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4. The Syllabus
GR 2

A curriculum refers to the principles and the procedures for the planning, implementation, evaluation and management of an educational program. Curriculum study embraces syllabus design (the selection and grading of content) and methodology (the selection of learning tasks and activities).

A curriculum is an educational program which states:

1.      The educational purpose of the program (the ends)

2.      The content, teaching procedures and learning experiences which will be necessary to achieve this purpose (the means)

3.      Some means for assessing whether or not the educational ends have been achieved.

Curriculum design refers to the study and development of the goals, content, implementation, and evaluation of an educational system. In language teaching, curriculum development (also called syllabus design) includes:

a)      The study of the purposes for which a learner needs a language (Needs Analysis)

b)      The setting of objectives, and the development of a syllabus, teaching methods, and materials.

c)      The evaluation of the effects of these procedures on the learner’s language ability.

On the whole, curriculum development refers to the range of planning and implementation processes involved in developing or renewing a curriculum. The approach generally taken in curriculum development places teachers and language teaching professionals at the center of the planning and decision-making process. The products of these decision-making processes include policy documents, syllabi, tests, teaching materials, teaching programs, textbooks, and teaching and learning acts. The processes that lead to these decision-making processes are difficult to identify and analyze because they often reflect the contributions of a variety of people with different roles and goals. The different decision-making roles and products are represented in the diagram below:

Developmental stages

Decision-making roles


Curriculum planning

Policy makers

Policy document


Ends – means

Needs analyst



Program implementation

Materials writers

Teaching materials

Teacher trainers

Teacher-training program

Classroom implementation


Teaching acts


Learning acts

  Table 1 Stages, decision-making roles and products in curriculum development.

The syllabus

What is a syllabus?

A syllabus may consist of an independent publication – a book or booklet – if it is intended to cover all the courses in a particular context regardless of the actual materials used: a country’s national syllabus for schools, for example, or the syllabus of a group of language colleges.

The syllabus is a description of the contents of a course of instruction and the order in which they are to be taught.

Characteristics of Syllabi

A syllabus is a document which consists, essentially, of a list. This list specifies all the things that are to be taught in the course(s) for which the syllabus was designed (a beginner’s course, for example, or a six-year secondary-school program): it is therefore comprehensive (wide-ranging, all-inclusive). The actual components of the list may be either content items (words, structures, topics), or process ones (tasks, methods). The former is the more common. The items are ordered, usually having components that are considered easier or more essential earlier, and more difficult and less important ones later. This ordering may be fairly detailed and rigid, or general and flexible.

The syllabus generally has explicit objectives, usually declared at the beginning of the document, on the basis of which the components of the list are selected and ordered.

Another characteristic of the syllabus is that it is a public document. It is available for examination and analysis not only by the teachers who are expected to implement it, but also by the consumers (the learners or their parents or employers), by representatives of the relevant authorities (inspectors, school boards), by other interested members of the public (researchers, teacher trainers or textbook writers).

There are other, optional features, displayed by some syllabi and not others. A time schedule is one: some syllabi delimit the time framework of their components, prescribing, for example, that these items should be dealt with in the first month. A particular preferred approach or methodology to be used may also be defined. It may list recommended materials – course books, visual materials or supplementary materials.


  1. It consists of a comprehensive list of content items (to explain words [vocabulary], structures [grammar], topics [pollution, family, etc]) and process items (tasks and methods).
  2. It is order either from simple to complex or from more essential to less essential.
  3. Explicit objectives.
  4. It is a public document.
  5. It may indicate a time schedule.
  6. Preferred methodology/approach. 
  7. It may recommend materials (e.g. a tape).

Types of syllabi

  1. Grammatical: a list of structures such as the present tense, comparison of adjectives, relative clauses. These are divided into sections graded according to difficulty/importance.
  2. Lexical: list of vocabulary items (words and their different associations + idioms).
  3. Grammatical-lexical: very common. Both structures and vocabulary are listed (together or in separate lists).
  4. Situational: it teaches the language needed for each situation; headings refer to situations or locations such as ‘at the restaurant’ ‘at the shop’.
  5. Topic-based: headings are topic-based, e.g. pollution, marriage, food.
  6. Notional: general notions (number, time, place, colour) and specific notions (man, woman, afternoon like voc. items).
  7. Functional- Notional: giving orders, asking, requesting, giving directions, promising. Purely functional syllabi are not quite common, that’s why the functions are combined with notions.

Mixed or multi-strand: modern syllabi combine different aspects including specifications of topics, tasks, functions and notions along with structures and lexis.