A Beginner’s Guide to Syllabus Design

A Beginner’s Guide to Syllabus Design

A Beginner's Guide to Syllabus Design

Language Curriculum Development

Language curriculum development focuses on determining:

  • what knowledge, skills and values students  learn in schools,
  • what experiences should be provided to  bring about intended learning outcomes
  • how learning and teaching in school can be planned, measured and evaluated

Language Curriculum Developments deal with the following questions:

  1. What procedures can be used to determine the contents of a language program?
  2.  What are learners’ needs?
  3. How can learners’ needs be determined?
  4. What contextual factors need  to be considered in planning a language program?
  5. What’s the nature of aims and objectives in teaching and how can these be developed?
  6. What factors are involved in planning the syllabus and the units of organization in a course?
  7. How can good teaching be provided in a program?
  8. What issues are involved in selecting, adapting and designing instructional materials?
  9. How can one measure the effectiveness of a language program?


The single most important instrument of structure in a course is the SYLLABUS, which outlines the goals and objectives of a course, prerequisites, the grading/evaluation scheme, materials to be used (textbooks, software), topics to be covered, a schedule, and a bibliography.

Each of these components defines the nature of the learning experience:

Goals and objectives identify the expected outcomes and scope of the course as determined by the instructor or course designer, restricting the domain of knowledge for the learner.

Prerequisites limit the student population to those with certain kinds of learning experiences, usually other courses.

The grading or evaluation scheme tells students what kind of learning activities are to be valued (e.g., assignments, tests, papers, projects), that is, the currency of learning in this particular course.

Topics to be covered specify the content that the instructor feels is important.

The schedule provides a timetable for learning, usually with milestones in the form of due dates or tests.

Syllabus Design

Syllabus Design is one aspect of curriculum development, a syllabus is an specification of the contents of a course and list what will be taught and tested.  Several methods have been used over the years to ensure successful language teaching and learning, regardless of the method and approach that you are using in language, you will find the problem of selection because it is impossible to teach the whole language so you must select the parts of the language that you want to teach

Vocabulary and Grammar Selection

Read the following statements and decide if these statement are true or not.

  1. The words that should be taught in language depend on the objective of the course  and the amount of time available for teaching.
  2. Not all the words that native speakers used are necesarily useful for second language learners.
  3. Vocabulary selection is a responsibilty that should be left entirely to textbook writers.
  4. Textbook writers must include words that are used frequently in their textbooks so students don’t spend a long time trying to understand and use vocabulary that it is of little importance.
  5. Word frequency lists research states that a learner must 10 thousand words to be able to understand 85% what I read or listen to.
  6. Recognizing 85% of words in a text means that I understand 85% of what  I read ans listen to.
  7. The most frequent words ocurring in sample of sports writing will  be the same as those ocurring in fiction
  8. Some verb tenses are more useful than others.
  9. If the basics of grammar are not firm, nothing could be built on it.
  10. Complex structures should be taught before the simple ones.
  11. Some structures should be taught early despite their complexity because of communicative needs.

Assumptions Underlying  Early Approaches to Syllabus Design

Read these asssumption and explain why they are wrong

  1. The basic units of language are vocabulary and grammar.
  2. Learners everywhere have the same needs.
  3. The goal of English teaching is to teach them English.

 Parts of  a Syllabus

Read the following information and determine what the name of each part is.

  • Learning Objectives
  • Materials and Access
  • Course Content
  • Teaching Philosophy:
  • Grading Method
  • Goal/Rationale
  • Basic Information
  • Student Responsibilities
  1. ________________________: What students will gain or take away from your course. Why these objectives are the most important skills/knowledge for the course (helpful if objectives are included for each topic/session).
  2. _______________________: How the course relates to primary concepts and principles of the discipline (where it fits into the overall intellectual area). Type of knowledge and abilities that will be emphasized. How and why the course is organized in a particular sequence.
  3. _______________________: Course name and number, meeting time and place, instructor name, contact information, office hours, instructional support staff information.
  4. _______________________ : Schedule, outline, meeting dates and holidays, major topics and sub-topics preferably with rationale for inclusion.
  5. ________________________: Particulars and rationale for homework, projects, quizzes, exams, reading requirements, participation, due dates, etc. Policies on lateness, missed work, extra credit, etc.
  6. ________________________: Clear, explicit statement of assessment process and measurements.
  7. ________________________: Required texts and readings, course packs. How to get materials including relevant instructional technologies. Additional resources such as study groups, etc.
  8. ________________________:  Pedagogical approach including rationale for why students will benefit from it.

Syllabus Examples

Check the following syllabi and identify what part of a syllabus you can identify

  1. Sample Section Syllabus
  2. Sample Course Syllabus

Additional Resources

  1. Course and syllabus design  (University of Washington)
  2. Syllabus Design (Yale University)
  3. Creating a Brown University Syllabus (Brown University)

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