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Syllabus Sequencing Strategies

Sequencing is one of the major concerns when designing a daily course syllabus. With what reading should you begin? Is it a good idea to start with the most challenging material to help "weed out" the less serious students? Or, do you begin with more introductory or accessible material, in the hopes of building upon those concepts later? Should the entire course be built around a central theme or idea? How might one week's reading selection connect to the next?

The ideas presented in this section address many of these key questions. One thing that most instructors agree upon is that in daily syllabus design, a conscious and deliberate sequencing strategy is a useful tool. Linking or building between reading assignments, critical terms, genres, and cultures can be a helpful way to stimulate critical thinking, and to allow students the chance to see literature as a way of understanding the connections between cultures, ideas, critical approaches, and analysis strategies.

Many instructors use course goals as a helpful guide for sequencing the daily syllabus. Once you know what you‘d like students to gain from the class as a whole, it then becomes easier to begin the process of sequencing reading assignments, papers and activities to help achieve those goals.

There are, of course, many ways to accomplish this sequencing. Several of the most common approaches are outlined below:

  1. Chronological, by date of publication
  2. By theme or issue
  3. By genre
  4. Linking readings by culture, country, or community
  5. Linking readings based on technique or style
  6. Linking readings based on shared critical terms or approaches
  7. By degree of difficulty, beginning with the simplest and most accessible text
  8. By degree of difficulty, beginning with the most challenging texts or assignments
  9. Combined approaches

Of all of the approaches to daily syllabus sequencing, the combined approach is perhaps the most common. Many instructors choose a hybrid approach that allows readings to be grouped together in "units" or pairs. For example, one set of pre-midterm readings might be grouped together to address feminist concerns, while the post-midterm readings might work together to address Marxist concerns. Another common strategy is to shape the entire course around one main thematic focus (identity, Colonialism, freedom, etc). From there, though, the individual readings might follow a sequence that is chronological, genre-based, culture-based, driven by style or critical approach, etc.

The following links discuss specific sequencing approaches in more detail: