Why High-Interest Content-Based Instruction

The purpose of Content-Based Instruction (CBI) is to promote reading narrowly and deeply in a content-area to develop academic language.  Cummin’s distinction of “academic language” versus Basic Interpersonal Conversational Speech is not a comment on the prestige of the subject matter, but the cognitive processes needed to access that language (2007, 75).  Advanced learners listen to and read increasingly abstract language and activate background knowledge to  problem-solve, analyze, justify, etc. in a content area.  However, students do this best spontaneously and autonomously with self-selected texts (Krashen 2016, 2004).

Decontextualized, content-specified texts can include concepts that build like:  “motor,” “piston,” and “cylinder” carare examples of academic language… and they also happen to be highly compelling to most male learners ages 3-99.

High-interest or “compelling” content-based instruction lowers the affective filter (Krashen 2011a). Allowing student choice helps children enjoy learning without feeling “checked up on” to promote genuine love for reading and learning per Krashen’s Effortless Reading Hypotheses (2011b, 84).

More importantly, High-Interest CBI uses an approachable, inclusive definition of academic language that’s relevant to students who see themselves as experts and academics. 

Nationwide, one in five Latino males drops out. There are schools where it’s contagious: boys turn 16 and it’s simply understood they will drop out like all their friends. By choosing High-Interest Content Based Instruction, I make a statement against the intellectual snobbery of saying only Chemistry and Algebra are “academic.” I seek to honor what my students love and are good at. If the Civil War or Rainforest make them feel confident and curious to know more, we read about that.  Otherwise, we read something else they are genuinely compelled by.

High-interest CBI develops leadership roles for my language minority students.  While reading and learning about peer mediation, we created a leadership opportunity. The photography unit fed leaders from my class into the yearbooks staff. My kids’ discussions on good reading habits lead to the creation of Junior Librarians.  Sometimes CBI entices kids to simply join sports and art clubs, or just read more on their own on something that may become a real career someday.


Bean, T. & Walker, N. (2005). Sociocultural influences on content area teacher’s selection and use of multiple texts. Reading Research and Instruction, 44(4), 61- 77.

Cummins, J. (2007). BICS and CALP: Empirical and Theoretical Status of the Distinction. Street, B. & Hornberger, N. H. (Eds.). (2008). Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd Edition, Volume 2: Literacy. (pp. 71-83). New York: Springer Science + Business Media LLC.

Krashen, S. (2004). The Case for Narrow Reading. Language Magazine 3(5):17-19.

Krashen, S. (2011a). The Compelling (not just interesting) Input Hypothesis. The English Connection (KOTESOL). 15, 3: 1.

Krashen, S.D. (2011b). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (2016). Compelling Reading and Problem-Solving: The Easy Way (And the Only Way) to High Levels of Language, Literacy, and Life Competence. (In Leung, Yiu-nam (Ed.), Epoch Making in English Language Teaching and Learning, Twenty-fifth International Symposium on English Teaching, English Teachers’ Association, Republic of China. pp. 115-125.)


Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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