CHOOSING AND PREPARING THE RIGHT MATERIALS
Since it is impossible to teach the whole of a target language, selection of teaching materials is necessary. The teaching materials will be selected based on the objectives of the instruction, which are stated in the syllabus we have chosen. Our syllabus will tell us the objectives of our teaching either explicitly or implicitly. Since the objectives of our teaching can hardly be separated from our syllabus, types of language syllabus need to be discussed. The following section will address the types of language syllabus.
TYPES OF LANGUAGE SYLLABUS
There has been much confusion as to what types of syllabus are possible in language teaching and to how different they are in the level of implementation. Knowing the syllabus types will help us to decide and choose the one(s) that is appropriate with our teaching goals and our situations and conditions. The following are some types of language teaching syllabus that will be distinctively discussed (Lingualinks Library, 1999).
1. A grammar or structural syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of the forms and structures of the language being taught.
a. We decide on a set of forms and structures that the students have to learn and arrange them in increasing complexity, meaning from simple to complex forms and discourses.
b. We decide a set of vocabulary to be learned together with forms and structures.
c. We sequence the vocabulary, considering that concrete nouns and more common forms should be taught.
d. We fit the vocabulary, forms and the structures together into a set of learning tasks.
Below are language materials that have been developed based on grammar syllabus (taken from SIDE BY SIDE: English through Guided Conversation by Molinsky and Bliss, 1983).
1. Simple Present Tense
Present Continuous Tense
Subject and Object
2. Simple Past Tense (Regular and Irregular verbs)
Past Continuous Tense
3. Future: Going To
Future Continuous Tense
4. Present Perfect Tense
5. Present Perfect Tense vs. Present Tense
Present Perfect Tense vs. Past Tense
The benefit of a grammar syllabus is that students move from simpler to more complex structures and they may learn the structures more easily. Even though the materials seem to consider grammar-based arrangement, activities in the book enforce students to learn English through guided conversations. The disadvantage of this syllabus is that students are often preoccupied with grammar when they are learning communicative activities, which may block natural communicative process. This syllabus may be more useful in a context in which the students do not have immediately communication needs.
2. A notional or functional syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of the functions or the notions that are performed when the language is used.
a. We make a list of communication functions of the language that students expect to master.
b. We make a list of the semantic notions (meanings) based on the culture the speakers of the language.
c. We group the functions and the notions together into learning tasks.
The example below is a language syllabus that has been developed based on notional syllabus (taken from Impact: English for Social Interaction by Watcyn-Jones, 1980).
Unit 1: Socializing
a. how to approach the person you are meeting
b. how to reply
c. How to introduce yourself
d. How to respond and reply to an introduction
Unit 2: Asking and Answering Questions
a. How to ask and answer direct questions where a short Yes or No answer is expected
b. How to ask and answer direct questions where a longer answer than Yes or No is expected
c. How to ask a direct question when you already think you know what the answer will be
3. Finding the Way
a. How to ask someone the way
The benefit of a notional/functional syllabus is that students learn how to use the target language to express their own ideas, notions and purposes. The disadvantage of this syllabus is that different kinds of structures are often used to express the same functions so that it is difficult to arrange the structure of the target language from simpler to more complex forms. This syllabus may trigger language learners to use the target language to express their own emotions, ideas or purposes.
4. A situational (topical) syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of imaginary situations where the language is used.
a. We make a list of communications situations that students may face.
b. We make a list of topics, grammatical forms and vocabulary and sequence them.
c. We group the topics, forms and structures and fit them with communication situations.
The teaching units below are language materials that have been developed based on situational syllabus.
Unit 1 At Post Office
Unit 2 At School
Unit 3 At the Airport
Unit 4 At Restaurant
Unit 5 Shopping
Unit 6 At Party
The benefit of a situational syllabus is that students learn how to use the target language in an authentic communication. The advantage of this syllabus is that when unexpectable situations happen in communication language learners are not accustomed to communicate in the language spontaneously. This syllabus is good for language learners who are preparing to go to a country where the language is being learned. This situational teaching has the goal of teaching specific language content that occurs in situation.
5. A skill-based syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of specific skills in using the target language. Examples of skills in using the target language may include reading for the main idea, writing good paragraphs, and listening for the main idea.
a. We make a list of language skills that students need to acquire.
b. We make a list of topics, grammatical forms and vocabulary and sequences them.
c. We group the topics, forms and structures and fit them with the language skills.
The language materials below have been developed based on skill-based syllabus (taken from Writing Academic English by Oshima and Hogue, 1983).
