Syllabus Design and Course Planning

Course Planning

Syllabus Design and Course Planning

Curriculum Development in Language Teaching

  1. Need Analysis: Needs are often described in terms of a linguistic deficiency, that is, as describing the difference between what a learner can presently do in a language and what he or she should be able to do.
  2. Situational 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.
  3. Course Planning: A number of different levels of planning and development are involved in developing a course or set of instructional materials based on the aims and objectives that have been established for a language program.
  4. Teaching Materials: Teaching materials are a key component in most language programs. Whether the teacher uses a textbook, institutionally prepared materials, or his or her own materials, instructional materials generally serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the language practice that occurs in the classroom.
  5. Effective Teaching: Quality teaching is achieved not only as a consequence of how well teachers teach but through creating contexts and good 

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.Advertisements


  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.
  1. Vocabulary selection is a responsibilty that should be left entirely to textbook writers.
  2. 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.
  3. Word frequency lists research states that a learner must 10 thousand words to be able to understand 85% what I read or listen to.
  4. Recognizing 85% of words in a text means that I understand 85% of what  I read ans listen to.
  5. The most frequent words ocurring in sample of sports writing will  be the same as those ocurring in fiction
  6. Some verb tenses are more useful than others.
  7. If the basics of grammar are not firm, nothing could be built on it.
  8. Complex structures should be taught before the simple ones.
  9. 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

Course Planning

A number of different levels of planning and development are involved in developing a course or set of instructional materials based on the aims and objectives that have been established for a language program.

In this post we will examine the following dimensions of course development:

  1. Developing a course rationale
  2. Describing entry and exit levels
  3. Choosing course content
  4. Sequencing course content
  5. Planning the course content (syllabus and instructional blocks)
  6. Preparing the scope and sequence plan

Course Rationale

A starting point in course development is a description of the course rationale. This is a brief written description of the reasons for the course and the nature of it. The course rationale seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. Who is this course for?
  2. What is the course about?
  3. What kind of teaching and learning will take place in the course?

The course rationale answers these questions by describing the beliefs, values and goals that underlie the course. It would normally be a two or three-paragraph statement that has been developed by those involved in planning.

The following is an example of a course rationale:

This course is designed for working adults who wish to improve their communication skills in English in order to improve their employment prospects. It teaches the basic communication skills needed to communicate in a variety of different work settings. The course seeks to enable participants to recognize their strengths and needs in language learning and to give them the confidence to use English more effectively to achieve their own goals. It also seeks to develop the participants’ skills in independent learning outside of the classroom.

Entry and Exit Level

In order to plan a language course, it is necessary to know the level at which the program will start and the level learners may be expected to reach at the end of the course. Language programs and commercial materials typically distinguish between elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels, but these categories are too broad for the kind of detailed planning that program and materials development involves. For these purposes, more detailed descriptions are needed of students’ proficiency levels before they enter a program and targeted proficiency levels at the end of it. Information may be available on students’ entry level from their results on international proficiency tests such as TOEFL or IELTS.

Choosing a Course Content

This is the most basic issue in course design.   A course has to be developed to address a specific set of needs and to cover a different set of objectives, what will the content of the course look like? Decisions about course content reflect the planners’ assumptions about the nature of language, language use, and language learning, what the most essential elements or units of language are, and how these can be organized as an efficient basis for second language learning. For example, a writing course could potentially be planned around any of the following types of content:

  1. grammar (e.g., using the present tense in descriptions)
  2. functions (e.g., describing likes and dislikes)
  3. topics (e.g., writing about world issues)
  4. skills (e.g., developing topic sentences)
  5. processes (e.g., using prewriting strategies)
  6. texts (e.g.; writing a business letter)

Similarly a speaking course could be organized around:

  1. functions (expressing opinions)
  2. interaction skills (opening and closing conversations, turn taking)
  3. topics (current affairs, business topics)

