tryonivypull-su17The English classes in our program, Academic English Studies (AES), have been greatly influenced by content-based instruction (CBI) as described by Brinton, Snow, & Wesche (1988). Classes using the CBI approach teach English while focusing on a specific topic. This allows students to boost their English ability by using and improving their linguistic skills within the framework of one subject. This experience of learning English is more authentic; it is more akin to the experience of native speakers who may take a class in a subject such as biology and learn new concepts and vocabulary centered on that field. Experiencing language within these authentic contexts can strongly motivate students, and their linguistic skills can improve faster with the support of additional scaffolding provided by concentrating on one subject. Students also benefit from learning field-specific information.


In the summer of 2017, I designed and taught a 6-week CBI course entitled, Environmental Issues. It seemed natural to teach this at Lewis & Clark because our college is well-known for its dedication to sustainability practices. The class consisted of current undergraduate students at Lewis & Clark and students preparing for graduate and undergraduate degrees at other universities in the U.S. They represented three countries: Japan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Three themes became the course’s curricular anchors: ecology versus economy, sustainability, and activism. For our first theme, students explored the challenge of balancing the needs of animals and the needs of people. The class focused on new concepts and vocabulary, including the differences among extinct, endangered, and vulnerable animals and actions being taken to protect them. As part of our unit on sustainability, students toured the Lewis & Clark campus with Amy Dvorak, the Director of Sustainability. Our class heard about the many environmentally-friendly features of our campus, such as a composting toilet, the greenhouse, student gardens, and much more.


Finally, during our focus on activism, the students were introduced to the concept of service learning and took a class trip to Tryon Creek State Park to volunteer. We met with  img_0092a guide, discussed environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest, and hiked to a section of the park where invasive ivy was threatening the health of native trees. We volunteered to remove the ivy to stop it from choking the tall evergreens. Afterwards, the difference was noticeable. Trees that were covered by many feet of ivy were freed to again thrive.  (Check out this video of the park created by Lewis & Clark students.

At the conclusion of the course, the focus on activism culminated with a speaking assignment.  Students composed elevator pitches advocating environmental NGOs and presented their own to the class.*

What would you find the most beneficial from learning with a CBI approach? Which topics would you most like to study in a CBI course? Share your ideas in the comments below!

* The guidelines for this activity are included in TESOL New Ways in Teaching Speaking (2nd edition),  TESOL Press.


Snow, M., & Brinton, D. (1988). Content-Based Language Instruction: Investigating the Effectiveness of the Adjunct Model. TESOL Quarterly, 22(4), 553-574. doi:10.2307/3587256