How to create a syllabus that commands respect & clearly states your expectations!
Designing the perfect syllabus takes time and careful thought.
It is a declaration of what kind of a teacher you are, what your teaching philosophy is, and what your expectations are in the classroom. It will also relay to students and parents that you are very organized and serious about teaching. It sets the pace for the entire semester/year.
Here are the steps to creating the perfect syllabus:
1. Begin with a header that is bold and attention-grabbing:
Mr./Mrs. (your name goes here)
Name of the school
Fall Semester, 2011
2. Add an image to the right of the document such as a globe or a character in World History. For example, I have used the image of Julius Caesar in my World History syllabus. If you can print in color, I recommend you do so because you want to visually stimulate your students from day one. The simple act of adding an image and color to it sends a quiet message to the students that your class might just be interesting after all.
3. The next section should describe what the course is about and it should explain, chronologically, which topics and time periods will be explored.
The following is an example from my World History class syllabus:
"This World History course explores the development of independent and interdependent cultures since the eleventh century. Early topics include the European Middle Ages and the coincident expansion of the Islamic and Mongol Empires, the establishment of the Japanese Shogunate, civilizations in Pre-Columbian America, the European Renaissance and Reformation, and the worldwide effects of the democratic revolutions (American and French) and Industrial Revolution. Particular emphasis is given to more recent topics, including European Colonization of the Americans, Asia, and Africa and the subsequent independence movements of those areas, hot wars and cold wars of the 20th century, and Communism’s rise and fall."
If your class will pay particular attention and emphasis on certain topics or time periods, say so as I have done above. It is also very important to use formal language and terminology to set the bar high. Show your students that you are serious about this course and that you have high expectations of them.
4. It should list the goals (in bulleted form) of the course. In other words, what should students have learned and mastered when the semester/year is over? This establishes right from the beginning what you plan to accomplish throughout the semester/year.
Here is an example from my World History syllabus:
As a result of this course, students should:
- Develop effective communication skills using a variety of written and oral assignments.
- Develop skills for both presentations and discussions. Students will practice the defense and explanations of their viewpoints as well as the analysis of other viewpoints.
- Develop critical thinking skills by teaching students to analyze and critique primary historical sources.
- Gain proficiency in researching, and in wise use of technology.
- Understand the events of the past responsible for shaping the world today.
- To better understand how the world works.
- Discover and analyze the cause-and-effect of world cultures, WITHOUT judging the people by our own beliefs and standards of conduct. Please remember to keep an open mind and take the class seriously! If you come to class with a willingness to explore new ideas and question unexamined beliefs you will find the study of World history very rewarding. The more open-minded you are, the more you’ll enjoy coming to class.
- Gain an appreciation for the cultural, religious, racial, gender and socioeconomic diversity found in our modern world.
A very efficient, professional syllabus also tells students what kind of assignments they can expect in your class:
Grading will occur on a variety of assignments including reading, creative writing or various short essay assignments, active class participation, group work, hands-on projects, tests, quizzes, presentations, study guides for tests, and video/DVD viewing.
"Hey, the materials on this site are great. For the most part I use this site to check in and make sure I am hitting the parts of my curriculum I should. It's nice to match up what I'm doing to the materials on this site. Thanks for possting all of it! I am very appreciative of this work." ~ Chris, United States
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Next, tell students what supplies will be required in your classroom. Make it very clear so that they don't come to you later, "I didn't know we had to have that!"
One important aspect of my teaching style is the requirement that students have a binder for only my class. An organized, complete binder is worth grade point value and I explain this to students very clearly in the syllabus.
I firmly believe that if a student keeps an organized binder for a class, they will be more successful in that class. I also perform random checks of the binder to make sure students bring it to class every day. At the end of specific blocks of time, I collect binders and check them for content, organiztion, and neatness.
Trust me, this procedure keeps your students organized!
- Be sure to keep a three ring binder containing all papers, handouts, notes, and assignments throughout the year.
- Anything I give you that is hole-punched, goes in the binder!
