Content Based Instruction

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Content based instruction (CBI) is a teaching approach that focuses on learning language through learning about something. Although CBI is not new, there has been an increased interest in it because  it has proven very effective in ESL and EFL  programs around the world.

What is Content based Instruction?

Content-based teaching differs from traditional language classes because language comes second to the content. In other words, the teacher runs a course on current affairs, or American history, or fiction writing, through which students also learn English. It’s important to note that English ends up as subordinate to the material, although the teacher must recognize and be prepared to help students with language skills.

Types of content based instruction:

  • The Sheltered Model: It is used at university where the goal of teachers is to enable their ESL students to study the same content material as regular English L1 students. Sheltered CBI is called “sheltered” because learners are given special assistance to help them understand regular classes.
  • The Adjunct Model: Undertaken by ESL teachers.  The aim of Adjunct classes is to prepare students for “mainstream” classes where they will join English L1 learners.
  • The Theme Based Model: These classes can be taught by EFL teachers who create content material based on the needs and interests of the students.

Other types of teaching may fall within the realm of CBI. English for Specific Purposes and Task based instruction are both examples of CBI.

Content based lesson:

Because of the nature of the content, all four skills get integrated. It’s important to note that the content continues through the whole course, not just a handful of lessons. A course on shopping one day, using the bank on another day, and making hotel reservations in English at a different class session is an example of a CBI class.

An example of  CBI lesson can be approached following these steps:

  • Preparation
    • A subject of interest is chosen.
    • Finding suitable sources that deal with different aspects of the subject. These could be websites, reference books, audio or video of lectures or even real people.
  • The lesson
    • Using small groups
    • Assigning each group a small research task and a source of information in the target language to use to help them fulfil the task.
    • groups sharing and comparing information.
    • A result in the form of an end product such as a report or presentation of some kind.


  • Language learning becomes more interesting and motivating.
  • CBI offer a wide educational knowledge to learners in the form of the different topics instructed.
  • It helps students develop valuable study skills such as note taking, summarizing and extracting key information from texts.
  • Developing collaborative skills, especially when using group work, which can have great social value.


  • CBI implicit language instruction can confuse learners and may give them the impression that they are not actually learning language.
  • Overuse of native language can be a problem in some parts of the lesson.
  • Finding information sources and texts that lower levels can understand can be difficult.

In a nutshell, although CBI is a challenging approach for both teachers and students, the outcome of its implementation can be rewarding and motivating.

Source: Wikipedia – CBI

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2 Responses

  1. Rob Dickey says:

    Good try. But I’m afraid most scholars of content-based language instruction (short, CBI) would suggest that you have “sheltered model” and “adjunct” model somewhat confused.

    “Sheltered model” can be used at any level of instruction, where the content-learning objectives are “watered down” because of the need to work on language as well. In a sheltered-instruction course the content aim is less “mastery of the content” than “mastery of the learning skills related to learning the content.” Thus students in sheltered instruction wouldn’t learn as much content as those in mainstream courses, but they would (hopefully) be able to catch up over time.

    “Adjunct model” is a supplement to a regular course. The students sit in the regular course with mainstream students, but also have an adjunct class separate from mainstream students. This “adjunct” session is designed to help them perform alongside the mainstream students. The adjunct class focuses more on the language issues related to the content instruction – can include notetaking skills and essay writing along with vocabulary and grammar issues, but also reviews the content of the regular course both as the source for the language instruction and to provide additional tutorial support on the content material.

    Hope this helps. See any of the materials by Brinton or Snow for more. Lots of other writers out there too! (even me)

  2. Shokoofeh says:

    Please put other methods as well… Thanks a lot… best wishes for you…

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