The STEP Curriculum
Designed over seven years at the American Embassy School, New Delhi — with support from the US Embassy in India and a published English as an Additional Language (EAL) educator — this curriculum is intended as a supplementary education guide for volunteers teaching academic and professional English skills to high-school aged students. Our goal is that any volunteer with a passion for English education can use this curriculum to help their students achieve the academic or professional success of which they dream, thereby bridging an ever-increasing socio-economic gap in New Delhi.
This curriculum was presented at the Teachers of English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL) conference, the largest international conference for EAL education.
Our curriculum is different from almost any other English-langauge curriculum. We apply Western pedagogy to students’ context as English learners, using various social studies topics as a means through which students develop language skills. While incorporating this Western approach, the curriculum is designed to be specific to India, including social studies topics that are relevant to students’ lives (this is intended to supplement the existing CBSE instruction). We are one of the only language programs that incorporates and adapts tried-and-tested Western techniques in a non-Western setting.
The curriculum is designed to be straightforward and accessible; it can be taught by anyone who is themselves fluent in English. Our vision is that this program can be used by motivated individuals –– who need not have formal teaching degrees –– to help spread English education throughout India.
This curriculum is designed for intermediate and upper-intermediate English-langauge learners; an informal, and thus, limited, way to assess this requirement is whether the student can hold an informal, short conversation in English. We elucidate this requirement in the Prior Learning section. The idea is that students will use this curriculum to master the language and improve their writing, reading, speaking, and listening skills to a point where they are comfortable and confident in their abilities.
As mentioned, this curriculum is intended for volunteers –– not formal teachers. While teachers who are familiar with English language education will find this structure useful, our goal is that anyone who is fluent in English and dedicated to sharing that gift could have a framework to teach advanced English. Using this curriculum, we hope that every volunteer is empowered to become the best teachers of English to students of other language backgrounds (TESOL).
When we have used this curriculum internally, we have divided the course over a three-year period. On the whole, the curriculum is designed to take 150 hours to complete, with the first part requiring sixty hours, the second half requiring eighty, and ten hours being reserved for final assessments.
Though there are many skills students develop in the course, they are broadly related to the following eight goals in each of the major areas of learning. Literacy is naturally emphasized as the primary scope of the course.
When teaching at this level, we have found it best to combine speaking and listening lessons through modules such as socratic seminars, debates, and interviews. In developing our speaking standards, we have paid special attention to the WIDA goals for English speaking. It is hard to extricate these two skills for most learners; therefore, our program has twenty-four standards over the general areas of speaking, writing, and reading.
When it comes to learning a new language, there are three areas in which students must develop skills: grammar, vocabulary, and language skills. The focus of this curriculum is on language skills, as the Sequence and language standards are built around a framework that emphasizes proficiency in speaking and listening, writing, and reading. That being said, we have made conscious efforts to include all three language areas in the curriculum.
When teaching this program, we recommend employing a direct-natural or communicative methodology. What this means in practice is that few lessons emphasize formal structures or grammar rules; instead, the focus is on acquiring language to be successful communicators.
At this point, students will already have a vocabulary base with which they are comfortable (500 to 1000 words). This means they have likely been exposed to common words in the English language and are already familiar with many determiners, prepositions, exclamations, and pronouns. Your job is to help them build this vocabulary toolkit by introducing them to more complex nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, etc.
The language skills are the heart of the curriculum as the language standards. There are six categories: general speaking and listening, writing, and reading, and analytical speaking and listening, writing, and reading. Every topic in the Sequence is built around a specific set of sub-standards that help learners progressively produce language at higher levels.
Scope & Sequence
The Curriculum has two main documents that provide the information and content for the topics and language standards.
Information on the learning goals of the program and how they can be used
A detailed structure of sequential topics that can easily be used to plan lessons, dividing the course into general and analytical sections
General and Analytical
The Curriculum is split into General and Analytical sections that are organized as follows:
More basic informative reading/writing/speaking skills:
- Sentence structure
Argumentative and persuasive reading/writing/speaking skills:
- Authorial Intent
- Compare and contrast
- Essay composition
- Theses and themes
The Humanities Topics
At this level, each and every class must have a topic. That is to say, it is not enough just to deliver a grammar, comprehension, or speaking lesson; teachers must orient their lesson around a subject that is relevant to their students. For this reason, we have structured our curriculum around eight humanities topics that we have found students find engaging. This is especially important to organize the teaching of vocabulary, a critical component of the students’ language development. Thus, each of these topics is highly specific to India and useful for students in their every-day lives. The topics are as follows:
Picture a DNA helix or an upward winding staircase. Much in the same, we envision students moving up a winding series of standards towards their eventual goal of English proficiency. For a student to successfully learn the language, they must be given a framework that builds-off skills they learn sequentially and allows for constant reinforcement.
We call this approach spiralling, and it is the most important philosophy we have employed in this program. Students develop their language skills by going through the sub-standards, each of which “spirals” or “builds-off” previous skills covered under the same language standard area. Humanities content develops through four strands that run through the curriculum — cultural exploration, communication, science, and public affairs — that ensures students learn content in the analytical part of the course that reinforces content they studied in the general section. In this way, we guarantee that students learn material in a comfortable way while reinforcing prior learnings.
i + 1
The i + 1 theory is a simple idea for English learning. The variable i represents the learner and their current level of English; the “+1” denotes how many new skills they are going to learn in each lesson: one. The idea is that you do not challenge the student beyond what is reasonable, and you help them consolidate what they’ve learned by giving them one idea on which to focus. We’ve integrated the i + 1 pedagogy throughout our program. The Sequence delineates an order for lessons that ensures that each lesson only introduces students to one idea at a time, and you as teachers can be mindful to ensure you do not overexert your students in class.
Rice theory describes our approach to humanities. Rice is something universal - something that every individual of any nationality understands. This is like our key understandings component of the textbook; it is a set of universal ideas. Yet, each region has its own flavor of rice; this is like our connections section, a specific take on the key understanding that makes it relevant for the student given context.
Adapting the Curriculum
Often, the hardest challenge facing a TESOL educator is how to structure their program. That is the problem this curriculum resolves; it provides a strong, successful structure that any volunteer can use. What it does not do is provide detailed or specific lessons. That component of the English program is left for the teacher to form as they see best for their students.
In this curriculum, there is a Scope and Sequence. The Scope provides information on how the course was designed, what standards it covers, and how the class can be taught. The Sequence is a detailed document that provides a lesson-planning structure to use for classes.