There’s no doubt that, as an English teacher, you want to help your students achieve their goals for learning English, but how can you make sure that your lesson materials and methods will work towards students’ specific needs? One key to tailoring your ESL courses is using instructional and curriculum design, which is also a field you can build a career in. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of instructional and curricular design in ESL/EFL and how you can use them to create custom courses for your English learners.
What is instructional design?
Whether it’s helping teachers use the right techniques or engaging learners, building a course involves a lot of planning and requires utilizing the right tools. A huge part of this is instructional design, which focuses on the most effective ways to create and deliver educational material or a course.
Keeping in mind how students learn specific topics, an instructional designer typically:
- Defines learning objectives and finds out which teaching methods and strategies to use to accomplish them.
- Structures and organizes course content based on learners’ processes and certain parameters.
- Determines and develops the lessons, activities, and evaluation tools that teachers can use to meet learning goals.
The role of an instructional designer has expanded beyond building courses and learning materials. They may also be in charge of managing projects, training people, and providing support to trainers and organizations.
What is curricular design?
On the other hand, curriculum design in English language teaching – also called ESL/EFL curriculum development – centers on what the students will learn. Although it’s tied to instructional design, designing an ESL/EFL curriculum is a different process. Looking at the big picture, English curriculum designers determine the knowledge and skills that students should learn from a course. Then, they select and assemble the topics and concepts that should be presented in the course.
See how two instructional and curricular designers got started in this field by watching the following clip from a recent BridgeUniverse Expert Series webinar on designing custom courses:
What skills do you need for instructional and curricular design in ESL/EFL?
Instructional and curricular design in ESL/EFL is crucial, as English courses and lessons are developed for various learners depending on their English level and needs. Teaching niches, like Business English, may also require a different course plan and specific types of practice activities.
If you are a freelance English teacher, having instructional and curricular design skills will also come in handy because you’ll have all the freedom to create your own courses and personalize your lessons.
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to this field – as long as you have the right resources, you can definitely create custom courses! With that said, here are some of the main skills that you need to be an instructional and curricular designer. Chances are, especially if you’re already a teacher, you have most of these skills right now!
- Empathy for learners. When you put yourself in your students’ shoes, you’ll be able to answer questions like, “What do they like about studying languages?” or, “What do they usually get frustrated about when they try to improve their speaking skills?” And when you do, you can grasp students’ learning processes better and find out the most suitable techniques to enhance their learning experience.
- Flexibility. Learners’ backgrounds, learning pace, and ability to take on different tasks may vary, so it’s important to be able to adapt to individual students.
- Research and evaluation skills. Collecting and analyzing information can help you identify learning objectives and decide which methods are the most effective. What will students most likely be interested in? What are the best technologies to use for delivering courses? Doing your homework, which may also involve getting insights from subject experts, is crucial in designing your course. Embracing reflective teaching can also help with this.
- Creativity and visual design skills. Creating engaging and attractive materials is key not only for students to enjoy their study process but also to facilitate learning. After all, reading a colorful infographic is more appealing than a bunch of paragraphs! In most cases, you’ll have to come up with creative ideas or be able to create visual content for your lessons.
- Resourcefulness. It may sometimes be challenging to get new ideas, materials, and tools, so you’ll have to be able to find solutions or even innovative ways to improve your courses.
- Tech-savvy. From learning management systems (LMS) to editing programs, it’s necessary to have knowledge and skills in using computer programs and digital tools that are necessary for creating and uploading your lessons.
For more information on the skills that English teachers need for instructional and curricular design, check out the following clip from a BridgeUniverse Expert Series webinar on the topic. Watch the full webinar here.
How do I start designing custom courses?
Here are some tips to get you started using instructional and curriculum design to create your own courses.
Conduct a needs analysis
What are your students’ motivations for learning English? What do they need to improve on? What topics do you need to cover? You can answer these questions right from the start by conducting a needs analysis. This assessment typically involves interviewing your learners about their background, goals, and feelings towards studying the language. Additionally, you can conduct a short English proficiency test to determine a student’s level.
Here is a sample ESL needs assessment you can use:
Refer to Bloom’s taxonomy
The Bloom’s taxonomy model was created to classify cognitive skills and educational learning objectives. When designing EFL courses, you can set learning objectives by aligning them to the learning stages in Bloom’s taxonomy. If you already have a concrete idea of what you want your students to achieve by the end of each class, it will be easier for you to decide which materials or tasks will work for them.
Apply scaffolding and chunking strategies
Not sure how to organize the activities in your lesson? One strategy that can help is scaffolding, which involves the teacher providing support for students to achieve tasks that they can’t do beyond their level, then slowly taking this support away until the learners can practice on their own. For example, teaching how to order food in a restaurant may have the teacher show key phrases at first. Then, students can practice responding to questions and later do a role play with a classmate to practice the new expressions.
Another method you will find useful is chunking, which entails breaking up long or difficult content into smaller “chunks” that students can easily digest. By dividing long texts into smaller segments, learners can identify grammar structures, get the main idea, and understand the meaning of words through context clues.
Develop tech skills
As mentioned before, designing courses will have you using various software or computer applications. While you don’t need to develop expertise in all Microsoft Office apps or learn a plethora of computer programs, here are the most important types of digital tools that you should be knowledgeable or skilled in:
- Learning management systems (LMS)
- Visual or graphic design apps
- Video or animation makers
- Word processors
- Presentation tools
When developing custom courses for ESL learners, instructional and curricular design keeps you on the right track towards leading your students to success. By developing the necessary skills and applying the right techniques, you’ll be able to plan and create targeted lessons that students will surely love.