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Syllabus Design

DAVID

NUNAN

In "Syllabus Design.' Nunan describes and evaluates a range of syllabus types including gramma~ical,
notional-functional, content-based, task-based, and integrated. he also sets out and illustrates key
procedures for developing syllabuses.These indude needs analysis, goal and objective setting, and the
development of competencies.

:: ':-':(~\i~r .
In'Order to define syllabus design, we need to
srt.YVith tbe broader field of curriculumdevel<?ii:!:~nt._,g~"2!,~~~1!:.r.nis
~ large messy--ocep'
which can be looked at m a number of ways. A
v;rj broad definition is that it includes all of the
planned learning experienees of an edueational
system. The field of currculum development
was first systematized by Tyler in 1949, who articulated four fundamental questions that must be
ahswered by any currculum developer:
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1.
'2.
3.
4.

What educational purposes should a sehool


seek to attain?
What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain tbose purposes?
How ean the edueational experiences be
effectively organized? -: .
How can we determine whetber tbese p~rposes have been attained?:) .. (,:.,'"
,L

In tbe context oflanguage teaehing, the first


two questions have to do witb syllabus design, tbe
third with language teaching metbodology, and
the fourth witb assessment and evaluation.
Syllabus design, tben, is tbe selection, sequencing,
and justification of the content of the currculum.
In language teaching, content selection will
include selecting linguistic features sueh as items
of grarnmar, pronunciation,
and vocabulary as
well as experiential content such as topics and
themes. This selection proeess is guided bx, needs
analyses of various kinds. Needs analxsis provides
tlle designer witb a basis botb for content specification and for tbe setting of goals and objectives.

In 1976, David Wilkins published an influential


book called Notional Syllabuses, in whieh he
argued that the point of departure for syIlabus
design should no.t be lis~.-'2f1i~KL1Ls.~~.j._~,~~t~~
spee~cati~~s>f.~,~_s:.Psepss thatleamerswish
'~o.,x.pI-~ss(notions such as_,t:im<;.andsp,!e~), and
the things that learners want to do with language
(f.1!.I),c:ti_QJ)..s.._~uch
as complimentng
or apologizi~gLMore re:enily~here 'have be en calls foS the
adoption of a process approach, in which the
point of departure is not lists of linguistic or
notional-functional
content, but a specification
of communicative and learning proeesses. This
has resulted in proposals for task-based syllabuses.
Another significant trend, particuhrly"in second
as opposed to foreign language contexts, has been
tbe emergence of'content-basedsyllabuses.
Most
reeently, an integrated approaeh has be en called
foro In such an approaeh, all or most of tbe elements and processes deseribed above are incorporated into tbe syllabus.
.
In this chapter, 1 will elaborate on the concepts and proeesses described in the preeeding
paragraph. Where appropriate,
the concepts
will be illustrated witb extracts from syllabuses of
different kinds.

Grarnmatical SyIlabuses
Traditionally, the point of departure for designing a language syllabus has been to select and
sequence lists C?Lgr.a!ll:~natie
..a.:U~ems, and then
integrate these with )ists~fy-,9i:~bulary
items.
Lists of P.95?fl.o.1,~Ki5=_al,
item~ have sometimeS'beoen
thrown in for good measure.
~,.

55
.....

_ _ ...... _-_
...

...

_---

-------,

Grammatical svllabuses are still very pOpl1-'


lar today, although thev were at their most popular through
th e 1960s, when virtually all
syllabuses were crafted in grammatical
terms.
The assurnption underlying
these syllabuses is
that language consists of a finite set of rules
which can be combinecl in various ways LO make
meaning. T1!~~s~ for tbe language learner is.~o
mas.ter each L~k-jD:_th~_ ol=Q~~i?Eesen~~?__~~~e
syIlab~~._!?et2E~._)P'Ov:!~1g_2n_t? ...tJ~~._l:~Xt. The
whole purpose of the grammatical syllabus was
to control input to the learner so that orilv one
itern was presented
at l time. This created a
dilemma, which became more and more pressing with the advent of Communicative Language
I/Teaching:
How could one control input at
/1 the same time as one is providing learners with
exposure to the kinds of language they would
encounter outside the classroom?
This problem can be addressed in a number
of ways. On~'i.PJ1..1ti_<2..Il.is
to abandon anyatternpt
at structural grading. Another is to use the list of
graded structures, not t<?_d~teQI1_~?e.t0~.1aD:gyage
to which learners are exposed, but to determine
the items that will be the pedagogic focus in
class. In other words, learners are exposed to naturalistic samples of text which are only roughly
graded, and which provide a richer context, but
they are only expected formally to master those
items which have be en isolated, graded, and set
out in the syllabus (Nunan 1988a, p. 30).
During the 1970s, the grammatica! syllabus
carne under attack on two fronts. In the first
place, the linear sequencing
entailed in grammatica! syllabuses c!.~_I2QLE.p-r~.s_t:~_~~_<:'<.?I?:l_plexity oflanguage.
Secondly, evidence from the
fieldof second aguage acquisition showed that
l~!:l1:~I,'?didnotnecessarily
~~qu!~_lapg.':lage in
the ~rd_q specified by tbe grammatical
exampl~':-Dulayan(rBu
-(1973) aerBaiey,'Madden, and Krashen (1974) showed that certain grammatical items appeared to be acquired
in a predetermined
order, and that this order
appeared to be impervious to formal instruction.
This led Krashen (1981, 1982) to argue that we
should
abandon
grammatically
structured
syllabuses completely
in favor of a "natural
approach" to language learning. In the natural
approach,
grammatical
grading is eschewed,

