How to Write a Syllabus from Start to Finish
What is a Syllabus and why is it important?
A syllabus is a document you give students during the first week of class, setting the class's tone.
A syllabus guides students through the expectations and policies of your course and gives your students confidence that you are serious about what you do and that your class is well organized.
I would highly recommend a syllabus for any course that you teach especially if you teach at the high school or college level, although syllabi can be useful in middle school as well. Of course, the level of detail required for each subject or grade level will be different and should be tweaked based on your group of students but here’s why I think a well-designed syllabus is important:
A syllabus tells your students (as well as administrators) that you take your teaching seriously and you care about their learning and success
It provides students with an immediate idea of what topics will be covered what assignments they will be required to complete and how their work will be evaluated, this information may help students better manage their time around your course.
Students are more likely to come prepared for class if they have access to the topics, assignments, and reading requirements beforehand.
Provides pertinent information about your course to your department and administrators
If the idea of creating a syllabus from scratch stresses you out you can get my ready-made syllabus template here.
How do you Create a syllabus?
As mentioned, depending on your school or department, the course or grade level you teach the amount of detail in your syllabus may vary, but the four main parts of any syllabus are:
Instructor and Course Information
In the following sections, I will describe the steps I follow to create my syllabi. Since I teach chemistry the examples I will use will be relevant to that subject, however, you can follow these steps for any subject that you teach.
What Should you Include in your Syllabus?
1. Instructor and Course Information
In this section you should include all basic information about your course this includes, but is not limited to:
Your name and credentials
Information on how students can reach you and the hours that you are available for meeting with students
The course title and code (where applicable)
You should also include the course format, i.e. whether the instruction will be face-to-face, online or blended.
Time of school year e.g 1st quarter or Fall semester
2. Course Description
In this section, you will give an overview and scope of the course and describe its relevance and applicability. Your course goal should highlight what you hope students will gain by the end of the semester/term/quarter. The course description can be a short paragraph of about 5-6 lines.
For a general chemistry course the course description can be:
Introduction to the general principles of chemistry for students planning a professional career in chemistry, a related science, the health professions, or engineering. By completing this course students will investigate chemical reactions and processes and explain and predict events at the atomic and molecular levels.
In this section, you should also list any prerequisites that are required or recommended for student success in your class.
3. Learning Outcomes/ Course Objectives
The learning outcomes or learning objectives are more specific that the course description and describe exactly what students should be able to do at the end of the entire course. The learning outcomes should be measurable and should include action verbs as well as should also reference the content. It can be useful to utilize verbs from Bloom’s taxonomy when writing your course objectives.
Example of course objectives using action verb:
Distinguish among the three states of matter
Apply suitable separation techniques based on differences in properties of the components of mixtures
Describe the structure of the atom
Predict the likelihood of an atom forming an ionic or a covalent bond based on atomic structure
Perform calculations involving the mole
Write and Balance chemical equations
4. Required material
Provide students with the name, author, year, and edition of all required textbooks and coursebooks
Include a list of material that is not common to other classes for example calculators, graph paper, lab coats, safety goggles, etc.
You should also include a list of relevant websites and other support material here as well.
5. Course Schedule
In this section of the syllabus, you will outline what is happening each week in class. You should have your curriculum map/ pacing guide on hand when putting together this section and make adjustments accordingly.
Your Course schedule should highlight significant due dates for projects, homework, readings, and lab reports and dates for final exams, class quizzes, and other summative assessments. You should also include any field trips and school holidays on your schedule.
It can also be a good idea to include the disclaimer that the schedule is subject to change. It would be best not to make too many changes to your schedule, so your course schedule should be well planned before passing it along to students. Just ensure that any changes should be communicated to students as soon as possible.
Briefly list and describe each of the major assignments outlined in the course schedule. This would include the format of the assignment e.g. lab report, essay, presentation worksheet, etc. and this can also describe the grading criteria e.g the total number of marks for the assignment.
6. Course Policies
In this section, you should include policies pertaining to student attendance, deadlines, late work policy, grading, academic integrity, etc. It is important to highlight any policies that may differ from your school’s policies.
For example, some teachers may allow the use of cell phones during class time but you may prefer not to, some teachers may allow food and drink (within reason) but others may think this is too much of a distraction. Whatever your policy for your classroom it is essential that you:
Give a purpose for each policy
Explicitly state the penalties for the violation if there are any
Click on the image to see some classroom policies in my sample syllabus for an introduction to chemistry course.
What should you do before Sending your completed syllabus to students?
Get Your Syllabus Approved
It is important to have your syllabus revised by your department head or administrator. This is important for two main reasons:
Ensure that your course policies align with general school policies and in cases, where they do not the administration or the school board, can approve them.
For example, in some schools, you are not allowed to assign points for attendance, and in some schools, you are not allowed to give students zero for any assignment.
It acts as a way to protect yourself in the event a student or parent launches a complaint or wishes to dispute a grade or a penalty that you have implemented, you can point them in the direction of the syllabus without too much contention.
I also include a sort of contract at the end which I have students sign and return to me by the end of the first week of school which indicates that they have read and understand and agree to the course policies.
Go through the syllabus with your class
No matter how clearly and succinctly you believe you have designed your syllabus, some students will still have questions and misunderstandings.
You should use your first lesson to go through the syllabus with students and answer
any questions that they may have. It is also an opportunity to elaborate on some course policies such as plagiarism and your late work policy.
I usually do this using a PowerPoint presentation where I simply copy and paste the key ideas from my syllabus onto the slides.
Now you are ready to create a detailed and high quality for your next course. In case you do not wish to start from scratch you can get my syllabus template, which includes, the student contract, and editable PowerPoint as well as a sample syllabus from my TPT store.