Syllabus Design: Providing for Effective Teaching

Teacher talking time

Quality teaching is achieved not only as a consequence of how well teachers teach but through creating contexts and good environments that can facilitate good teaching.

The Institution

A school’s organizational culture is revealed in the way the following questions are answered:

  1. What are the school’s goals and mission?
  2. What is the school’s management style?
  3. What shared values do staff have?
  4. What are the decision-making characteristics of the school?
  5. What roles do teachers perform?
  6. How are teaching and other work planned and monitored?
  7. What provision is made for staff development?
  8. How are courses and curriculum planned?
  9. How receptive is the school to change and innovation?
  10. How open are communication channels?

Quality indicators in an institution Language teaching institutions vary greatly in terms of how they view their educational mission. Some schools hopefully the majority are committed to providing quality educational services. They have a clearly articulated mission. They take seriously the development of a sound curriculum and set of programs, hire the best available teachers, and provide quality instruction and the kinds of support teachers need to achieve their best. The following characteristics are indicators of the quality of a school or educationak institution.

  1. There are clearly stated educational goals.
  2. There is a well-planned, balanced, and organized program that meets the needs of its students.
  3. Systematic and identifiable processes exist for determining educational needs in the school and placing them in order of priority.
  4. There is a commitment to learning, and an expectation that students will do well.
  5. There is a high degree of staff involvement in developing goals and making decisions.
  6. There is a motivated and cohesive teaching force with good team spirit.
  7. Administrators are concerned with the teachers’ professional development and are able to make the best use of their skills and experience.
  8. The school’s programs are regularly reviewed and progress toward their goals  is evaluated.

Other aspects to consider are the following:

  1. A sound curriculum: Well developed courses and teaching materials and test of high quality.
  2. Flexible organization framework: There is an atmosphere of trust and support  with reasonable teaching loads.
  3. Good Internal Communications: Sytems that facilitate the communication among teachers.
  4.  Professional Treatment of teachers:  Teachers don’t work under poor employment conditions
  5. Teacher Development: Teachers develop long-term career goals.
  6. Equipment: An institution that provides and invest in technology.
  7. Class Size: Language classes should not exceed fifteen students.



Many things can be done to create a context for good teaching, but it is teachers themselves who ultimately determine the success of a program. Good teachers can often compensate for deficiencies in the curriculum, the materials, or the resources they make use of in their teaching. In this section, we will consider the teachers themselves and how their role can be supported in a program skills and qualifications. Language teaching institutions vary greatly in the type of teachers they employ. In some situations, there may be a choice between native speakers of English and nonnative speakers of English with varying levels of English-language proficiency. Within both groups there may be further choices possible based on teaching experience and professional qualifications. Views concerning the appropriate qualifications of language teachers have changed in recent years as the field of TESOL has become more professionally demanding of itself and has sought to develop standards for language teachers (Leung and Teasdale 1998; TESOL 1986b). There is a much greater awareness today that an expert language teacher is a highly skilled professional.

Core components of teaching knowledge include the followiing:

  1. Practical Knowledge: The teacher’s repertoire of  classroom techniques and strategies.
  2. Content Knowledge:pedagogical grammar, phonology, teaching theories, second language acquisition, as well as the specialized discourse and terminology of language teaching
  3. Contextual Knowledge: Familiarity with the school or institutional context, knowledge of the learners, including cultural and other relevant information
  4. pedagogical knowledge: ability to restructure content knowledge for teaching purposes, and to plan, adapt, and improvise
  5. Personal knowledge: the teacher’s personal beliefs and principles and his or personal approach to teaching
  6. Reflective knowledge: the teacher’s capacity to reflect on and assess his or her own practice

Support for teachers include:

  1. Orientation: New teachers need a careful orientation
  2. Adequate Materials: Nothing is more demotivating than using materials that no one likes
  3. Teaching Release: Teachers need time to develop materials, prepare test and plan lessons.
  4. Feedback: Teacher need to be told what they are doing well and what they need to do in the performance