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sYfiabus.-

replaced by communicativeaCtlVltleS
that promote subconscious acquisition
following the
"natural" C?_rderJ-tl2~~lJ
__~QDScioLls..l~r.12.0g
base d on classroorn instruction.
--'--:~-Ttrl1~tive
exphnauon
for the lack of
congruence between the input provided by grammatical svllabuses and the language actually used
by learners at different stages of development has
been provided
by Pienemann
and Johnston
(1987). These researchers argue thatjhe __order "
in which learners acquire a particular item will
l)edetermi'n~d:~-~t
by the grammatical
corn- -plexity of tbe item, but E.Lit:s. speech processing
<:o_~.pl.~~,iD~
.. Tbeir hypothesis predicts that the
third person singular verb inflection (present
tense) s, wbich is grammatically simple but complex in terms of speech processing, will be
acquired relatively late in tbe language acquisition
process, and this is indeed what we find. Third
p.ers....~_..!_
..is .one ofthe
first grammatica! morpbemes to be taught, but for many leamers itis
one oJ
!~~it~Ens to be acquired. I~ fact, ~ome
leamers n.ever-.c;:qui~~_5t.
..
.
'.

.Q?~..

The :;ee~s~b...p~.~i~g ..rpeIY ..EE~L<:~.that


the following items will be acquired in the order
below, and that this is therefore the order in
which they sbould be introduced in the syllabus:
What's the time? /vVhat's your name?
How do you spell X? I Are you tired?
vVhere are you from? IDo you like X?
Pienemann
and Johnston
(1987) argued
that the s~s.turjll_~yllal:>.us_.should be retained.
However, the ordering of items in the syllabus
should follow a very different sequence-that
established by their research as being~~a~!?-_-:.
_aQle." Thus, wh-questions witb do would not be
taught untillearners
had mastered wh-questions
witb be.
The problem with tbis proposal, particularly
in ligbt of Cornrnunicative Language Teacbing, is
that many of the iterns that are required for cornmunication
are "late acquired-c-for
example,
wh-questions
with do. Teachers working with
such a syllabus would be able to use few cornmunicative tasks in tbe early stages of learning.
Critics of the Pienemann andJohnston
proposal
have argued that "unlearnable" structures can be
introduced,
but they sbould be presented as
Unit 1 Teaching Methodology

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holistic forroulae. In other words, learners would


be
taught question forros such as What do you do?
and Where does
live? as single "chunks"
usJl
rs
in commUlllcattve tasks such as role plays, infor~'8:
mation gaps, and so on. They would not be
expected to break these down into their constituent parts immediately;
this would happen
gradually over time. In fact, ~ome second language acquisition researchers argue that this process of leaming strings of language as unanalyzed
chunks and then later breaking them down is a
key psycholinguistic
mechanism in the acquisition process (Ellis 1994).

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THE "ORGANIC" APPROACH


TO GRAMMAR

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Underlying the traditi.Jmal lineaLs.yllabuLis the


notion that learning is a process of mastering
each item perfectly one at a time. In fact, when
the structural syllabus was at its height of popularity, rnastery learning was an important movement
within educational
psychology. In metaphorical
terrns, ~,t?,~lie~~d
t0-~i.~lai}g11age develops jn,
the same way as a builclingjL<;:.9n.struq~d-one
.'
(ligu1ticf'bn-~_,~~~-time.
..
-=--, -Hc;~e~~r,' the complexity of the acquisition
process revealed by a growing body of second
language acquisition
(SrA) research led some
syl1abus designers to argue that~~g~<?:t:~~opment is basicalJy)m_QI!S-rMc_pros~~ According toilU.s metaphor, a new language develops in a way
that is more akin to plants growing in a garden
rather
than a building .being constructed.
Learners do not acquire each item perfectly, one
at a time, but numerous iterns imperfectly, all.
at once.

