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Teaching Philosophies: Content Based Instruction

2014/01/07

In the past, content in language education referred to course materials; grammar points, vocabulary, activities, that sort of thing. But content is sometimes meant to be the subject matter which the vocabulary and grammar points are talking about. For Content-Based Learning, or CBI, focusing on what we are talking about is at the heart of the matter.

The goals of CBI are to expose learners to the target language through stimulating and interesting topics (content), so that learning is natural, engaging, and somewhat unconscious. The belief is that learners form more meaningful connections with language this way, and a passion for learning will develop out of student's natural curiosity for interesting content. Also, there is very a human, or organic element to CBI lessons. The content must reflect the interests of the students present. So students have a greater stake in guiding how the lessons will develop. Essentially, CBI is a very holistic approach to learning language.

CBI ideas are often found when teaching English for specific purposes, such as for business or engineering English classes. This way the learners are getting language education custom tailored for their vocations. But CBI is the acronym to use even for when you are describing why it's a good idea to teach kindergarteners about teddy bears, ice cream, and other things they are interested in. CBI is the concept which describes the topics which makes language interesting in the first place.

But CBI can also be stretched to include the philosophies behind integrated language learning, which is where core subjects, such as Art, Math, or Music are taught in a foreign language as a way of teaching both subjects, and giving greater context and value to language education.

So, remember CBI when designing your lessons. Think about the "what" you are talking about (if you're not already). How might you spice things up? As for me, I've been experimenting with putting my lessons into the framework of an on-going story. So when we get a new worksheet, it's not just another worksheet, it's a clue to solve a mystery, or to get revenge on our old pirate rivals! That sort of CBI 'content' might help give context to, and motivate your students. If you have any interesting ideas, please share them with us on Facebook!

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