Writing a Syllabus

  • Due to the fact that students often spend the first week of class shopping around for the "right" course for their individual needs, the syllabus becomes an important indicator for about prerequisites, the course requirements, your teaching style, your tentative homework schedule, your attendance policy and several other course characteristics. For this reason, it is important to give as much information as possible. The following is a checklist of information that is either necessary or recommended in a syllabus. Note: If you are lucky enough to inherit someone else's syllabus for your course, make sure to check that all of these components are included and that the information is updated.
  • Course and instructor specifics ("musts")
    --Course name and number
    --Number of credits
    --Class times and location
    --Instructor name, office location, phone, email address
    --Office hours

    --General course description
    --Specific behavioral objectives (things you would like your students to "do" by the end of the course
    --Specific/concrete objectives
    --Assignment expectations
    --Expectations of their interaction in class (see Teaching and Learning Styles and Collaborative Learning)
    --Measurement/ evaluation criteria
    --Prerequisites, if applicable

    Required/Recommended materials list
    --Text(s) with complete citation and edition number
    --Packet information, including where to purchase it
    --Reserved reading information along with procedures of obtaining it
    --Tape, video, studio use, and other procedures
    --Supplementary materials, optional reading, other items students may need to buy

    University information
    --Website of Withdrawal Information
    --Website of Add/drop Information
    --ADA Statement
    --Classroom rights and responsibilities

    General policies
    List your policies regarding:
    --Due dates (What are the dates? Is there a time of day things are due? What are the exceptions?)
    --Late work (When is an assignment considered late? What is the penalty?)
    --Participation (What is considered participation and what are the consequences of not fulfilling the expectations?)
    --Extra credit (If available, how is it obtained?)
    --Attendance (What effect do absences have? What should a student do if s/he is absent?)
    --Tardiness (What, if any, consequences come from tardiness? What should a student do if s/he is tardy?)
    --When a student can expect feedback
    --Student grievances (How should they be presented? How will they be handled?)
    --Incompletes (It is best to discourage incompletes as a teaching assistant since you might not be as easy to track down as regular faculty, but if you do offer it, be sure to follow U of U policy in the Faculty Policy & Procedures Manual 9-7: Section 8).
    --Any other personal or departmental policy

    --Clarify your grading policy from the start (dropping quiz grades, late work, etc.)
    --List weights of each assignment and/or percent of the final grade
    --List percentage categories for grades (A = 94%+, A- + 90-93.9%...)
    --Explain your expectations for each assignment
    --Spell out your penalty system: % of grade deducted for each day late, inability to make up certain assignments, etc…
    --Illustrate any degree of flexibility you might have in your system


--Prepare a tentative schedule which includes specific dates for
--Provide descriptions for all types of assignments in the syllabus
--Provide important questions to study if your course follows the case study approach


Forming a Lesson Plan


Some of the classes you have taken during your scholastic endeavors have probably seemed chaotic, while others seemed to flow smoothly. The difference is most likely in the preparation and planning of the course. The following points will guide you as you try to structure your class.

--List the objectives that you want the lesson to fulfill and formulate the lesson plan according to the objectives.
--Write out a structured lesson plan. The San Diego Community College District outlines a structured lesson plan in their website http://www.ncc.sdccd.cc.ca.us/lessonplan/. The steps are as follows:
1. Warm-up/Review
2. Introduction to the New Lesson
3. Presentation
4. Practice
5. Evaluation
6. Application
7. Connections

Although a brief outline of these stages is included in this guide book, it would be wise to visit the website in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of each component.

This opener helps you to tie previous material into the present lesson and it helps the students to focus on the topic at hand. Here are some ideas for reviewing and warming up:
--Conduct a brief question and answer period.
--Give a small pop quiz.
--Have the students write a 2-minute summary of the things they learned during the last class and then call on a couple of students to share their summaries.
--Tell a joke that is related to the material.
--Show a picture that links to the lesson.
--Conduct a short activity that will lead into the subject matter.

The introduction is basically a simple explanation of the topic. It can be a short sentence stating the topic, or it can be the subject and definition. For example, "Today we're going to talk about…".

New material and information are given during the presentation period. Presentation can be fulfilled in traditional ways or with a creative approach. The following methods can be used (also see Teaching and Learning Styles):
--Collaborative activities: Jigsaw activity (see Collaborative Activities)
--Reading and note-taking
--Video or audio tape
--Library research

The practice section comprises a crucial period in which the students can internalize the information that they have received and the instructor can verify that the students understand. Unfortunately, it is often skipped in traditional instruction. Sometimes it takes a certain amount of creativity, but it creates an environment where the students can engage in their learning and you will find it an important aspect of your teaching. Possible ways to have the students practice the information are listed here. Please also refer to Collaborative Activities for an explanation of these and other activities.

--Problem-based group work
--Case-based group work
--Role play
--Hands-on activities
--Written essays or summaries

During the practice period, it is helpful if the instructor walks around to check on students' work and to answer students' questions. Let the students know that you plan on wandering around the classroom for this purpose. This will give you a unique opportunity to see if the students really "got it" or not.

When the students have finished their practice session, the instructor can evaluate how the class did by going over the work they've done. This can be an extensive session where the class looks at each aspect of what they've done, or it can be a short period in which the teacher asks certain members of the class to share some of their insights.

