ESL2ESP session - Jan 17-Feb 26
Week 4- February 7 - 13
Creating ESP Curriculum/ Activities



Week 4 Curriculum design/ course development Adam Turner (Comments & Questions)



My approach to unit four will be a bit different. I will focus mostly on my MISTAKES and what I have learned from them. I have always found that we learn more from failure in any aspect of life than we do with success. I have always wanted to read more articles on peoples' classes and programs that didn't go well! I will also adopt a "nuts and bolts" approach focusing on specific practical discussions. I won't cite any further readings but will adopt a personal perspective. My imaginary audience will be the inexperienced ESP teacher who starts a new class in ten days. They found out about the class yesterday.

I will try to organize my thoughts around a few principles. Bear in mind that these are notes on teaching I wrote for this week rather than a "finished" article so please bear with me. Tasks are included after most principles to help teachers work through or apply them to their own context. Comments, personal experiences along the same themes or disagreement are most welcome.

How can you develop materials that will meet your students' specific needs? How can you adapt existing ESL materials to meet ESP needs? How time and cost effective is it to develop specialized materials?


When I first started teaching, I found that I was making an excessive number of my own handouts for academic writing. After searching the Internet more effectively, I saved myself a great deal of time. I have used this expression numerous times in my workshops on teaching writing. Writing teachers in particular have a tendency to make handouts that are already available through the web. I remember just last week reading a post from a teacher who had created a website on basic punctuation. The pride and enthusiasm came through vividly in her email. But she had wasted her time. I knew of at least five websites that had already done a better job. In the case of ESP it is harder to find specific materials but there are a number of places where you can find pages or materials to adapt.

TASK: recommend one website that has materials or pages that a teacher could use almost immediately.


When I first started using the Internet for teaching about four years ago-I have been teaching for five years-I used to collect webpage resources for students. I used to spend a fair amount of time browsing and collecting them. However, only a small number of students used them. If you are supporting traditional classes with webpages then make sure the webpages are actively integrated into the course if you really want the student to view them. Otherwise, you might have to lower your expectations on how effective "optional" resources are. Typically teachers like myself get a bit too excited about internet materials when they first start using the Internet extensively. Also, many teachers do not realize that many students have difficulty being able to skim for information or stay on task online. Instead, many end up following links and losing track of the purpose. I gave this link to my students simply in order to browse it quickly to become familiar with types of paragraph organization but many of them had difficulty staying on task or being able to skim for information for their needs in engineering writing: http://www.mhhe.com/mayfieldpub/tsw/para-dev.htm

TASK: examine your website or course materials. Is there a clear rationale and purpose for all of the sites you have recommended? Will your students be able to stay on task or will they get lost in the number of links and become frustrated? Remember that unlike most other types of text, students do not have to read webpages in the way that you intend.


I found myself pausing after adding a link to some internet writing material one day. I looked at it again and really questioned if I would use the same material if I found it on the page of a textbook and photocopied it. Although I do use internet resources extensively I am backing away a bit from this approach. The Purdue University Writing Website http://owl.english.purdue.edu/ is often recommended as an outstanding resource. And to some extent it is. However, the quality of the entries are uneven at best and you can find better material in any basic writing handbook for most of the topics. I also question the use of bulletin boards for some class activities and students discussions. I tend to think that the bulletin board technology is driving the activities rather than the other way around. If teachers have to mandate that the students post X number of times per week how authentic is the communication really?

TASK: Look at some recent materials you have made using internet resources. Are you finding good webpages and then thinking how you can use them in class, or are you deciding on the criteria and objective for a task or unit first and then looking for the websites? Do the same with some of the technology you are using to teach. Are the teaching objectives or the technology driving the class?


Some say that there is no better way to learn than to teach. If so put it into practice! Establish the criteria for completion of the assignment and the objectives but let the students come up with the content. If you have a vocabulary lesson then have the students choose five new vocab words and example sentences and then teach them to the others in the class and have the members of the group write example sentences in context. Check the results as marking for homework. Let some students adapt some materials themselves. Teaching them how to learn is more valuable than the inadequate amount of material you will be able to cover in one semester. In my experience students like task-based work even if they find it challenging.


I have continually been surprised by the many differences between advice in general writing classes compared to looking at authentic engineering texts. Have a look at the two files I uploaded on using the Internet and PDF files to check grammar. I have found these two computer searching techniques very useful to check on authentic language. I developed the PDF searching technique and have found it to be much more user friendly and usable than current concordance programs. They are still rough drafts.


