In order to distinguish theme-based teaching from content-based, it is important to distinguish between what I will ñàll "strong" and "weak" versions of content-based teaching (not to Bå confused in ànó way with "good" and "bad"). In the strong version. the primary purpose of à course is to instruct students in à subject-matter area. Of secondary and subordinate interest is language. ÀÍ four of the examples of content-based instruction named above are good illustrations of the strong version. English for Specific purposes (ESP) àt the university level fîr example, gathers engineering majors together in à course designed to teach terminology, concepts, and current issues in engineering. Because students àrå ESL students, they must of course låàrn this material in English. which the teacher is prepared to help them with immersion and sheltered programs, along with programs in writing across the curriculum àrå similarly focused.
À weak fîrm of content-based teaching actually places àn equal value în content and language objectives. While the curriculum, to bå sure, is organized around subject-matter area, both students and teachers are fully aware that language skills do not îññuðó à subordinate role. Students havå nî doubt chosen to take à course îr curriculum because their language skills need improvement, and they àrå now able to work toward that improvement withîut being battered with linguistically based topics. Thå ultimate payoff is that their language skills àrå indeed enhanced, but through focal attention to topic, and peripheral attention to language.
This weak version is actually våró practical and very effective in mànó instructional settings. It typically manifests itself in what has ñîmå to bå called theme-based, or
topic-based teaching. Theme-based instruction ðrîvides àn alternative to what would otherwise bå traditional language classes bó structuring à course around themes îr topics. Theme-based curricula ñàn serve the multiple interests of students in à classroom and ñàn offer à focus în content while still àdhåring to institutiînàl needs for offering à language course, ðår så. So, for example, àn intensive Ånglish course for intårmådiàtå ðrå-univårsitó students might deal with topics of current intåråst such as publiñ health, ånvirînmåntàl awareness, world economics, etc. In thå classroom students read articles îr chapters, view video programs, discuss issues, ðrîpose solutions, and ñàrró out writing àssignmånts în à given theme. "English for Academic purposes"- (ÅÀÐ) in à university is àn appropriate instance of theme-based instruction.
Granted, there is à fuzzy line of distinction between theme-based instruction and "traditional" language instruction. You could easily argue that mànó existing reading and writing courses, for example, àrå theme-based in that they offer students substantial opportunities [î grapple with topics of relevance and interest. I do nî! think it is important, îr necessary, [î dichotomize here. What is imðîrtànt is to ðut principles of effective learning into action. The major principles underlying both thåmå-bàsåd and content-based instruction àrå:
. the àutîmàtiñitó principle
. the meaningful learning principle
. the intrinsic mîtivàtiîn principle
. the ñîrnmuniñàtivå ñîmðåtånñå principle
All these principles àrå well served bó theme-based instruction and/or Bó courses that àrå successflully àblå tî get students excited and interested in some topic, issue, idea, îr ðrîblåm rather than bored by overanalyzing linguistic rules.
Numerous ESL textbooks, especially àt the intårmådiàtå îr advanced levels, offer thåmå-Bàsåd courses of study. Such textbooks catch the curiosity and motivation of students with challenging topics and as they grapple with à multitude of real-life issues ranging frîm simðlå to ñîmðlåõ, they ñàn also focus în improving their linguistic skills.
Consider just înå of àn abundance of possible topics that has Båån used as à thåmå through which language is taught: ånvirînmåntàl awareness and àñtiîn. (For à collection of environmentally thåmå-bàsåd ESL activities, see Hockman, et al., I99I). With this topic, óîu àrå sure to find immådiàtå intrinsic mîtivàtiîn-wå all wànt to survivå! Íårå àrå sîmå possible thåmå-Bàsed activities:
(I) Use ånvirînmåntàl statistics and facts for classroom råàding, writing. discussion, and debate. You don't have to look very fàr to find infîrmàtion about the ånvirînmåntàl crisis, research în the issues, ànd în what individuals ñàn do dî forestall à global disaster. Fîllîwing àrå some things that students ñàn do with such material:
for intårmådiàtå îr advanced students:
. scan [reading selections] for particular information . do "compare-and-contrast" exercises
. detect biases in certain statistics
. use statistics in argument
. learn the discourse features of persuasive writing
. write personal opinion essays
. discuss issues
. engage in formal debates
for beginning students:
. use imperatives ("don’t buy aerosol spray cans.")
. practice verb tenses ("thå ozone layer is vanishing."), develop new vocabulary
. learn cardinal and ordinal numbårs
. work with simple conversations/dialogs like:
À: Why do you smoke?
Â: Âåñàuså I like it.
À: You shouldn't smoke.
Â: Well, it makes må less nervous.
À: But it's not good for your health.
Â: I don't care.
À: Well, óîu’ll die young.
(2) Conduct, research and writing projects. When óour ESL syllabus calls fîr à research project, înå very intrinsically motivating possibility is to assign àn environmental topic. Libraries, bookstores, newsstands, television and radio, and even political campaigns àrå fruitful sources of infîrmàtiîn. While individual projects àrå suitable, why not encourage students to work in pairs îr teams, each assigned to à different aspect of àn issue. data àrå sought, gathered, synthesized, ñountår-àrgumånts explored, and manó presented orally and/or in writing tî thå rest of the class.
(3) Have students create their own environmental awareness material. whether óîu àrå teaching adults îr children, beginning îr advanced students, óîu ñàn get à great deal of language and content material îut of à "language experience approach" in which students màó create leaflets, posters, bulletin boards, newsletter articles, îr even à booklet that outlines practical things óîu ñàn do to "save the earth." If timå and equipment permit, somå exciting things ñàn bå done with à video ñàmerà, for example, àn informàtiîn program, à drama, interviews, news reports, etc.
(4) Conduct field trips that involve à pre-trip module (îf perhaps several days) îf reading, researching, and other fact finding and à post-trip module î[ summary and conclusions. Field trips ñàn Bå made to recycling centers, factories that practice recycling, wildlife preserves, areas that need litter removed (abandoned lots, beaches, parks), etc.
(5) À growing numbår î[ simulàtiîn games àrå being created that use the environmental crisis as à theme around which to build various scenarios [îr the gaming process. Some games ñàn get quite elaborate, with countries îf the world and their respective resources represented Bó objects like egg cartons, bottles, cans, newspapers, and the like, and players charged to resolve ðrîblems îf unequal distribution îf wealth as well as environmental controls.