You are on page 1of 5

LCB – TTC Methods II 2009

Class Presentation: CBL (Content Based Learning)

Student: Alejandra de Antoni
Prof: Gladys Baya
Content-Based Learning
What is content-based learning?

The focus of a CBL lesson is on the topic or subject matter such as global warming,
the Civil War, science, math, or social studies. During the lesson, students are made
to focus on learning about something. This could be anything that interests them,
from a serious science subject to their favourite pop star, or even a topical news
story or film. They learn about this subject using the language they are trying to
learn, rather than their native language, as a tool for developing knowledge, so they
develop their linguistic ability in the target language. This approach is thought to be
a more natural way of developing language ability and one that corresponds more
to the way we originally learn our first language.

What does a content-based learning lesson look like?

There are many ways to approach creating a CBL lesson. Listed below is one
possible way.


1. Choose a subject of interest to students.

2. Find three or four suitable sources that deal with different aspects of the subject.
Be aware that these could be websites, reference books, or audio or video of
lectures or even real people.

During the lesson:

1. Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a small research task
and a source of information to use to help them fulfil the task.

2. Then once they have done their research they form new groups with students
that used other information sources and share and compare their information.

3. There should then be some product as the end result of this sharing of
information which could take the form of a group report or presentation of some

Teachers' perspectives

Teachers in content-based learning may be content specialists who use the target
language for instruction, or language specialists who are using content for language
instruction. To be effective in their roles, they will need the knowledge, skills and
concepts required for content delivery in the target language. All teachers in
content-based learning have similar professional needs, but the degree to which
they will need certain knowledge or skills may vary by their assignment. To be
successful, it will be helpful for teachers to be well prepared in the following areas.

Content knowledge:

Obviously, it will be hard to teach content if teachers do not know it themselves.

While content teachers will be prepared in their own disciplines, it may be
particularly challenging for teachers trained as language specialists who are not

1 September, 4th 2009

LCB – TTC Methods II 2009
Class Presentation: CBL (Content Based Learning)
Student: Alejandra de Antoni
Prof: Gladys Baya
familiar with the content. Some language teachers are uncomfortable teaching
content in fields they may have struggled with themselves, such as mathematics.

Content pedagogy:

There are identifiable strategies that make content instruction more effective. Some
content specialists have had no training in pedagogy, particularly at the
postsecondary Level. Because learning content in a new language can pose
difficulties for students, it is essential that teachers (regardless of their content or
language orientation) have a repertoire of strategies at their disposal to give
students multiple opportunities to access content in meaningful, and
comprehensible ways. Language specialists, in particular, will need opportunities to
become skilled in content-appropriate instructional strategies if they are to teach or
use content appropriately. For example, while few secondary school art teachers
would deem it appropriate to lecture students as slides of famous works of art
paraded on the screen, some language teachers have used this approach when
incorporating art into language lessons.

Understanding of language acquisition:

All teachers in content-based learning will benefit from an understanding of the

processes involved in second language acquisition. To select and sequence
appropriate learning experiences teachers need to understand and be aware of how
language learning develops in formal contexts (Classroom context). One of the most
important aims of CBL is to help students acquire language rather learning it, i.e.
that students internalise language unconsciously while they are working with the
language as a means to learn something else.

Language pedagogy:

Promoting language growth can and should be done by content-based teachers,

even those who work in settings where content, not language, is a primary program
goal (Snow, Met, & Genesee, 1989). Language learning can be planned as part of
every content lesson, and teachers can use strategies drawn from language
pedagogy to help students gain language skills. In fact, in doing so, they will exceed
the goals of content instruction, since the better students know the language, the
more easily they can learn content through it. It is important to remember that,
even though the purpose of CBL is to use the target language to learn something
else, there will come a moment in which focus on how the language works will
become necessary.

Knowledge of materials development and selection:

When students learn content through a new language they will need a variety of
instructional materials. Print and non-print resources developed for native speakers
may need modification or adaptation. Teachers may also need to develop their own
materials. Criteria for selecting and developing materials include accessibility of
language, text organization that facilitates comprehension (e.g., headings and sub-
headings), availability of non-linguistic supports to meaning (illustrations, graphs,
and diagrams), and a certain degree of cultural knowledge required for

Understanding of student assessment:

Teachers will need to understand the principles of assessment across disciplines. It

will be helpful for teachers to be familiar with a range of assessment options, and
the contexts in which they are most likely to provide answers regarding student

2 September, 4th 2009

LCB – TTC Methods II 2009
Class Presentation: CBL (Content Based Learning)
Student: Alejandra de Antoni
Prof: Gladys Baya
progress. These options may also need to integrate language and content
assessments as well as allow learning to be measured independently.

Students’ perspectives


CBL can make learning a language more interesting and motivating. Students can
use the language to fulfil a real purpose, which can make students both more
independent and confident.

Developing wider knowledge:

Students can also develop a much wider knowledge of the world through CBL which
can, in turn, improve and support their general educational needs.

Academic purpose:

CBL is extremely popular among EAP (English for Academic Purposes) teachers as it
helps students to develop valuable study skills such as note taking, summarizing
and extracting key information from texts.

Transferable skills:

Taking information from different sources, re-evaluating and restructuring that

information can help students to develop valuable thinking skills that can then be
transferred to other subjects.

Improving social skills:

The inclusion of a group work element within the framework given above can also
help students to develop their collaborative skills, which can have great social
value. By social interaction, they can learn from each other and bring their
strengths into their groups.

