment for each age group.
    3. A set of detailed units of learning; one for each BI for each age group except for 7-11 where there are six for 7-9 and six for 9-11.  The units include resources (information sheets, task sheets, PowerPoint presentations and recommendations of other resources). The units for 14-18 are designed particularly for non-exam classes. The units and resources are quite detailed and take account of the fact that most teachers of RE do not have subject qualifications. 
    4. Assessment tasks at the end of each unit. Tasks set throughout the units function as both learning and assessment tasks.
    5. Access to new material as it appears on the website.  This includes blogs, Q&A, updates and new units of learning.

Can we download the units of learning and use them without making any changes?

Yes – and no.  Although it is possible to use the units of learning as a syllabus, you are likely to want to adapt them to the local context and the needs of your teachers.  There are a number of options.

  1. Publish the units in your syllabus, unchanged (hard copy or on line).
  2. Publish the units with some changes. ‘Changes’ could involve:

a. Changing one or more of the religions/worldviews used as the context for a unit

b. Replacing  a whole unit with one you have written yourselves.

c. Using the BI unit planning template to write a completely new set of units for one or more age groups.

[Don’t underestimate how long these last two points will take!]

Do we have to use the unit planning sheet provided?

You are free to use the materials as you wish. However, If the BI project is to have the desired impact on pupils’ learning, the processes that are based on the core philosophy of BIs should not be changed.  Each of the BI Medium-term plans in Chapter 6 of Putting Big Ideas into Practice in RE have been carefully designed with progression and continuity in mind.  They also help writers keep the BI in focus.  For each age group, every BI is set out in age-related terms.  Three or four Topic Related Questions (TRQs)  are based on the BI and each TRQ is accompanied by learning objectives, which are also designed to anchor the learning in the Bis.  To summarise, the following should not be changed:

        1. The Big Ideas themselves and their age-related versions. 
        2. The age-related medium-term planning sheets in Putting Big Ideas into Practice Chapter  6.
        3. The Topic Related Questions (TRQs).
        4. The learning objectives.
        5. The pre-planning and planning sheets provided (see blog xxx How to plan a unit of work for RE using Big Ideas.

These form the basis of learning and progression. However, the substantive knowledge, which provides the context for learning, will take many forms.

The project will be kept under review and users are encouraged to let us know via the website if they think that changes are required in the BI narratives.

Could we include the Medium-term plans from chapter 6 and the planning template as our agreed syllabus and leave teachers to write their own units of work?

In theory, yes, but we would strongly advise against it. Writing these units takes a long time, especially if the substantive knowledge is new to RE and requires a lot of research. While hoping that teachers will write or adapt units we strongly advise that they teach at least two of the pre-prepared units on the website first so that they can get a feel for how a BI curriculum works.

Do you hold the copyright for the website and its contents?

Yes- but by signing up as a user for educational purposes you automatically have the right to use the materials in any way you wish in the production of an RE curriculum. We do ask that you accredit materials to the BI website.