A variety of activities will enhance language acquisition. Suggestions include articles, student presentations, discussions, role plays, field trips and demonstrations.

In a content-based approach, grammar still needs to be taught since the need will arise for the students to communicate using a specific structure (passive voice, for example). Grammatical accuracy still needs to be part of the hidden agenda of the course, especially for college-bound students, and it can be hidden in the readings.

In science classes, students learn more about a process by performing a demonstration or an experiment than by just reading about it. The same concept can be carried over into other fields. In social studies, learners may hold a mock election or a mock UN debate. Later on, they can write out their experiences in a journal or as a part of a follow-up assignment.

A hands-on learning experience will be more meaningful and go into deep memory.

"Score one for a hands-on style of learning, especially among young people," Catherine Gewertz writes. "A new survey finds that getting physically involved in learning something trumps reading about it. The results paint a picture of a very different kind of learning than what is typically found in most classrooms."

Vocational language

In this example from Janet G. Graham and Robert S. Beardsley, students are enrolled in a pharmacy course. The specific goal of the sample lesson is the speech functions necessary for pharmacists in their daily work.

The functions are modeled by videos or live presentations. Role-playing is included, along with work on idioms and listening comprehension using published articles on the subject of pharmacy.

Some of the speech functions include:

  • Greeting
  • Asking for information
  • Reflecting
  • Paraphrasing
  • Reassuring
  • Acknowledging receipt of information and requesting further communication
  • Requesting feedback
  • Directing
  • Making sure
  • Socializing

Some of the expressions taught are the following:

  • Take these three times a day with meals
  • The first thing you have to do is ...
  • After you've done that, you ...
  • Be sure to ...
  • Be careful not to ...

Here, the students learn useful routines to help further oral interaction with their clients. In the role plays, they administer eye drops or ear drops, take temperatures and other measurements, adjust devices and put in a contact lens.

Language input

When implementing these activities, students need to receive language according to their proficiency level. The instructor needs to speak clearly and slightly slower than with a native speaker class.

Context clues are important, and additional helps can be provided by outlines on the blackboard, visuals, charts, word banks and realia. Additional input can be provided by finding content online and showing it with captions, if available, to the class.

The instructor should also be aware of useful learning strategies. Students can be taught the strategies, or they can transfer the language-learning strategies they used in ESL to the new tasks at hand.

Subject matter core

The core of the content-based ESL class derives from the subject rather than the forms of the language. The goal of the class is to use the subject as a way to increase communicative competence. The texts should be authentic and should have a goal of conveying real messages and information.

English becomes a means of acquiring new information rather than an object of study. The texts and materials should be appropriate to the level of the class; the sample lessons given here should be adjusted up or down depending on the grade level and proficiency of the students.

English language learners (ELLs) may advance rapidly in acquiring communication skills, but they can lag behind in acquiring academic language.

"ELLs will often learn the social contexts of English long before they master the elements that they need for learning and conveying their knowledge of academic content," Virginia "Jenny" Williams writes. "Academic language can take five to seven years to acquire at levels that are needed for a typical classroom in the U.S."

Students may be at the advanced level in the four skills, but they may still have difficulty with the academic courses if they are taking them concurrently with the ESL program. Even after passing the TOEFL or other placement test, they face hurdles when it comes to regular course work with native speakers.

Advanced fluency, the final phase of second-language acquisition, can take five to seven years to emerge. During this stage, students take on a near-native ability in the second language when speaking, but academic language may still be developing.

Other suggested activities include listening and dictation exercises using articles from professional journals. Content-area readings should allow students to relate their language learning to the academic subjects they are studying. As stated in the ACTFL National Standards: "Making Connections: Learners build, reinforce and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using the language to develop critical thinking and to solve problems creatively."

The core ESL class can be set up according to the subject area and number and level of students. Students will gain learning strategies in the core class that will help them understand material presented in the on-site component.