If you have already made all the materials and chosen the vocabulary and content, what do you do if your students already know it? Even if they know much if not most of the material then you are still wasting their time. I strongly disagree with almost all of the articles or texts that I have read on syllabus or course design. How can we adopt a learner-centered approach if we have already decided how and what we are going to teach if we haven't even met the students yet? Test them first and then teach to what they don't know. This can be difficult for the students to get used, and for the teacher to manage but I have always gotten better results with this approach. For example, have students write a formal email request. See if they need help with the basic format of email writing, then teach to those problems.


I found that my preference for more creative or exploratory learning was not always what many of my students wanted. In fact, in Korea the old functional charts that students used for substitution drills are quite popular. Authentic tasks followed by functional charts of writing structures that focus on their weak points are what I tend to use now. Know your local environment. The more I teach the simpler my materials have become and the more visually appealing they have also become:

TASK: Ask your students to take a learning styles inventory test or simply integrate feedback at every stage of the materials design process. You may be surprised at what your students prefer compared to what you think is best. This is especially important in an EFL environment. Meeting them halfway is probably the best option as the students may not be aware of different ways of learning.


I realized last year that I had more of a collection of good handouts rather than a systematic approach to meeting the objectives I wanted. I am now reorganizing my materials in modular form and it has helped me to fill in some gaps. We all reuse materials but try to organize your materials around self-contained modules so in a given course you can quickly use different combinations of modules or adapt them quickly. Much like an online learning approach. I have a fixed series of activities I repeat for almost every class on computer-assisted writing. In the future I will be able to combine different modules depending on the goals and level of the class. A module is self-contained whereas a unit is part of a larger text or syllabus.


There is only so much you can do in a day. If you are in a teaching situation where you can do editing work or other types of work to supplement your salary then consider using some of that money to hire an undergraduate assistant to help you with routine tasks, formatting materials, or maintaining homepages etc. When my department cut my part-time assistant position, I kept her on anyway. It is worth it for me and it has kept my productivity much higher than if I had tried to do everything myself. Too many teachers are not good at delegating because they are too used to having to do everything themselves.
TASK: imagine that you hire an assistant for as little as four hours per week. How much more effective would you be? Would if be worth it for you financially if you just edited one paper or taught one extra hour of class a week?


Don't assume they will like relevant content, they may be looking for a break for English class. I have had many successes but my most recent class has been a case in point. I thought that they would be more willing to put in the time to learn to write a real research paper then they were for a non-credit class. This is the most disappointing aspect of ESP for me. You can work really hard and have really great authentic stuff and some of the students might not care because they don't like their major anyway. In Korea, University Entrance exams and prestige and life success are so tied to educational status that they play a guessing game. They often choose their major based on which university they think they can enter rather than their interests. A shocking number of students in Korea would choose another program if given the chance.

How can you work with colleagues in the specific field to develop a curriculum?


Try to think in terms of more than one course when designing materials. I have reused materials and recommended my own materials to teachers in other departments. That way you get more use out of the materials. This is especially important for clear skills like resume writing or presentation skills that have to be done in more than one department. I developed the following guide for resume and cover letter writing in conjunction with a Korean professor who was teaching a course on international volunteer and Internship opportunities. Using this approach you may also be able to tap into further resources such as assistants or computer resources in departments that are better funded you're your own English department. In my case the Engineering and Business departments:http://ctl.hanyang.ac.kr/learning/professional_writing/resume.htm


I have used the same materials for my presentations to faculty, my graduate writing classes, and my departmental website. Use your departmental website to promote your own ESP work and to seek out further partnerships and synergy by making the most of your materials. Many of my materials are available in mulitiple formats such as PDF, Powerpoint, WORD etc. and can be used for different teaching situations.


Try to get "Champions," professors who support and appreciate (understand!) the importance of ESP to support you BEFORE you start a course. After a string of successes, I perhaps got a bit complacent and forgot my own rule and my lastest course has not gone as well as I had hoped, in part because of a lack of "buy in" from faculty and the department. In some cultures such as in East Asia it might be better for you to have your students or other faculty members introduce you to other professors. As there are not that many native speakers on my campus, I rarely have difficulty meeting people in an EFL environment.

TASK: do you know colleagues, content professors in other departments well enough to phone them and invite them to lunch? If not work on your campus networking. It has been essential in my experience.


I currently work at the Center for Teaching and Learning. I am the only English teacher on campus who does not work in the English Department. This is by choice. The CTL must work with every other department and it has given me opportunities to meet and collaborate with others that would be more difficult if I only worked in the English Department. See if your campus has other centers that are naturally interdisciplinary and see if you can collaborate with them.

A final resource

The following website is really a great example that everyone should definitely have a look at when considering creating their own website and starting a major project developing their own customized online materials for ESP/EAP/CBI. Three years in development, I think I will let the results speak for themselves: http://www.eflwriting.com/

Back to Week 4 || Back to ESL2ESP portal
©2004-2005 Buthaina al-Othman