The course with no syllabus

I like a syllabus I do. I don’t hav to be nought fancy like but avin one nice!

Translation: I like a syllabus but it can just be some rough topics or ideas not just a full-blown official one.

Now, from time to time I have students who 1)don’t do a proper DT/NA 2)seem to have no clear idea why they are taking classes  or 3)change their mind like the wind. In these situations I plan things on what they’ve said they may need but then after a lesson or two they tend to get bored and want “something else”, problem being that they don’t say what it is or just don’t know.

I think this idea stems from their education being teacher-led. But in a 121 class it’s quite important to know what you should be giving them, to some degree anyhow.

So, what’s the solution? Well, my current ones is to take every lesson as it comes, use conversation, news, ask about work, other studies, bring in stuff based on the previous lesson or overall themes and generally use whatever I have picked up on during the course. I’d rather this than saying “today is…because I like it”.

Am I wrong or is there another way?


Following Anthony Gaughan’s recent webinar I’ve been thinking more about what a course actually is. Perhaps I am just viewing it in the wrong way.

The net defines a course as:

A complete body of prescribed studies constituting a curriculum

But the word also means:

a. Onward movement in a particular direction; progress: the course of events.
b. Movement in time; duration: in the course of a year.
c. The direction of continuing movement: took a northern course.
d. The route or path taken by something, such as a stream, that moves.
e. A mode of action or behavior: followed the best course and invested her money.
f. A typical or natural manner of proceeding or developing; customary passage.
g. A systematic or orderly succession; a sequence: a course of medical treatments.


Now, the last ones seem to fit my context, don’t you think? I am not giving a prescribed course ie materials and lecturing. the course is moving naturally and the students is continually progressing week-by-week. The lessons take their own shape and the best course evolves as we go because if the student isn’t happy with something he just says. As he’s paying and has renewed and is happy then it seems his money is being well-spent. The natural way seems to work and from looking at the post-lesson notes there is succession and things are getting done, reviewed and built on.

It seems that I’ve just been thinking of the wrong definition. Now I wonder what else I have misunderstood…

Thanks once again Anthony!


4 thoughts on “The course with no syllabus

  1. Hi Phil,

    I’ve encountered something similar in the past – not having a syllabus can be liberating but it can also lead to a lack of cohension or continuity… With my 121s, I’ve ended up doing exactly what you describe – conversation about work/study, the news and all that and something (a news article or youtube clip perhaps) related to a topic/theme from the previous lesson. A similar approach also worked wonders with my 5th graders in their ‘conversation & skills’ hour. 🙂 I think for them the whole idea of being able to base a lesson on conversation (real conversation that is as opposed to a speaking activity) and their own interests/input was so novel, they were keen to make the most of it.

    • Phew! It’s not just me then. My adults are a bit unusual I guess in that they pay for something but they don’t tell you what it is. Perhaps their objectives are just to talk but I think there’s also a sense of ‘someone to talk to’ too.

      • One of my 121s definitely just wants a very vague ‘someone to talk to’ arrangement. Every so often he asks if we should be doing some more explicit grammar activities but then finds them boring and steers the lesson back to conversation himself!

        The most difficult situation I find myself in is when a student informs me they have an exam coming up and want to practice for it. I ask what will be on the exam and they shrug… It’s worst with the local exams as they often have very specific (some might say ‘bizarre’) question types and it’s hard to get hold of samples even online

        • Sounds like we have the same students mate.It surprised me how many of mine just don’t go to a prep course or prer properly for their exams. Maybe cos there aren’t any perhaps or they just don’t know.

          Yes, I’ve had that with uni tests too. I don’t see why I can’t get samples to help students prepare. For reports and research papers this is essential. Recently I couldn’t give anyone top marks because they hadn’t included referencing but they hadn’t been told how to do it. That is just unfair in my book.

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