Part I: WRITING A PARAGRAPH
1 What is a paragraph?
The three parts of a paragraph
Two additional elements
How to write a title
The Topic Sentence
Position of topic sentences
The two parts of a topic sentence
Writing topic sentences: two reminders
The concluding Sentence
Review: What is a Paragraph?
2 Unity and Simple Outlining
Simple Paragraph Outlining
The 'equivalent value" rule
The "parallel from" rule
Review: Unity and Simple Outlining
The benefit of a skill-based syllabus is that students can specify their learning to reach their communicative competence, such as using telephone, booking a hotel, and others. The disadvantage of this syllabus is that it is harder to sequence the materials. This syllabus is good for those who want to learn specific language skills, such as the writing skill as the example above.
6. A task-based syllabus. The content of the language teaching includes a series of purposeful tasks that language learners need to perform; tasks are defined as activities that are needed when using the target language. Examples of a task-based syllabus may include applying for a job, ordering food via the telephone and getting housing information over the telephone. This syllabus is similar to a situational syllabus but it focuses on more general linguistic competence that is less culturally loaded.
a. We make a list of abilities or tasks that students need to acquire.
b. We make a list of topics, grammatical forms and vocabulary and sequences them.
c. We group the topics, forms and structures and fit them with the tasks.
The following is a list of task-types used in a five-year project that consisted of teaching a small number classes in primary and secondary schools in southern India (Prabhu, 1987: 138).
1 Diagrams and formations
a. Naming parts of a diagram with numbers and letters of the alphabet, as instructed.
b. Placing numbers and letters of the alphabet in relation to one another, as instructed, to arrive at particular formations.
c. Placing numbers and letters of the alphabet in given crossword formats; constructing/completing such formats, as instructed.
a. Drawing geometrical figures/formations from sets of verbal instructions.
b. Formulating verbal instructions for drawing/completing such figures.
c. Comparing given figures to identify similarities and differences.
a. Telling the time from a clockface; positioning the hands of a clock to show a given time.
b. Calculating durations from the movement of a clock's hands; working out intervals between given time.
c. Stating the time on a twelve hour clock and a twenty-four hour clock; relating times to phases of the day and night.
The benefit of a task-based syllabus is that students learn to carry out activities using the target language. Language teaching through task-based syllabus occurs only as the need arises during the performance of a given task. The disadvantage is that students often learn to perform tasks and language learning is less emphasized.
7. A content-based syllabus. A content-based syllabus in language teaching is actually not a language syllabus. The primary purpose of instruction is to teach subject matter of the content course or information using the target language. The subject is primary and language learning occurs automatically while language learners are studying the subject. An example of a content-based syllabus is a science class that is taught in the target language.
a. We make a list of topics from the content (subject).
b. We make a list of topics, grammatical forms and vocabulary and sequences them.
c. We group the forms and structures and fit them with the topics.
The following is a list of topics that have been developed based on a content-based syllabus and is designed to improve the job-specific English of non-native speakers who are working or being trained in the telecommunications industry (Comfort, et al, 1994).
Unit 1 Networks
Unit 2 Transmission
Unit 3 Switching
Unit 4 Computer communications
Unit 5 Radio communications
The benefit of a content-based syllabus is that students feel satisfied with the purpose of learning the target language, namely acquiring information. The feeling of satisfaction will promote their learning. The disadvantage of this syllabus is that the content of instruction is not organized around the language teaching so that there is almost no teaching of the target language even though the students will automatically learn the language. This syllabus is often used in the immersion program, which has been addressed earlier.
Some syllabus types may be overlapped with the others. To some extent a content- based syllabus is similar to a skill-based syllabus, in a content-based syllabus students are often involved in activities that link the skills. Students might read and take notes, listen and write a summary, or respond orally to things they have read or written (Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 208). Richards and Rodgers suggest that the teacher or course developer has the responsibility to identify relevant grammar and other linguistic focuses to complement the theme of activities in a content-based syllabus. This implies that the teaching materials are arranged a combination of skill-based and grammar syllabus and such a teaching program may also be called an immersion program.
The types of syllabus mentioned above are not the only types of syllabus that are commonly known in the context of communicative teaching. There are some other types that are not very popular, such as interactional syllabus and learner-centered syllabus (Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 164). In having which type of syllabus would work optimally in providing students with learning activities to gain communicative competence, we must take into consideration all factors that might affect the practicality and teachability of a particular syllabus. By experiencing each type of syllabus, we may finally choose one or two types of syllabus that are appropriate in our teaching settings, or combine the types of syllabus according to local conditions and needs.
