BTR-TESOL Unit 2B - Designing an Overall Plan For a Course
by Beth Anne Firnges Outline



objectives of this unit

the least you should know






comprehensive questions

situation examples

reflection and responses

where to go to learn more

connections to other units in this program

online and other electronic resources

print and paper based resources

additional references



If you are reading this, you probably have decided to teach an English class and don't know what to do first. You may have some lesson plans or ideas but don't know how to put them together in an organized course. This unit will help you plan a course that flows well. It will also help your students know what to expect in your course. They will be able to see that you are well prepared. This is important because in many cases the students you teach will only come if they feel you are prepared to teach them.

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Jenny was assigned to teach an English class in Thailand. She went expecting to be taught what to do, or at least be given a textbook or instructions to follow. However, she was given very limited guidance or materials to work with. The program director and others told her, “Well, you’re the expert, you should know what to do.” She was happy to have been given a lot of freedom and trust. Even so, she wondered where to begin. She knew how to plan lessons, but didn't know how to connect them together to create a course.

setting up a course

  • Have you ever been in a similar situation? If so, what did you do?
  • Do you think you might someday be in a situation like this?
  • How can you create a course when no specifics are given? 
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    Objectives of this unit

    After you work through this unit, you should be able to do the following:

    • List and follow the basic stages in developing a course. This includes learning about the teaching situation and your students’ needs.
    • Create goals and objectives based on your students' needs. These elements will help you to create a course that will meet your students' needs.
    • Design a syllabus for the course that connects your lessons together. (A syllabus is a written plan for organizing lessons, activities, and guidelines for a course during a specific time period.)
    • Evaluate your course to see if it's working and to let your students see how much they have learned.

    The least you should know

    You go through five main steps when developing a course. Just remember, “ADDIE.”

    ADDIE model
    1. Analysis: Find out your students' needs and wants.
    2. Design: Create goals and objectives for your course.
    3. Development: Decide which materials will be used in your course and how everything will fit together in a course syllabus.
    4. ImplementationTry it out in the classroom.
    5. Evaluation: Test and evaluate your students and course. See what works and what needs to change.

    This collection of five steps is called the ADDIE model. It was first created at Florida State University in 1975 and has been used by thousands of course developers since then. This acronym, ADDIE, might help you remember the steps. The rest of this unit will provide more detail for these five steps.

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    1. Analysis: Find out your students' needs and wants

    Gathering information about the key parts of your teaching situation and the needs of your students is a very important beginning step in developing a course. This information helps you know what you have and what you need.

    1) Situation Analysis

    One important step of the analysis stage is to gather information about the teaching situation. Find out everything you can about who, where, when, and what you will be expected to teach. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see what you already know and what else you should find out. It might help to list positives and negatives of each.
      A. Location and Materials

      course development

      • What is the classroom or school building like? (Size, number of chairs, seating arrangements, space to move around, etc.)
      • Where is the classroom located? (In the building, in the neighborhood, etc.)
      • Which conditions will affect the course? (Lighting, construction, traffic, or other distractions, etc.)
      • What materials and resources are available? (Textbooks, equipment, photocopies, computers, etc.) What materials will need to be created or found?
      • How long will the course last? (Four months/semester, two months/term, two weeks etc.)
      • How many times a week will you meet with the students? (Two or three times a week, Mon-Fri, etc.) How long will the lessons be? (30 minutes, 50 minutes, 60 minutes etc.)
      B. Learner (see the following "Needs Analysis" section)
      C. Teacher
      • Which skill areas can you teach? (reading, writing, listening/speaking, and grammar)
      • What about yourself and your teaching style will affect the situation the most?

    2) Needs Analysis

    The other important thing to find out is the needs of the students. Here are some questions you can ask your students to see how much they know, what they want to learn, and what they need to learn. For instance, if you know your students are children. Their needs are more general and future oriented (you could have pictures for them to circle what they want to learn about). If your students are adults, their needs are more specific and immediate.

    Example needs analysis questions:

    • How much English do you already know?
    • Which English skills are you good at   (Listening/speaking/reading/writing)? Circle how good you are with each skill. Very good means almost native-like and poor means a few words and phrases (ex. Speaking - very good/good enough for conversation/not very good/poor)
    • Which of these things are you most interested in learning about? Circle the words or pictures. (Banking, making a reservation, shopping, applying for a job, something else—please explain.)
    • What is your first language?
    • Where are you from?
    • What are your goals?
    • Which English skills do you want to learn the most? Number these 1-4 with 1 as most important.
    • What do you need to learn and use it for? (Job, home, school, travel...)
    • Where do you work?


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    2. Design: Create goals and objectives for your course.

    One major part of designing courses is figuring out goals and objectives to work toward. These goals should be based on the teaching situation and the needs of the students. Goals help you be prepared for what to do, helping you have something to work towards. Goals are general things to focus on such as, being able to do something at the end of a course or lesson. Objectives are specific things students should do during a course or on their own such as, completing activities that will help them reach their goals.