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t,'?JncA~sl~_~:'~}:L~~fL-t,qte_@rg~ll~I2~ag~_~r:._
the __.syn?:,Q.g.:.......Rather,
syllabus content should
reflect the communicative purposes and needs of
the leamers. Language-for-tourism
syllabuses will
contain different content from syllabuses designed
for teaching academic English. (See Johns and
Price-Machado 's chapter in this volume).
Needs analysis includes a wide variety of
techniques for'coec13.ri'g and iiaI}iig information, b'ili--aoof Irriersnd
abourlanguage.
Thekindsof
infonnation
that syllabus designers
collectinclude
biographical information-such
as
age, first language
background,
reasons for
leaming the language, other languages spoken,
time available forlearning,
and so on. The most
sophisticated
instrument
. for doing a needs
analysis was developed by Munby (1978). Called
the communicative needs p!ocessor, it involved specifying the folioWing:
. - ,---,

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developed to assist designers adopting such an


approach. While needs analysis was a crucial tool
for those working in the are as of English for
Specific Purposes (ESP) and English for Academic
Purposes (EAP), it was also widely used in General
English syllabus designo
The appearance
of needs analysis in language education (it had existed in other areas of
educational planning for many years) was thus
stimulated by the development of Communicative
Language Teaching (CLT). Proponents'bL
CLT
argued that it was TIeit;h<;X_!!~fess~g.I.:J20Sibl~

NEEDS ANALYSIS

With the advent of Communicative


Language
Teaching (CLT) in the 1970s, a very different
approach to syllabus design was proposed by a.
number of linguists. This approach began, not
with lists of grammatical, phonological,
and lexical features, but with an analvsis of the cornmu~icati'..:.e:.E:.e.~si~
()KQ::l,~l.ea:r:ne~~_~
ser of techniques
and procedures,
known as needs analysis, was
"'---__

Syllabus Design

,._.

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-"

participant
(biographical
data about the
learner);
purposive domain (the purposes for which
the language is required);
setting (the environments
in which the language will be used);
interaction (the people that the learner wil1
be communicating
with);
instrumentality
(the medium: spoken versus
written; the mode: monologue or dialogue,
face-to-face or indirect);
dialect;
target leve! (degree of mastery required);
communicative
event (productive and receptive skills neded);
communicative key (interpersonal attitudes
and tones required).

57

Brindley (1984, 1990) drawsa distinction


berween "objective" needs and "subjective"needs:
Objective needs are tliose which can
be diagnosed by teachers.on the basis
of the analysis of personal data about
learners along with inforrnation about
their language
proficiency ancl patterns of language use .... whereas the
~iecti.Y~~.~_)leeQ~. (which are often
esi
,,(( ef'.p-_~
." ns o r
wan tdh-- "d.esires,
q,~~o
other __p.sy-c;:h21Q.gj~almanifestations)
cannot be diagnosed as easily, or, in
many cases, even stated by learriers
themselves (Brindley 1984, p. 31).
u

"

Objective needs analyses result in content


derived frorn an ana1ysis of the target communicative situatio ns in which learners will engage,
as well as an analysis of the_lsiDg~_J spokenand
~rj.s~e})._Q.isc.o.urse.
they will need to cornprehend
and .prod.uce. Such analyses were fundamental
to the development
of an important and enduring movement within language teaching-that
of 1anguage for specific purposes.
.
Needs-based
course design, particularly
when it results in tightly specified learning outcomes, has been heavily criticized. Widdowson
(1983), for exarnple, claims that such courses are
exercises in training rather than in education
because learners can only do those things for
which they have been specifically prepared. He
argues that learners should be to able to do
things for which they have not been specifically
prepared. However, the extent to which learners
are able to transfer learning from one context to
another is basically a methodological issue rather
than a syllabus design issue. ~'llla--~s designers
can facilitateIearning
transfer by building into
the ~yllal;lUsopportunities
for recycling.
.Another criticism of needs-based course
design is that, while it might be relevant in second language coritexts, it is often irrelevant in
foreign language contexts, where learners have
no immediate, or even foreseeable, need to communicate
oral1y. In such contexts, subjective
needs, relating to such things as learning strategy preferences,
may be more relevant than
objective needs.

58

Goal and Objective Setting


spe

Needs analysis provides a basis for specifying


goals and objectives 1'01' l learning programo
Goals are broad, general purposes for learning a
language. At the broadest level.,JI.allid;;Ly..c,.(l.98S)i
argues that individuals use language--~-=~__~

1.

:1

2."

to obtain goods and services,


to socialize with others, and
for entertainrnent
and enjoyrnent.

These vel)' broad goals can be elaborated


and refined, as the following goal staternents
illustrate:
Instruction should enable learners to
1.

2.
3.

4.
5.
6.
7.

