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Strategy 10: Using Learning Strategies

Another key instructional strategy to support CBI is to incorporate learning strategy training into instruction (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990; Stoller, 2002). Learning strategies are defined as thoughts or activities that assist in enhancing learning and student performance (Weinstein & Mayer, 1986, as cited in Chamot & O'Malley, 1994).

The basic idea is that students will learn content and language (particularly the more sophisticated language needed for academic tasks) more effectively by using learning strategies (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994). There is a large body of research that supports using learning strategies to support CBI (for reviews see Chamot & O'Malley, 1994; Grabe & Stoller, 1997; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990).

Chamot and O'Malley (1994, p. 60) contend that learning strategies are important because

  •   Strategies represent the dynamic processes underlying learning.
  •   Active learners are better learners.
  •   Strategies can be learned.
  •   Academic language learning is more effective with learning strategies.
  •   Learning strategies transfer to new tasks.

Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary, and Robbins (1999) suggest that all learning strategies reflect underlying metacognitive processes including planning, monitoring, problem-solving, and evaluating. Planning strategies help learners develop and use forethought. These include strategies such as setting goals, directed attention, activating prior knowledge, predicting, organizational planning and self-management. Monitoring strategies encourage learners to measure how effective they are while working on a particular task. Examples of monitoring strategies are selective attention, self-questioning (e.g., does it make sense?), personalizing, taking notes, using imagery, and self-talk. Problem-solving strategies are those that provide assistance when a student is having difficulty during a task. They include inferencing, substituting, asking questions to clarify, and using resources. Finally, evaluating strategies encourage reflection on how well a learning task went. Examples of evaluating strategies are verifying predictions, summarizing, checking goals, and evaluating self and strategy use. Additional strategies, such as imagining with keywords, grouping/classifying, and transfer or use of cognates, help students remember vocabulary and other information.

All of the CoBaLTT units include lesson-specific objectives related to learning strategies and skills development. By identifying specific learning strategy objectives, teachers become keenly aware of and attentive to the need to incorporate practice with learning strategies in the context of the lesson. Younger learners will need explicit instruction with particular learning strategies [see “How to teach learning strategies” and sample lesson in Chamot (2001) for tips on the explicit instruction of learning strategies]. Some older learners (upper elementary level and beyond) may also benefit from overt reminders of the need to use specific learning strategies to carry out a task. It is important not to assume that all learners will automatically engage particular learning strategies when needed.

Specific learning strategies are helpful for learning particular subject matter areas. Chamot and O'Malley (1994) provide a number of tables that identify strategies for specific content areas and offer guidelines for designing learning strategy lessons and for teaching learning strategies. These tables (listed below with links to PDF documents) are posted on the CoBaLTT website with the permission of the publisher.

Table 4.2—How to Teach Learning Strategies (p. 71)

Table 4.4—Design a Learning Strategy Lesson (p. 78)

Table 9.3—Learning Strategies for Science (p. 204)

Table 10.3—Learning Strategies for Mathematics (p. 236)

Table 10.4—Learning Strategies for Math Problem-Solving Steps (p. 237)

Table 11.2—Learning Strategies for Social Studies (p. 267)

Table 12.1—Learning Strategies for Literature and Composition (p. 296)

Immersion teachers will benefit from using the Elementary Immersion Learning Strategies Resource Guide. This free, interactive website is an online version of Elementary Immersion Learning Strategies Resource Guide published by the National Capital Language Resource Center. Users can follow the guide sequentially, skip to topics of interest, or jump directly to printable resources like lesson plans, charts, and worksheets. Topics covered include: definitions, descriptions, and examples of language learning strategies, teaching students to think about learning, teaching learning strategies using the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), and selecting strategies to introduce to students in language and content areas at each grade level. The site also provides sample lessons for a variety of grade levels, languages, and subject areas, and a review of the literature on language learning strategies instruction. The appendices contain further resources for teachers: an annotated list of stories to help teach learning strategies, a model for developing a learning strategies lesson, and learning strategies lists and definitions in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

Immersion teachers may also like to read “Teaching Learning Strategies in Immersion Classrooms” by Chamot (2001). It includes a learning strategies lesson plan designed for a second grade science class.

Note to the reader/visitor:
Most of CoBaLTT units labeled “stellar examples” (see Units and Lessons search page) are very effective at utilizing this specific instructional strategy. To find examples of how units utilize this instructional strategy, simply look at the lesson objective section entitled “learning strategies/ skills development,” which identify which learning strategies are being targeted within lessons. The following is an example of how a couple of learning strategies are being targeted in one single lesson activity:


Barbara Anderson’s unit—Le Moyen Âge en France: Lesson 05
(example of dictogloss)

Learning strategy targeted: note taking & group work
In this particular phase of the lesson, Barbara has her students work cooperatively in pairs to reconstruct a text, an original passage that was read to them three times. The collaborative process is then extended to bigger groups as Barbara combines pairs in groups of four so that students can share their findings and complete the work. The cooperative work culminates in a whole class debriefing activity where all groups present their findings while the rest of the class participates in making the final corrections and completing the text reconstruction process.



Chamot, A. U. (2001). Teaching learning strategies in immersion classrooms. The ACIE Newsletter, 5(1), 1-8 (Bridge insert). [Online] at

Chamot, A.U., & O'Malley, J.M. (1994). The CALLA handbook: Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Chamot, A.U., Barnhardt, S., El-Dinary, P.B., & Robbins, J. (1999). The learning strategies handbook. White Plains, NY: Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Company.

Grabe, W., & Stoller, F.L. (1997). Content-based instruction: Research foundations. In Snow, M.A. & Brinton, D.M. (eds.). The content-based classroom: Perspectives on integrating language and content (pp. 5-21). NY: Addison Wesley Longman Publishing Company. [also online at CoBaLTT website]

O'Malley, J. M. & Chamot, A. U. (1990). Learning strategies in second language acquisition. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Stoller, F. (2002, March). Content-Based Instruction: A Shell for Language Teaching or a Framework for Strategic Language and Content Learning? Keynote presented at the annual meeting of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Salt Lake City . [online at CoBaLTT website]

Weinstein, C. E., & Mayer, R. E. (1986). The teaching of learning strategies. In M.C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed.) (pp. 315-327). NY: Macmillan.


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