BTR-TESOL Unit 6F - Content Based Classes
by Mandi Malaman
Some language classes focus on aspects of language itself—grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc. All activities in such classes provide instruction or practice related to the particular language point that is the focus. The subject matter may change from one exercise (or even one sentence) to the next. This unit will explain a different approach to language instruction that emphasizes content-learning along with language development.
Next month Amanda is going to China to teach at a university. She has been asked to teach a course in Business Writing. She doesn’t speak Chinese, and her students will be business majors who expect to improve their intermediate level English language skills while learning about business also. She wonders how she will teach this course in order to teach both the content (business writing) and language at the same time.
After you have worked through this unit, you will be able to
If you are able understand the ideas presented in this unit, you will be better able to help your students learn content in English while improving their English language skills.
Content-based instruction (CBI) is a very effective way to teach English to your students. It naturally mixes realistic and meaningful content with language teaching. It has been shown that if you teach English by using it in meaningful ways your students will be more interested and successful in their learning. CBI can be used at any level and for any age. However, CBI is not without its challenges. One of the most important things to remember when teaching content and language, at the same time, is that content-based teaching requires a balance between teaching content and developing students’ language skills. It is helpful to look at the following scale.
Focus on Content Focus on Language
(adapted from Met, 1999)
There are different types of CBI that fall on different sides of this line. Some Programs focus 100 % on content and others focus 100 % on language, while others lie somewhere in between. Generally, it is not up to the teacher to decide where ones class might fall on the line, but it is still important to understand that CBI can be used in a number of different settings, skill levels and ages. If you are teaching a content course in English, it would be helpful to ask the institution how much importance should be placed on content and on language. Ask to see if students will be tested on the content for the course, if they are, you probably need to spend a large amount of time on the content. If they are not, maybe you should focus on language. Most programs will fall somewhere in between, so it is important to understand the difference between content and language.To understand the difference between content and language it is helpful to look at some sample content and language topics. Content, means any subject, such as business, building adobe ovens, and traveling. Anything that you are teaching that is a type of subject matter is considered content. Language, on the other hand, is teaching how to use language in context, vocabulary, writing conventions, grammar, and listening strategies etc.
Once you have the idea of content and language, it is time to move on to planning your objectives or goals. For more information on planning objectives see Unit 2C: Planning effective and efficient lessons. Every lesson that you teach needs to have some type of learning outcome or goal that you would like your students to achieve or experience. When mixing content and language, balance is required in order to have both content and language objectives. Each lesson should have both types of objectives present. One important thing to remember is that your content should be choosing your objectives; you shouldn’t try to force a language objective that does not work well with the content. To better understand this let’s look at some objectives for a business English class that is studying phone etiquette.
What other objectives do you think would work well with a lesson on Business Telephone Skills? When thinking of these objectives try to think of content and language objectives. In the above objectives could you tell which ones were language objectives, content objectives? Remember that content objectives mean subject matter (in this example business), and language objectives mean using language or learning how to use language (write, record, practice, listen, vocabulary). Here are some more examples:
In addition to being able to use both types of objectives, there is an important thing to remember in regards to
Often when teaching content to our ESL learners, it is hard for them to understand the concepts that we are teaching due to their limited English skills. It is important to try our hardest to make the content understandable to our students. There are two main ways to make the content more understandable.
The first is called sheltering. Sheltering is adjusting ones speech to aid your students’ comprehension. This would include changing the speed of your voice, stressing important words and using gestures to help communicate meaning. For more information on sheltering please see unit 3B Modifying Speech.
The second way is called scaffolding. To understand scaffolding it is helpful to think of the construction of a building. As the walls are being put up a temporary structure, called scaffolding, is put up in order to support the walls of the structure. As things progress the scaffolding is slowly taken away. It is the same with language teaching. In CBI, the new information is a lot for students to understand and students need more help or support for their learning. We need to provide support for our students by:
It is so important that we organize our lessons so that they are building on each other. We need to remember that it is hard for our students to learn all of the new vocabulary and subject matter. For this reason, we need to make sure that we are sequencing our lessons from easy to hard ideas. Past lessons need to act as a framework to build on for our current lessons. Our schemata –or our background knowledge- can greatly affect how much we are able to understand. If your students have never heard of the topic or know very little about it they will not understand much of your lesson. Context is everything. When introducing new concepts, it is important to make the subject personal for your students. Try to bring the subject to their level and background knowledge.
It is helpful for students to be able to organize information visually on paper. This helps them to classify information and to visually see how it all fits together. Diagrams or Graphic organizers are great ways for students to be able to classify information or new words. When talking about two different ideas why not try a venn diagram, this is two overlapping circles. In each individual circle you would place ideas only belonging to that circle and in the overlap you would place ideas that are common to both. For more help with diagrams see the where to go to learn more section.
Using multiple skills will make the lesson more interactive. Another way to do this is to get your students involved in what they are learning. Partner and group work works well with CBI. Students are able to talk about and study the content together. Competition is helpful to increase student motivation. For example, have students work on a project that is related to the real world. Remember to give detailed instructions and explanations, otherwise students may not stay on task or meet your goals for the activity.
We have all been in a class where all the teacher did was talk while the students fell asleep. In content-based instruction, it is important to be constantly checking to see if your students understand. A simple way to do this is to call on students to answer simple comprehension questions.
Please watch the following video from a business writing content class in China. As you watch try to identify aspects of CBI discussed in this unit.Click here
As you view this video clip of an EFL content class, think about each of the following questions.
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Here are some other units in this program that relate to topics we have addressed in this unit.
http://www.carla.umn.edu/cobaltt/CBI.html This website was put together by the CoBaLTT professional development program to provide professional development for world language and immersion teachers on CBI and the use of technology to support CBI in the classroom. This site has links to professional papers on CBI, gives practical uses and tips for teaching. It also has links for various graphic organizer templates.
http://www.siopinstitute.net/classroom.html is a website that is the companion to the SIOP Model book. It provides lesson templates to ensure good lesson planning for content-based courses as well as additional training.
http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/ETD/image/etd2907.pdf is a link to Melinda Hardman’s MA Thesis and is available for download from BYU’s library page. This is a very thorough training manual for content teachers at BYU’s ELC. It provides training, resources and tips for content teachers. The title of the thesis is: Developing a Teachers Handbook for Content Based Instruction at Brigham Young University’s English Language Center.
Here are some published books that have proven to be helpful resources for teaching content courses.
This book is a great resource for Content teachers. It is full of activities that can be printed and used immediately in your classroom, or these activities could be modified to fit your teaching situation. It includes activities for incorporating vocabulary, reading and interaction.
Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model (3rd Edition)
Author: Jana Eschevarria, MaryEllen Vogt, Debora Short
Brinton, D.M., Snow, M.A., & Wesche, M.B. (1989). Content-Based Second Language Instruction. New York: Newbury House Publishers.
Met, M. (1991) Learning language through content: Learning content through language.
Met, M. (1999). Content-based instruction: Defining terms, making decisions. The National Foreign Language Center.
Stryker, S.B., & Leaver, B.L. (1997). Content-based instruction in foreign language education. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.