How to Build Your Own Teaching English for Academic Purposes Course

If you’ve been an English teacher for some time, you’ve probably noticed one thing: students always go into a frenzy at the start of 12th grade.

But why?

Probably a little bit of hormones, but mostly it’s because they’re trying to complete applications for English-speaking universities abroad.

Should be easy enough, right?

Guess again! International students have it rough. In addition to the general application and basic information they need to provide, most ESL students have to prepare an academic essay in English. And it doesn’t just have to be grammatically correct, it needs to be a compelling personal statement!

And it’s not just high school students! Adults of all ages struggle to transition into English universities. It can be intimidating to navigate a new language and cultureFor this reason, I always make myself available to help students prepare their applications, as well as help them prepare for the academic rigor of university life. After all, it’s part of my job as a teacher to help students reach their higher education goals.

Many students learn English in order to participate in the world of academia, business and science, where the lingua franca is English. For this reason, it’s important to cover English for Academic Purposes (EAP) with college-bound students so that they’re ready to hit the ground running.

And if this is an entirely new concept for you, you’re in luck. Because, today we’re going to look at how to build an EAP syllabus from the ground up.

How to Build Your Own Teaching English for Academic Purposes Course

When students learn EAP, they’re studying the language we use in college and university courses across the English-speaking world. EAP courses teach them how to write successful academic essays and research papers, decipher academic jargon and give compelling presentations. 

Moreover, EAP is becoming increasingly popular thanks to globalization. Students aren’t just looking to communicate in English anymore. They also want to use it to help them further careers. After all, English is the leading language for research, international conferences and academic journals.

In order to prepare your students for a life in college or university, you’ll need to devote a significant amount of time teaching them academic English. Keep in mind, this isn’t a one or two lesson undertaking. It takes a lot of organization and time to teach EAP effectively. Typically, an EAP curriculum is comprised of several lessons, and is often tailored to the students’ needs.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at what you need to build a successful EAP program.

Courses and Resources for EAP Training and Teaching

As you already know, EAP is an extensive field that requires a lot of preparation on your part. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you plan your EAP curriculum so that you give your students the hands-on assistance they need to flourish in academia and the professional world.

Here are some of my favorite resources for teaching English for Academic Purposes.

EAP Books

EAP Training Courses

Think you need some additional training in EAP? Good news. There are several courses and training programs available. Two of my favorite courses are:

  • BALEAP: This company is one of the premier companies that provides EAP teacher training. It offers several short, intensive teacher training courses in the field, offered at various locations around the United Kingdom.

Use Authentic Materials

The key to helping students learn English for Academic Purposes is to provide them with plenty authentic materials, like textbooks for English speakers and advanced articles in magazines like “The Wall Street Journal,” “The Economist” and “Discover Magazine.”

Building an Effective EAP Syllabus

Once you’ve gathered your resources and you’re ready to go, it’s time to build a comprehensive syllabus for teaching English for Academic Purposes. That is, of course, unless you’re working with a language school that already has a program in place. Otherwise, you’ll need to think about some of the common areas covered in EAP.

Good news. The following is a general syllabus of topics to cover in your EAP lessons. Feel free to tailor it to fit your students’ needs and expectations.

Unit 1: Different Structures of University

As you probably already know, academic institutes vary from country to country. Even in the English-speaking world, there are several differences within higher education systems. Take time to explore the various systems, compare and contrast what students can expect at different institutes.

  • The American University System: American institutes of higher education are divided into the following categories: college, technical school and university. Each one is a little different. Moreover, education can be anywhere from two years for an associate degree to four years for a bachelor’s degree. Master’s degrees can take anywhere from one year to three years depending on the subject matter, and doctorates can last as long as seven years.
  • The Canadian System: The Canadian university system is very similar to the United States. However, they have three academic semesters per year. They have both technical and community colleges, as well as larger, more diversified universities that specialize in liberal arts and STEM research.
  • The Australian System: In Australia, there are a total of 43 universities. This number includes private, public and international institutions. In general, the course of study is almost always three years and the structure of courses is based on the British system of education. Some institutions will allow you to seek honors by taking a fourth year.
  • The British System: Unlike the United States, there is a major difference between colleges and universities in the United Kingdom. Colleges are educational institutes that prepare students who wish to seek an undergraduate degree from a university—think of them as prep schools. Once students enroll in a university, it typically takes them three years to complete an undergraduate degree. Masters can either be one year or two years, while doctorates often take three years.

Unit 2: Student Life

Student life experiences will vary depending on where students choose to study. It’s important that students think about how the way of life and culture may be different from that of their home country.

What can students expect in dorms in the United States versus in Australia?