    Goals and objectives of English courses can relate to the following:

    1. Language
    2. Ideas or Content
    3. Skills
    4. Texts

    A good way to write goals and objectives is to start with phrases such as: “Students will practice…” or “Students will be able to…”



      • “Students will be able to carry out basic transactions in a bank.”


      • “Students will be able to make a bank deposit.”
      • “Students will be able to withdraw money from their bank account.”

    Before continuing on, take a minute to write down some goals for the course you are developing. Then ask yourself the following questions:

      • How well do these goals connect with the needs of my students?
      • What will my students be able to do after accomplishing these goals?
      • Will I be able to teach these things to my students? If not, what can I do to prepare?


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    3. Develop: Decide which materials will be used in your course and how everything will fit together in your course syllabus.

    The organization of lessons into a course should be based on your course goals. The plan should also be written down in a syllabus. A syllabus is a list of topics, skills, and learning outcomes organized in the order they will be taught in the course. A few example materials and syllabus types for language courses are provided below:

    Materials You Might Need:

    • pictures (of your family and vocabulary words, etc.)
    • songs and something to play them with
    • video clips and something to play them on
    • small objects for visual aids
    • cardboard, 3 X 5 cards, tape, push pins
    • paper, hole punch and binders
    • computers, hardware, and software
    • chalk and eraser, white board markers and eraser
    • paperclips, rubber bands, stapler, and staples
    • candy (for incentives)
    • writing utensils: different colors of pens, pencils, crayons, markers etc.


    Common Syllabus Types and Topics:

    Choose the type or combination of types that best fits the needs of your students. Use your needs analysis as a guide.
      Grammar-based - Teach different grammar principles including:
      • past, present and future tenses (simple and progressive)
      • prepositions, articles, pronouns etc.

      Task-based - Teach how to communicate by completing activities and goals such as the following:
      • finding a solution to a puzzle
      • piecing parts of a story together

      Situation-based - Teach skills for situations such as:
      • in grocery stores
      • at airports
      • at banks
      • in restaurants
      • at hotels
      • on the phone

      Function-based - Teach how to carry out functions such as:
      • greetings
      • making requests
      • apologizing
      • asking for directions
      • restating
      • agreeing/disagreeing

      Topic, Theme, or Content-based - Teach different themes for each lesson or group of lessons. Some themes are:
      • television
      • advertising
      • drugs
      • technology

      Skill-based - Teach the four skill areas and smaller skills within them:
      • reading (previewing, scanning, etc.)
      • writing (using appropriate transitions, hooks, and organization, etc.)
      • listening (understanding conversations, etc.)
      • speaking (pronunciation, fluency, etc.)


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    4. Implementation: Try it out in the classroom.

    Implementing includes trying out materials and teaching methods by actually teaching your course. You need to learn to manage the classroom. Learn by teaching.

    Things to think about as you teach include:

    • Are your plans for the whole course working? Remember to be flexible and change things as necessary to adapt to your students’ needs. Remember to be prepared for each class.
    • How well are the materials and activities meeting the students’ needs? What additional materials do you need to find now? Remember, each student has a different learning style. Are you meeting the students’ expectations for the course?
    • Are you using activities that are useful for your students or are they just fun? Remember to have a learning purpose for each activity.
    • How are you using the textbook in the classroom? Is it a resource? Is it the guide for class? Do you only use chapters that are applicable for your students?
    • How quickly do you give feedback to your students? (Do you congratulate them in class for assignments done well and give suggestions for improvement?)
    • Which principles are you teaching? What can be improved? Have you figured out your teaching style yet?
    After teaching your course for a while, you will know how well things work. You will also see what skills and topics you are able to teach well. You will know things about students and their learning styles. You can then revise your lessons and course to meet your students’ needs.


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    5. Evaluate: Test and evaluate your students and course. See what works and what needs to change.

    ‘E’ is the last letter in the ADDIE acronym but evaluating your course is a continual process. Don’t wait and do it only at the end of a course. Students’ needs will change, and you will find material along the way that needs to be updated. Remember that a course is never completely finished. You need to have a good plan and then be flexible and open for suggestions and change.

    At the beginning of a course, students usually take placement tests to see the level in which they will be placed. Whether or not this happens regularly where you are teaching, it is a good idea to give your students a test at the beginning of your class as part of your needs assessment. Placement tests help you know how much your students know and help you adapt to what they need rather than teaching exactly from textbooks all the time.

    During a course, you can ask your students what is working well, and what they would like changed. You can write the questions on a paper for them to fill out without putting their names down. Doing this helps them feel involved with the class and allows them to tell you what they really think. From this survey, you can find out things you are doing well, and things you can improve on. Often you will find that the students are learning more than it seems. Evaluations can motivate you to continually improve your teaching.

    Three questions to ask on teacher or course evaluations include the following:

    • What do you like best about this class?
    • What suggestions do you have for change?
    • What else would you like your teacher to know?

