Building Your Health Curriculum

I have been quoted as saying “If you care about kids, and you care about their lifelong health, then it would be wrong of you not to consider skills-based health.” and I truly believe that. Transitioning away from teaching purely content, and moving towards weaving that content into lessons teaching health skills has been the single most rewarding, and difficult, task in my classroom over the past 5 years. If you are still seeking to improve your skill-based health curriculum then you will LOVE this weeks post from Amy Prior, a #HealthEdRockStar and teaching idol of mine! In it she has laid out of of the steps that you can visit, and re-visit, as you seek to make your curriculum one that reflects the needs of your students. 

It is probably fair to assume that by now most teachers have begun their preparations for next school year, or at the very least have given it some thought. Having time away from students and your school building in the summer provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on your previous year and make adjustments (or even revamp) your health curriculum.

Building a health curriculum can be challenging on multiple fronts; money, resources, state and district requirements, etc. However, self-reflection is also vital to your classroom to keep you on top of your craft and to keep your class current and relevant. Furthermore, you are probably too well aware that health is not on the top of anyone’s list of providing new resources- especially curriculum and textbooks! This makes revamping your curriculum even more critical.

My state hasn’t adopted a new textbook since 2005 and our textbook still has the Food Guide Pyramid in it not to mention it is older than my students! YIKES! This can also make transitioning to a skills-based health classroom slightly more challenging due to outdated resources. Even if you are able to purchase new materials, there are only a few more recent textbook resources on the market currently and various state bureaucracies and policies can make this even more complicated.

As a classroom teacher, we often have little say in the textbook adoption process but are still responsible for providing a quality health education to our students. Personally, I think this makes it a perfect opportunity and reason to pull your sleeves up, get a little dirty, and build your program from the ground up. 

So where do you begin?

I would suggest looking at the National Health Education Standards and comparing them with your state standards. I think something that is often overlooked is that each national standard has grade level indicators to help guide your instruction. For example, Standard 3. When you click on the link your will see the actual standard, the rationale for the standard, and grade level indicators broken down into Pre-K-Grade 2, Grade 3-5, Grade 6-8, and Grade 9-12. This should give you an idea of a scope and sequence to your curriculum and make it easier for you to align to your state standards. I use this information to make a “crosswalk” so to speak for my state and it is where I begin my planning. (MS National/State Standard Crosswalk

Creating units and lessons…

You need to decide your units. Will you use traditional units such as Nutrition, Alcohol, Tobacco, & Other Drugs (ATOD), Mental/Emotional Health, etc. or use skills-based health unit titles like Decision Making, Analyzing Influences, Goal Setting, Advocacy, etc.? Doing the latter is a big shift, not only for you as a teacher, but also for students, parents, and other staff in your building. To help me and my colleagues wrap our heads around this concept, I created a document for each grade level in my building and plugged our standards into “traditional” units outlined by our state department of education.

Here is my 6th grade example: Units & Standards 6th Grade. In addition to helping my colleagues understand skills-based health education, I think this document helps to also show how many of our state standards are not quite up to speed with our national standards in regards to traditional health vs skills-based health. The key is to incorporate the two so that your classroom is skills-based as well as in compliance with state guidelines. Personally, I like to use the skills-based health lesson titles when teaching in my classroom. This method affords me multiple context topics to teach the same skills. I feel it also allows me to focus on the skill rather than the context, which is how I interpret the philosophy of the national standards. My colleagues, however, prefer the more traditional route. Our difference in opinion is a great opportunity for us to have conversations with each other and our administration so everyone is on the same playing field and to demonstrate there is more than one way to accomplish our goal of teaching quality health education.

Putting it together in lessons and assessments…

Begin with the end in mind. (Backward Design Model) What do you want your students to be able to do after they have completed your class? Think about what you assess your students on and how you will assess them. This is where referencing the performance indicators is helpful and keeps you on track. Sarah Benes and Holly Alperin have a fabulous resource called Lesson Planning for Skills-Based Health Education. It provides a plethora of ideas and examples for assignments, projects, and assessments. Many of the guest bloggers featured on #slowchathealth, myself included, are also contributors to this resource.

