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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

Subjects Matter Assignments + Projects

Examine the Topic

Now that you have read the research and viewed the video discussion on content-based instruction, you will examine the topic further by looking at ways to spiral subject matter to make it appropriate at different grade levels.

A. Spiraling Content Across Grade Bands

In the following interactive activity, you will begin by reading a lesson description from each grade band: elementary, middle, and high school. You will then describe how you would adapt the content from each grade band’s lesson to make it appropriate for the other grade bands. You can base your descriptions on the same language and/or culture as the sample descriptions, or focus on a language and/or culture with which you are more familiar.

B. Planning a Content-Based Activity

You will now write a description of a content-based activity that is appropriate for your students’ age and proficiency level. Begin by selecting one of the content areas above, or choose a different content area that you would like to develop into an activity. Then write a short description of the activity. Use the following questions to guide you:

  1. What is your content theme?
  1. What is the language level of your students? How will you make this content theme age-appropriate for your students?
  1. What are your students’ background knowledge and/or personal interest in this topic? What connection, if any, does this content have to other subject areas your students are currently studying?
  1. Where can you find illustrative and/or authentic materials to use to present this content?
  1. What are some instructional strategies you might use when teaching this content?

Write a content-based activity description to submit as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity A


  1. In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing content-based lessons. Choose one of the activities from the list below.
  2. Submit your content-based lesson as an assignment.

Activity A: Designing a Content-Based Lesson

In this activity, you will design a lesson focused on content. You can elect to have students work with information that they have studied in another subject area or information that would only be available to them as students of this target language. As you answer the following questions, you can use the Content-Based Lesson (PDF, 54 K) form, or create your own chart or web to display your information.

  1. Student level. Begin by identifying the age and grade level of the students who will participate in the lesson. Then determine whether the performance level of the learners is novice, intermediate, or pre-advanced. What kinds of tasks and activities are appropriate for this level? If you teach dual-level classes, what tasks can the group do as a whole, and where might you need to differentiate tasks for different proficiency levels? Reflect on your findings from the Examine the Topic section.
  1. Content theme. Decide on a content theme. For example, if you use a textbook that follows themes, such as a chapter on foods in level one, you can broaden the text content to address other food-related topics such as nutrition or cooking. In an intermediate-level class, you can expand a lesson on typical foods of a particular culture to look into traditional recipes. Keep in mind what might be interesting to your students. You might also connect with content they are studying in other parts of the curriculum; talk to your colleagues to see what units they are doing at certain times of the year to see if there is a natural fit with the language program. For example, if immigration is a topic in a social studies course, you may be able to incorporate lessons on immigration history, patterns, or issues for the cultural groups speaking the language that you teach. Appealing to students’ interests and background knowledge is a key to success.
  1. Lesson objective. Identify the goal/final objective of the lesson. Then outline the prerequisite steps you will take to reach this objective.
  1. Lesson materials. What materials will you need to teach the content? Consider the materials you will need to present vocabulary, establish context, share background knowledge, and motivate students.
  1. Instructional approach. Let the materials you have chosen guide your instructional approach. For example, if students are to interpret oral or written text, then use strategies that facilitate interpretive communication. If new terms are presented with visuals, students can guess and negotiate meaning from context as needed. If the vocabulary lends itself to TPR or TPR Storytelling, you might consider using that approach.
  1. Standards. Identify which communication modes you want to address while working within this content, and which of the other standards you want to touch on during the lesson.
  1. Here are sample lessons on meals for middle school students:
Theme: Meals
Objectives: (This will vary depending on each individual lesson.)
Materials Instructional Approach Communicative Standards Other Standards
Nutrition pyramid Use student background knowledge to discuss and give examples of foods in each category; in pairs, have students place illustrations of food items on a diagram of the pyramid. Interpersonal

Connections: Nutrition

Cultures: Examples of common foods in the target cultures

Comparisons: How foods in the target culture compare with the U.S. nutrition pyramid

Recipe Have students read and follow directions to make a dish that is appropriate for students their age. Focus on measuring ingredients and on directions (infinitive or command form). Students also communicate during cooking. Interpretive

Cultures: Food products and when and where they’re commonly eaten

Connections: Math for metric measurement; social studies for local ingredients; possible connection to traditions

TV ad Watch some ads for food products. For each ad, identify the product and the language used to promote the product. Then identify the audience for the ad and rate the ad’s effectiveness. Interpretive

Cultures: What the product is, what cultural practices are commonly associated with it, and the impact and appeal of the ad and product

Connections: Language arts for how to present an effective ad

Put It Into Practice: Activity B


  1. In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing content-based lessons. Choose one of the activities from the list below.
  2. Submit your extended content-based unit as an assignment.

Activity B: Extending Content-Based Units

In this activity, you will identify ways that you can expand the content base of a unit that you are currently teaching by linking it to other disciplines. As you answer the following questions, you can use the Extending Content-Based Units (PDF, 54 K) form, or create your own chart or web to display your information.

