Effective teachers use both content and language objectives on a daily basis to give students a well-rounded understanding of curriculum areas. Content and language objectives should be stated at the beginning of each lesson so that the students understand where they are going and what is expected of them. Consider content and language objectives as a road map for student learning. If students know the destination, they are more likely to get there without too many roadblocks.
Content objectives provide students with a list of things they will learn by the end of a lesson. These objectives usually involve facts, places, dates, events or other items that can be put into a list or remembered for a test. Content objectives do not deal with levels of understanding, how systems work together or other critical, higher level thinking skills. In reading text books, content objectives are usually given at the beginning of a chapter in the form of bullet points or an outline so students will know what they are looking for when they read.
Language objectives involve the processing of information by using critical thinking. For example, a history lesson may contain the content objective of when the Civil War was fought, while a language objective might include student's comparing and contrasting life in the south before and after the Civil War. Language objectives challenge students to take information they've learned in content areas and apply facts to real life situation and draw conclusions. Teachers use various aspects of language and communication instruction to assess this objective. Writing, listening, reading, vocabulary, summarizing and outlining are all tools for teaching language objectives.
When teachers use content objectives only, students may not be able to apply what they've learned and engage their higher-level thinking skills. Language objective skills are key to success in higher education, and students who have not been challenged to develop these skills test lower on college aptitude tests. Content objectives are important in all curriculum areas, but students need to manipulate content areas so they not only learn the objectives but have ownership of the content.
Although language objectives challenge students to use their higher-level thinking skills, without firm content objectives, students don't have the necessary tools for success. Content objectives should be considered the basics of instruction, while language objectives take the student further into the curriculum and provide a deeper understanding of the content. This is especially true for students learning English as a second language. Without a balance of content and language objectives, these students are unable to make the connections and develop and use their language skills.