The Teaching Process

Teaching models are usually based on particular methods or approaches

  1. The communicative approach: The focus of teaching is authentic communication; extensive use is made of pair and group activities that involve negotiation of meaning and information sharing. Fluency is a priority.
  2.  The cooperative learning model: Students work in cooperative learning situations and are encouraged to work together on common tasks and to coordinate their efforts to complete tasks. Rewards systems are group-oriented rather than individually oriented.
  3. The process approach: In writing classes, students take part in activities that develop their understanding of writing as a process.
  4. The whole-language approach: Language is taught as a whole and not through its separate components. Students are taught to read and write naturally, with a focus on real communication, authentic texts, and read-ing and writing for pleasure.

If you want to mantain a good language program you need to consider the following  strategies to address issues:

Information needs to be collected regularly on all aspects of the program to find out how teachers are teaching the course, what is working well or proving difficult, and what issues teachers need to resolve. Monitoring can take place through formal and informal mechanisms such as group meetings, written reports, classroom visits, and student evaluations.

Regular observation of teachers by other teachers or supervisors can provide positive feedback on teaching as well as help identify areas that might need attention.

Shared Planning
Teachers often work in isolation and do not always have the opportunities to benefit from the collective expertise of their colleagues. One way to avoid this is to build in opportunities for collaborative planning, as when teachers work together in pairs or groups on course planning, materials development, and lesson planning. During the process of planning, potential problems can often be identified and resolved.

The Learning Process

Learners’ learning styles may be an important factor in the success of teaching and may not necessarily reflect those that teachers recommend. In a study of the learning style of adult ESL students, Willing (1985, cited in Nunan 1988, 93) found four different learner types in the population he studied:

Concrete learners: These learners preferred learning by games, pictures,
films and video, talking in pairs  and  going on excursions.

Analytical learners: These learners liked studying grammar, studying English books, studying alone, finding their own mistakes, having problems to work on, learning through reading newspapers.

Communicative learners: This group liked to learn by observing and listening to native speakers, talking to friends in English, watching TV in English, using English in shops, and so on, learning English words by hearing them and learning by conversations.

Authority-oriented learners: These students liked the teacher to explain everything, writing everything in a notebook, having their own textbook, learning to read, studying grammar, and learning English words by seeing them.


Syllabus Design: Situation Analysis



This is the focus of situation analysis. Situation analysis is an analysis of factors in the context of a planned or present curriculum project that is made in order to assess their potential impact on the project. These factors may be politic, social, economic, or institutional. Situation analysis complements the information gathered during needs analysis. It is sometimes considered as a dimension of needs analysis, and can also be regarded as an aspect of evaluation.

Societal  Factor

Second and Foreign Language teaching is a fact in almost every country of the world. Yet countries differ greatly about the role of foreign languages in the community, their status in the curriuculum, educational traditions, experience in language teaching and the expectations that members of the community have for language teaching and learning. In examining  the impact of societal factors on language teaching, therefore the aim is to determine the impact of groups in the community or society at large on the program. The groups include:

  1. Policy makers in the government
  2. Educational and other government officials
  3. Employers
  4. The business community
  5. Politicians
  6. Tertiary education specialists
  7. Educational organizations
  8. Parents
  9. Citizens
  10. Students

When you are dealing with societal factor, you have to think about the following questions:

  1. What language teaching experience and tradition exist in the country?
  2. How do members of the groups view second languages and second language teaching?
  3. What are the views of parents and students?
  4. What are the views of relevant profesionals and teacher trainers?
  5. What impact will it have on different sectors of society?

Project Factors

Curriculum projects are usually produced by a team of people, members of that team are specialist hired for that purpose. Projects are completed under different constraints of time, resources and personnel and each one of these variables can have a significant impact on the project. There should sufficient members in the project team to do the job and they should represent a balance of skills and expertise. If a team of professional takes on a project too ambitious, the quality of the project might be compromised if they don’t have enough time available.

