Coursebook Syllabus versus Needs Analysis

I have a class on Thursdays that have really let me get my teeth into needs analysis with them. It’s the first time I’ve taught a class and had ‘What do you need to learn?’ answered with something other than ‘English.’

One of my learners told me that a situation we did as an extended task has taken on even more relevance, seeing as he’s going to Europe with two classmates at the end of November.

The thing is, that task wasn’t in the book. It wouldn’t have been on the syllabus at all had I not performed a needs analysis through a class discussion on training and completing a task to analyse linguistic needs.

OK, Marc, so what’s that got to do with anything?

Well, if we have a look at the set texts, and then have a look at the needs analysis then we get to the stage where a Venn diagram or suchlike would be useful. Where is the overlap between the textbook and the needs. Ideally, the people in charge of selling the course would have nothing to do with choosing (or foisting) textbooks. After a needs analysis teachers should be able to see what they need to teach and then look to see what textbook, if any, best meets the needs of the class. What resources need to be gathered? There will always be other things cropping up in lessons that will require divergence and detours from the main syllabus but if the basics are down, everything else that needs to be rejigged on the fly can be done with a minimum of fuss.

However, if you’re working to a pacing of book pages determined by someone outside the classroom who doesn’t know the learners, whose needs are you meeting? Theirs, but their needs are only wants, and those wants shouldn’t matter.

8 thoughts on “Coursebook Syllabus versus Needs Analysis

  1. That’s why I don’t like following lesson plans 100% cause sth might come up and if you are glued to your lp, then you might miss out on a grand needs-related opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. I still plan, mind, but it’s more “This, this and this” than “20 minutes vocab elicitation then…”.

      Still, tomorrow is a DipTESOL day so have to have the lesson plan and some kind of needs analysis.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Marc, appropriate needs analysis was really pressing when I was starting new courses in Sept. Two months later, things have moved on. It seems to me the problem is firstly needs analysis, as there’s not one-fit-all recipe, what with passive students simply wanting to “improve their English” LOL. Say we have carried out a needs analysis Ss and T are happy with; the core problem now being he syllabus design. Some points to consider would be: 1, Do we use a CB at all? In my experience (Prague, adult in-company courses), Ss are generally happy to use one, as it gives them a sense of progress. I’ve tried changing the order of units studied and using the book as a whole, but it never worked. What works for me, as a reluctant textbook teacher, is to use the CB as it goes, skipping certain things or doing them quickly, and insert subjects of interest. I would love my students to be more active and have them bring up subjects to study but it hardly ever happens, so, sadly, I am the one to do the search. 2, I’ve convinced my Ss not to use the CB (and by that, I mean NO CB, not photocopies from multiple CBs). We’ve negotiated a syllabus. What now? Here’s where I would really appreciate some answers as often I find myself frantically searching texts/podcasts (which are especially time-consuming to find) on the eve of the class, designing a hand-out that would work, only to find two months later we’ve only been doing vocabulary+speaking. So far for me, the most sensible way of designing courses seems to be Paul Nation’s four strands, but when I’m actually running a course, things get out of hand and become haphazard. I believe more preparation time would help, but with 20 different classes a week with 60 students of various levels at different places, more prep time is something I can just wish for. I would really welcome any hints of yours on long term syllabus design. Cheers Kamila

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kamila,

      20 different classes is a lot. If there is anything that can be generalised across your learners with little fuss, of course I’d say use it. With the negotiated syllabus, I’d say make a note of the grammar (especially that which is unlikely to be covered in CBs), vocabulary/lexis, aspects of listening, pronunciation, etc. Don’t stick exactly to your negotiated syllabus. Take it as a baseline. You, as the teacher, see the learners and can treat each lesson as a further needs analysis, thus adding to the syllabus over time.

      One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is “A plan is a working document. It needs to change as circumstances change.”

      A syllabus is no more than a plan: what is to be taught and when. You can change the ‘what’ and the ‘when’ whenever it is useful to do so.

      As for scrambling wildly for texts, why not give your learners some responsibility for the texts you use? You could use multiple, short texts in one lesson or have a different learner providing texts, within guidelines set by you, every week. With that ownership they should be engaged and more likely to take in more English.

      I hope this helps you.



      1. Hi Marc,
        Thank you very much for your encouraging and inspiring response (and sorry for steering your initial post off course). What you said is surely very helpful. I especially liked the bit about taking each lesson as a needs analysis. It seems very reasonable to do, and I often work that way, just didn’t know there was justification for it. It probably also explains why I find it difficult to follow external syllabi provided by the school, CB, etc. – not much room for changing paths.
        As for encouraging my learners to find materials for class, I immediately saw so many reasons why this wouldn’t work that I inferred there must be something wrong with my line of thinking; not your suggestion:-) I’ve done it in the past, didn’t work, but I take it as enticement to give it another go. If it works, you’ll be the first to get some practical tips.

        Liked by 1 person

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