  1. Begin by selecting a unit that you currently teach. What is the content or disciplinary connection in this unit?
  1. Select one or more additional discipline areas that you would like to incorporate into the unit. How will you integrate this new information with the existing content?
  1. Describe how you will change the way you teach the unit to incorporate the new content. What additional instructional materials will you need? What additional skills and knowledge will students gain? What additional skills and knowledge will they take with them to other disciplines?
  1. Here is an example of how a textbook unit on vacation time might be expanded with content from other disciplines:

Action Research Project

The following four-step process will help you plan a small action research project to explore your questions about content-based instruction, implement action plans for choosing appropriate content for your students’ ages and proficiency levels, and collect information to assess your instructional innovations. Before you begin this section, you can go to About Action Research for an introduction to the process of designing and conducting action research projects. If you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project from any one of the eight workshop sessions as an assignment.

If you would like to focus on content-based instruction for your action research project, use the following questions and examples to help frame your thinking and shape your project.

I. Thinking

  1. What issue concerning content-based instruction do you want to describe, document, and investigate? For example, you could analyze a content-based lesson to see how the materials, concepts, and language support one another; examine how your students engage with the content in your thematic lessons as compared with other lessons you have taught; or document when the language becomes opaque for students during a content-based class. This will be the focus of your action research project.
  1. Why is content-based instruction important to you as a teacher? How have you approached integrating content into language learning in the past? How might you want to change that approach and why? If you have not integrated content into language learning, why not? What has been your experience working with teachers in other disciplines to bring their content into your lessons or to integrate both their subject area and your target language into one project? What have been the benefits and challenges of working with other content-area teachers? Are you satisfied with how well students engage with content-based lessons and/or your instructional strategies? Why or why not?
  1. What is your research question concerning content-based instruction? The research question will help you investigate your area of focus and understand it better. For example:
  1. How can I ensure that my students are making language gains in a content-based lesson?
  1. How do my students’ participation and language learning differ in content-based classes?
  1. How do lessons developed around student-selected content differ from lessons I prepare with no student input? How does my students’ engagement in the two types of lessons differ?
  1. How have my assessment practices changed as a result of using content-based lessons? What factors do I now consider when assessing student progress in a content-based lesson?

II. Acting

  1. What is the action plan for carrying out your project? Depending on your action research question, the following are some questions you might ask yourself to help you develop an action plan:
  1. How will I document student reactions to content-based lessons? How often will I do so?
  1. How will I analyze my content-based lessons so that I can better understand how to scaffold my students’ content knowledge?
  1. How will I gather information from students about the academic content that they would find interesting in a foreign language class?
  1. How will I document the ways in which language becomes opaque to students, either through their own interactions or through my instruction, in a content-based lesson? How often will I track this?
  1. How will I document and analyze students’ growth in language and content knowledge over the course of one or several content-based lessons?
  1. What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? For example, you could take field notes, ask a colleague to observe your class and look for particular aspects relevant to your study, distribute student questionnaires and self-assessments, or gather student work samples. You should have at least two sources of information.
  1. How much time will you allot for your action research? That is, when and for how long do you plan to collect information before you’re ready to begin analyzing it? Develop a timeline for implementing your action plan.

III. Reflecting

  1. After collecting your information, how will you analyze it? That is, how will you organize and review the information you have collected to understand it better and help you answer your research question? For example, will you use percentages based on responses to a questionnaire? Analyze a videotape of your classroom for a particular aspect of instruction? Summarize interview data with other teachers to look for emerging themes? Do a comparative analysis of assessments in a content-based lesson and in other standards-based lessons?
  1. How will you display the information so that it can be shared with others? For example, you can use charts, graphs, and/or tables. The goal is to organize your data in a way that presents a clear description of what you investigated.

IV. Rethinking

Note: The final step of the action research project is to reevaluate your teaching practice based on your research data. Because it takes time to complete an action research project, it may not be possible to do this step during the workshop. However, if you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project during or after the course of the workshop to submit as an assignment.

  1. Based on what you learned through your data analysis, how will you rethink your teaching practice? What changes will you make to your lessons the next time you develop and implement a content-based lesson? If you had to research content-based lessons again, what changes would you make to your action research plan?

Reflect on Your Learning

In this session, you analyzed how content can be the focus of a foreign language classroom and how language — vocabulary and structure — can become transparent or opaque during the study of content. You will now write a one- to two-page summary of what you have learned and how you plan to apply it in your classroom. Review the notes you have taken during this session, as well as your answers to the Reflect on Your Experience questions. Use the questions below to guide your writing.

  1. Consider the examples of content-rich materials that you have seen in this session. What do you notice about the vocabulary and meanings that are presented? How do they compare with the scope of vocabulary and meanings in non-content-based lessons, such as a typical textbook lesson?
  1. What insights have you gained about Professor Lightbown’s notion of transparent and opaque language learning?
  1. What factors will you consider when choosing the content to teach in your foreign language classroom?
  1. How does content-based instruction affect the overall outcomes of foreign language instruction? Why do “subjects matter”?


Submit your summary as an assignment.