What to teach and when

Sometimes you might ask yourself: ‘Why am I teaching this?’ It’s a good question because there is little objectivity when it comes to syllabus design, especially for general English courses. You’ll find that course books tend to copy each other when it comes to content but this may be more about meeting expectations than anything else.

Where possible, it is often worth spending time negotiating (or part negotiating) a syllabus with your students. The main advantage is the student ‘buy in’. Even at low levels it is quite possible to discuss the areas you want to cover and how you plan to do it. It could be argued that at advanced level it is the only successful approach to a course!

When you are delivering an exam preparation course, looking at practice exams will give you a very good idea of what needs to be covered. Work back from the exam questions to build up the required skills for each question type. At intermediate level (B1 – B2), exam preparation can really help give a course structure and variety.

Useful guide to what to teach:

Until recently the evidence for what students need to cover at different levels has been rather anecdotal or self-referring (one syllabus copying another). Even when you have a reasonably clear idea of appropriate content you will still, of course, need to decide on how to teach it. However a useful tool for syllabus design (A1 – C1) is the British Council’s ‘Core Inventory for General English’. It is based on a range of sources such as teacher surveys, course book content and best practice.

In time, through the analysis of learner English corpora (presumably mainly derived from student output in exams) we should get a much better idea of what is learnt and when it is learnt but until then the Core Inventory is a step in the right direction.

Link to adapting materials