Goals of Content-Based Instruction: Language Proficiency & Student Achievement

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Content-based instruction (CBI) is one method of language instruction. In this lesson you'll learn about the goals of CBI, especially as related to student achievement and language proficiency.

Content-Based Instruction

If you have ever taught or even attended a second language class, you know how many different options there are for methods of instruction. In general, all of these methods fall under two categories: explicit, or direct instruction (e.g. vocabulary lists), and implicit instruction, where students learn more by practicing the language than by having grammar and vocabulary directly given to them.

Both types have their pros and cons, but it is generally agreed that total immersion is the best method of implicit learning. So what do you do when you cannot place your students in an immersion environment? One option is content-based instruction (CBI). In CBI, the focus is on the topic, rather than on specific aspects of the target language (the language they want to learn). In this method, students learn the language by using it to learn about a topic of interest to them.

How Does It Work?

The idea behind CBI is that it is a more 'natural' method of language learning, which is why it falls into the implicit instruction category. Students help choose the topic to be studied, which ensures they are actually interested in it. After the topic is chosen, they will use a variety of sources to learn about it. For example, they might read articles, watch videos, and listen to radio broadcasts, all in the target language. By using varied sources, students will be able to practice both reading and listening as part of their research.

The end result should be some kind of product. It could be a report or a class presentation. The goal behind this is that students will practice production skills, i.e. writing and speaking, in the target language. Along the way, students should also be taking notes in the target language, which helps with production skill practice as well.


There are many ways to implement content-based instruction. You could have students choose individual topics and present to the class at the end. Alternatively, they might work in groups if they have shared interests. The whole class could even have the same topic, with different groups using different sources, or focusing on different aspects of the topic. Regardless of the structure of the project, students will be working in the target language, and therefore gaining proficiency as they work. As an instructor, your main challenge will be making sure they do not switch back to their native language. However, if students are motivated and aware of the goals behind this method of instruction, they should watch themselves on this point as well.


The main goal of CBI, as with any language instruction, is to increase student proficiency in the target language. Having students work on a topic of interest in their target language helps engage them in the language learning process, and lets them practice actually using the language in a natural way. It also promotes practice of note-taking and other academic skills in the target language, which is why CBI is popular among teachers of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). EAP is a subset of English as a second language where students are instructed in how to use English for the purposes of studying, or for use in an academic setting.

CBI helps students practice taking notes in their target language
Note taking

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