8.
9.

tiv

participate
in conversation
related to the
pursuit of common activities with others;
obtain goods and services through conversation 01' correspondence:
establish and maintain relationships through
exchanging
information,
ideas, opinions,
attitudes, feelings, experiences and plans;
rnake social arrangements,
solve problems,
and come lO conclusions together;
discuss topics of interest;
search for specific information for a given
purpose, process it, and use it in some way;
listen to or read information,
process it,
and use it in some way;
give information in spoken or written form
on the basis of personal experience;
lisien toor read, and/or view a story, poem,
play, feature, etc., and respond to it personally in some way (Clark 1987, p. 186).

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Having established the goals of a. learning


program, the syllabus designer articulares a ser
of objectives
designed
to realize the goals.
Qbjectives are therefore
much more. specific
than goals, and _numerous. objectives .will .be,
specified for any given goal. Formal performnce objectives have three elements: a "task"
or performance
element, a standards element,
and a conditions
element. TE_e_~~.~ __ejernent
.. specifies
what the learner is to do, tb~~~~~n9r.ds.
I
elerneni sets out how well the performer
is to
l
.1
'
out the task, and the conditions element
;
!
establishes the circurnstances under which he oro !
!
she is to perform ...

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Unit 1 Teaching Methodology

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-The following examples illustrate just how


specificyerformance
obj_~~~ are:

narm-referenced
and this is the major difference between the two approaches.

1.

Example of a campetency

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2.

--

i,

In a classroom role play (condition), students will exchange personal information


(performance).
Three pieces of informaton will be exchanged (standard).
When listening to a taped weather forecast
(condition); students will extract information on minimum and maximum temperatures and other relevant information such as
the likelihood ofrain(performance).
All key
information wilIbe extracted (standard.)

statement:

The learner
can negotiate
complex/
problematic
spoken exchanges for personal
business and community purposes. He or she

Achieves purpose of exchange and provides


all essential information accurately

Uses appropriate
staging, f?r _example,
apening and closing strategies
Provides and requests information as required
Explains circumstances, causes, consequences,
and proposes solutions as required
Sustains dialogue, for example, using feedback, turn taking
Uses grammatical
forms and vocabulary
appropriate to topicand register; grammatical errors do not interfere with meaning
Speaks with pronunciation/stress/intonation
that does not impede intelligibility ..

In the field of general education, the ob$.~~,E.I2I9g.hh.has


been criticized over the years.

One criticism that is relevant to language education is that truly valu.~.QkJ~arniJlg......---uu:om.,e~

canE2~_,~.~_~ccl!.~~<:.:l)'_~2~<;ill~.g.j!t
aQY9-nct:.(This
5eIief is captured by the aphorism, "Education is
what's left when everything that has been taught

has be en forgotten.") In language teachng, our


aim is to help learners develo]2 the ability to

Is able to in terpret gestures and other parac;5?J:!!mlln,~<:~_~~_~~i~~~g~,


linguistic features (Adult MigrantEducation
thts!l-----!"!.b:'_~!=,_R.~~spe.~~!i_e~,_~,I!_~
ve~g:~!l,:.:~~
Service 1993).
.
s.~
Proficiency requires creativity, and profi-;
cient language users knaw multiple ways of
The competency-based
appraach has had
achieving communicative
ends through lana major influence on syllabusesin
particular
guage. Identifying objectives a priori may theresectors of the educational
systems in most
"fore be problematic, Another criticism is that
English-speaking countries, including Australia,
the E!'~~p<';_c:ificatiQ,n
ofp~.t:!~ise anddetailed
New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the
abjectives prevents the teacher from taking
United States.
advantage of instructional apportunities occurG6"LTc.fir:stemerged in the United States
ring llne~p.e.~tedly.in the classroom ..
in th{1970s and was widely adopted in vocationally oriented education and-in-adult
ESL programs. By the end of thJ, 980s"CBLT had carne
COMPETENCE-BASED
to be accepted as the "stat-of-the-art" approach
LANGUAGETEACHING (CBLT)
to ESL by national policymakers and leaders in
According to Richards (in press), competencycurrculum development (Auerbach 1986).
based training developed as an alternative to the
If we look at the sample competency stateuse of objectives in program planning, although
ment provided above, we will see that it has several
there are many similarities between the two
points of similarity with the objectives described in
approaches, As with. ,~e._,0l:>je.~}jy'~s_rpovem,en~
a previous section. It contains a "task" statement
CBLT focuses on what learners should be able to
and a number of "how well" or standards statedo 'aiihe'-~nci
k~th~~ ments ("achieves purpose of exchange," "pro, ()bjeCt1V~S2~~o~p~tenciesare c()~cer:ne-<i:mth lhe"
vides all essential inforrnation accurately," "uses
attainment of specified __
standardJl""I<l:~llerthan
appropriate staging," "errors do not interfere
with anTndiVl"dual's achievement in relation to a .
with meaning," "pronunciation
do es not impede~
,gfo~p~'Th~yare therefore criterion- ratherthan
intelligibility") .

