Syllabus Design A syllabus is an outline of the subjects in a course of study. The traditional syllabus focuses on the outcome rather than the process, but over time, the line between syllabus design and methodology has become blurred. Today, many syllabi focus on situations, as well as structure. "A complete syllabus will include all five aspects: structure, function, situation, topic, skills. The difference between syllabuses will lie in the priority given to each of these aspects" (White 92).
There are two main types of syllabi. Product-oriented syllabi focus on the desired outcome for the teacher and students
. This is sometimes referred to as the synthetic approach. Process-Oriented syllabi focus more on the specifics of how the students
will learn. This is sometimes referred to as the analytical approach.
There are three main ways to approach a product-oriented syllabus. The first, and probably the most prevalent is the structural approach. Each step in the syllabus (usually grammatical units in language teaching) is meant to be compounded with the previously learned material. The typical criticisms of this approach are that the connections between units are typically weak, that that there are many more aspects to language than just grammar. What complicates this more is that "recent corpus based research suggests there is a divergence between the grammar of the spoken and the written language" (Rabbini 1).
The situational approach to a product-oriented syllabus focuses on situations the students
will likely face outside the classroom. The main advantage of this type of approach is that the material is centered around the learner, not necessarily just the subject matter. This increases the typical student
's interest and motivation. The main disadvantage is that a learner's need's are not universal, therefore this approach cannot guarantee to completely encompass every student
's potential language situations.
This brings us to the final product-oriented approach, the functional approach. As opposed to focusing on situations or grammar, the functional approach, addresses the "communicative purpose and conceptual meaning of language" (Rabbini 1). This type of syllabus is best constructed after a needs-analysis of the students
has been completed.
There are also three main ways to approach a process-oriented syllabus. The first is the procedural, or task-based approach, which focuses less on grammatical study and more on language use through classroom activities and exercises. The theory here is that language is best learned through use and practice, and that the brain will subconsciously pick up the grammatical patterns while the students
use the language to complete tasks or solve puzzles.
Another process-oriented approach is the learner-led syllabus. Here the syllabus is incredibly flexible based on the students
, hoping to dramatically increase interest and motivation. This is not recommended for inexperienced teachers, as it lacks support and guidance.
The last process-oriented approach is it proportional approach. This type of syllabus initially focuses on form, but progresses towards interactional components, creating a sort of balance. This type of syllabus can be very flexible, as the "shift from form to interaction can occur at any time and is not limited to a particular stratum of learner ability" (Rabbini 1). It is important that this type of syllabus focuses on what will be taught, "not what will be learned" (Yalden 87).
As you can see there are many ways to approach syllabus design, but a good modern syllabus should draw from multiple approach to ensure the needs of the students
are met. Considering the learning process is just as important as looking forward to the final product.
Nunan, D. Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Rabbini, Roberto. An Introduction to Syllabus Design and Evaluation.
The Internet TESL Journal. Vol. VIII, No. 5, May 2002.
White, R.V. The ELT Curriculum : Design, Innovation And Management. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988.
Yalden, J. Principles of Course Design for Language Teaching. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1987.