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The Principles of Designing a Syllabus

The Principles of Designing a Syllabus | ITTT | TEFL Blog

English is the widely used language in the world that used as an official language in a majority of countries, as the main business language and as a universal language for education and tourism. Based on their interests and responsibilities people decide what type of English they should learn and try to find the most suitable course for their personal goals. From another perspective, as English teachers, our obligation is to create a course that consists of materials that help students to reach their goals and allow us to present English in a structured and the most appropriate way. As a result, the problem of syllabus design that meets students' expectations appears.

Table of Contents

Definition of Syllabus

Main Types of Syllabus

Practical Aspect of Syllabus Design

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The main aim of this essay is to define what syllabus design is and how to design the syllabus depends on the goals of your students. To achieve them it is important to explain several questions. Firstly, it is important to state the definition of syllabus. Also, the difference between curriculum and syllabus should be explained. Secondly, the most common approach to the syllabus design should be discussed to identify key features and main aspects of each of them. In the third part of the essay, the design of the syllabus based on the teacher’s goal should be done to explain which parts should be included in a syllabus.

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

Definition of Syllabus

According to various research papers, the term ‘syllabus’ in language education was introduced around the 1980s by different researchers.

According to D. Nunan, a syllabus is “a statement of content which is used as the basis for planning courses of various kinds, and that the task of the syllabus designer is to select and grade this content”.

Often ‘syllabus’ is mixed with ‘curriculum’. However, to understand the difference is not a complicated task. Generally, a syllabus is written in more general, structured and concrete compare to the curriculum. Several syllabuses may be included in one curriculum. In addition to syllabuses, one curriculum may include methodology, assessment and evaluation parts, etc. Sometimes ‘syllabus’ can be mixed with ‘methodology’. However, the difference exists between these two definitions. When we speak about syllabus design we include it mostly selection and grading of content. On the other side, methodology design includes a variety of learning tasks and activities that can be used during the study process.

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Also Read: Where can I teach English abroad as a non native speaker?

Main Types of Syllabus

Several approaches to syllabus design exist. Ther are structural, functional, situational, skill-based, task-based, and content-based syllabuses. In this hierarchy structural syllabus is more concentrated on language forms and structures (usually grammatical structure) while content-based syllabus changed the main goals from language structure to the use of language. In addition to the previous explanations, types of the syllabus are also differing in a way how language is analyzed before presentation to the students. According to structural syllabus language structure and rules should be analyzed before its presentations to the learner. On the other hand, according to content-based syllabus students start to use language without any pre-analysis.

Each type of syllabus has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, syllabuses that are based on grammatical topics (tenses, nouns, adjectives, articles) restricts the kind of situations that can be described by students. They need to know past simple and present perfect to speak about their past while a previous vacation or some other previous experience may be a good topic for active discussion. The same problem arises with other types of syllabuses. Six different approaches to syllabus design may be mixed and applied depends on specific practical situations.

If we analyze modern coursebooks we can see that editors propose a combination of different kinds of syllabuses and include in a unit grammar topic, a suitable set of words and phrases, explain potential issues in pronunciation and so on. However, often grammar is the core of the syllabus and all other aspects and surrounds it.

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Also Read: Lesson Planning as a Medium of Effective Learning

Practical Aspect of Syllabus Design

Syllabus design activity is a complicated task that requires not only theoretical knowledge but also practical experience.

The first stage of syllabus design should be an understanding of the motivation of students to learn English as a second language. It is clear, that students should be engaged in learning activities in completely different ways when English is a mandatory subject for them (e.g., mandatory class in school or university, ‘a must’ for job promotion, etc.) or when it is a hobby or one of the free-time activities. Another important part of syllabus design is a goal to learn a language. The motivation of students and their goals to study language are connected but sometimes not the same. So, both of these aspects should not be forgotten.

Especially for modern learners, the syllabus should be adapted to meet students' needs and expectations. This practical aspect of syllabus design includes several important components that should be taken into consideration. There are the following:

  • The situations in which the foreign language will be used, including the topics which will be dealt with
  • The language activities in which the learner will engage
  • The language functions which the learner will fulfill
  • What the learner will be able to do concerning each topic
  • The general notions which the learner will be able to handle
  • The specific (top-related) notions which the learner will be able to handle
  • The language forms which the learner will be able to use
  • The degree of skill with which the learner will be able to perform

Also, the syllabus should include a description of evaluation and assessment procedures. This part is important even in English language courses where evaluation procedures are not common. However, both students and teachers should understand main evaluation points, complete needed tasks and received assessment results. It allows the teacher to modify the content of the course to ensure a better understanding of the students.

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Nowadays, the education system should be as flexible as possible to meet students’ needs and expectations. Frequently, because of this and a big variety of coursebooks with study plans some teachers pretend to ignore the preparation of the syllabus for their courses. However, syllabus design is an important part of the learning process that not only allows us to describe the structure of the course but also pretends to be a single point of truth for course objectives. Actually, in the modern world when flexibility is one of the important things to the students, a good syllabus allows them to plan their activities and course participants in a more effective way. On the other hand, a good syllabus also allows a teacher to stay on track and always remember the main points of the English language learning path.

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Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching / Buch. Harlow, Pearson/Longman, 2015.Krahnke, Karl. Approaches to Syllabus Design for Foreign Language Teaching. New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1987.Nunan, David. Syllabus Design. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010.