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THE STANDARDS MOVEMENT

The most recent manifestation of performancebased approaches


to syllabus design, in the
U nited States at least~Lthe
~tandards mQye.rn~n.LJ:hroughout
theJ2.~Q.~Ahere was a concerted push for national education standards,
This push was seen at all levels of government,
and it resulted
in legislation mandating
the
development
and implementation
of standards.
For example , the Adult Education Act and the
National Literacy Act of 1991 require adult basic
education programs in all states to develop indicators of program quality and to attach performance standards to these quality indicators (see
website at the end of chapter).
In many ways, just as the competency movement was a repackaging
of concepts from the
objectives movement, the same is true of the standards move ID e n t. "O bj_~<;:lve~Lc..OJXl
P-~t~.Q~5.t:,~
~'.
are redefined as standards, which can also be used
Ti1worK doeTr;"-'~th~'r -~reas such as math and
language arts, For example, the National Council
of Teachers of English (NCTE 1997) standards
document for English language arts states, "By
c~..t
stargJ ..rds", ~mell...2l-ten:_ep_~
..._~b-?-t
define what students should know and be able to

dS{-=-cP-T::2r--'---"~""'--- -- .-"._.,., ""-

-In ESL, the TESOL organization has commissioned several sets of standards in are as such
as pre-K-12, adult education, and workplace
education. The most fully developed of these are
me pre-K-12 standards
(Short et al. 1997),
These are framed around three goals and nine
standards, The
standards
fleshed
_
------~_~ are
__ ...._ ..__ out
v._ ..
,in _
terms of d~_cDEt9~~, PEgf_<;~L.illL~-t-rst._,Cl,I1_d
~I~~~~g.<?Plv:ign.~~t~~~.
The nine content 3tanda..:~s
'in dica te E].-:r:-~Q..~.c:.ifj.t;:ally.Jthan.
th e..goals] .what
srUdentS- should know and be able to do as a
, 'r,es{lt~9('i~;stru~tio~"-"'(p.l5),
~b"es~Q.pto~~_._!.:~
'~
__<:_o:~~.g()r~es._
,9.Lqi~c:r.~~~,._represen tative
be_~_~~o~':~
(p.15). ~ss
ind~~~.0.is"lis~~i~ssable, observaQ.le.?-c;:.ti'dtie;sJh'iqp,lcten~_m'3,y per:
~?rffi~t;-'~.;llo:w.p.rQgTe.?.~. __towards
meeting
.~~?ign'att;d standards. These progress indicators
represent a variety of instructional techniques
that may be used by teachers to determine how
well students are doing" (p.lfi).

60

The following
example ' fr orn the ESL
Starulards illustrates the different components of
the standard. lt is written for grades pre-K-3.

.t

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Goal:

To use English
settings

to communicate

tl
1,
f

m social

S'

Standard:

Students will use English


social interactions

to participate

l'
ti
c
tl
a

Descriptors:

Sharing

and requesting

inforrnation

Expressing

Using nonverbal
interactions

communication

Getting

needs met

Engaging

Conducting

needs, feelings, and ideas

personal

:g
i

insocial

in conversations
transactions

Sample Progress Indicators:

tJ

Engage listener''s attention


verbally

Volunteer
information
and
requests about self and family

Elicit information
questions

Clarify and restate information

Describe feelings and emotions


ing a movie

Indicate interests, opinions,


related to class projects

Give and ask for permission

Offer and respond to greetings, compliments,


invitations, introductions, and farewells

Negotiate solutions to problems, interpersonal misunderstandings,


and disputes

Read and
you letters

Use the telephone

write

and

verbally or nonrespond

to

ask clarification

as needed
after watch-

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or preferences

invi tatio ns and

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thank

(5hort et al. 1997, p, 31)

Unit 1 Teaching Methodology

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I
<",'

_.'t!enn.' -'--

3.
4.

SYLLABUSES

Describe people. tell the time ,


Describ~ p1aces; give compliments;,~express
uncertamty; confirm/ correct information
Describe houses and apartments: makeand
answer telephone calls.
Express likes and dislikes; ask about and
describe habits and routines
Ask and tell about quantity
Ask for and give directions; ask for and tell
about physical and emotional states
Talk about frequency; express degrees of
certainty
Describe people's appearances; write simple
letters; give compliments

