Peculiarities of english course syllabus development for non-linguistic students of technical university

After implementation of the credit system of education at technical universities of Kazakhstan most even skilled -teachers of English have to face to the problem of design of an appropriate syllabus to the course. They are asked the questions as how, what way and what should be taken as a basis for a syllabus designeither students’ needs analysis about this course, where the former show their real needs concerning the course and the later is to reflect and include these needs to meet; or the “Subject Program” based on the GOSO of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan the content of which should be strictly observed. These two problems like the dark side of the picture. On the one hand the matter is how to make the course interesting and absorbing for students taking in consideration their needs and on the other hand is to keep the rules of the major program to execute an order of the Ministry of Education. No doubt, these complicated questions mean absolutely different goals. The first one gives freedom to learner to decide what he really wants and what he intends to achieve, so responsibility for knowledge taking is completely at students’ hands. The second variant implies lack of freedom, students don’t have any choice they are absolutely limited by the program of the Ministry which doesn’t mean any varieties of content. So which way is the best one?

As Common English discipline is a compulsory one at our universities. There is no right or wrong way of following, but if we deal with general education for example the first cycle (Bachelor degree) according to the Bologna Declaration we have to admit that the curriculum and a syllabus of this course are compelled by university’s staff according to the plan predetermined by the Ministry of Education. So whenever a university teacher might want anything to change in framework of the program he/she couldn’t as it is a standard which should be strictly followed; so there is not need to lead students’ needs analysis because it is impossible to satisfy their wants either.

The other matter is if we take Professional English or English for professional purposes the discipline implies application of vocational skills in English in terms of several competences like knowledge of terms, ability to describe any process, communication capability etc. It is meant that students have basic knowledge of the language and they know beforehand what they would like to improve in it, so the creation of syllabus will be most helpful here. To solve the problem it is more profitable to create this course as an elective one on the following discipline because judging by the experience observed at technical students it became absolutely useless to take the course if their proficiency level is lower than pre-intermediate. The matter is English for professional purposes means doing educational activities requiring students’ fluent English what is a major problem for most students. Anyway the issue of appropriate syllabus design can be easily solved by paying attention to students’ needs and factors which assist to satisfy them. Meanwhile raising the problem of syllabus development it is hard to escape the questions of what a syllabus is and how to make it. If there is any difference between syllabus, subject program and curriculum and if there is, what it is. What are the basic steps and criteria of a good syllabus design. If we look up the glossary of terms written by European Commission TEMPUS:

Study program A complete programme of study leading to a degree or an approved set of course units recognized for the award of a specific degree, which should be defined through the set of learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences, to be achieved in order to obtain the specified credits. It is composed of compulsory and optional course units which lead to the achievement of the pre-determined set of learning outcomes. In other words it is the set of courses, and their content, offered at university. In the broadest sense of the word, may list all courses offered at a higher school.

Curriculum is an approved set of course units, comprehensive description of a study program. It includes learning objectives or intended outcomes, contents and quantity of credit hours. A curriculum is prescriptive, which means that is issued by the governing body and lists topics the must be understood by the student at the end of the course, and what level to achieve a particular grade or standard.

Syllabus is a sub set of a curriculum. Essentially, a syllabus is a descriptive outline and summary of topics that are to be covered in an education or training course. The syllabus will usually provide specific information about the said training course and is often drafted by the governing body or by the instructor of the course. A typical syllabus will contain information on how, where and when to contact the lecturer and teaching assistants; an outline of what will be covered in the course; a schedule of test dates and the due dates for assignments; the grading policy for the course; specific classroom rules; etc.

According to the purpose of a syllabus is to ensure consistency between courses, for example, thought at different colleges under the same governing body. A syllabus issued by the governing body, i.e. the board of education, the head of department, etc, may be modified by the instructor as long as it is consistent with the curriculum. The syllabus also serves as a means for the students to be aware and understanding what they will be thought in the duration of the course.

If a syllabus is a kind of outline or other brief statement of the main points of a course, the subjects of lectures, the contents of a curriculum, etc. in other words, it is a main part providing a good process of education. There is another question what is an effective syllabus? and which way a teacher should make it to achieve the status of effective one.

An effective syllabus conveys what the class will be like, what students will do and learn, as well as what they can expect of their teacher. A well designed syllabus achieves the following: It increases the likelihood of student success. It guides student learning in accordance with a teacher’s expectations and demonstrates to students that teacher takes care about their learning. It decreases the number of problems which arise in the course. Fewer misunderstandings arise when the "rules of the game" are explicitly stated. It assists teacher professional development. Writing and revising a syllabus provide the teacher the reoccurring opportunity to reflect on both the form and purpose of his/her approach to teaching such questions as:

  • Why do I select the content I do?
  • Should I present the content in this order?
  • Are these the best teaching strategies for this course?
  • Is there a better way to evaluate achievement?

