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Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to design a syllabus for a Spanish course

We start with an analysis of the students and their environment

Surely we'd all agree that it's not appropriate to prepare the same course syllabus for a Spanish conversation class of 30 hours for B1 students from Germany as for a Spanish class of 60 hours for Chinese-speakers at the A1 level. The syllabus would not even be the same if the same previously-mentioned two courses in Germany or China were instead within a cultural immersion context, in Spain for example.

With that said, it's evident that preparing a Spanish course from scratch is actually quite complicated, and for that reason the first thing we must do is understand who our students are, what their needs are and why they want to study Spanish: for pleasure, for academic purposes, to improve their professional opportunities...

Once we're clear on our student profile and the type of student our course is directed towards, the next step is to create objectives for our Spanish course: what goals our students can expect to achieve by the end of the course. These goals can range from the outlined acquisition of proficiency from the CEFR to becoming familiarized with Spanish's phonetic and phonological system.

The Instituto Cervantes Curricular Plan Inventory

To ensure that we're creating a syllabus that is level-appropriate regarding specific or general concepts, communicative functions, etc., a very simple and useful way to do so draw upon the Inventory of the Instituto Cervantes Curricular Plan (PCIC); in doing so, we make sure that the sequencing we do for our levels is correct according to the  CEFR. It's a great way to keep us on the right path, to ensure we're not teaching material that's too advanced (or not advanced enough).

Here's a first-hand example: one time in a B1 level class, I started to have doubts about how to teach relative subordinate clauses... Exactly how much should I teach, what kind of examples should I use? To figure it out, I took a look at the grammar section of the PCIC Inventory, and read about what kind of material corresponded exactly to that level, as well as what students of other levels should know when reviewing. It was as simple as that. Now, every time I have to create a syllabus or new materials for a Spanish course, I consult the Inventory in order to make sure I stay on the right track and stay within the parameters of the given proficiency level.

Using all our creativity and experience

The syllabus organizes what we have to teach in terms of grammar, vocabulary, sociocultural content, etc., and determines how we sequence or order the material by levels so that students have time to assimilate and practice everything we teach them. But how we execute all this must be reflected in thoughtful, good-quality materials that will achieve our desired objectives in a fun and attractive way. Students depend on our creativity and experience, as well as all the passion we bring to our profession; it’s this that ultimately makes us enjoy class as much as our students. It's a fascinating task to work with a course or materials of our own creation, which will naturally improve with time, experience and patience... as we all know. ;-)

And what about you, how do you create a syllabus? What is the first thing you do when you are looking to create new materials for your Spanish classes?

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