The following project factors needs to be considered:

  1. Who constitute the project and how are they selected?
  2. What are the responsabilities of team members?
  3. How are goals and procedures determined?
  4. What experience do members of the team have?
  5. How do member team regard each other?
  6. What’s the time frame for the project?

Institutional Factors

A language teaching program is usually delivered in an institution such as a university, school  or a language institute. Different institutions create their own culture, that is setting where people emerge for communication, decision making, role relation and conducts

A teaching institutions is a collection of teachers, groups and departments, sometimes working in unison, sometimes with different components functioning independently, or sometimes in a  confrontational  relationship.

Institutions has also their own way of doing things. In some institutions textbooks are the core of the curriculum and all teachers must use the prescribed texts. In other institutions teacher work from course guidelines and suplement them as they see fit, Institutions also differ in the level of their professionalism. In some institutions there is a strong sense of professional commitment  and a culture of quality that influences every aspect of the institution’s operations. In other institutions teacher are not paid for lesson preparation time and consequently teach their classes and then depart for their next teaching assignment, perhaps in another school.

We also have to considered the physical aspects of the institution and the resources available for teaching. Institutional factor relate to these following kind of questions?

  1. What leadership in the school is available to support the change?
  2. What are the school physical resources including classroom facilities, media, technological and library resources?
  3. What are the role of textbooks in the institution?
  4. What problems do teachers face?
  5. What administrative support is available within the shcool?
  6. What’s the communication like between teachers and the administration?
  7. What kind of reputation the institution have for delivering succesful language programs?
  8. How commited is the institution in attaining excellence?

Teacher factors

Teachers are the key factor in the successful implementation of curriculum changes. Exceptional teacher can often compensate for the poor quality resources and materials they have to work from but inadequately trained teacher might not be able to make effective material no matter how well designed those material are. Teacher may vary according to the following dimensions:

  1. Language proficiency
  2. Teaching expertise
  3. Skills and expertise
  4. Training and qualifications
  5. Morale and motivation
  6. Teaching styles
  7. Belief and principles

In planning a language program, it is therefore important to know the kind of teacher the program will depend on and the kind of teachers needed to make the program achieve its goals. In schools teacher have different kind of responsibilities, some teacher have mentoring and leadership roles, some assist orienting new teachers. Some teacher have heavy teaching lods or work in different institutions.

Questions to think about

  1. What kind of teachers usually  teach in the target schools?
  2. What’s the training, experience and motivation of teachers?
  3. How proficient are teachers?
  4. What kind of beliefs teachers typically hold?
  5. What teacher loads do teacher have?
  6. What are some teaching methods teacher use?

Learner Factors

Learners are key participants in curriculum development projects and it is essential to collect as much information as possible about them before the project  begins. Here the focus in on other potential  relevant factors such as learner’s backgrounds, expectations, beliefs  and preferred learning styles. The effectivenes of a language programs will be dictated as much as by the attitudes and expectations of the learners as by the specifications of the oficial curriculum. Learners have their own agendas in the language lessons they attend. Learners may affect the outcome of a project in unexpected ways

 Relevant learner factors are the following:

  1. What are the learners’ past language experiences?
  2. How motivated are the learners to learn English?
  3. What are the expectations for the program?
  4. What type of learning approach do they favor?
  5. What expectation do they have for their learners?

Adoption Factors

Any attemp to introduce a new curriculum, syllabus or set materials must take into account the relatively ease of introducing change into the system. Curriculum changes are of many different kinds, they may affect teacher’s pedagogical values and beliefs and understanding of the nature of language and second language learning, or their classroom practices and their use of teaching materials

The following questions need to be considered:

  1. What advantages does the curriculum change offer?
  2. Is the use of innovation consistent with existing beliefsm attitudes, organization and practice within the classroom?
  3. Is the innovation very complicated and difficult to understand?
  4. How clear and practica lis it?

