The Syllabus is the outline of language to be taught to a class over a particular course (term, semester, etc).
It can be seen as a step in the hierarchy of learning and teaching English. At best it will be designed by the school Director of Studies; at worst there won’t be a syllabus or if there is one it will be merely using a particular book throughout the term.
Note: syllabus is singular; the plural is either syllabi or syllabuses. Both are accepted these days.
Design & Preparation
Step One in designing a syllabus is working out what your students need to learn. In other words, you look at the needs analysis of your students. This will give you the ending point of the syllabus (the goals which should be reached) and also you will know where your students are now and thus, what they need to know.
In conjunction with the needs analysis, you can also look at other considerations for the syllabus such as:
- class age & make-up
- class background (in terms of what teaching techniques they are used to, etc)
- class age, level and ability
Next you will need to know what resources you have available:
- teacher/classroom availability
- teacher ability/experience
- teaching or contact hours
- books, computers, field trips, etc…
And of course there may well be other influences such as the interests of the school owner in what should be taught or perhaps the desire to use certain materials and so on.
There are different kinds of syllabi often related to different kinds of teaching methodologies. For example, you could base your syllabus design on one of these methodologies.
This was very common in the past. Essentially the grammar of English was divided up and taught over the course with each step of the syllabus corresponding to a grammatical item. So, for example, part of a structural syllabus might look like this:
- the Past Simple
- the Past Continuous
- Second Conditional
But, there are a number of problems here.
First there’s the idea that there is a natural and logical path through grammar (i.e. that the students must know the past simple before they can move on to the Past Perfect Simple, for example); however this is simply not true.
Secondly the whole syllabus is very biased towards grammar as though this was the only important area of language. Vocabulary, for example, barely gets a mention.
In a situational syllabus, the shortcomings of the structural syllabus were addressed. Here the syllabus concentrates on the needs of the students outside the classroom and gives the students the right language to handle those situations.
For example, a syllabus for a group of immigrants might include:
- giving personal information
- asking directions
- shopping in a supermarket
- ordering a meal
But there are problems here as well. It can be difficult sometimes to accurately predict what the students will need. A student may, for example, be able to ask directions from a stranger, but how can we predict what the answer will be?
And again, there is no logical path through the syllabus.
Following on came the functional-notional syllabus. This came out of the need to give students useful language which could be applied to many different situations (not as restricted as just, asking directions or at the cinema from the situational syllabus above).
Here, various language functions were addressed, e.g.:
At the same time certain notions were taught which applied to all functions and situations. These included talking about time (when something happened for example), quantity, location and suchlike.
Finally we have the emergent syllabus which is derived from the dogma method of teaching. There are two main components here:
- topics selected by the students for study over the course
- simulations of situations which the students might find themselves in
Both of these address the needs of the students and both are heavily reliant on the initial needs analysis. However, they are also flexible and so if a student finds they are likely to face a new situation then this can easily be addressed in class.
Having established what the syllabus will do and broadly how it will be done, the next step is to fill in the spaces. This means breaking the syllabus down into a series of lessons. A syllabus for business learners might be:
- Talking about your job
- The company hierarchy
- Making/Taking orders on the phone
- Discussing your products
and so on. However, the syllabus should be flexible and allow time for revision lessons or adjustments which will crop up during the course. They also need to take into account the fact that not every lesson is concerned with teaching new material per se (exams, field trips, illnesses and holidays can all interrupt the course).
The final step is to take the syllabus and for each lesson devise a lesson plan. This won’t be done, of course, at the syllabus design stage but will happen almost certainly in the week preceding the lesson itself.