    Some questions to ask yourself before, during, and after each course include:

    • Which tests and assessments will be given in this class?
    • What scores on the tests will determine where students are placed and if they can move on to the next level?
    • How will I record the students’ improvement to know if my students are progressing or not?
    • Will I need to write the tests for my own class? Are some tests already prepared? (see unit 2C for more information on programs and testing)

    That’s it. That’s “the least you should know” about creating a course. Naturally, there is much more that you will learn later. Creating a course is a challenging process, but you can do it. The more you practice, the better you will get. Use the resources at the end of this unit to help you.

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    Comprehension (and reflection) questions

        1. What are some questions you can ask your students to find out what they need?
        2. What will you need to know about the students you teach?
        3. Can you name at least two things to consider when designing a course?
        4. What do you know about the situation in which you will be teaching?
        5. What can you create to organize your lessons and make sure they flow well?

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    Situation examples for practice

    Please read the following situations, think about them, and respond to each of the following questions. Write down what you would do in order to create a course for each situation, by applying your new knowledge. Then do the same for your own situation.

    After reading the following situations, answer these questions:

    1. What would you do in each of these situations?
    2. Would you accept the assignments?
    3. If you would accept, how would you decide what to teach?
    4. Which principles/techniques discussed earlier in this unit would you use?
    5. Which adaptations could you make for the situation you are/will be creating a course for?
    6. What other things might you do to make your course better?
    Situation 1:
    You go on a study abroad to Rome, Italy to learn Italian, and while you are there an English teacher at the college you are attending gets very sick right before the semester starts. You are asked to take over teaching her English course because you speak English. You have tutored English a couple of times before, but you have no idea how to plan and teach a whole course. You only have two days before the semester starts. What would you do?

    Situation 2:
    You have recently arrived in China on an internship and have been assigned to teach a class of 60 students ranging in age from 5—10 years old. You have been given an old notebook with a few lesson plans that another teacher left a while ago. You will be teaching these students outside with only the notebook you have been given, the resources you brought with you, and anything you can find around you. What would you do?

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    Reflection and Responses

    1. Have you ever created a course before? If so, could the steps in this unit have helped you make it better?
    2. What about your current or future teaching situations? Which of the steps in this unit will help you most when you create your course?

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    Where to go to learn more

    Connections to other units in this program

    Here are some other units in this program that relate to topics we have addressed in this unit.

    • Unit 1E, Working successfully within foreign educational and administrative systems.
    • Unit 2A, Setting up and operating successful courses for adult English language learners.
    • Unit 2C, Designing effective lessons for language learning and teaching.
    • Unit 2D, Assessing your students’ language proficiency.
    • Unit 3A, Developing a successful teaching personality.
    • Unit 5E, Understanding your students’ language learning styles
    • Unit 6E, Integrating multiple language skills in one class.
    • Unit 10A, Locating, evaluating, and selecting authentic, effective print/electronic teaching materials for language learners.
    • Unit 10B, Collecting and creating your own language-teaching materials.
    • Unit 10C, Successfully adapting existing materials for greater teaching enjoyment and success.

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    Online and other electronic resources

    Here are some helpful online resources for creating and organizing your course.

    topic 3 websiteDeveloping Goals and Objectives
    This webpage is part of a workshop, this part provides a good list of things to think about when creating goals and objectives laid out in three different stages.

    self-directed guide website front pageA Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning
    This is a PDF article online where Fink provides a helpful way of designing courses by showing 12 steps in a 3 stage process.

    Dr. David Nunan's websiteThe Official Website of Dr. David Nunan, Curriculum Development and Design section at
    This is the third section down on Dr. Nunan’s official website. He is a professional in the TESOL field and has written several articles about course development. These articles are available in downloadable PDFs. Many of these will be helpful for novice teachers but especially article numbers 15, 16, 19, and 20 (communicative tasks, syllabus design, styles and strategies, and task-based language teaching).

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    Print and paper-based resources

    Here are some published books that have proven to be helpful resources for designing courses.

    language curriculum design coverLanguage Curriculum Design – I.S.P Nation and John Macalister – ISBN: 978-0-415-80606-0
    This book describes the steps involved in the curriculum development process. It is given in a very general context so that these steps can apply to a wide variety of settings. Several tasks and case studies are provided to help the reader design courses effectively. This book is available for purchase online at

    Curriculum Development coverCurriculum Development in Language Teaching – Jack C. Richards – ISBN: 978-0-521-80491-2
    This book provides a systematic approach to curriculum development including the issues involved with creating one and all the steps needed. For example, it has some example needs and situation analyses. This book is available for purchase online at

    Goal-driven lesson planning coverGoal-Driven Lesson Planning for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – Marnie Reed and Christina Michaud – ISBN: 978-0-472-03418-5
    This book helps teachers develop a framework for how lessons should be put together in a course. The focus is on setting goals and having everything work towards those. It is a great resource with resources that can be copied and used in the classroom. This book is available for purchase online at

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    Additional References

    Clark, D. (2011). ADDIE timeline. Retrieved from

    More than a native speaker coverMore Than a Native Speaker - Don Snow - ISBN: 978-193118532-5
    This book is for people planning to teach overseas. It has many practical teaching ideas. It provides several example activities and helps teachers lay out courses in simple to follow steps.

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