Situations to Analyze

Example 1: A new state textbook series is prepared by the ministry of education in an EFL country. The series assumes a very different type of methodology from that currently used in schools because it is less teaching centered and more experientially based. When the program is introduced, a number of problems quickly emerge: teachers find the materials difficult to use and unsuitable for large classes; some of the content in the materials is thought to be unsuitable for the target population.

Example 2: English is being introduced at the elementary level for the first time in a country. A teacher-training program is set in place to prepare teachers for teaching at this level. To provide the training, local teacher trainers are hired and given a “training-of-trainers course” by a foreign expert. However, a number of the local trainers are found to have very tradi-tional views about teacher education and are opposed to the training model being used in the training course. Once they return to their own training centers, they try to use their own training principles that are not consistent with the philosophy of the new course.

Example 3: A private institute in an EFL country offers an intermediate-level conversation course. Teachers in the course make extensive use of fluency activities, including pair and group activities, role plays, songs and games, and discussion activities. These activities are thought to reflect current views on second language acquisition. However, the first cohort of learners through the program are very critical of it because they cannot see the point of many of the classroom activities they were asked to take part in. They request more teacher-directed activities and more error correction. “We don’t want to come to class to clap and sing” is a typical student comment.

Example 4: As part of an overall reform of the school curriculum, the curriculum department in an EFL country decides to implement a new task-based approach for teaching across the whole curriculum in all subject areas. The new curriculum involves a greater use of teacher-made criterion-referenced tests that are linked to graded tasks in different subject areas. However, when the plan is introduced to teachers, it meets with great resistance. Teachers are happy with the current curriculum; they have great difficulty understanding the philosophy of the new approach and see it as creating a much heavier workload. The teachers’ union organizes a number of teachers’ meetings to discuss and criticize the new curriculum. In the face of public opposition, the curriculum department decides to delay the introduction of the new curriculum and to modify it, despite having spent a large sum of money in developing the curriculum and supporting materials.

Example 5: A new director is appointed to a private language institute. The owners of the institute are concerned at falling student enrollments and feel that the institute’s programs need to be reviewed to make them more competitive and attractive to potential clients. The director prepares an excellent rationale for revamping existing courses, for replacing the textbooks currently in use with more up-to-date texts, and develops a plan for marketing new courses. However, she meets a wall of resistance from teachers who feel that they are undervalued, underpaid, and that proposed changes will not bring any benefits to them.

Example 6: A new English curriculum has been prepared for English at secondary level in an EFL context. The new curriculum is described as a communicadve curriculum and downplays the importance of grammar, which traditionally received a strong focus in the English curriculum. When text-books to support the new curriculum are published, concerns are expressed by parents and parents’ groups because they feel that their children “are not being taught the basics” and the textbooks will not provide sufficient preparation for school exams.

Example 7: In an ER country, a new 6-year English course is developed for secondary schools. The course seeks to prepare students both for employment and for entry to English-medium universities. The course is based on an integrated-skills syllabus that was prepared by a group of consultants and materials writers and is carefully reviewed by teachers before it is published. After the course has been in use for two years, however, employers complain that school leavers have insufficient language skills for work purposes.

Example 8: A team of foreign experts under contract to an international funding body is given a contract to write a new series of English textbooks for the state school system in an EFL country. They base themselves in an attractive small town in a rural setting and set up their writing project. They do a series of interviews with educational officials and teachers to determine students’ language needs and make use of the latest thinking on language teaching and textbook design to produce an oral-based language course that reflects the recommended language teaching methodology of the time — Audiolingualism. Textbooks are developed and provided to sec-ondary schools at no cost and teachers are given the choice of using the new books or their old outdated government textbooks. After a period of initial enthusiasm, however, very few teachers end up using the new course and most revertsusing the old government-provided textbooks.



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)