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Syllabus design

An overview of syllabus design
© Edge Hill University

A syllabus is usually designed after the needs/situation analysis. It uses the data collected from the initial analyses, along with the principles and beliefs that the developer has about learning to outline the syllabus goals, which in turn leads to a plan for the content and sequencing. In the most simple terms, a syllabus is “a document which says what will (or at least should) be learnt” (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987, p. 80), and “a plan of what is to be achieved through learning (Breen, 2001, p. 151).

According to Breen (2001, p. 51), ideally a syllabus should provide:

  1. a clear framework of knowledge and capabilities selected to be appropriate to overall aims;
  2. continuity and a sense of direction in classroom work for teacher and students;
  3. a record for other teachers of what has been covered in the course;
  4. a basis for evaluating students’ progress;
  5. a basis for evaluating the appropriateness of the course in relation to overall aims and student needs identified both before and during the course;
  6. content appropriate to the broader language curriculum, the particular class of learners, and the educational situation and wider society in which the course is located.

Syllabus types

A number of syllabus types have been suggested since the explosion of interest in learning English in around the middle of the 20th century. White’s (1988) overview of syllabus styles (click to download below) is relatively old but well laid out and still relevant. In Whites model, the syllabus types to the left are known as product syllabuses and the syllabus types on the right are what are examples of process syllabuses. In a product type syllabus, the focus is on the skills/knowledge gained after learning; for example, in a form syllabus which focuses on language structures, the focus would be on acquiring grammatical structures such as the past perfect tense. On the other hand, in a process syllabus the focus in on the skills/knowledge gained while learning; for example, procedural type syllabus, the learners perform tasks and process of doing the task is the focus of the lessons.

Opportunities for learning

Research finding from SLA (see week 1) tells is that for learning to happen a syllabus must afford opportunities for practicing input, output, language forms, and fluency. Furthermore, the input and output should be meaning focused. By combing meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development, we give our learners the right conditions for L2 acquisition to occur (Macallister & Nation, 2020). Click on the link below to see examples of how the conditions for learning, and activity types that can be utilised to enhance opportunities for learning.

Consider the following questions and post your comments below:

Consider a group of learners you are familiar with and plan a brief syllabus outline. take into account the aims, syllabus types, and opportunities for learning.


Breen, M.P. (2001). Syllabus design. In R. Carter & D. Nunan (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to teaching English to speakers of other languages (pp.151-159). Cambridge University Press.

Hutchinson, T., & Waters, A. (1987). English for specific purposes : a learning-centred approach. Cambridge University Press.

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

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

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