Elements of a Syllabus

Most universities and colleges have requirements of some kind for what should be in a syllabus. Some even require faculty to use a certain format. Before writing yours, inquire as to the requirements of your institution. Generally, the following elements are contained in most syllabi. Keep in mind that the syllabus is a contract between you and your students.

Top of First Page:

• Instructor name and contact information

• Course Title, number and section

• Time of course (days, quarter), room location

• Prerequisites of the course, if any

Course Learning Outcomes

• Give a clear and brief description of the overall educational outcomes of the course.

• Describe in general terms what the students will be able to do as a result of

having taken the course. Use action verbs for this. (e.g. by learning certain

skills, making presentations, etc.). In other words, by doing certain things,

they will learn to do something that will allow them to achieve the goals of

the course.

Course Description

• Can include general thoughts about the character or “philosophy” of the course. 

• Includes content of the course and a general description of activities/projects.


Course Projects & Activities

•  Major projects/assignments/activities are listed and described, including their purpose and due dates. (If you hand out separate instruction sheets for an assignment, project, or activity, then this section needn’t be too detailed. If not, then include those details here.)

• Briefly describe homework exercises, and activities such as field trips, presentations, working in groups, etc. as appropriate to the course.

Materials and Supplies List

• Include all materials needed for the course (textbooks, art supplies).

• Include costs of materials, if possible. List any supplies provided by you that are paid for from their materials fee. Recommend sources and list prices for these materials, if you wish.

Course Schedule

• Create a schedule of topics/activities for each class session. Include project names and their due dates, homework, critiques, demos, lecture, etc. Note that it is subject to change.


• Clearly describe how the final grade will be determined.

• Clearly describe any policies that might be important to you when  evaluating student performance. These might include how or if students can earn extra credit, any “do-over” policies for exams or assignments, etc.

• Often contains clearly described general grading criteria. This means that you describe what an “A” means, “B”, “C”, etc.

Class Policies (Attendance and Class Participation)

• Describe your attendance policy. When is someone “late” to class? Will there be consequences for coming to class late or leaving class early? Is someone who sleeps during class going to be counted as present?

• Describe classroom rules–what types of things do you allow or not allow in the classroom? Are iPods/cell phones/computers allowed? What will you do if someone is disruptive or sleeping during class? How do you feel about talking during class?

• If you are giving them a class participation grade, explain what will count towards that grade. (Talking in class? Doing homework? Going on field trips? Volunteering? Etc.)

Other Miscellaneous Items:

• A reading list

• A description of technology to be used in the course and why

• Additional expectations or activities not already addressed

• Inspirational jokes, quotes, poems, images, etc.

• Safety information

• Contact info for help with learning disabilities

• Policy on academic honesty

This entry was posted in Creating a Syllabus, Preparing to Teach and tagged , , , , , , , , by Jane Alden Stevens. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jane Alden Stevens

Jane Alden Stevens is a photographer and educator who is Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati. An active artist, Stevens has exhibited and published her work extensively both in the US and abroad. She is the author of “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered” (2004). In the course of her teaching career, Stevens taught courses in film, photography, and professional practices for fine artists. Her interest in teaching practices was deepened when she started teaching the "Graduate Teaching Workshop", a required graduate level course for fine artists and art historians that prepares them to teach the courses they will later be assigned. She was also involved in the Preparing Future Faculty program at the University of Cincinnati, which prepares masters and doctoral students across all programs for teaching at the university level. She has conducted pedagogy workshops for a variety of universities, as well as participated in academic practicum panels at educational conferences. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, Stevens was honored with the all-university Cohen Award for Excellence in University Teaching at the University of Cincinnati in 2002 and Professor of the Year honors in her college in 2011.

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