Based Second Language Instruction

Content-based second language instruction (CBI) grew out of a response against curriculum built around grammar points. In CBI, the curriculum is built around a topic, theme, or subject area. Students learn another language via subject matter. CBI proponents believe that students are more likely to learn authentic and communicative language if they learn via content than if they just learn a set of grammar rules. In addition, students are more apt to be interested in language if it is contextualized and thus will learn it better. CBI has used a number of models, the three most common being a theme-based approach, sheltered classes, and adjunct classes (described below).

 Strategy of Based Second Language Instruction
English Skill Level: All
Grade Level: All

Because content-based instruction is a broad approach, there are a number of strategies that can be
used. One is the theme-based model. In this model:

  • A topic or theme is chosen that will be of interest and relevance to the whole class.
  • Activities then focus around the theme. For example, if the topic is the moon, the students might read both fiction and nonfiction literature about the moon; watch a video about it; practice numbers, distances, and measurements of it; learn about and use telescopes; study the history of moon exploration; learn about the phases of the moon; and study tidal activity on the earth.
  • Depending on the length of the unit, students might do only a few or several different activities and exercises related to the topic of the moon.
  • In addition to learning the content, students would also be taught the vocabulary and language structure that are compatible with such a topic.
  • Students practice writing and speaking in the target language about the topic.
Applications and Examples of Based Second Language Instruction

Following are some theme-based lessons.
Body Language

  • The teacher asks the students if they know what the term “body language” means.
  • After discussing the definition, students are shown pictures of various gestures. They are asked, “What do these mean in your culture?” They are also asked what they think they mean in the United States. Students are asked for other examples.
  • Students read an article about body language.
  • After reading the article, students answer questions about the article and discuss whether body language has ever caused them difficulties.
  • Students review vocabulary learned so far.
  • Students review or are taught how to make the imperative (call a waiter, show you are hungry, tell someone you don’t understand). Students are put into groups and think of situations in which members of the class might use body language. Students tell other students to use body language in certain situations.
  • In groups, students compare how gestures in certain cultures can have different meanings.
  • Students review or learn expressions of comparison such as “similar to,” “different from,” and “the same as.”
  • Student groups present to the class some of the differences and similarities they have learned.
  • Students look back at the reading, and review some of the structures and vocabulary in the reading.
  • Students are assigned to write the first draft of a paper comparing body language between two cultures such as their own and the culture of the country they are visiting or to which they have moved.

Introduction to Psychology

  • Students are given an advice column to read.
  • Students are asked what they think of the problem in the advice column. Would they give the same advice? If not, what advice would they give? Do they think a psychologist would give the same advice? If not, what kind of advice might a psychologist give?
  • Students are asked to look for modals (can, should, must, had to, etc.) in the advice column.
  • Students are put into groups and asked to come up with a problem. They then ask the other groups for advice. Answers must be given using modals.
  • Students are given a longer passage from an introductory psychology book on the topic of frustration. Students preview the article by looking at the pictures, charts, and subheadings. Students read the article at home.
  • The next class period, students are asked if they have any questions about the article, including parts they did not understand.
  • Students are given activities to do that relate to the reading such as discussion questions, vocabulary questions, comprehension questions, outlining, and filling in graphic organizers.
  • In addition, students may view a video related to the topic. Students may take notes during the video and compare their notes with other class members.
  • Students are assigned to write about the topic of a frustrating experience they have had and what they did in reaction to that experience. To prepare for this writing assignment, students are put into groups to share stories of frustration with each other.
  • Students may also be given a test or quiz about the material they learned in class.

Submitted by Kelly Moen, Luther College education student

  • The teacher shows the students a picture of an apple orchard. The teacher also shows realia such as apples, apple seeds, and baskets. The teacher asks students what they know about apples and apple orchards:

a. What do you see in the picture?
b. Have you ever picked apples before?
c. How would you pick apples at the top of the tree?
d. Are the trees in this picture very young or several years old?

  • The teacher introduces students to planting and growing procedures. The teacher presents a chart to the class showing the stages of growth of a plant.
  • Students plant their own apple seeds.
  • Students are taken on a field trip to an apple orchard.
  • Students learn about the nutritional value of apples.
  • Students learn to read a recipe by making a treat from apples in class. For example, they might make apples dipped in caramel or apples with peanut butter.
  • Students write about what they have learned about apples.
Strengths of Based Second Language Instruction
  • Students are learning authentic language that is relevant to their needs.
Weaknesses of Based Second Language Instruction
  • Language teachers may not know enough about the content.
  • Adjunct classes may take a lot of extra time that teachers do not have