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Overview of curriculum design

An overview of curriculum design

What is a curriculum?

A curriculum is an important document that outlines the expectations of a course and its influence can been seen in course planning, the implementation of the course in the classroom, and furthermore through course evaluation. Simply put, a curriculum is “a plan for the achievement of specific educational goals” (Richards. 2017, p. 6) that is in play at all levels—lessons, units, course, programme. A formal curriculum is generally developed by “top-down” by experts (e.g., government agencies), but less formal curriculums can be developed by “ground-up” by teachers. Nevertheless, a curriculum is a reflection of the developers beliefs about language learning and teaching which may be based on theory, research, expert knowledge, or teaching practice. The development of a curriculum is a process that produces syllabuses, lesson plans, assessment instruments and so on.

Curriculum development

Various models of curriculum design exist; however, the primary concerns of curriculum designers can be summarised by nine questions that curriculum developers seek to address (Richards, 2001):

  1. What procedures can be used to determine the content 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 programme?
  5. What is 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 programme?
  8. What issues are involved in selecting, adapting and designing instructional materials?
  9. How can one measure the effectiveness of a language program? Curriculum design start points?

According to Macallister and Nation (2020), curriculum design tends to start at one of four starting points that involve varying levels of teacher involvement:

  1. Start from nothing—materials must be gathered and written. The designer is likely responsible for all parts of the process.
  2. A bank of existing materials exist that can be drawn on to make the course. The designer is responsible for the content & sequencing and goals.
  3. Split responsibility—the curriculum statement provides the content & sequencing, goals and assessment. The teacher to decides on the materials, format and presentation.
  4. The teacher chooses a course book and uses it as the basis for the course.

Consider the following questions and post your comments below:

What experience do you have of curriculum or course design?


Macalister, J & Nation, I. S. P. (2020). Language curriculum design (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Richards, J. C. (2001). Curriculum development in language teaching. Cambridge University Press.

© Edge Hill University
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TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

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