Content-Based Instruction: Definition & Example

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  • 0:02 What is Content-Based…
  • 1:18 Examples
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Learning a new language can be difficult. Content-based instruction is a powerful tool for language instruction. This lesson will define content-based instruction and provide an example of how to use it in the classroom.

What Is Content-Based Instruction?

Have you ever tried to learn a new language? If so, how did you do it? Most people rely on the traditional method of language instruction, which is based on translation and memorization. For example, a student learning French might translate the English word for bread to 'pain' in French. The idea is that the new words will be memorized over time, thus this method focuses on repetition.

An alternative to this method is content-based instruction. Content-based instruction focuses on content rather than language. However, the goal is language instruction. Simply stated, the language becomes a tool for learning new things instead of the topic.

For example, students might have a lesson on French cuisine. This would focus on the French diet and would naturally introduce words such as 'pain' (bread), 'fromage,' (cheese) and 'croissant,' in a meaningful way because the words are presented within the context of the content. This helps students make logical connections between ideas, words and objects. Proponents of content-based learning believe that this approach is the most effective method for language acquisition.

Now that we know what content-based instruction is, let's take a look at an example of it for language instruction in the classroom.


Have you ever taught students whose native language was not English? How about teaching a new language to English speaking students? For these types of students, most lessons begin with the alphabet and numerals. For example, an early lesson might look something like this:

one uno
two dos
three tres

This approach requires rote memorization and practice. Content-based learning would teach Spanish in a different way. The lesson might go something like this:

Today we are going to take a virtual field trip to the Madrid zoo. When you reach the website, select the ES or Spanish version, for language. Using the images as a guide, list the types of animals featured. What does each animal eat? Where do they live in the wild? What are the hours at the Madrid zoo? Are they open every day of the week?

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