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November 26, 2009

The Structural Syllabus


A Structural Syllabus (also known as Grammatical Syllabus, Formal Syllabus, Traditional Syllabus, Synthetic Syllabus) is one in which grammatical structures form the central organizing feature. The Structural or Grammatical Syllabus is one of the most common type of syllabus and still today we can see the contents pages of many course books set out according to grammatical items. The Structural Syllabus derives its content largely from the structural linguists. It is a product oriented content based syllabus. Here the focus is on the knowledge and skills which learners should gain as a result of instruction, not on how they can attain them. The synthetic teaching strategy is essential to produce such a syllabus. The Structural Syllabus happens to be the best known example of a Synthetic Syllabus. The synthetic approach to syllabus design, according to Wilkins is:

A synthetic language teaching strategy is one in which the different parts of a language are taught separately and step by step so that acquisition is a process of gradual accumulation of the parts until the whole structure of the language has been built up.


The major characteristics of the Structural Syllabus are as follows:

Theoretical Bases: The underlying assumptions behind the  Structural Syllabus are that:
  • Language is a system which consists of a set of grammatical rules; learning language means learning these rules and then applying them to practical language use.
  • The syllabus input is selected and graded according to grammatical notions of simplicity and complexity. These syllabuses introduce one item at a time and require mastery of that item before moving on to the next.
  • This type of syllabus maintains that it is easier for students to learn a language if they are exposed to one part of the grammatical system at a time.
Content: The content of the syllabus is determined by giving top priority to teaching the grammar or structure of the target language. The Structural Syllabus generally consists of two components:
  1. A list of linguistic structures, that is, the grammar to be taught, and
  2. A list of words, that is, the lexicon to be taught.
Sequencing and Grading: Very often the items on each list are arranged in order showing which are to be taught in the first course, which in the second, and so on. The criteria for sequencing are various. The teacher regards the items from the point of view of levels or stages. For example, beginning, intermediate, advanced, or grades, 1,2,3, etc.

Objectives: Grammar makes up the core of the syllabus. Whatever rules are followed, learning a language means learning to master the grammar rules of the target language. In addition it also expected that the students will learn adequate basic vocabulary.

The teacher in following the syllabus may use either Audio-lingual Method or Grammar Translation Method, or a combination of the two or an eclectic approach. Whichever he uses, the content of the syllabus is determined by giving top priority to teaching the grammar or structure of the language.

Procedure: In the initial stage of teaching, the linguistic components of the type of performance desired are analyzed. Next the language is broken down into small grammatical components and presented in a strictly controlled sequence. The sequence is arranged in accordance with increasing complexity, from simple grammatical structure to more complex grammatical structure. The learners are exposed at one time to a limited sample of the target language. The teacher moves progressively through the syllabus until, theoretically, all the structures of the target language have been taught. The learner’s job is to re-synthesize language that has been taken apart, and presented to him in small parts. This synthesis takes place only in the final stage of leaning, the so called the advanced stage.


Many learning principles implicit in a structural approach are sound. The merits of a Structural Syllabus are as follows:
  • The learner moves from simpler to more complex grammatical structures and may grasp the grammatical system more easily.
  • Teaching and testing are relatively simple, because teachers deal with discrete-point knowledge and skills. The teachers need not be fluent in the language they teach, since grammatical explanations and drills do not require a high level of language proficiency.
  • It is very much helpful to develop writing skills.
  • It enriches student’s basic vocabulary.
  • Sequencing and selection of teaching items is not as difficult as it with other syllabuses.


Despite its numerous advantages it has few shortcomings too. The drawbacks of a Structural Syllabus are as follows:
  • The potential disadvantage of the Structural Syllabus is that it over-emphasizes language structure and neglects communicative competence. It does not address the immediate communication needs of the learner who is learning a language within the context of a community where the language is spoken. In fact, the sociolinguistic aspects of communicative competence are not in focus at all in a strictly structural syllabus. It is therefore more useful in a context where the language learner does not have immediately communication needs.
  • It hampers the student’s creative sides because it confines him/her within the walls of some specific rules.
  • Here the role of the student is passive, since it is the teacher who is deciding what to teach in which stage. It is, thus, a teacher dominated syllabus.


Despite its drawbacks it is still the most accepted model for designing course plans. As a result, we can neither reject nor discriminate this type of syllabus entirely. There is no existence of a perfect syllabus type, and the Structural Syllabus is no exception in this respect. So, it is wise to select a combined or integrative syllabus, rather than a particular one. And the Structural Syllabus is eligible enough to provide some important guidelines for the combined syllabus.


“Approach, Design and Procedure.” English School for Busy Bees.2008.ESOBB. 22 August 2008
< http://esobb.net/jboard/download.php?file_name=lecture1.ppt&file_size=633344&code=Soo >.

“Approaches to Foreign Language Syllabus Design.” Eric Digests. 2007. Eric Digests. 22 August
2008 < http://www.ericdigests.org/>.

Barman, Dr. Binoy, Zakia Sultana, and Bijoy Lal Basu. ELT: Theory and Practice. Dhaka:
FBC, 2006. 27-36.

“Current Trends in Syllabus Design and Materials Development.” Cheng Xiaotang's English
Language Teaching Website.2004. Chengxiaotang. 22 August 2008
< http://chengxt.wwxy.bnu.edu.cn/Trends_in_Syllabus.doc>.

“Examples of Synthetic Syllabuses”. Intensive English Institute.2008.Intensive English Institute.
22 August 2008< http://www.iei.uiuc.edu/TESOLOnline/topics/synthetic.html >.

Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. 3rd ed. England: Longman-Pearson,

“How to design a structural-lexical syllabus.” SIL International. 1999. SIL International.
22 August 2008 < http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning
/MangngYrLnggLrnngPrgrm/HowToDesignAStructuralLexicalS.htm >.

“Language Acquisition and Syllabus Design: The Need for a Broad Perspective.” ADFL Bulletin.
1984. Association of Departments of Foreign Languages. 22 August 2008
< http://web2.adfl.org/adfl/bulletin/V15N3/153008.htm>.

“Syllabus Writing.” English Academy Orleans Tours.2008. English Academy Orleans Tours. 22
August 2008 < http://www.ac-orleans-tours.fr/anglais-lp/telechargement/plp/activities

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