The broader view of language as communication


5.
that emerged during the 1970s was taken up by syllabus designers. AB indicated earlier, an important
6.
figure here was Wilkins (1976), who argued for
syllabuses based on notions and functions.
7.
Notions are ge~l..<;;_l!~J:pll,tLmeanings..s,J..l.dLiJ.S. 8.
tim~,S9-l,l~~,_.i.Q.Qll@ti.-ondy~tiO!1.S ar~JJ~
communic'!-_tiy~_.P-l"l~RQ~e_s
.._,fu?-!.._~re achieved
9.
~r~~gkC.!~g:u?-ge _~uch__
<!S,_apoJogizj~~gtAdyi,ip.i'.
and expressing preferences,
10.
-'--Lii~e-'n;o~t
syllabus proposals, notionalfunctionalism was not impervious to criticismo
(Swan and Walter 1984)
Early versions of notional-functional
syllabuses
ended up not being so very different from the
grarnmatical "syllabuses that they replaced,
CONTENT-BASED
Instead of units entitled "sirn.pl~_pas.t,"wefind
units entitled "!,al.~_~K_.'!Pl1Lll!,<:....~_e~~J:E.~: SYLLABUSES
Widdowson (1983) also pointed out that simply
Content-based instruction (CBI) comes in many
replacing 1ists of grammatical items with lists of
different guises (see Snow's chapter in this
no tional-functio nal ones neither represented
volume).
However, all variants share one characthe nature of language as comrnunication nor
teristic-~an~.~ge
is no.t..Eres~m~.Q.._<;iiLe.<:t1Y?J?}!.t
reflected the way languages were learned any
is introduced va the content of other subiects.
;J--,. ...,.,_..,,"~
more than grarnmatical syllabuses did.
,
In
school
settings,
this
content
is
typically
the
regWben syllabus designers began turning
ular
subjects
inthe
currculum
such
as
science,
away from grarnrnatical criteria as the point of
geography, and mathematics. Learners acquire
departure in designing their syllabuses, selection
the target language in the course of doing other
and grading became much more problematic. AB
things. The approach draws strongly on the expesoon as one looks beyond linguistic notions of
riential view of learning, that is, thatactive
simplicity and difficulty, the number of criteria
begins to multiply. These criteri_inc;h1_d_~_~i_9:!?-- engagement in cornmunicating in the language is
the most effective means of acquiring it.
tional, con textual, and extralinguistic factors.
AB we saw at the beginning of this chapter, the
Ti.!..tire-~_e':n().,objec.?::~<.P~~~sfor' deciding th'.t
three core tasksfor the syllabus designer are selectone functional
item is mo''-complex' ihan
ing, sequencing, and justifying content. In CBI, the
another. In addition, most functions can be
justification comes from the content area itself.For
expre~d
in many different ways and at many
example, if the content area is general science, the
different levels of complexity. Apologizing, for
topic of photosynthesis would be introduced on
example, can range from Sorry to 1 reall must
the grounds that it is a core topic in the field.
apologize-l do hope you can forgive me.
A recent book on content-based instruction
'!}1e re.~.~ve ar~~~e~
of selecting and
sequencing can be seen in the following list of funcpresents teaching suggestions in the following
tional components from a well-known EFL COUI"Se: categories:
_

1.
2.

I
'"
1
1-'

NOTIONAL~FUNCTIONAL

~_'
.. __~"'r.

.._."._

. _.....

.. _~_ ..

_~,,""",_A.

~~'_'''_'''_'-~'

,.

.M_",~,''''''''__

.'~ __

.~_...-...-.....""_.,__~_..,

.. ,.. _

...,.--.,...._ ..~....-.._,~ ~"""..- ...,o#-..,.- . ~.

lnformation management: Here learners sift


datainto different categories, or are given
categories and are required to find examples
to fit these categories.
'

....
--..~

Ask and give names; say hello; ask and tell


where people are from
Say hello formally and informally; ask
about and give personal information

6\

Syllabus Design
._. ----_ .._._-------

._,_ ....,-

--_._--

---------------------- ............

Critical thinking: Learners go. beyond classifying to evaluate or analyze data, for example,
by determining a point of view or arguing
frorn a given stance.
Hatuls-on activities: These involve manipulating data through games, experiments,
and other experiential activities.
Data gathering: These tasks involve learners in
scanning
for specific information
and/
or colfecting and assernbling facts, data, and
references.
A.nalysis and construction: This final category
involves "(a) breaking a text into its component parts, elucidating its rhetorical pattern, and examining
text flow (cohesion
and coherence)
or (b) applying knowledge
of oral and written discourse conventions
to create a specifically patterned text with
the goal of increasing fluency, accuracy, or
both" (Master and Brinton 1997, p. vi).