In the United States, students may live on or off campus—and most choose to live on campus, at least for the first year. However, in Australia it is more common for students to live off campus.

Other differences include study habits; for example, in the United States, students should expect a lot of projects, papers, assignments and group work throughout the semester. In the United Kingdom, however, students have a little more freedom during the semester as exams and presentations come at the end of the year. This means that students in the United Kingdom are left to their own devices to balance their academic and social lives, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on the student!

Unit 3: Life Outside the Classroom

While studying abroad or working in English-speaking academia, students need the skills to help themselves after they’ve left the walls of your classroom. Make sure your students are competent in using the dictionary and thesaurus, including how to look up the root of a word, how to recognize and check prefixes and suffixes, as well as using contextual clues to determine the meaning of a word. Make sure to help them also learn how to elevate their writing with the use of synonyms.

Another important skill for EAP students to master is recognizing common English pronunciations.

They will often come across words while reading and studying that they don’t know.

Being able to take an educated guess at how the word is pronounced will help them to succeed in comprehension and integrate new words into their vocabulary. Go over the phonetic alphabet with them, so if they need to look up a word in the dictionary they can easily pronounce it. You may also want to spend some time reviewing prefixes and suffixes.

Unit 4: Grammar and Academic Grammar Norms

This unit should consist of several lessons depending on the level of your students. In some cases, you may need to focus on basic grammar, teaching or reviewing the main verb tenses; however, if your students’ foundation in grammar is strong, you can start with more specific academic grammar norms.

Use real-world materials, such as academic articles and papers, to showcase common grammar structures in academia, like the passive voice versus the active voice.

Remember, the passive voice is used in scientific studies, whereas the active voice is preferred in most arts and humanities subjects. This type of close reading of academic work will also help students become more familiar with the tone and style of academic writing.

Unit 5: Listening Comprehension


Students planning to study abroad must hone their listening comprehension skills. Listening to an ESL teacher speak is quite different than sitting in a lecture hall full of native-English speaking students listening to a professor summarize Plato’s theories.

Have students listen to various lectures, checking their comprehension with pointed questions. TED Talks can be a useful tool for this type of exercise, or you can take advantage of OpenCulture’s curated list of free video lectures from some of the world’s top universities. 

Unit 6: Note-taking Skills

Note-taking is a practical skill all EAP learners must master. Not all university lecturers allow students to record their classes, so being able to take notes while listening to presentations is essential.

Give students ample time to experiment and figure out how they can best keep notes for themselves. Maybe they want to translate into their own language as they go, or perhaps, they like to use an English shorthand.

A great way to practice this is to give a short lecture and ask students to keep notes. At the end of the lecture, ask comprehension questions about specific numbers and facts you used in the lecture. Can the students accurately summarize and recall the information?

Unit 7: Public Speaking and Presentations

Giving presentations is one of the most common assignments at university. English language students need to be prepared to speak in front of audiences. For EAP students, you should outline the proper way to structure an oral presentation and advise on how to use and incorporate PPTs and other visual aids.

You might also want to encourage them to use note cards to keep themselves on track. This is great for helping the speaker stay organized, which is especially important for second-language English speakers. For example, if a student has trouble with one particular word that they need to use in their speech or presentation, they can write it on a note card phonetically for reference.

Also, make sure you give students a chance to practice giving speeches and presentations on their own.

Unit 8: Academic Writing

Writing is an important component of academia. Before studying abroad or continuing their education at a higher level in English, students need to be able to successfully design a thesis statement, outline an essay and write it.


Depending on the subject students plan on studying, you may wish to instruct them on writing a persuasive essay or research paper.

There are several resources online that can help you identify the key points of teaching academic writing, like the International Student’s “General Essay Writing Tips,” which explores the basic concepts and practices of essay writing.

Unit 9: Plagiarism (References, Paraphrasing and the Bibliography)

It’s imperative for students to become familiar with the plagiarism rules and regulations of the country they plan to study in. For example, in the United States, the consequences for plagiarism, even if it’s unintentional, are severe.


Teach the students how to properly reference the work of other people in their own essays and papers. Review how to create a bibliography. There are several resources online that provide guidelines and even allow you to cite papers, like EasyBib. However you decide to go over plagiarism, make sure that you properly inform your students so they don’t make any inadvertent mistakes when studying abroad.

Preparing Your Students for International Success

English for Academic Purposes is a comprehensive field that covers a lot of topics. This syllabus is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a great place to start when building a course that prepares your learners for life abroad. That way, you’ll be able to give your students the confidence and proficiency needed to succeed in academia and the professional world.

Your students will be forever grateful!

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