Syllabus Design: Needs Analysis


What are needs?

The term needs is not as straightforward as it might appear, and hence the term is sometimes used to refer to wants, desires, demands, expectation, motivations, lacks, constraints, and requirements (Brindley 1984, 28). Needs are often described in terms of a linguistic deficiency, that is, as de-scribing the difference between what a learner can presently do in a lan-guage and what he or she should be able to do.

Needs are often described in terms of language needs, that is, as the language skills needed to survive in an English-dominant society. But as Auer-bach (1995) and others have pointed out, in many cases, particularly that of immigrant minorities in English-dominant societies, such persons also have other kinds of needs. These relate to housing, health care, access to schooling for their children, access to community agencies and services, and ways of addressing exploitation and discrimination in the workplace.

What’s a Need Analysis?

Needs analysis is directed mainly at the goals and content of a course. It examines what the learners know already and what they need to know. Needs analysis makes sure that the course will contain relevant and useful things to learn. Good needs analysis involves asking the right questions and finding the answers in the most effective way.


The Purpose of Needs Analysis

Needs analysis in language teaching may be used for a number of different purposes, for example:

  1. to find out what language skills a learner needs in order to perform a particular role, such as sales manager, tour guide, or university student
  2.  to help determine if an existing course adequately addresses the needs of potential students
  3. to determine which students from a group are most in need of training in particular language skills
  4. to identify a change of direction that people in a reference group feel is important to identify a gap between what students are able to do and what they need to be able to do
  5. to collect information about a particular problem learners are experiencing.

Needs Analysis for ESL Programs for Public Schools

  1. to compile a demographic profile of all the languages and language groups represented by the students
  2. to assess their level of language acquisition in their native language and in English
  3. to determine their communicative abilities in English to determine their formal knowledge of English
  4. to find out how students use language on a daily basis
  5. to determine what English language skills are necessary to enable students to participate in all school and community activities in English
  6. to find out what prior experiences students have had with formal educa-tion
  7. to determine the attitudes of the students and their families toward formal schooling and’ education
  8.  to find out what preliteracy and literacy skills the students possess
  9.  to ascertain the students’ level of cognitive development and acquisition of academic skills in their native language(s)
  10. to ascertain what cognitive and academic skills students have acquired in English
  11.  to determine the cultural, political, and personal characteristics of students.

Deciding the purpose of  a need analysis

The first step in conducting a  need analysis is deciding what’s its purpose or purposes are. For example when a need analysis of restaurants employees is conducted the purpose might be:

  1. to determine current levels of language proficiency of employees
  2. to determine how many employees are in need of the language training
  3. to identify senior restaurant staff’s perception of language problems employees have on the job
  4. to identify employees’ perceptions of language difficulties they face on the job
  5. to ascertain the types of transactions employees typically perform in English
  6. to determine the language characteristics of those transactions
  7. to assess the extent to which employees’ needs are met by currently available programs and textbooks

In other cases, learners’ needs may not be so immediate — for example, students learning English as a secondary school subject in an ESL context. Here English may be a compulsory subject that is considered an important part of a child’s general education. However, even though the students may not have any immediate perceptions of needs, curriculum planners will generally have consulted employers, parents, teachers, and others to find out what knowledge of English they expect highschool graduates to achieve. In many countries, the introduction of English or another foreign language in elementary or secondary school is based on what curriculum planners consider best for students to study at school in the same way that math, history, and physical education are included in the school currirninm Learners are not consulted as to whether they perceive a need for such knowledge. Their needs have been decided for them by those concerned with their long term welfare.


The Users of Need Analysis

A needs analysis may be conducted for a variety of different users. For example, in conducting a needs analysis to help revise the secondary school English curriculum in a country, the end users include:

  1. curriculum officers in the ministry of education, who may wish to use the information to evaluate the adequacy of existing syllabus, curriculum, and materials.
  2. teachers who will teach from the new curriculum
  3. learners, who will be taught from the curriculum
  4. writers, who are preparing new textbooks
  5. testing personnel, who are involved in developing end-of-school assessments •
  6. staff of tertiary institutions, who are interested in knowing what the expected level will be of students exiting the schools and what problems they face

The Target Population

The target population in a needs analysis refers to the people about whom information will be collected. Typically, in language programs these will be language learners or potential language learners, but others are also often involved depending on whether they can provide information useful in meeting the purposes of the needs analysis. For example, in conducting a needs analysis to determine the focus of an English program in public secondary schools in an EFL context, the target population might include:

  1. policy makers
  2. ministry of education officials
  3. teachers
  4. students
  5. academics
  6. employers
  7. vocational training specialists
  8. parents
  9. influential individuals and pressure groups
  10. academic specialists
  11. community agencies

Procedures for conducting needs analysis

A variety of procedures can be used in conducting needs analysis and that kind of information obtained is often dependent on the type of procedure  selected. Since any one source of information is likely to be incomplete or partial, a triangular approach (i.e., collecting information from two or more source) is advisable. Many different sources of information should be sought. For example, when a needs analysis of the writing problems encountered by foreign students enrolled in American universities is conducted, information could be obtained from the following sources:

  1. samples of student writing
  2. test data on student performance
  3. reports by teachers on typical problems students face
  4. opinions of experts
  5. information from students via interviews and questionnaires
  6. analysis of textbooks teaching academic writing
  7. survey or related literature
  8. examples of writing programs from other institutions
  9.  examples of writing assignments given to first-year university students

Procedures for collecting information

Questionnaires are one of the most common instruments used. They are relatively easy to prepare, they can be used with large numbers of subjects, and they obtain information that is relatively easy to tabulate and analyze. They can also be used to elicit information about many different kinds of-issues, such as language use, communication difficulties, preferred learning styles, preferred classroom activities, and attitudes and beliefs.