Determine the Scope and Sequence

Decisions about course content also need to address the distribution or content throughout the course. This is known as planning the scope and sequence of the course. Scope is concerned with the breadth and depth of coverage of items in the course, that is, with the following questions:

  1. What range of content will be covered?
  2. To what extent should each topic be studied?

The sequencing of the course can be determined based on the following criteria:

Simple to complex: One of the commonest ways of sequencing material is by difficulty level. Content presented earlier is thought to be simpler than later items. This is typically seen in relation to grammar content, but any type of course content can be graded in terms of difficulty. For example, in a reading course reading texts may be simplified at the beginning of the course and unsimplified at later levels. Or simple skills such as “literal comprehension” may be required early on, and more complex skills such as “inferencing” taught at a later stage.

Chronology:  Content may be sequenced according to the order in which events occur in the real world. For example, in a writing course the organization might be based on the sequence writers are assumed to employ when composing: (1) brainstorming; (2) drafting; (3) revising; (4) editing. In a proficiency course, skills might be sequenced according to the sequence in which they are nor-mally acquired: (1) listening; (2) speaking; (3) reading; (4) writing.

Needs: Content may be sequenced according to when learners are most likely to need it outside of the classroom. For example, the rationale for the sequencing of content in a social survival curriculum is given as follows: The topics and cross-topics in the curriculum are sequenced “in order of importance to students’ lives, ease of contextualization and their relationship to other topics and cross-topics.” The sequence is:

  1. basic literacy skills
  2. personal identification
  3. money
  4. shopping
  5. time and dates
  6. telephone 
  7. health
  8. emergencies
  9. directions
  10. transportation
  11. housing
  12. post office
  13. banking/bills
  14. social language
  15. clarification

Prerequisite learning: The sequence of content may reflect what is necessary at one point as a foundation for the next step in the learning process. For example, a certain set of grammar items may be taught as a prerequisite to paragraph writing. Or, in a reading course, word attack skills may be taught early on as a pre-requisite to reading unsiMplified texts at later stages of the course.

Selecting  a Syllabus Framework

A syllabus describes the major elements that will be used in planning a language course and provides the basis for its instructional focus and content. For example, in planning a course on speaking skills based on the course content discussed earlier (in the section titled “Describing the entry and exit level”), a number of options are available. The syllabus could be:

  1. Situational: organized around different situations_and the oral skills needed in those situations
  2. Topical: organized around different topics and how to talk about them in English
  3. Functional: organized around the functions most commonly needed in speaking
  4. Task-based: organized around different tasks and activities that the learn-. ers would carry out in English

Approaches to Syllabus  Design

Grammatical (or structural) syllabus: one that is organizes arouna grammatical items. Traditionally, grammatical syllabuses have been used as the basis for planning general courses, particularly for beginning-level learners.

Lexical syllabus: one that identifies a target vocabulary to be taught normally arranged according to levels such as the first 500, 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 words.

Functional syllabus: one that is organized around communicative func-tions such as requesting, complaining, suggesting, agreeing.

Situational syllabus: one that is organized around the language needed for different situations such as at the airport or at a hotel. A situation is a setting in which particular communicative acts typically occur. A situational syllabus identifies the situations in which the learner will use the language and the typical communicative acts and language used in that setting.

Topical or content-based syllabus: One that is organized around themes, topics, or other units of content. With a topical syllabus, content rather than grammar, functions, or situations is the starting point in syllabus design.

Skills syllabus: one that is organized around the different underlying abil-ities that are involved in using a language for purposes such as reading, writ-ing, listening, or speaking.

Task-based syllabus: one that is organized around tasks that students will complete in the target language. A task is an activity or goal that is carried out using language such as finding a solution to a puzzle, reading a map and giving directions, or reading a set of instructions and assembling a toy.

Text-based syllabus: One that is built around texts and samples of ex-tended discourse. As already noted, this can be regarded as a type of situa-tional approach because the starting point in planning a syllabus is analysis of the contexts in which the learners will use the language.

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