It tacitly records and transmits your teaching philosophy not only for students but for colleagues. Syllabus is often thought of as “that apparently benign document instructors assemble and distribute to students at the start of the semester.” Whether it is intended or not, the quality of the syllabus is a fairly reliable indicator of the quality of teaching and learning that will take place in a course (Woolcock, 2003). Therefore, it behooves instructors to make the effort to construct a high-quality syllabus. The results of that effort can benefit the instructor as well as his or her students. It documents and shares your beliefs about teaching. Even very good syllabi have incomplete elements that could bear revision before next teaching course.

The reason of constant syllabus revision is annual changes of students’ needs. Preliminary stage of syllabus writing is conducting of needs analysis. What is needs analysis? It is a thing we need to know before start teaching is what the students want We can find out student needs and student wants by asking the students questions about themselves and the language (which is usually called ‘needs analysis’) and then finding out how much you agree with what they just said (‘diagnostic testing’).

When we are deciding how to go about needs analysis with a student/group of students, we need to think about two questions:

  • What do we want/need to know about them?
  • How can we find it out?

A good way of starting to design a syllabus is conducting needs analysis for a student (or a general needs analysis format for a school) is to brainstorm all the questions you could possibly want to ask them, and then edit them down. Teacher can brainstorm and organize the questions students should/can be asked by several schemes: by question word, by skills and language, by time, by place.

By question word:

  • What e.g. What exactly do you do in English in your job?
  • When e.g. When is your next meeting in English?
  • Which e.g. Which parts of the language do you find most difficult?
  • Where e.g. Where do you use English? in meetings
  • Who e.g. Who do you speak English with native / non-native speakers?
  • How e.g. How formal does the English you use need to be?
  • How much e.g. How much homework do you want?
  • How long e.g. How long have you been studying English?
  • How often How often do you watch English language films?
  • How far e.g. How far do you want/need to go with your English?

By skill and language

  • Which skills do you use/need/lack most?

By time

  • Past/present/future

e.g. study / use of English / exposure to English in each of these three times.

By place

Inside work (see above) / outside work (e.g. travel/films/TV)

Before carrying out needs analysis teacher should ask himself: if there is anything he/she would add/take away from this list for the students he/ she is going to teach? The results got after this brainstorming should be analyzed. There are two times needs analysis can be done, with various advantages and disadvantages: before class or during the first class. The first method (before class) can be done by giving them a form to fill in or by asking them questions in the level test and making notes to be passed onto the future teacher. The second (during class) depends on the situation:

  • In one-to-one classes, you can simply ask them the questions and write down the answers. For this, a reminder list of possible questions and a form to write the answers down on are useful.
  • In group classes, they can ask each other questions about themselves and the language, or they can negotiate priorities or even the syllabus together. To ask each other the questions, the teacher will need to give them some help by brainstorming some categories of questions, such as the question words brainstorm above. Negotiating a syllabus can be done by giving them a list of things to priorities by importance/usefulness, and then ask them to agree together on those priorities in ever larger groups.

The following universal form of interview can be used in almost every situation in needs analysis during level test interviews, in one-to-one, first classes, and for students to interview each other in pairs or group classes.

The example of an interview form


General information

Job: Study: Hobbies: Travel:

Reason of motivation:



Practice of and


exposure to English

1) What’s your study (job)




2) Which of these do you find difficult/ need to improve?


(Grammar, speaking, listening, writing, vocabulary)


What fields/ topics do you need to talk about/ need vocabulary of?




1) What’s the last thing you did in English?


2) Have you studied English before?


3) How long/ to what level?




1)What are your short term and long term aims for English?


2) What’s the next thing you have to do in




3) Any big conferences / meetings / business trips / conference calls


/ presentations coming




4) How far do you want to go with your English (each



About outside work

  1. Do you do anything else in English? (CNN?, subtitled movies?,

DVD?business papers?) 2)What resources do you have at home/ work?(tick)

    • Dictionarybilingual/ monolingual
    • Internet access
    • TV/ DVD
    • Pressgeneral and specialized.

3) Do you travel to English speaking/ other countries?


  1. How do you like studying English?
  2. What did you think of your previous lessons?
  3. What’s the best way to learn a language?
  4. How much homework can you do?
  5. When is the most convenient time for classes

Strength and

Student’s self-analysis:


Teacher’s analysis:


Oral level:


Written level:



Having students’ interview forms analyzed the teacher has an ability to start writing a syllabus taking into consideration all students wants. Nowadays there are a lot of materials dealing with the process of a good syllabus design which are describe the best way of stepwise syllabus development The process of developing a syllabus can be a reflective exercise, leading the instructor to carefully consider his or her philosophy of teaching, why the course is important, how the course fits in the discipline, as well as what topics will be covered, when assignments will be due, and so on. This can be an enlightening experience that results in an improved course. In addition, by making sure expectations are clearly communicated, instructors can circumvent a whole host of student grievances and misunderstandings during the semester

There is no right way of syllabus design as it is still a creative work of every teacher and the degree of its attractiveness, clearness, fulfillment influence on students’ interest to the course and educational progress as a whole.

