Course design

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Course design (/kɔ:s dəzaɪn/) refers to the long-term design of a language course, often resulting from a previous needs analysis. It is more general than a lesson plan and usually follows a syllabus.

Types of courses[edit]

A course should ideally be eclectic in philosophy, that is, it should not be limited to only one teaching method.

There are basically seven types of general language course – and by extension, coursebook - design used, often with overlapping themes. None of them are, in principle, necessarily better suited to anybody’s particular learning style. Apart from these seven, outlined below and presented in no particular order, there are English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses as well as special tailor-made courses, such as total immersion courses.


See main article Structural syllabus
The traditional structural/grammatical course, in which students progress step-by-step, constructing sentences, etc. with a linear approach to the language, with an emphasis on grammar, rather than a communicative one. Although in principle it would seem that a linear structure might help students learn better – almost certainly true in many other subjects, where a structural or hierarchical approach would seem more logical – in the case of language learning that same “order” would be too slow, incomplete and even boring, most likely resulting in a negative attitude towards learning the language;


The functional course, based on functions such as agreeing, giving opinions, etc., is almost the opposite extreme. While attaching far greater importance to the spoken language, it requires students to use grammatical structures as set phrases without fully understanding their construction and may leaving them feeling that they have no base from which to develop;


Courses based on notions, that is concepts such as the weather, places, etc., tend to limit communication to stereotyped set phrases and may leave students without resources for effective communication in other matters;


Courses based on themes such as IT, medicine, law, transport, etc., too wide-ranging to be considered ESP, generally concentrate on reading and writing theory, with some grammar thrown in, rather than speaking;


Courses based on situations teach language necessary for specific situations such as the at the airport, in restaurants, etc. These tend to have a more pragmatic approach aimed at survival language and are often used together with functional courses;


Skills-based courses which develop skills such as reading, negotiating, speaking in public, note-taking, etc., tend to ignore communicative needs in social contexts;


And last, but not least, courses with an eclectic approach which reflect, on the one hand, the specific needs of each individual student (even within a classroom context), and on the other hand, the teacher’s experience. It includes the most effective aspects of the six methods mentioned above, and seeks to optimise what works best between the student and teacher. This type of approach occasionally meets with resistance from students, who are all too often pre-conditioned by their prior, formal learning experiences, and are consequently less open to less structured methodologies.

The syllabus[edit]

Syllabi can be:

Product-oriented syllabus[edit]

See main article Product-oriented syllabus

  • These focus on what learners should know as a result of the input and typically list the items to be learnt. They tend to concentrate on grammatical input, functional/notional aspects and lexical items.

Process-oriented syllabus[edit]

See main article Process-oriented syllabus

  • Process-oriented syllabi are often task based and more learner-centred, with teachers encouraging students to become more self-sufficient in their learning process.

The underlying components of language[edit]

Even more important than the formal design of a course and its methodology, however, is the need to reinforce the four underlying components of language that, according to Canale and Swain (1980), define linguistic competence.