Popular approaches to curriculum development.

Now an incredibly rapidly expanding field, English Language Teaching has come a long way since the 18th century when the first language approaches and methods were devised and tested. Fortunately, gone are the days where the language teacher would stand in front of the classroom reciting rules for students to copy in their notebooks, or demanding students to repeat endless drills without any type of context. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the most popular TEFL approaches used in curriculum development in recent times. 

Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) 

Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) is an approach to teaching a second or foreign language within the primary and secondary school system where one or more subject matters are taught in that language.1 For example, pupils at a secondary school using a CLIL curriculum in Spain would be taught history and geography entirely in English, offering them an engaging context through which can they learn English in a meaningful way. Rather than focusing on grammar, language forms and exercises in an isolated way, the main focus is the content of the course, but it’s all presented in English. This creates an excellent opportunity to expose learners to authentic information and language, greatly increasing their vocabulary whilst also working on their written and spoken English communication skills, as the classes are usually conducted entirely in English, and so is all of the coursework. CLIL originated in Europe in the 1990s, and TEFL curriculums guided by the CLIL approach are now being taught at schools worldwide, often reporting a high rate of success. 

The communicative language approach 

The communicative language approach (CLT) is based on the notion that language acquisition within the classroom occurs when students’ communicative competence is being actively developed. This is the set of principles that generally guide the development of a curriculum using CLT2

  1. Language and materials presented to the students should be authentic, with an emphasis on meaning. 
  2. Class activities should aim for a balance between fluency and accuracy.
  3. Productive (speaking, writing) as well as receptive (listening, reading) skills should be developed.
  4. Language forms are explained as part of the class but should always be presented within context.
  5. English should be used in the classroom by both teacher and learners as much as possible.
  6. The learning process should be active and collaborative. 

Of the three approaches described here, CLT is perhaps the least specific, which leaves a large degree of flexibility, but also responsibility, with teachers implementing a curriculum with the CLT approach in mind. 

The project-based learning approach

The project-based learning approach (PBL) is a learner-centred approach that presents content in a series of projects where learners have to actively work towards completing a specific final product.3 A curriculum developed after this approach might be entirely or partially dedicated to these projects, depending on the requirements and preference of the school or language centre. This is the set of elements that is common to project-based learning activities:

  1. A defined, central topic the activities all revolve around with a clear final goal.
  2. Access and time to find the information necessary to complete the tasks of the project, usually including the Internet.
  3. Collaborative work where students communicate without intervention from the teacher. This is an absolutely essential part of the approach.
  4. A final product to be created by the students, usually presented to the rest of the class, which could also be completely digital.

What sets the PBL approach apart from the other two discussed previously, as well as many others, is the role of the teacher. In PBL, the teacher is to monitor and facilitate the projects, set up communication frameworks, and ensure the students have access to relevant information sources. They will offer support with certain minor language issues that come up during the process, but only when asked for help, not by willfully interrupting the learning process. 


Our above introduction of three popular approaches used in TEFL curriculum development should have given you plenty of food for thought, guidance and hopefully, a dose of inspiration too. Finally, every teaching context is different, so any of the approaches will need to be adapted to the context where the curriculum will be taught. Variety is the spice of life, and also the reality of teaching!

1 https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/content-language-integrated-learning-clil
2 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/language-teaching/article/an-analysis-of-three-curriculum-approaches-to-teaching-english-in-publicsector-schools/9EBD3FFCC48373BB8D0F45D9686D3534
3 https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/tbl-pbl-two-learner-centred-approaches