Assessing students' progress

What determines student progress in content-based learning? What are some

appropriate approaches to assessing what students have learned? The answers to
these questions are likely to reflect course priorities and where on the continuum a
program lies. In content-driven programs, it is important to ascertain whether
students are gaining mastery over the content. This issue may be of particular
concern if content is important and students are learning it in a language in which
they are not proficient.

It is possible that students will know content relatively well, even if they cannot
demonstrate the depth of their understanding through language. Since good
content teaching uses strategies that allow learners to access content even when
their language skills are limited, students may be able to show rather than explain
their understanding. To demonstrate their academic progress, students may call on
the same strategies that teachers use during instruction, using concrete objects,
diagrams, body language, or other paralinguistic supports to convey meaning. For
example, students may understand how simple machines work, or be able to carry
out complex algebraic tasks, but not be able to explain how they arrived at their
answer. Teachers will need to decide when content learning should be assessed
independently of language. Often, however, it may be desirable for content and

3 September, 4th 2009

LCB – TTC Methods II 2009
Class Presentation: CBL (Content Based Learning)
Student: Alejandra de Antoni
Prof: Gladys Baya
language to be assessed in an integrated manner. The need to verbalize thought
frequently requires more precise control over concepts than does demonstrating
understanding. Writing requires clear thinking, and helps pinpoint fuzzy
understanding. Some advocates of cooperative learning have argued that it is
through the verbal interactions of peer teaching that students begin to deepen their
own understanding of content (Davidson & Worsham, 1992). Thus, it may be
important to require that students in integrated content/language programs be
assessed on content through the target language. For example, content learning is
the ultimate goal for ESL learners, and academic English is the key to success. For
these students, it can be important to assess language and content learning
together. In the adjunct model, language and content share equal importance and
may need to be assessed together.

In contrast, teachers are more likely to assess language growth than content
mastery in language-driven courses. Since content is a vehicle for promoting
language outcomes, teachers and students do not usually feel accountable for
content learning. However, some aspects of content may need to be integrated into
language assessments. Good and equitable assessment tasks mirror those used for
instruction. Since language cannot be used in a vacuum, and must be used to
communicate about something, it is likely that language assessment will need to be
based on the topics and tasks used in instruction. As a result, while content mastery
may not be a focus of assessment in theory, it may be difficult in practice to
separate content from language.


The benefit of such a program from an instructor's point of view is that motivation
levels of students are high. The student needs to understand language in order to
get the vocational skills. However, as has been said, it is important that the student
is at a language level which is close enough to comprehend. If this is the case, the
student is in a position to improve language skills within the context of pursuing a
career path. On the other hand, if the language skills are not at a level where the
student can comprehend the input, he will be in a double-bind: he cannot improve
his language and he is missing out on the content. The administrators and
instructors must be careful to ensure that all students in a classroom are at a level
where the cognitive load of language and content learning is not too great.

What are the potential problems?

• Because CBL isn't explicitly focused on language learning, some students may feel
confused or may even feel that they aren't improving their language skills. You can
deal with this by including some form of language focused follow-up exercises to
help draw attention to linguistic features within the materials and consolidate any
difficult vocabulary or grammar points.

• Particularly in monolingual classes, the over use of the students' native language
during parts of the lesson can be a problem. Because the lesson is not explicitly
focused on language practice, students find it much easier and quicker to use their
mother tongue. Try sharing your rationale with students and explain the benefits of
using the target language rather than their mother tongue.

• It can be hard to find information sources and texts that lower levels can
understand. Also the sharing of information in the target language may cause great
difficulties. A possible way around this at lower levels is either to use texts in the
students' native language and then get them to use the target language for the
sharing of information and end product, or to have texts in the target language, but

4 September, 4th 2009

LCB – TTC Methods II 2009
Class Presentation: CBL (Content Based Learning)
Student: Alejandra de Antoni
Prof: Gladys Baya
allow the students to present the end product in their native language. These
options should reduce the level of challenge.

• Some students may copy directly from the source texts they use to get their
information. Avoid this by designing tasks that demand students evaluate the
information in some way, to draw conclusions or actually to put it to some practical
use. Having information sources that have conflicting information can also be
helpful as students have to decide which information they agree with or most

An excellent opportunity to teach teenagers

Students from 11 to 20 years old are in a period of rapid transition and change, both
mentally and physically. As teenagers begin to develop more cognitive abilities,
they can be exposed to language learning techniques that require more logical
and/or abstract thinking. Probably the most important considerations for these
learners are "affective" ones. Issues related to ego and self-esteem are at their
height, and teenagers can be incredibly sensitive to the ways others see their
physical, mental, and emotional development. Teachers of these students need to
be able to find ways to draw on and develop cognitive, analytical, and logic skill. In
view of this, content-based learning provides mental and cognition mature students
a more effective and significant learning approach in acquiring vocabulary, reading,
listening and writing. They will not only learn the subject knowledge but also the
language usage in that field in both academic and day-to-day ways.


While CBL can be both challenging and demanding for the teacher and the
students, it can also be very stimulating and rewarding. The degree to which
teachers adopt this approach may well depend on the willingness of students, the
institution in which one works, and the availability of resources within the
environment. It could be something that the school wants to consider introducing
across the curriculum or something that teachers experiment with just for one or
two lessons. Whichever you choose to do I would advise that you try to involve
other teachers within your school, particularly teachers from other subjects. Such
involvement could help you both in terms of finding sources of information and
having the support of others in helping evaluating the work.

Lastly, try to involve the students. Get them to help you decide what topics and
subjects the lessons will be based around and find out how they feel this kind of
lessons compares to your usual lessons. In the end, they will be the measure of your


o Content Based Instruction

o Content Based Learning Essays
o Content Based Learning
o The Practice of Learning Theories CBL

5 September, 4th 2009