The following is a fairly common


task:

of a peclagogical

In pairs, students complete an information gap task to get instructions on


how to get from one 's hotel to the
nearest subway station. Student A has
a map of the town center with . the
hotel marked. Student B has the same
map with the subway marked.
Having specified target and pedagogical
tasks, the s111abus designe.~nal~e~tl.~}EJ~~der:..
to_ id.!D._tifx.
...lll~.)~Q-~1.c;:qg.e
__aQ<;l._skills.rhat.jhe
l.e<l:{p.er
.?1':l.? t haveinorderto
..~m.
Q1,l.t _th~ tasks,
The next step is to sequence and integrate the
tasks with enabling exercises designed to develop
the requisite knowledge and skills. One key distinction between an exercise and a task is that
exercises will have purely language-related
outcomes, while tasks wiIl have nonlanguage-related
outcornes, as well as language-related ones.

TASK-BASED SYLLABUSES ~ ,

Examples

Task-based syllabuses represent a particular realization of Communicative


Language Teaching
(Nunan 1989, see also Crookes and Chaudron's
chapter in this volume). Instead of beginning
the design process with lists of grarnmatical,
functional-notional,
and other iterns, the designer
conducts .~_~~~~Aq.I}..al)':sis,
whichyields a li~~.(>(th.~
-municative
tasks
that
the learners
for whom -,
------ _.- - - ~----- -.,--_._~_
.. _--_.- _.- _ ...... tlie syllabus is)nl.eI}cl.ed will need to. carry out,
In syllabus design, a basic distinction is drawn
between ta~g~~~Js~
and P.~Q.9.g.QgLc.:,L.lfI:.l<!>. A
@Egt:.~taskjs sC?I1].e!:hip-g~.~~ ~~..1.~~~e.r."I?ig~t
conceivably do outside_9LW.~ c;l~srQoIIl. Examples
of~get~bi;cl~d~
.

..

'.

....

Taking part in ajob interview


Completing a credit card application
Finding one's way from a hotel to a subway
station
Checking into a hotel

~e.9-gQgi.f~L~ls?.(l!:~ unlikely to b.e..deployed


outside the classroom. They a~rea.ted
in Q!..Q~.ctQ_
"leamers injo ..c9mmunicatingwith._
each
other in. the target language, on the assumption
that this commlmi~~tive-intefa'ci;;-;i1 f~eith~
acql:i~itio~1' process. .

"pusFi';

62

example
.

Read the following passage, from which all


prepositions have been deleted, and reinstate
the correct prepositions from the list provided.
Listen to the dialogue
and answer the
following true/false questions.
Rearrange these questions and answers to forrn
a conversation, and practice the conversation.

Example

of exercises:

of a task:

Listen to the weather forecast and decide


what to wear, (Such a target task might be
carried out in the classroom by having
students circle pictures of clothing and
accessories such as jackets, shorts, umbrellas,
and sunglasses.)

TYPES OF TASKS
Another way of distinguishing between tasks is to
divide them into reproductioe and creatiue tasks ..
A reproductive task is one in which the learner
is reproducing language following a model provided by the teacher, textbook, tape, or other
source. A task is reproductive if the language that
the learner is to use is largely predetennined
and
Unit 1 Teaching Methodology

.~

pre.
are nec

predictable. This does not mean that suchtasks


are necessarily noncommunicative.
Many comrnunicative tasks, such as the following, are of this type.
Class survey. Find someone
doesn 't like the following:

who Iikes /

likes

doesri' t like

Eating chilis
.

Playing tennis

1.

Doing homework

2.

Pair work. Who is the best person 'forthe job?


Read the following rsums, and decide who
the best person is for the followingjobs:

I
I
I
I
I
I

School building

Receptionist

Librarian

Bookstore

supervisor

"1 think , .. "


"We should ... "
"This pers~m might ...

"

However, there is no way of predicting


the language that will be used.
Syllabus Design

,.,;

3.

4.

5.

Identify the general contexts and situations


in which the leamers will communicate.
Specify the communicative
events that the
learners will engage in.
Make a list of the functional goals that the
learners will need in arder to take part in
the communicative
events.
List the key linguistic elements that learners
will need 'in arder to achieve the functional
goals.
Sequence and integrate
the various skill
elements identified in steps 3 and 4:.

In developing integrated syllabuses, 1 find


that cross-reference planning grids are very useful, because they nable me-to map out and coorclinate the different elemenrs in the syllabus.
Here is a cross-reference grid integrating functions and structures for the first few units in a syllabus underpinning
a textbook series for younger
learners. Not only does the grid help guideme in
selectingwhich
items to teach when, it also shows
me where and when recycling is necessary. 1 can
also see if there are gaps in the syllabus.

clerk

In this task, the language used by the students is


much less predictable.
If we were to eavesdrop
on the task, we might predict that we would hear
utterances such as:

,1

In this chapter, 1 have outlined the major trends


and developments
in syllabus design over the
last twent:y years. In my own work, 1have tried to
embrace an integrated
approach
to syllabus
design in which all of the elements and options
discussed above are brought together into a single
designo The following example illustrates one way
in which this might be done.

