How Do I Get Started in Creating a Syllabus?

How Do I Get Started in Creating a Syllabus?

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A well-designed, detailed syllabus serves as a roadmap of the course for both instructor and student and decreases a number of problems that may arise. On the institutional level, the syllabus provides pertinent information about your course to your colleagues and department. At UMass, all instructors are also required to provide a copy of their course syllabi to their departments each semester. The creation of a syllabus can also aid you in the design and development of your course. A well-prepared course syllabus also shows students that you take your teaching seriously and that you care about their learning. 


Syllabus Template Resources 

  • Adopt/Adapt a syllabus template. The Center for Teaching & Learning provides instructors with a syllabus template, which you can adopt and adapt for your own course.  The template has a suggested format as well as the required syllabus components and suggested grading scales for undergraduate and graduate courses set by the UMass Faculty Senate. These required syllabus components include: 

    • Course objectives 
    • Expectations and requirements such as papers, lab reports or exams 
    • Attendance policies 
    • Grading criteria and the approximate weight of each course requirement in the final grade 
    • Examination schedule and any make-up or rescheduling policies 
    • Required syllabi statements on academic honesty, accommodation, and Title IX
    • Office, phone and mailbox numbers
  • Use an existing sample syllabus.  Academic departments generally have a copy of course descriptions available for instructors. In many instances, your departmental colleagues have reached a consensus on course description, rationale, and objectives for all courses, and these have been approved by the relevant curriculum committee.  Some departments may have the other instructors’ syllabi they could share with you, or you may find it helpful to reach out to your colleagues to see if they would share their course syllabus.  An existing syllabus can be a good way to get started. 

Best Practices for Developing the Syllabus 

  • Start with the course goals/description. Your syllabus should describe and the broad learning outcomes, concepts, and skills obtained as a result of the course; these items are expressed in general terms. One strategy to write these goals and description is to answer the following questions: One year from now, what would you hope the student would say about what he/she took away from your course? What purpose does this course and its material serve? What discipline-specific objectives and/or larger metacognitive goals will the students achieve?  Are there prerequisites (prior knowledge) students should have to take this course?  

  • Identify your course objectives (learning outcomes). Identify specific student performance and behaviors that demonstrate students are achieving the major goals set out for the course. They are brief, clear, precise statements of learning outcomes that flow from the goals. The course objectives statements will be used to develop assignments, course structures, activities, and assessments for the instruction. 

  • The course objectives:  
    • begin with an action verb. Use these action verbs to describe learning objectives and measurable outcomes. 

    • specifically state the expectations of observable student performance as a result of the course. 

Graph of Bloom’s Taxonomy Cognitive DomainUse the Bloom’s Taxonomy Cognitive Domain to articulate the different levels of learning outcomes:  

  • Remembering: The ability to remember and reproduce previously learned material. 

  • Understanding: The ability to grasp the meaning of material and restate it in one’s own words. 

  • Appling: The ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations. 

  • Analyzing: The ability to break down material into its component parts so as to understand its organizational structure. 

  • Evaluating: The ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose. 

  • Creating: The ability to put pieces of material together to form a new whole. 

  • Build assessments and assignments based on your course objectives.  Clearly articulate the specific skills and knowledge you want to see students demonstrate for each assignment and check your alignment between your assignments, assessment and what you teach and the course objectives. Share or co-construct assignment criteria (e.g., checklist or rubrics), before students start to work on assignments. Consider mixing summative assessments (e.g., papers, projects, exams, etc.) with formative assessments (e.g., weekly quizzes, in class clicker questions, minute papers, etc.) in your class to give students different learning opportunities and ways to apply, practice and demonstrate what they learned in your course. 

  • Identify designate learning materials, equipment, supplemental readings.  Specify the required or supplemental text (title, author, date, publisher), availability (e.g., eCampus, Open Education Resources); how they will be used in class, and the cost. 

  • Provide a course schedule. Provide a course schedule that includes the topics, assigned readings, homework and the dates for major assignments or exams.   

  • State your grading criteria and grade computation. Specify the grading criteria for each method you will use to grade students, and the value of each graded item in the course.   

  • Explain your course policies. Clearly and explicitly state your attendance policies, assignments due dates, late submission policies, make-up exams, technology use in the classroom, etc. 

  • Include the Academic Honesty, Accommodation and Title IX Statements. All syllabi for course submitted for approval via the Course and Curriculum Management System should include the policies approved by Faculty Senate

  • List the additional resources on the campus.   Many college students are not aware of the resources available on campus for preparing them for learning, effective writing and studying skills, for finding a math tutor, for health, physical, emotional and mental support, or for a career and for student activities. Here are a few campus resources you could consider including in your syllabus:  


Hands holding a lightbulb

Beyond laying out the content and structure of a course, a well-designed inclusive syllabus offers a pathway of learning through your course, providing signposts for students about what they will learn and do and what they need to know to succeed in the course. 

How Do I Write a Good and Inclusive Syllabus?

This page covers the six principles of an inclusive syllabus design: learning-focused, essential questions, UDL connections, inclusive & motivating language, supportive course policies, and accessible design.

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Incorporating the right mix of in-class and out-of-class activities can support students’ cognitive and social needs.