Making Language Instructions More Content-Based: How Did We Solve Our Problems?

Author rights: This blog is a collective effort of my group at university who accompanied me throughout the course Materials Development in Language Teaching. I would like to acknowledge Giang H. Tran, Chau H. D. Tran, Quynh K. N. Nguyen and Nhi H. T. Nguyen for their invaluable contribution to this post.

Current developments in technologies have allowed classrooms to be more dynamic, more interesting, and more customized. Unlike the previous teacher-centered classrooms with teachers’ presentation of linguistic knowledge, EFL classrooms nowadays exploit many tools and resources to satisfy students’ learning styles, interests, and learning goals. The process of material development cannot be done without planning but with a decent amount of knowledge of theories and resources. This post reflects on how our group has explored this process and applied materials such as visual aids, songs, videos, and softwares in EFL lessons.

When we together designed activities for teaching English language areas and skills, we strove to achieve at least one of the following: multimodality, content-relatedness, and real-life-task-relatedness. Here’s why:

For academic and social objectives, developing multimodal literacies is becoming increasingly important (Jewitt & Kress, 2003, Yi, 2014, as cited in Choi & Yi, 2015) as it conveys more nuances of the content knowledge and meets students’ “cognitive and affective needs” (p. 315). Peng (2019) also advocates the merits of multimodality by pointing out that it enhances classroom environment and students’ willingness to communicate in English.

Lorenzo, Casal, and Moore (2010) have proved the outperformance of students under content-based instruction (CBI) in all four language skills. CBI can provide a cognitive and motivational foundation for language learning and purposeful communication as it utilizes the content matching various needs such as critical thinking skills besides the linguistic competencies (Lyster, 2018; Timothy & Sultonov, 2020). Timothy and Sultonov (2020) also point out that CBI helps students develop fluency through using the language communicatively right from the outset.

This is also one of the benefits of task-based language teaching, or TLBT (Willis, 1996), which exposes students to authentic language through real-life tasks. Furthermore, it shapes students’ listening comprehension, vocabulary building skills, and ability to apply classroom knowledge to the outside world (Bao & Du, 2015). TBLT also highlights student-centeredness in the learning process, highly motivating language acquisition.

After doing some research, we have compiled some criteria to ensure our goal.

In the content-based approach, it is crucial to identify the focus of the lesson to design or compile the most suitable materials. The content may vary, but it should be relevant to the students and serve the language teaching purposes (Larsen-Freeman, 2009). Similarly, the task-based language teaching approach also requires the integration of language teaching into real-life tasks.

Regardless of the approaches, multimodality is worth considering to benefit various student learning styles (Kennedy, 2020). The most obvious way to achieve this is using manifold tools to illustrate various text types. Specifically, for visual students, teachers can consider using textbooks containing many pictures, tables, or diagrams. When explaining the concepts, teachers had better consider using slideshows and videos with intentional color codes to highlight the key terms. For auditory ones, group discussions and debates seem to benefit them the most, besides songs or podcasts. Students who prefer reading and writing are already doing well with the traditional textbooks, but teachers can provide them with more detailed written explanations and lesson notes. Last but not least, gestures and hands-on experiments can explain the concepts better to kinesthetic students. 

Finally, we could achieve our goal and created some decent lessons on different topics, as below.

The history of the Olympics (Integrated Skills)

Content-based approach and multimodality were utilized in the lesson using the video above. The objective of the lesson was to help students explain the history of the Olympics through the use of target language. Students needed to grasp the visual information in the video to evaluate and interpret it. Regarding multimodality, students were asked to watch the video, answer comprehension questions, discuss to reorder the pictures, and use those pictures to tell the history of the Olympics. 

Handouts for the lesson The history of the Olympics.

Being part of ASEAN (Reading)

Textbook and instructions for infographic-making activity.

This reading lesson was designed using a content-based approach, multimodality, and real-life situations. The lesson aimed at helping students read for specific information about ASEAN and visualize that information with an infographic. It required them not only to understand the information but also to analyze, evaluate and summarize the reading materials to fulfill the task achievement. Moreover, different tools were used for various activities, such as reading texts and Canva, where students could create their infographics, a real-life task which students might encounter later on in universities or their daily life.

Some of students’ infographic made in this reading lesson.

After analyzing the activities, we realise that an EFL classroom should incorporate activities to enhance multi-literacies, content knowledge, and abilities to do real-life tasks. We recommend that teachers should activate students’ interests with current news; vary activities to activate their aesthetics (e.g., drawing, making posters, infographics); provide students with various sources of information (e.g., videos or songs); and invest time into lesson planning to match different learning styles. Hopefully, our sharing with some products can give you some useful ideas for your coming classes.

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