According to QUEECA (Quality of Engineering Education in Central Asia) “Standards and Guidelines” for each course unit of any subject program should be defined at least:

  • name;
  • number of ECTS credits (European Credit Transfer System);
  • course year and semester of delivery;
  • lecturer/s;
  • learning outcomes specific of the course unit and consistent with the established learning outcomes of the SP;
  • contents, objectives and schedule;
  • typologies of the educational activities (e.g.theoretical lessons, practical lessons, laboratories, projects, etc.), also in terms of number of hours/credits for each typology, and relative instructional forms of education (e.g.: face to face education, distance education, blended education, etc), also in terms of hours/credits for each form;
  • assessment methods (e.g.written examinations, oral examinations, etc.) and criteria (descriptions of what the learner is expected to do and to what level, in order to demonstrate that a learning outcome has been achieved and to what extent); criteria for measuring students’ learning (e.g.: attribution of a final grade, fitness declaration, etc.) and criteria of attribution of the final grade, if any;
  • preparatory course units, if any;
  • didactic material of reference (e.g.textbooks, lecture texts, etc.).

The definition of the characteristics of the course units should be coordinated by the SP, particularly in order to avoid gaps or superimpositions in the definition of the specific learning outcomes and contents and to assure the suitability of the assessment methods to a correct assessment of the students’ learning. The assessment methods and criteria should provide evidence of their capacity to check the effective achievement of the intended learning outcomes by the students and ensure trust that the level of achievement by the students is assessed in a credible way.

The guidelines to the organization and contents of a syllabus was proposed by Altman, H. B., & Cashin, W. E. by the words of the authors any syllabus might be accepted as effective if it has:

  • basic course information, department, number of units, semester, meeting time and location;
  • basic instructor information (name, title, rank, office address, phone number, email, office hours, preferred method of contact);
  • course description (introduction to the subject matter, what the course is about how it fits in the college or department curriculum, why students would want to learn the material);
  • clear content and objectives, (unit objectives may be included in the syllabus or handed out as a separate document);
  • prerequisites (courses that students should have successfully completed, knowledge students are expected to have);
  • course requirements and assessment overview;
  • nature of assignments and exams (details can be in a separate handout);
  • deadlines and test dates;
  • description of grading procedures;
  • description of how grades will be assigned, components of final grade, weights, grading scale;
  • learning resources;
  • textbook and other required materials;
  • supplemental readings, etc.;
  • campus resources tutoring, writing, counseling, etc.;
  • estimate of student work load;
  • hints for how to study, take note, etc.;
  • availability of past exams, etc.;
  • course policies
  • course specific polices—late assignments, make-up exams, attendance, participation, etc.
  • important dates such as drop dates, final exam date, etc.
  • course calendar or schedule
  • sequence of course topics with tentative (or firm) dates
  • due dates for assignments, exams
  • preparations or readings

According to Jim Perry, any course syl-

labus should have descriptions of the teaching techniques and a detailed outline of how class time will be spent during a course just to attract students to the course and provoke their interest. For example: the teacher is implementing a new and different approach to this class and to education. Students are asked to try many new activities.

The example of teaching method

“This course is primarily a lecture course, presented in module form, supplemented with discussion, films, and guest speakers. I have purposely broken the material in short segments to facilitate its absorption. During a typical class period, I will begin with general business, and then will present two (approximately 20 minute) segments of material broken up by a "topic of the day." TOPICS OF THE DAY: To break up my lectures and keep us all alert, we will cover a short topic of general interest each day. These topics are designed to be brief, to involve students, and to be useful for avoiding the comment: "How could you have gone to college and not know ?!"

  • Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Sociology 1001: Introduction to Sociology

After taking the course it is necessary to get students’ feedback, concerning the course procedure. It might be done in questionnaire form.

  1. What kind of activities did you find most useful on this course? Why?
  2. What activities helped you less?


  1. Name three changes that you would make to the course and justify them.
  2. Which was the most memorable part of the course for you? Why?
  3. Have your expectations of the course been met? In other words, how satisfied are you with the course?
  4. What will you take away and use af-

ter the course?

  1. What is your opinion on this form of learning after taking this course?
  2. What do you think about your own performance throughout the course?
  3. What do you think about your teacher's performance throughout the course?

Summarizing everything written above it should be said that there are three basic steps of a syllabus design; pre-writing, the stage where we do needs analysis finding out our students’ needs and wants, the second is while –writing, the process of creating , the thirdpost writing, collection and analysis of results and students’ opinions to know whether the course was useful, effective and interesting to students just to avoid made mistakes in future. The most important criterion of any syllabus is its effectiveness; it means the set objectives of a program must be achieved by means of learner’s outcomes which should be specific, useful, relevant, standard-setting.



  1. QUEECA (Quality of Engineering Education in Central Asia) “Standards and Guidelines, TEMPUS, http://www. tempus_ queeca_ 1.html
  2. Altman, H. B., & Cashin, W. E. (2003, May). Writing a syllabus.
  3. Woolcock, M. J. V. (2003, May). Constructing a syllabus
  4. Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  5. Parkes, J.& Harris, M. B. (2002). The purposes of a syllabus. College Teaching, 50 (2), 55-61.
  6. Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Sociology 1001: Introduction to Sociology
  7. policy:
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