- I will collect the complete binder at the end of each nine-week grading period. They are worth 100 points.
- There will be surprise binder checks randomly throughout the semester worth 25 points. If your binder appears messy or disorganized, I will not waste my time on it. Students will receive an automatic zero. Students will not be allowed to go to their lockers to get their binders on surprise check days. Keep it neat, organized, and current!
Next, I illustrate which procedures they can expect in my class. In this section, I also include any miscellaneous information that students and parents need to be aware of:
- No credit for work done on spiral notebook paper. It will be handed back to you with a zero. You may redo it, but it will be counted late.* It is fine to simply cut off the edges neatly with scissors, but have this done before you come to class!
- If you have any questions or concerns about an assignment or a grade you received, or you need extra help with an assignment or project, please see me before or after school or leave me a voice mail or e-mail message, and I will return it as soon as possible. I will be very happy to help you! (Always let students know that you care about their success in your class and that you are available to help them!)
- There will be a test after each chapter or unit of study.
- Along with each test is a required study guide assignment.
I don't know about you, but spiral notebook paper is the biggest pain in the rump! Those scraggley edges get tangled and attached to each other and to other papers. I simply refuse to accept work on spiral note book paper.
Give the student a zero (hey, it's not like they weren't warned in this syllabus) and I guarantee you that it will not happen again.
And do not allow them to cut the edges off in class! This wastes time and is unacceptable. If the student insists on using spiral note book paper, fine, but the edges must be cut BEFORE they come to class. Don't let it slide once, because if you do, you might as well not have put the warning in the syllabus.
Including something in a syllabus and then not following through with it, is detrimental to a teacher's credibility.
BE CONSISTENT & BE FIRM!
Some teachers might feel that the rules are the most important part of the syllabus.
The rules are important, but it is more important to keep them simple and straightforward. It is more important to have two or three simple rules that your students can remember and follow than to have a list of seven or eight wordy rules that no one pays attention to.
Don't state the obvious and don't get too specific. Consider what you want from your students each day and put that in your rules. As for me, I chose three things that I want every student in my class to do, rather than not do. I wanted to project a feeling of positivity. Then, I simply stated that whatever the school-wide rules are, then they are in effect. You can't get simpler than that.
- Be on time! You must be in your seat and ready to work when the bell rings.
- Be respectful! Show respect to everyone and everything.
- Be prepared! Bring daily-required materials to class every day.
- All other school rules and policies are in effect.
So what happens if a student breaks a rule?
On my syllabus I simply state, "If you choose to break a rule.." Notice I put the word "choose" in there. Make it clear to students that whatever consequences they get from breaking a rule, it was their choice to do so. That puts the responsibility on them. It's a psychological thing, really.
If students break a rule, they must give you their time. One thing kids hate to do is sit in the classroom any longer than they have to. I've always felt that a little detention works wonders. Believe me, when the bell rings at 3:00 p.m., the last things students want to do is stay in class!
So, here are the consequences:
IF YOU CHOOSE TO BREAK A RULE:
- 1st Offense: Verbal warning.
- 2nd Offense: 15 minutes detention
- 3rd Offense: 30 minutes detention & parental notification.
- 4th Offense: Automatic referral to Mr./Mrs. Principal
The last part of the syllabus is where the signing takes place. Students take the syllabus home and read it with their parents or guardians. Everyone signs the syllabus and parents can make comments or ask questions in the space provided. Their contact information is required as well.
During the first week of school, I collect the syllabi and keep the signed portions for my records. Students get the rest of the syllabus back to them and they are required to put it in their binder. There it must stay at the front of the binder during the entire length of the course!
Please cut along the dotted line & return bottom portion to Mr./Mrs. ______ by (include a date, usually the friday of the first week of school).
I have read and understand the guidelines and procedures for Mr./Mrs. ____’s ____ class and have shared them with my parents.
Thank-you! I look forward to working with you and your child this year! (always end on a positive note)
Parent comments, questions, ideas and/or concerns:
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