Self-ratings: These consist of scales that students or others use to rate their knowledge or abilities. (Self-ratings might also be included as part of a questionnaire.)

Interviews: allow for a more in-depth exploration of issues than is possible with a questionnaire, though they take longer to administer and are only feasible for smaller groups. An interview may often be useful at the preliminary stage of designing a questionnaire, since it will help the designer get a sense of what topics and issues can be focused on in the questionnaire. A structured interview in which a set series of questions is used allows more consistency across responses to be obtained. Interviews can be conducted face-to-face or over the telephone.

Meetings:  A meeting allows a large amount of information to be collected in a fairly short time. For example, a meeting of teachers on the topic “students’ problems with listening comprehension” might generate a wide range of ideas. However, information obtained in this way may be impressionistic and sub-jective and reflect the ideas of more outspoken members of a group.

Observations of learners’ behavior in a target situation is another way of as-sessing their needs. For example, observing clerks performing their jobs in a bank will enable the observer to arrive at certain conclusions about their language needs. However, people-often do not perform well when they are being ob-served, so this has to be taken into account. In addition, observation is a spe-cialized skill. Knowing how to observe, what to look for, and how to make use of the information obtained generally requires specialized training.

Additional Resources

  1. Needs Analysis (PDF File)
  2. Needs Analysis from the University of Arizona ( PDF File)

Good Reads: The Gift of the Magi


“The Gift of the Magi” is a short story, written by O. Henry (a pen name for William Sydney Porter), about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. As a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift-giving, it has been a popular one for adaptation, especially for presentation at Christmas time. The plot and its twist ending are well-known, and the ending is generally considered an example of comic irony.


  1. The Gift of the Magi ( Short Story)
  2. The Gift of the Magi ( Play )



Introduction to Drama


Drama is a form of literature acted out by performers. Performers work with the playwright, director, set and lighting designers to stage a show.

Live actors act as someone else called a character.

A play consists of:

  1. dialogue – where characters talk with each other
  2. action – what characters do in the play
  3. gesture – what the character shows through motion(s) and expression(s)

A script, written by a playwright, gives the actors words and cues to perform the dialogue, actions and gestures of their characters on stage.

As a reader, you can only imagine what the gestures, expressions and voices of the characters are like. Remember you must imagine the “sounds,” actions and scenery when you are reading a script.

Reading a play is like listening to a conversation, and using your imagination to guess at what the characters are like. This conversation is what actors will perform on the stage and will give you an idea of how other people, including the playwright, imagined the play to be.

Drama differs from short stories and novels because it is made to be performed by different actors in different locations throughout time. While the script remains the same, actors’ interpretations of a single role may differ.

If you have read a play and then see it, you may be surprised because the play may be different from what you had imagined. This is similar to reading a story and then seeing a movie of that story– it is rarely exactly what you had imagined.

Types of Drama



There are three basic types of drama:

  1. Tragedy – a serious, solemn play based on an important social, personal, or religious issue.
  2. Comedy – a play that shows the humorous actions of characters when they try to solve social, personal, or religious problems.
  3. Tragicomedy – a play or novel containing elements of both comedy and tragedy.

Analyzing Drama

How you react to a play will depend on:

  1. your individual perspective of the world
  2. your sense of humor
  3. you political attitudes
  4. your moral values

Analysis begins by asking what factors about the play shaped your response.

Aspects of drama that help you to enjoy and interpret a play:

  1. setting
  2. structure
  3. characterization
  4. theme
  5. dramatic irony

Setting – The scenic design and props. These add meaning and historical context to what characters do and say in the drama. Some components of the setting are as follows:

  1. the orchestra, the performance and dancing area for actors and chorus, which was utilized by Greek theater to inform audiences of what happens “off stage.” (i.e. no murders or suicides were shown; instead, a messenger would inform the characters of the news).
  2. lighting is used to show illusion of time, highlight an action, or emphasize an event or character. Lighting is more complicated today than it was in ancient times, because plays used to be shown only outside.
  3. costumes are used to portray age, class, profession or ethnic culture.

Structure – The way a play is organized into sections. Most plays are divided into acts and scenes.A traditional play follows the structural pattern of a traditional short story or novel. It has an introduction (exposition), conflict, climax, and a resolution (denouement).

Characterization – the way the actor portrays the character’s qualities and faults.

The actor plays a role that animates the character’s:

  1. traits
  2. moral qualities
  3. physical presence
  4. voice
  5. Qualities of a personality may be either physical and superficial (external) or psychological and spiritual (internal). Characters can possess both types of traits.

External characteristics (characteristics that flat, one-dimensional characters possess):

  1. names
  2. physical appearance
  3. physical nature
  4. manner of speech and accent
  5. manner of dress
  6. social status
  7. class
  8. education
  9. friends
  10. family
  11. community interests
  12. Internal characteristics
  13. thoughts
  14. feelings
  15. emotions

Types of Characters:

  1. Protagonist: The main character of a play, the one who is the center of action and holds your attention.
  2. Antagonist: The character who causes problems for the protagonist.
  3. Foil: The character that acts as the butt of the jokes. Also a character used to show contrast with the main character.
  4. Confidant: Friend or servant of the antagonist or protagonist who by “listening” provides the audience with a window into what the major characters are thinking and feeling.
  5. Stock Characters: Superficial roles. (Ex: comic, victim, simpleton/fool, braggart, pretender).

Theme: The central purpose or message of the play as developed by the playwright (i.e. the playwright’s message for the audience).

Dramatic Irony: The contrast between what the character thinks the truth is and what the audience knows the truth to be. This occurs when the speaker fails to recognize the irony of his actions.