Even though we define the types of syllabus in isolated contexts, we often combine them in actual teaching settings. No single syllabus may be appropriate for all teaching settings. We may combine them in more or less integrated ways, with one type as the basis with which the others are related. The guidelines to syllabus choice and design below may be worth considering (Reilly, 1988).
a. We determine what outcomes are desired for the students in the instructional program or define what the students should be able to do as a result of instruction.
b. We rank the syllabus types presented above as to their likelihood of leading to the outcomes desired.
c. We evaluate available resources in materials and in training for teachers.
d. We rank the types of syllabus relative to available resources and consider what syllabus types would be the easiest to implement given the available resources.
e. We compare the lists of the syllabus types, make as few adjustments and produce a new ranking based on the resources constraints.
f. We repeat the process, taking into account the constraints contributed by the teacher, student and other factors.
g. We determine a final ranking, taking into account all the information from the earlier steps.
h. We designate one or two types as dominant and one as one as secondary.
i. We translate the decisions into actual teaching units.
Recently, many course designers agree with the combination of syllabus types without explicitly stating that they have combined syllabus types. Frodesen and Eyring (2000) seem to support the combination. In their book, The Grammar Dimensions, Platinum Edition, they introduce a technique for teachers to teach English and for students to use English grammar in communication accurately, meaningfully, and appropriately. This implies that we do not necessarily rely on a single type of syllabus. The grammar syllabus (accurately), which is often believed to be far from communicative competence, can be combined with notional syllabus (meaningfully) and situational syllabus, which deals with cultural settings (appropriately).
The following example illustrates the combination of syllabus types (taken from The Grammar Dimensions, Platinum Edition, Book 4, Unit 1).
One of the goals of the unit:
To use verb tenses correctly to describe events and situations.
Looking at the goal above, it implies that the syllabus has been arranged in a grammar syllabus (verb tenses) but the grammatical unit is presented to express a notion (to describe events) in certain cultural settings (situations). The syllabus seems to have been meant for students to learn communicative competence of the language through grammar mastery without focusing on the grammar knowledge itself. The grammar is not considered as an end but the grammar is learned in contexts in order for students to be able to use the language in real communication. The book seems to have been developed in an integrated way, with grammar syllabus as the basis with which notional syllabus and situational syllabus are related.
The book The Grammar Dimensions is not only integrative in that the materials are arranged in a combination of several types of syllabus but the activities in the book also integrate the skills of the language. The following instructions are taken from a unit of the book, showing that the four skills are covered in one unit. The four language skills are taught in an integrative way.
Compare your lists with those of two or three other class members. Discuss which groups on your childhood lists have changed and which have remained important groups to you at the present time (p.1).
As an out-of-class assignment, write three paragraphs. For the first paragraph, describe a childhood in-group that was especially important to you. For the second paragraph, write about … (p.1).
Exchange the paragraphs you wrote for the opening tasks with a classmate. After reading the paragraphs, write one or two questions that you have about your classmate's in-groups and ask him or her to respond to them (p.4).
The three instructions, which have been taken arbitrarily from one unit, have different learning targets. The first instruction expects students to practice speaking and listening. The second instruction emphasizes writing skill and the third provides students with opportunities to practice reading. The activities that students are expected to do are integrative in the sense that they practice communicative competence of the four skills of the target language.
The skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing should reinforce one another. Consequently, a language teacher has to consider these four skills in dealing with students' learning activities. He/she may not leave one skill behind the others. He/she may start from one skill and continue with the other skills. What skill should go first depends on the purpose of your teaching and the levels of the students. Different writers may propose ideas of which skills should go first. In Silent Way method of Cattegno, reading should be worked on from the beginning but follows from what language learners already know (Larsen-Freeman, 1986: 59). After language learners can produce sounds in the target language and connect the sounds with the truth, they begin to read symbols in the target language. This process can begin after the first class and language teacher does not have to delay it.
To reach the goal, teaching materials may be arranged in different considerations and based on the considerations the materials will be arranged in different types of language syllabus. In language teaching contexts, there are six types of language syllabus, namely grammar syllabus, situational syllabus, notional syllabus, task-based syllabus, skill-based syllabus and content-based syllabus. Each syllabus has strengths and weaknesses and it tells us how the target language should be presented. Even though we have different types of syllabus in isolated contexts, we often combine them in actual teaching settings. We may combine them in more or less integrated ways, with one type as the basis with which the others are related.
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8. Richards, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S. 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC-Digests/ed29460
9. ________________ and David Bycina.1985. Person to Person. Oxford University Press.
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