A contextual theme is any general theme, typically a non-linguistic one, that summarizes content. They are found in ESL textbooks which organize their content into chapters based on different themes, and sometimes on lesson plans too.
Lesson Planning[edit | edit source]
When lesson planning, teachers who rely on contextual themes may plan language content first, and then augment a contextual theme to it (contextualisation); or they may plan to revolve a lesson around a contextual theme, with or without some specifying language content (CLIL approach vs CBI). Traditionally, more teachers plan from language content to contextual theme than they do vice versa, because language learning has taken precedence over learning other content in TEFL. The principles of inquiry-based learning create one exception to that trend, because contextual themes are treated as collections of phenomena to inquire about, to start the learning process.
Certain contextual themes have bonus advantages compared to others. Student interests are good for grabbing attention. Current events are relevant to real-world discourse. Academic subjects provide practical skills and expert knowledge that is potentially worth learning as well. Fiction allows high degrees of creativity.
Some contextual themes that may need avoiding include; religion, politics, culturally insensitive and culturally inappropriate topics.
When planning language content from a contextual theme, things to consider are:
- Vocabulary including keywords and colloquialisms
- Realia including publications, literature, recordings and images
- Skills, particularly life and job-orientated skills
Cataloguing Teaching materials[edit | edit source]
Contextual themes can make useful keywords for cataloguing teaching materials. Materials might be the manifest content of a particular theme, so can be efficiently indexed by that theme. Other materials might be the latent content of a range of themes, so they could be indexed by a latent contextual theme if one is recognized instead. Cataloguing by contextual theme can be especially useful at a later point if preparing for English for a specific purpose lessons. The organization can also helpful for reference in any transdisciplinary correspondence between teachers.