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4 Ways How to Design an ESL Syllabus

4 Ways How to Design an ESL Syllabus | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In the existing literature on language education, the terms CURRICULUM and SYLLABUS are sometimes used interchangeably, sometimes differentiated, and sometimes misused and misunderstood. Rodger (1989:26, cited in Richards, 2001:39) makes a distinction between a syllabus and curriculum. According to Rodgers, syllabi (or syllabuses), which prescribe the content to be covered by a given course, form only a small part of the total school program. The curriculum is a far broader concept. The curriculum is all those activities in which children engage under the auspices of the school. This includes not only what students learn, but how they learn it, how teachers help them learn, using what supporting materials, styles, and methods of assessment, and in what kind of facilities.

Actually, syllabus and curriculum are differentiated based on the distinctions outlined above. A syllabus is a specification of what takes place in the classroom, which usually contains the aims and contents of teaching and sometimes contains suggestions of methodology. In some sense, the syllabus is part of a curriculum.

According to the data of current trends in syllabus design, we found four types of the syllabus from it.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Teying Betty Karlsson D. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

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1. Structural Syllabus

Influenced by structuralist linguistics, the structural syllabus is a grammar-oriented syllabus based on a selection of language items and structures. The underlying assumption behind grammatical syllabuses is that language is a system which consists of a set of grammatical rules; learning a language means learning these rules and then applying them to practical language use. The structural syllabus has been used for many years, and still dominates some language programs, including most of the foreign language courses in China.

I used my real experiences to compare the difference of school syllabus design between China and Sweden. Those experiences are persuasive as an observation method because it is what I have experienced. Here, I would state my two experiences, one is in China; the other one is in Sweden. In China, our students should keep quiet and focus on listening to the teacher in class, and we usually sit alone. In Sweden, the teacher only leads a class and would like to hear students’ free talking, and they usually sit around a few people like a small team.

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In Sweden, the curriculum provided students with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduced students to the best that has been thought and said; and helped engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement. That’s why their class environment is much free. In contrast to our style, when I was middle school students, I didn’t understand our course syllabus that why do I have to know all of the geometry and aimed to try to get the highest score. Through the two cases that I experienced, I found the teachers set the aims for the students were different which caused those lots of different phenomenon. In China, teachers got their target from the government education department and that might match their salary and bonus.

The examination is a way to test students and report both students’ study results and teachers’ education result. So, they aimed to make the students getting a higher score and big progress. However, most of the Chinese school teacher forgot main their responsibility was to teach students how to set study as their fun and obligation. Here, it’s as same as all the rules need to be changed. On the other hand, this is why we all feel it’s so boring to learn grammar that makes a lot of students lose interest in learning a second language.

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2. Situational Syllabus

The situational syllabus does not have a strong linguistic basis, it can be assumed that the situationists accept the view that language is used for communication. The aim of the situational syllabus is specifying the situations in which the target language is used. Grammatical forms and sentence patterns are introduced and practice, but they are knitted in dialogues entitled “At the Airport”, “At the Supermarket”, “At the Bank” and so on. The mother-tongue teaching method is based on situational syllabus design. And it is the same as the example shows above, it will attract and motivate students to use language. This syllabus has a strong benefit of language use and communication. However, as L2 teachers it’s an extremely hard job to hold a certain situation for over 20 minutes with over 5 students, meanwhile target to finish the teaching goals.

The situational syllabus has certain advantages over the structural syllabus, for it sets out to meet the learner’s direct communicative needs. However, since the situational syllabus relies on whatever linguistic description is available, and at its time this meant structuralist grammar, such a syllabus is essentially grammatical. Some people regard it as “pseudo-functional”. The situations described in a textbook cannot be truly “authentic”. Moreover, the arrangement of the situations is not systematic.

Also Read: How I Constructed My First ESL Lesson Plan

3. Communicative Syllabus

A communicative syllabus aims at the learner’s communicative competence. Based on a notional-functional syllabus, it teaches the language needed to express and understand different kinds of functions, and emphasize the process of communication. It has a similar part of the situational syllabus that they both are good at training students’ communication skills.

4. Task-based Syllabus

Task-based syllabuses are more concerned with the classroom processes which stimulate learning than with the language knowledge or skills that students are supposed to master. These syllabuses consist of a list of specifications of the tasks and activities that the learners will engage in in-class in the target language.

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All in all, syllabus design is not only a teaching field but also a learning field. It is synthesis writing. This writing skill using in syllabus design will help to set up concepts of teaching targets. The syllabus design will be attractive to students to start to read the class and also remind teacher teaching steps clearly. Syllabus design helps not only teachers teaching, but also helps students learning. It should be a guide to lead students to be able to self-study. Obviously, it is playing an important role in the teaching field.

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