Skip to main content Skip to main content

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

View & Analyze the Video

View Transcript

Video Summary

In “Subjects Matter,” Patsy Lightbown, Professor Emeritus of Concordia University in Montreal, addresses the balance between form and content in a content-based language classroom. Professor Lightbown also joins a round-table discussion on effective ways of planning for content-based instruction, moderated by University of Pittsburgh professor Richard Donato, and including teachers Jai Scott of Columbus, Ohio, and Yo Azama of Salinas, California. The video also features excerpts from Mr. Scott’s and Mr. Azama’s classes, as well as other classes across different grade levels and languages.* The video addresses the following questions:

  • What is the content of language instruction?
  • How is language transparent or opaque?
  • When do you focus students on form?

*The classroom excerpts featured in this video are from the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library. To learn more about the featured lessons, go to the Library Videos Chart.

Watching the Video

Watch the video “Subjects Matter,” and take notes as you watch. Consider pausing at the end of each section to answer the questions before moving on to the next section. If you are working in a group, discuss your responses; if you are working alone, reflect on them in your journal.

1. What is the content of language instruction?

In this section, Professor Lightbown talks about the value of teaching language through content. The group then discusses approaches to content-based instruction at different grade levels.
  • In the classroom excerpts, how did the teachers present content? What kinds of tools or resources did they use to help students understand the content?
  • The classroom excerpts included examples of students in beginner-level language courses talking about the solar system, chicken pox, and the circulatory system. How does the vocabulary for these lessons compare with the typical vocabulary in a beginning foreign language course? In what ways is this vocabulary passive and/or active for students? What might be the benefits and challenges of incorporating this type of vocabulary into language instruction?
  • Professor Lightbown suggests that a thematic approach is a good way to introduce more content into classes. What do you think are the advantages of this approach?

2. How is language transparent or opaque?

In this section, the group discusses situations in which language can become transparent instead of opaque, and vice versa. They also talk about ways that teachers can balance content with form.
  • How do you decide when to make language transparent during an activity and when to make it opaque? How do you determine when to focus on form, when to focus on meaning, and when to transition between the two during activities?
  • In the video excerpts, what did you observe about teachers focusing on form? Were they able to do so without losing meaning? How?
  • In the video excerpts, what observations did you make about how students dealt with content during activities? How did they tackle language forms?
3. When do you focus students on form?
In this section, Professor Lightbown addresses the importance of having a sufficient focus on form. The group also discusses how they check students’ understanding and how they approach error correction.
  • How might a teacher choose what content to teach? What influence does form have on the choice of materials?
  • What factors help a teacher decide when to correct an error explicitly? How does a student’s proficiency level influence error correction?