Creating a Motivational Syllabus

Photo by Morre Christophe on Unsplash

We often think of a syllabus as a contract between teacher and student, or as a place to spell out all the requirements and resources related to the course. But a syllabus can also be used as a motivational tool. It’s a chance to roll out your teacher persona, demonstrate your enthusiasm, and sell the learning.

Consider these questions as you create or revise your syllabus:

Who are you?  Use your syllabus to create a teacher persona that’s positive and enthusiastic (We can do this!).

  • Frame statements positively 
  • Share your excitement about your subject and why it matters. Enthusiasm is contagious! 
  • Share your confidence in your students: This will be challenging, but together we can do it! 

Who are they? Speak directly to your audience (They are people first.)

  • Keep the language simple--avoid jargon 
  • Speak to your students, not about them. (Not X will be learned by students in this course, but You will learn X. We will do Y.) 

What do you want them to do? Write clear instructions that students can follow with confidence.
  • Front-load the subject and verb: We will learn how to use the college library databases instead of Knowledge of college databases will be acquired by students. 
  • Use bullet points! 
  • Let the headings do the talking 
  • Use consistent labeling for easy reading and navigation 
Make them want to do it. Sell the learning! Make it fun--this will be hard work, but it will be really satisfying!

  • Make assignments transparent. Explain how the assignment will help them learn the material, how it will help them in their career. 
  • Let your instructor personality shine through, but don’t be too cute. (Humor can be easily misinterpreted, particularly when you are writing for a culturally diverse audience.) 

Special considerations for Canvas design 

  • Consistent page design = easier navigation and increased student confidence! 
  • Leave some white space. Students won’t read all that text anyway. If you must have them read something text-heavy, put it in a document and label it a reading assignment. 
  • Don’t make text and images compete for attention. Less is more. 
  • Create alt-text descriptions for your images. 
  • When using hyperlinks, place the link last for emphasis. Match the name of the link to what it does. Here’s an example of a descriptive link placed at the end of the sentence for emphasis: For more information, please watch my video on creating an instructor voice that inspires. 

Resources: Hot Text and Yahoo Style Guide                                                                                             


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