Remember, you’re a facilitator guiding your students’ learning and growth. Gone are the days of reading passages, answering questions, and copying definitions then having students take a multiple guess test as well as going through a powerpoint presentation and having students take notes. In today’s classroom students need to be actively engaged in their learning. I tell my students if they can Google what I am teaching them then I am not doing my job. To be an effective facilitator you have to put your time into planning & preparation, implementing, and providing effective quality feedback to your students during the process as well as at the end of your unit.

  1. Planning & Preparing: This is ever evolving and changing as class dynamics change and even our data and information change. For example, we now focus more on vaping vs cigarettes. The more you allow yourself to prepare in advance the more smoothly your lessons will run. This will seem like a lot at first but once you have an opportunity to tweak and perfect your lessons it will get easier. I think one of the biggest issues we shoot ourselves in the foot with is not staying current with research and data. I use information from The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, CDC, and the National Institutes of Health. They all have wonderful resources that are current, visually appealing (Toolkit Example), and FREE. I have even adjusted my data points in my lessons mid-year as they are updated from these resources. This does take time, however, you will see the benefit of your efforts in your class and your students. One time saver I use is uploading content online using online platforms such as Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, or whatever platform your school uses. Even if you are not in a 1:1 technology school, getting enough devices for students to work in groups and have access to one device makes a difference.  
  2. Implementing: This is where your personal flare comes in to play. I run my health class similarly to how I run my PE class and use small groups for student work. For me, it allows me to personalize my class for my students and their needs. This is key for me since I teach all students in our building including gifted and talented students, English Language Learners, general education students and lower level students all in the same class. I can differentiate my instruction as needed and my students never skip a beat. This is also where I break my context topics from my state standards down. One group will have the topic of ATOD while another group may be working on a nutrition topic and another mental/emotional health all while working on the same health skill. Keeping in mind I am assessing their ability to apply the health skill we are learning and not their ability to regurgitate knowledge of the context information or functional knowledge. This method also affords me the ability to create more rigorous tasks for my advanced students while providing various supports for my lower level students and everyone is on task. I can also adjust groups to be more heterogeneous and use their groups to work on projects where they have to collaborate with one another, allowing them to develop their communication, cooperation, and leadership skills.
  3. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback! To me, this is one of the most important components of my class. In a traditional class we teach information, give students an opportunity to apply the information, and then give them an assessment. Students receive their grade and we move on to the next topic. As with any skill, it takes practice, trial and error, and an opportunity to apply what you’ve learned. This is why professional athletes at the top of their game are ever changing and practicing their craft. I often hear my students sharing their concern about another class and how they thought they knew the material and worked so hard yet they didn’t make the grade they thought they should. Assessment shouldn’t be an “I gotcha” moment, but more of a collaborative effort to help guide them through their skill development. Back to the athlete example, after a game or match most athletes watch video of their performance with their coach and team. They all work together to analyze and make adjustments for the next time they need to perform the skill. They certainly don’t move on without addressing the parts of their performance that were lacking. The same holds true with our classes and I feel this takes the “fear” of failure away while increasing student participation and engagement and ultimately student learning and skill application. I like to use rubrics for my assignments and assessments so students know in advance the expectations for their work and they can cross reference their work as they go. (6th Grade Goal Setting Example) I feel this helps eliminate any surprises when feedback and grading happens. It also gives the students the ability to have conversations about their work and expectations with their peers, parents, and myself.


Like our students, our class will not be perfect the first or second or even fifth time we try something new. We lead by example and the “skill” of teaching is something we are continually working on. It is important to demonstrate this to our students and colleagues as well as allow ourselves to be vulnerable to improving. I often ask my students for feedback and use class surveys to gather information to reflect upon so I can tweak my curriculum to best serve my students. I would love to keep the conversation going with you and hear your feedback and successes. Please tweet me @priorteach using the hashtag #slowchathealth. Best of luck to you next school year and enjoy the rest of your summer.

If you are still improving your delivery of skills-based health then Amy’s blog post should serve as a guide for you throughout the year. She has shared some awesome resources in this post, some of which have been the subject of past slowchathealth blog posts that you might like.

Using CDC YRBS Data in your classroom.

Lesson Planning for Skills-Based Health from Holly Alperin and Sarah Benes.

11 thoughts on “Building Your Health Curriculum

  1. Excellent suggestions on how to build skills-based health education! The ability to plan and implement lessons and units are foundation skills. Knowing how to plan, allows the teacher to tailor make an instructional plan that meets the needs of their students. Just like learning a skill, it takes practice, practice, and more practice.

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