Watching
sci-fi movies

This task is reproductive


because we know that
if the students are doing it right, they wiIl be
saving, "Do you like eating chilis?" "Do you like
playing tennis?" etc. It is communicative in that
the person asking the question does not know
whether the classmate's answer will be yes or no.
Creative language tasks, on the other hand,
are less predictable. Learners rnust assemble the
words and structures they have acquired in new
and unpredictable
ways. Here is an example of a
creative task.

I
I

AN INTEGRATED APPROACH
TO SYLLABUS DESIGN

precisely

CONCLUSION
In this chapter, 1 have provided an introduction
to the fie1d of syllabus designo 1 suggest that syllabus design is that part of currculum development which is concemed with selecting, grading,
integrating, andjustifying the content of the curriculum. Different types of syllabuses, from grammatical to task-based, are introduced, described,
and critiqued. The key theoretical and empirical,

63

----------

':~

. .'.

":'..

T".

-'

'

,be":'::.

.
,

What.'
Simple
'questons,'-::
present : ".'.
tense. + -

Functions

< Scructures

..)

'.

..

Demonstratbles:
this;that .

Where
questions

Simple _ .
present
tense +

Prepositions:
on, in,
under

have',

i :

1'

1
1

,1

'.:.

IdentifY
ownership

~:

.
.

',' , .'
,

.........

Introduce"

pe~yJ;.:->J{~,;';.

. ....

. '::::' ")' :.');:;.'-~/'!';~(?~.''<:::~


.
Talk aboutt \v.;'

.::;!f.~::.~fi!~~L:
' ...

"

"

'

.,'

~....

"

'j

;T~i~:<ili.~tit:,,::)~;:x.~:i;~.
~.likeS~and:.
dislikes'

: ,"' .~.:..,

..

'j .~:
.

...,;

'

:: :.:
.

'..

,."

,"

r
"

.~

(Source: Nunan 1999a)

influences on the field are also introduced. In.


the last part of the chapter, 1 argue for an integrated syllabus which draws on and incorporates
all of the key experiential and linguistic elements
discussed in the body of this chapter.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

2.
3.

DISCUSSION

QUESTIONS

1. What do you see as the role of the classroom


teacher in syllabus design?
2. What do you see as the advantages and
disadvantages of an objectives-based syllabus?
3. What do you think that content-based and taskbased syllabuses might have in common? How
might they differ?
4. If you were asked to design a syllabus for a
new ESL or EFL course, what are so me of the
first things you would do as preparation?

64

rII

1. Look at the "Course Overview" in Appendix

4.

5.

\~

B of jenseri's chapter on lesson planning in


this volume. Is this a syllabus? Explain your
answer.
Design a needs analysis questionnaire for a
specified group of leamers.
Compare the selection and sequencing of
functional and grammatical cornponents in
several general ESL/EFL textbooks. What
similarities and differences are there? Is
there a "common core" of elements across
the textbooks?
Identify a target group of leamers and carry
out the five planning tasks suggested in the
section on the integrated syllabus on page 64.
Develoo a cross-reference grid similar to the
one set out in the chapter.
Design four three-part performance objectives
for the group ofleamers in Activity 4 above.

__
--------

Unit 1 Teaching Methodology

J'

111

FURTHER READING
Dubin, F., and E. Olshtain. 1986. Course Design.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This book is designed for teachers who have the
planning and development of courses as pan
of their duties. It covers what the authors cal!
the "fact-finding" stage-establishing
realistic
goals, surveying existing programs, realizing
goals through instructional
plans, selecting
the shape of the syIlabus-and
the considerations involved in constructing communicative
syllabuses.
Brown, J. D. 1995. The Elements o/ Lanp;uage Curriculum.
Boston, !vIA:Heinle & Heinle.
Although it is a book on curriculum, and therefore deals with issues that go beyond syllabus
design, it also provides an accessible introduction
to syIlabus design issues.
Graves, K, ed. 1996. Teachers as Course Deuelopers.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This book contains six interesting case studies
of teachers as course developers and syllabus

Syllabus Design

designers. The narratives of these teachers, who


work in very different contexts worldwide, illustrate the process o course development from
the perspective of the teacher.
Nunan, D. 1988a. Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford
University Press,
This book explores the principles involved in
selecting, grading, and integrating the Var10US
components of a language syllabus and dernonstrates how teachers can go about analyzing the
syllabuses in use in their own classroorns. It offers
analytical tools and techniques for evaluating,
modifying, and adapting syllabuses.

WEBSITES
Both the U.S. National Literacy Act of 1991 and the
U.S. Adult Education Act of 1991, along with
related policy resources, are available on-line at
www.nifl.gov/lincs/collections/policy/resource.
html

65