The Basics of Course Planning

As the new academic year comes closer, many of you will be starting to plan your upcoming courses. Educational courses are usually governed by the basic principles of Curriculum Design and language courses are no exception. These principles included, among other things, the following:startup-593327_1280

  • Course goals
  • Course objectives
  • Course materials

However, for many in the English Language Teaching world course design isn’t an integral part of planning and preparation, though it probably should be. Most language teachers simply receive a coursebook from the school and are told to teach it over the course of the year.

The teacher who takes the coursebook and divides it up according to each month of the academic year has already taken a significant step in the right direction. However, this can be taken a little further.

How should a simple language course be laid out? What are course aims? Where does a coursebook fit into a course syllabus? These are some of the questions this post will try to address, so keep reading… 

Course Goals

Objectives, goals and aims are three terms which you will have come across numerous times in education, most likely in the context of lesson aims. While they are often used interchangeably in common discourse, they take on very specific meanings in Curriculum Design.

Let’s start with course goals. A course will generally have one overriding goal. This goal will be the absolute basic essence of what the course is trying to achieve. A B1 level course might have the following Course Goal:

To help the learner become an independent language user in accordance with the language skills and abilities set out in the CEFR framework

As boring as this goal might sound, it does reflect the overall intention of a year-long B1 level course: by the end of such a course, you would hope the learner would be able to use language skills and systems to the point where they could function independently in the language, asking for clarification of any unknown terms or difficult language.

All in all, the Course Goal is usually a single sentence which describes the fundamental aim of the course but gives no specifics on what is involved in achieving it – that’s the job of the Course Objectives.

Course Objectives

In order to achieve the Course Goal, it is necessary to understand what will be involved in the process. This does not mean the specifics of lessons, but simply what key topics and areas a course will have to cover in order to reach the Course Goal. These are known as Course Objectives.

A course objective is greater than a lesson, yet smaller than a course goal. For example, in a single language lesson you might look at using will for immediate decisions, another lesson might focus on using going to for future plans, and a separate lesson could be dedicated to using the Present Simple for fixed plans. All of these lessons and more will work towards the following Course Objective :

By the end of the course, learners will be better able to use a variety of exponents to talk about the future

As you can see, this objective is too specific to be a course goal in itself but would take many lessons to achieve. In fact, to truly achieve this course, the course will probably have to contain a series of lessons for each exponent as well as regular revision lessons.

In short, Course Objectives are the major language systems and skills that a course contains. However, they aren’t small enough to be individual lessons but are big enough to require a number of lessons to achieve them.

Lesson Aims

Thinking up lesson aims is something you’re probably most familiar with from formal observations, filling in long cover sheets with language analysis and lesson main aims and sub aims.

There are many reasons why we choose the lessons that we teach, including:

  • The topic is interesting and you think you’re learners will enjoy it
  • The language point is something you’ve taught for another class and you think it might work with this group, saving yourself some planning time
  • It’s simply the next double-page spread in the coursebook

However, lessons should always work towards achieving the Course Objectives, which in turn work towards achieving the Course Goal. So bearing this in mind, when you’re planning your next lesson, be sure to ask yourself: which course objective does this lesson work towards? If you can’t categorically answer that question with Objective 1, 2, 3 etc then you need to reevaluate why you’re preparing that particular lesson.

You’ll most frequently come across this problem with coursebooks, as they have usually been designed for a general audience and not your specific group of learners. Don’t worry if this means that you have to drop something from the coursebook: it’s probably better to use the next lesson for revision than to simply cover something which isn’t actually helping you and your learners to achieve the course objectives and goal.

Course Planning

Planning out a whole year is tough, but it isn’t exactly necessary once you have your Course Objectives set out. You can probably get away with planning your course month by month.

For example, if you have 8 lessons in September, then divide a piece of paper into 8 squares and write in each square the basic topic or focus of each lesson, such as:

  1. Present Perfect for experiences
  2. Reading: holiday text
  3. Vocabulary: lexis for travelling
  4. Listening: interview with a pilot

Then add to each box the Course Objective the lesson is working towards: a simple Obj 1, Obj 2, Obj 3 etc. will suffice.

You can repeat this process for each month of the academic year, looking back to previous months to see which Course Objectives you have already worked towards, which ones you need to work towards next, and which you will need to revise and repeat in the coming months.

Course In Use

In the end, while you may not have designed a course outright in itself, following this approach you’ll be in a much better position to understand what it is you want to your learners to get out of your course, how you are going to help them achieve this, and what your lessons will generally work towards.

This level of focus is necessary for a better understanding of the principles of a course and it provides a handy framework for you to refer to as you go through the course, not losing your focus along the way.

Have you used a similar approach before? Or even something completely different? How much success did you have with it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

11 thoughts on “The Basics of Course Planning

  1. It really helps a lott. I had one experience last year when I had no time at all to plan for anything. I just received the coursebook from the school and had to go to class to see that the kids aren’t willing to learn. However, I managed to adapt, change lots of things in the books to get the students attention. I had to plan a lesson a day because there was no time to make it weekly or monthly. It was really tough to do it daily, i don’t recommend it. Thanks for sharing. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing Teacher Ash. When I was reading this article, I felt identified with some of the steps you mentioned in it related to planning a course.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David! Thank you for your comment. I’m over the moon you could identify with some of the steps in the post. Please feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues.

      Like

    1. Thank you Nati 🙂 It took me quite a while to get my head around that distinction, mainly in Module 3 of Delta.

      As for the Can-Do Statements, I think the CEFR uses them in part to help determine a person’s linguistic level. I’ve always used them in assessment, such as end of course assessment, not by choice but because that’s what the school did. However, I did once work at a school which designed its syllabi for each level around the Can-Do Statements. It was actually really effective.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the good advice re year course planning! My situation is that I have an ongoing B1 exam prep course 8 hours weekly & students can join when they wish & continue until they are ready to take the exam (on average they attend for 2 months). It’s really difficult to make a viable course plan as the course is ongoing so I tend to rotate material around every 10 weeks using specific exam training books & lots of practice tests too. Any other suggestions on planning for this type of group woulod be much appreciated! Many thanks.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Kip! Plenty of ELT professionals out there in a similar position as you.

      I think if I was running such a course, if attendees rotate in their entirety after about 2 months, I’d probably plan a 3 month course and then keep repeating that 3 month cycle throughout the year. The other option would be to plan month on month, given the learners you have at the start of the month, and plan for them.

      So rather than thinking about the course as a year-long thing, rather as a 3 month long or month long course. Hope that helps, and best of luck 🙂

      Like

      1. Thanks Anthony! It would definitely be easier if students rotated in their entirety rather than perhaps half the group starting halfway through the month & some only for a few weeks & others for 3 or 4 months even….! Logistically it’s far from easy to cover all the material I think is important for all students.

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