Criteria of a good needs analysis

By Alex Case

An effective and popular needs analysis:

1. Looks at their needs in many different ways
E.g. analyses the language they need by function (complaining, making polite requests etc.), skill (e.g. more emailing than speaking), genre (minutes, reports, job interviews etc), and formality, and analyses other factors such as the nationality they will be speaking to and their preferred and most hated ways of studying languages.

2. Has a clear purpose
For example, because you have explained before you start needs analysis what you will do with the results or they have been sent an email explaining the process even before that point.

3. Is culturally appropriate
Some examples- the needs analysis: does not make it appear that you are shunning responsibility in cultures where teachers sharing the decision making process could be taken that way; does not ask students to talk about taboo topics; starts with some knowledge of the previous language studies they are likely to have gone through; does not ask them to say things that could seem like boasting if their culture is particularly sensitive to that; takes false modesty or boasting to save face into account when interpreting their answers; allows an easy answer to those who might lose face by saying nothing; or provides lots of language help (e.g. the questions for the interviewer in pairwork needs analysis questionnaires for students who might expect it or will be unhappy making language errors).

4. Fits in with the restrictions you are under
For example, if you have to stick to a syllabus or textbook it is counterproductive to find out that they only want 30% of that stuff, but it might be worth finding out what they want to tackle first and what their preferred learning styles are.

5. Discusses and gives hints for self-study skills
For example, finish the needs analysis with discussion of their previous language studies, what they thought about the methods used and what they think the best ways of learning language are. You can then move onto a general discussion of what methods they can use inside and outside the classroom during the course.

6. Includes a mix of skills
Probably including lots of speaking (e.g. interviewing each other in pairs to find what their use of English and previous experiences have in common), but also listening (e.g. listen to a description of one of the students and try to guess who it is), reading (e.g. decide which of these language learning methods sounds best) and writing (e.g. write up what you have just learnt about the needs of the class as a business report).

7. Is interactive/ fun
Having a variety of skills can help for this, as can having lots of different interactions (pairs, whole class, mingle activities, teams etc). Also make sure that students ask as well as answer questions. You can also add competition (e.g. points for the best questions or most entries on a needs analysis form) or a game element (e.g. find someone who… can speak Spanish/ has read the Financial Times etc as quickly as possible).

8. Can’t crash and burn
For example, the needs analysis activity works even if students are pre-experience, don’t know their needs or have no clear needs. For example, you can allow students to make up some of their answers and have the person who was interviewing them guess which answers were made up at the end of the activity.

9. Links to a language point
Preferably one that they are likely to need, comes up in the syllabus, doesn’t challenge them too much (especially if it is a lesson early in the course, which is usually so for needs analysis) and can be dealt with fairly quickly if the needs analysis and discussion of the syllabus and self-study tips goes on longer than expected. The language point could be grammar (e.g. Present Perfect to talk about your language learning and language use experience), vocabulary (names of different jobs, common collocations with the word “English” etc) or functions (e.g. asking indirect and polite questions or talking about obligations). Choosing which language you want to come up in the needs analysis and whether you want to present it before or after can also help you make sure that you have graded the activity correctly for your students.

10. Works with mixed levels
For example, some students can interview each other with the interview form with minimal prompts (e.g. “Language Learning Experience” and “Present Use of English”), while others can refer to the list of questions on the back of the sheet (e.g. “Have you ever given a presentation in English?”, “How often do you use English in your work or studies?” etc.)

11. Leaves a written record
As one major advantage of doing a needs analysis is that it helps you to plan the rest of the course (another being that they will think about their own needs), you will need to have something written down at the end of the class. If they are interviewing each other in pairs, get them to write what they find out in note form. If the whole class is working together in a syllabus negotiation, pyramid ranking debate etc put it up on the board and make sure you copy it down before wipe it off (or take a photo of it), or write it directly on a poster or an OHP sheet to be referred to in class later in the course.

12. Includes functional language
“It’s your turn to ask me some questions”, “Let’s move onto the next section”, “I’d like to give a presentation about…”, “I’d like to introduce you all to…” etc. The easiest way of getting them to use such language is to put it at the top of whatever worksheets they are using.

13. Is also a level check and diagnostic test
For example, plan the questions so that they have to talk about the past, present and future of their English use and studies to test the grammar of both the person asking the questions and the person answering, or give them some common but difficult business vocabulary like “minutes” and “agenda” to ask each other needs analysis questions about, e.g. “Have you ever received the minutes of a meeting in English?” How well they cope with that language and what mistakes they make can then be put together with the needs analysis results to plan the course.

14. Is an example of the kind of lesson you will be giving them
For example, if pairwork is a major part of your teaching methodology make sure you include it in the first lesson, and if possible during the needs analysis stage.

15. Is flexible
For example, the questions can be changed depending on the students, such as “How important is English for your work/ studies/ daily life/ future?”

Written by Alex Case for September 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • Franklin says:

    I am putting together a needs analysis form for new students in-company, and I found this useful in getting me to think about how I will handle it. I appreciate you providing this article.

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