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February 14, 2010

The Situational Syllabus


The formulation of a new type of syllabus became inevitable when dissatisfaction was targeted to the Grammatical Syllabus. Even though the Grammatical Syllabus has been used with considerable success over a long period of time, many modern linguists have come to see grammar as the wrong organising principle for a syllabus, since effective language use cannot be ensured unless it is contextualised, involving ample social interaction. Therefore, the most commonly proposed alternative is to take situational needs as the starting point and thereby to construct a Situational Syllabus to replace the Grammatical Syllabus. The Situational Syllabus did a lot to fill the vacuum that was caused by the drawbacks of the Grammatical Syllabus. The Situational Syllabus, however, is not as firmly based as the Grammatical Syllabus on any well formulated view of language. Nevertheless, like its precursor the Grammatical Syllabus, it has also proven its importance as being the most extensively used component for the Multi Syllabuses.


The major characteristics of the Situational Syllabus are as follows:

Theoretical Bases: The central argument for the Situational Syllabus is that language is always used in a social context and cannot be fully understood without reference to the contextual settings. According to Wilkins, the Situational Syllabus is constructed on the analyses of situations and behaviours. The Situational analysis can enable the syllabus designers to predict in what situations the learners are likely to use the language and teach accordingly. The Behavioural analysis aims to consider the likely behaviours or activities that the learners may conduct in different situations.

Contents/Selecting & Sequencing the Contents: In the Situational Syllabus the content is specified and ordered in non-linguistic terms (i.e. excluding grammatical items, vocabulary topics, or functions). The content of language teaching is a collection of real or imaginary situations in which language occurs or is used. It (the content) often takes the form of dialogues and conversations. The learners are expected to practice the dialogues and memorise useful expressions and patterns. The grammar and the vocabulary derived from the situations are not themselves the driving force behind selection. However, the grammar and the vocabulary are also taken into account when the language forms in situations are selected, since these two components receive primary attention in almost all types of syllabus design and development. Thus the main components of the Situational Syllabus can be analysed in the following order:
  1. a list of language situations, and
  2. description of the grammatical and lexical items of each of these situations.
Objectives: Situations are the organizing principle of the situational syllabus. A situation usually involves some kinds of transactions in a specific setting. The language occurring in the situation involves a number of a probable segment of discourse/dialogue. The primary purpose of a situational language teaching syllabus is, thus to teach the language that occurs in the situations. Examples of such probable situations include:
  • At the hotel,
  • At the travel agent,
  • At the post office,
  • At the restaurant,
  • At the garage,
  • At the airport,
  • At the shopping mall,
  • At school, and so on.
Procedure: In the initial stage of teaching, the teacher has to analyse the probable linguistic situations in which the learners may use the language. Next he has to analyse the probable behaviours/ activities that the learners may carry out in different situations. In order to conduct the behavioural analysis, the teacher must rely upon a set of parameters for describing the significant features of situations. These include:
  • the physical context in which the language event occurs,
  • the channel of communication (i.e. spoken or written),
  • whether the language activity is productive or receptive,
  • the number and the character of the participants,
  • the relationship between the participants, and
  • the field of activity within which the language event takes place.


The Situational Syllabus offers guidelines for organising language teaching materials on a relatively limited scope, yet it has proven to be beneficial in several ways:
  1. Wilkins considers this type of syllabus more efficient and more motivating than the Grammatical Syllabus because it hinges round practical needs rather than abstract analysis.
  2. It is a learner-centred syllabus, since it takes account of the learner and his needs.
  3. It enables the learners to behave appropriately in various social contexts.
  4. It pays more attention to learners’ speaking ability in contrast to the Grammatical Syllabus.


Even though the Situational Syllabus is widely used as a replacement for the Grammatical Syllabus to organise language teaching materials, there is still strong criticism against this model:
  1. The main disadvantage of the Situational Syllabus is that it is less appropriate for the students of general English, since it tries to teach language in the context of some specific linguistic situations, which cannot be considered as an all-encompassing yardstick for fulfilling the learners’ general language needs. That is, because it is difficult to guarantee that one specific situation will be useful in another.
  2. Although some situations have a predictable script, unanticipated things can happen in any situation, requiring a change of script or topic. Wilkins points out, that a physical situational setting such as “At the Post Office” or “In a Restaurant” does not necessarily predict the language forms that will be used. One may go into a restaurant not to order a meal but to ask directions to a nearby museum or to change money for a telephone call. While certain language functions will most likely occur in certain situational settings, physical setting cannot really predict language use. It depends on who the students are and where they are learning. Thus determining the appropriate list of situations for a general class is difficult.
  3. Grammar is dealt with incidentally, so the Situational Syllabus may result in gaps in learners’ grammatical knowledge.
  4. The Situational Syllabus does not provide us with clearly defined criteria for the sequencing of teaching items. Little is known about the language used in different situations, so selection of teaching items is typically based on intuition.
  5. The Situational Syllabus is probably most appropriate for short-term special-purpose courses: giving prospective tourists survival skills or preparing service personnel, such as waiters or waitresses, to deal with routine requests or fire fighters to handle emergency situations. It has limited potential for the language learner interested in acquiring global language proficiency. For this reason it is generally used as the component of a Multi Syllabus rather than as the central organising principle for a general language syllabus design.


In verdict, it can be remarked that The Situational Syllabus is useful only in certain circumstances. It does not have the potentials to offer a comprehensive solution to the problems of language learning for the students of general English. Yet, its contribution to syllabus design cannot be denied altogether, since it is the first syllabus type to consider the situational needs as important criteria for language learning, which are no less important than the knowledge of grammar.


Barman, Dr. Binoy, Zakia Sultana, and Bijoy Lal Basu. ELT: Theory and Practice. Dhaka:
FBC, 2006. 24-38.

“EFL Syllabus Design.” Finchpark. 2008. Dr. Andrew Finch. 22 August 2008

“Grammatical, Situational and Notional Syllabuses.” Eric Education Resources Information Center.
2008. ERIC. 22 August 2008<http://eric.ed.gov/>.

Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. 3rd ed.
England: Longman-Pearson,2001. 295.

“How to Develop a Situational-topical Syllabus.” SIL International. 1999.SIL International.
22 August 2008 < http://www.silinternational.org/>.

“Language Acquisition and Syllabus Design: The Need for a Broad Perspective.”ADFL Bulletin.
1984. Association of Departments of Foreign Languages.22 August 2008

“Travel English Dialogs Based on a Situational Syllabus.” Takamatsu. 2008.
The Regents of Takamatsu University. 22 August 2008
< http://www.takamatsu-u.ac.jp/nlibrary/kiyo/no34/no34ikeuchi.pdf>.

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  1. it is a very helpful note.

  2. thank you very much! It's really a big help.

  3. it was very useful . but if only there was a Situational Syllabus sample ???

  4. Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behavior, more so that we recognize or acknowledge. See the link below for
    more info.



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