Tailor Made: 5 Tips for Designing a Curriculum from Scratch

Tailor Made
5 Tips for Designing a Curriculum from Scratch

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 7,938 views |

Whether you are teaching at a large language school or you are offering English classes independent of a language program, you have to decide what you will teach your students.

Sometimes you can just follow the guidelines you are given, teaching students the concepts that are outlined for your class. But to really benefit your students, to make sure they get everything they are looking for (and maybe what they don’t even know they should be looking for) out of your class, you will need to be a little more intentional. You will have to tailor your plans to the individuals in your class. It may seem intimidating, especially if you are new to teaching English, but it really isn’t that hard. With five simple steps, you can make sure you teach your students exactly what they need and teach it in a way they will most enjoy.

Try These 5 Tips for Designing a Curriculum from Scratch

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    Step One: Assess Your Students’ Needs

    The first step in designing a curriculum that meets the specific needs of your students is to assess their strengths and weaknesses. A perfectly designed class won’t spend a lot of time reteaching what students know but will spend the majority of time on what they don’t know already. If you are teaching independent of a larger program, you might consider a standard ESL skills evaluation to determine what your students already know. You could also do a one on one interview with your students to determine where their strengths lie.

    If you teach class as part of a larger English program, your students (unless they are beginners) will probably have shown proficiency at a certain set of skills to move on to your class. A formal evaluation probably isn’t necessary to double check what your students need. You might want to consider a quick review of the language they should be proficient in, either in class or as part of their homework, to make sure everyone is on the same page.

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    Step Two: Evaluate Your Materials

    Once you have determined where your students’ strengths lie and where they are less proficient in the language, it is time to look at the materials you have available to you. If you teacher in an English education program, your text book may already be chosen for you. You should be able to pick and choose from the chapters in your book to focus on the topics your students need most. If you must cover certain chapters to meet class requirements, you can always spend less time on the ones that cover material your students are already using well and spend the majority of your time on the areas they need the most work. Also, supplement your material with the many resources available online, particularly on Busy Teacher. We have thousands of worksheets to offer, free, on just about every ESL topic there is. Pinterest is also a great resource for teaching ideas. Just do a search on your topic plus the word activity and you should find what you are looking for.

    If you are teaching independently, you will have the freedom to choose any material and text book for your classroom. Use online resources, Busy Teacher, and Pinterest, too, as well as a text of your choosing. Or skip the text all together and just choose the topics and activities you want. Keep in mind that the latter option will give you a very specific “curriculum” for your class but it does take more work to assemble.

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    Step Three: Determine Goals for You and Your Students

    Now that you have assessed your students’ skills and determined which resources you will use in class, you will also want to think about the specific goals your students have. If your students are anything like mine, ninety percent of them will go on to use English in either educational settings or business settings. Keep these goals in mind when you make your lesson plans. When you can, bring realia in to your classroom from the academic world and/or the business world. Have students read text books that tie in to what you have planned to teach. Make your role plays and vocabulary units themed for the business world or higher education. If you do this, your students will get a chance to practice real world, situationally appropriate, English skills before they are thrown into that context for real.

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    Step Four: Think about Your Space

    Your next step is to think about your space. If you have a classroom you can call your own, you can use learning centers and other permanent set ups such as a classroom library to aid in covering the material you intend to teach. If you move from classroom to classroom throughout the day or if you share your classroom with teachers in other programs, you’ll need to limit yourself to materials you can carry with you. Choose your activities accordingly.

    Included in your space is where your school is located. If you are teaching in a city college, for example, there are lots of public places you can walk to with your students and give them practice using English. If you are teaching from your home, that probably won’t’ be the case. When you can, give your students outside experiences that allow them to use the language they know while interacting with native speakers. Plan it in your curriculum from the beginning and you won’t feel unable to squeeze it in once the calendar is full.

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    Step Five: Plan for the Personality of Your Class

    Not all classes are the same, even those that have the same strengths and weaknesses in their language skills. Classes have personality, and personality can either make or break your teaching plans. If you are teaching students who you have had for other classes, likely you already know something about their personality – the types of activities they like to do in class and the ones that just flop. If you are teaching students you haven’t had before, you may not know on the first day what your class personality is. But whether it’s before the semester starts or a week into classes, you will end up with a feel for the types of activities your students like. Once you have this sense of who your students are, plan for that personality when you finalize your curriculum for the remaining part of the semester. If they are more playful, include more games. If they are serious, stick to more traditional classroom exercises. Choosing the right activities for your class’ personality can make a big difference in how well your students perform and how they feel about you as a teacher.

We can’t be perfect as teachers, no matter how hard we try, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try at all.

Making your lesson plans just right for your class, their goals, their skills, and their personality is important. When you think about these things, your students will perform better and will have a better time during their stint as your students. And you will have a better time, too..

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