The application is usually constructed as a homework assignment. After answering any remaining questions, the instructor can assign a task that will help the students to use the information they learned again in a new way. It is most constructive if the students can do an activity that relates to their lives.

This simply means that you can tie the present lesson into the next lesson. It is often done by explaining what will take place during the next class and how it relates to today's lesson.

1. When your lesson is complete, make sure to write down the materials you will need to bring to class. This will help you if you have to scurry to class and you don't remember what you need to bring.

2. Prepare lesson plans for two weeks and always try to stay ahead. This will help you to have a logical sequence and cohesion for the class.


First Day of Class

Here are some suggestions on how to conduct your first day of class (after, of course, doing some yogic breathing to ease your own tension):

--Prepare, prepare, prepare.
--Make sure you have all the handouts you need (including the syllabus and tentative schedule). To obtain the number of students who have registered for your class, go to the Student Enrollment website and click on the proper semester under "class schedule", then find your specific department and class number and click on them. This will give you the approximate number of copies to make. Make extra copies to be safe.
--Clarify any department policies for the class, including attendance, grades and major projects. Also, decide on your own policies for the class and commit to them so that you don't find yourself breaking your own rules regarding late work, coursework, and grades.
--Realize that first impressions are important. How you dress, what you say, what you do and other personal characteristics will influence your students' perceptions of you and of the course. --Plan appropriately. It is often a good idea to practice your introduction before facing your class for the first time.
--Arrive 5 to 10 minutes early. Use this time to personally greet students as they enter the room, learn a few names and develop a positive classroom atmosphere.
--First day "musts": Introduce yourself with the name by which you want to be called, distribute the syllabus, bring clear attention to the add/drop and withdrawal policies (see Writing a Syllabus), and let students ask questions about the course and about you.
--Describe how the class will be conducted, whether it's a discussion or a lecture course, and what your teaching style is (see Teaching and Learning Styles). Read the section of your syllabus on classroom rights and responsibilities (see Writing a Syllabus). You should also include a brief introduction to the type and amount of coursework the students can plan on and what the policies are on late work and grades.
--Have the students fill out index cards with pertinent information (name, number, email address, something memorable about them) so that you can remember their names and contact them, if necessary.
--Construct an "icebreaker" activity in order to help the students feel more comfortable with each other (see Creating a Classroom Community). If you can link the "icebreaker" to the course material, you'll have a head start. Some possible "icebreakers" are:




(from the website: Classroom Communication: Icebreakers & Group Process Activities: http://www.uu.edu/centers/faculty/resources/article.cfm?ArticleID=34)

Icebreaker: I Expect
1. After distributing paper and pencils to all of the group members, the trainer asks each participant to write down the following statements: "From the leader of this session, I expect ______________," "From the other participants in this session, I expect _______________."
2. The group members are then given five minutes in which to complete the statements.
3. When the allotted time has elapsed, the leader collects the papers. Then, without revealing the participants' identities, the group leader reads all of the completed statements out loud (or a sampling if it is a large class).
4. The trainer may then initiate a brief discussion of the participants' expectations and how these expectations are to be met during their time together.

Icebreaker: Imagination
1. The leader asks the group members to let their minds expand as they consider innovative ways of thinking and perceiving.
2. Next the group leader explains that in this exercise the participants will be asked to respond to some questions and then to explain why they responded as they did.
3. The leader begins the exercise by choosing a group member at random (see Getting Everyone Involved) and asking him/her a question from the Imagination List. When the group member has given his or her response and has provided a rationale for the answer, the leader may ask another participant to answer the same question or a different question from the Imagination List.
4. When all of the participants have responded to at least one question, the group leader may with to process the exercise and its relevance to problem solving, brainstorming, or the examination of basic assumptions.
Imagination List
1. What color is the letter "S"?
2. What does happiness look like?
3. What color is today?
4. What does purple taste like?
5. What does your self-image sound like?
6. What texture is the color green?
7. What color is the smell of your favorite scent?
8. What does love look like?
9. What is your favorite sense?
10. What color is your favorite song?
11. What texture is your favorite scent?
12. What does winter sound like?
13. How old is the letter "P"?
14. How does the letter "M" feel?
15. What color is the fragrance of soap?

Bingo Icebreaker from Icebreakers: Facilitating Introductions http://adulted.about.com/library/blicebreaker1.htm
1. Print [Create] and copy a bingo card for each player that has a description of clothing, eyes, or any other personal characteristic.
2. Players circulate to find group members who match descriptions in the bingo squares.
3. When a match is found, the player writes the name of the individual in the square.
4. Different names must be used in each square. When a player has filled a row with names, s/he yells "Bingo!"
5. With the group, check the squares and identify the individuals described.
6. Continue the game for a second round, with the new goal of filling the entire card.
7. When a player has filled the entire card, s/he yells "Bingo!"
8. Check the entire card, identifying group members matching each description.

For other ideas and information on icebreakers, visit these links:


Adapted from The Handbook on Teaching for Teaching Assistants at the University of Utah (2002), unless otherwise indicated.
Adapted/Prepared by Kim Welch:
Education Specialist for Teaching Assistants
Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence, University of Utah