Bloom’s Taxonomy. Chances are, if you’ve been in the educational world for any length of time, you’ve heard of it. And, if not, you’ve definitely seen it. It’s a hierarchical system for classifying learning objectives or levels of thinking according to their complexity and specificity.
While most often used to help teachers write SLOs (Student Learning Objectives) for formal lesson planning, it is also useful for planning out lessons and classes that are well-paced and build upon one another. What I want to examine today is how Bloom’s Taxonomy can help you become a better teacher and lesson planner specifically in the adult ESL classroom.
What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
Like I stated above, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy of thinking, which is why you’ll often see it illustrated with a pyramid structure. The lower-levels of thinking require students to recall information, be able to explain it, or use it in a situation, while the higher-levels of thinking require students to break things down, think creatively and critically, and make judgment calls.
I find that a lot of times in ESL classrooms, especially beginner-level classrooms, we never advance past the lower-levels. That’s okay in some circumstances, but even beginner-level learners are capable of thinking creatively and critically.
Since Bloom’s Taxonomy isn’t a hierarchy of language skills, but a hierarchy of thinking, students with limited language can still perform at the fourth, fifth, or even sixth levels. The lower-levels are not reserved for beginner-level students exclusively.
Also, make note that Bloom’s Taxonomy is not a linear classification system. What I mean by this is that students will not progress through the levels once and then be fluent in English, rather it’s a cycle that will be repeated every time new information is learned.
Therefore, don’t expect to hit every level of learning in a single class session, or the first time you introduce past progressive verbs. I tend to focus on 3-4 different levels of learning in a single lesson plan, and sometimes that’s too much.
Know your learners and be receptive to the feedback you get while teaching. It’s okay to make adjustments on the spot. As your students become more comfortable with the material and as the more times they come in contact with it, the further they will “climb” up Bloom’s Taxonomy.
You can find the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy below, along with some action words that are associated with them and activity examples.
Knowledge - Knowledge is the first building block of Bloom’s Taxonomy. You find the ‘knowledge’ stage of thinking a lot of times in beginner-level classes or when new information is first being introduced in more advanced-level classes. Students are asked to recall, recite, repeat, or write down information.
- Fill-in-the-Blank or Multiple Choice Worksheets
- Reading-Comprehension Questions
- Underlining Adjectives in a Reading Passage
Typical Action-Words: Arrange, Choose, Point, Pick, Name, Mime, Underline, Repeat, Recite
Comprehension - The next level of thinking in Bloom’s Taxonomy is comprehension. This level is also often found in beginner-level classes, reading classes, or practice sessions after new information is learned. Students working within the comprehension stage of thinking will often be asked to restate information in their own words or interpret the meaning behind something.
- Explaining a New Concept to a Peer
- Predicting Grammatical Patterns
- Identifying the Reason Behind an Individual’s Behavior in a Story
- Translating Language
Typical Action-Words: Give Example, Indicate, Summarize, Explain, Discuss, Define, Describe, Specify
Application - The application stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy is usually where a lot of ESL classes, especially beginner-level ones, stop. This stage is often found at the end of a unit or lesson as a take-away point, assigned as homework, or as an independent practice session. Classes that emphasize the application level will often have students apply what they’ve learned to a practical life situation or use the material to solve a problem.
- Role-Playing a Communicative Interaction
- Practice Writing a Resume
- Creating a Demonstration
- Writing a Story About a Secondary Character
Typical Action-Words: Demonstrate, Report, Model, Practice, Solve, Use, Develop, Communicate, Edit
Analysis - Right after the halfway point of Bloom’s Taxonomy is the analysis level of thinking. This is where things start to get more complex. This level is often found in bigger projects, essays, or academic ESL classes, though it isn’t confined to those particular situations. Students are often asked at this stage to compare/contrast information or categorize it to better help them understand the different components involved.
- Explaining the Difference Between Two Positions
- Analyzing Prefixes and Suffixes to Better Understand Meaning
- Sequencing a Story
- Exploring the Reason Behind Cultural Traditions
Typical Action-Words: Categorize, Investigate, Explore, Differentiate, Contrast, Analyze, Examine
Synthesis - The next level of Bloom’s Taxonomy is synthesis. While usually reserved for more advanced-level classes, synthesis can also be found in creative writing activities, research projects, and business ESL classes. At this level students are asked to gather information in order to form a brand new idea, product, or perspective. It’s all about creative thinking.
- Proposing a Solution to a Business Problem
- Creating an Advertisement for a Specific Audience
- Writing a Response Letter to a Magazine Editor
- Discussing Alternate Endings to a Story
Typical Action-Words: Produce, Illustrate, Integrate, Hypothesize, Compile, Generate, Manage, Propose
Evaluation - The final stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy is the evaluation stage. Evaluation is not only for the advanced levels, as it can be found in editing activities, when discussing opinions, and throughout writing classes. Students at this level are asked to not only judge the information that they have previously analyzed, but to support their opinions as well.
- Pitching a New Business Idea
- Debating a Controversial Position
- Discussing Opinions of a Book or Movie
- Writing a Restaurant Recommendation
Typical Action-Words: Critique, Debate, Prioritize, Question, Consider, Assess, Verify, Recommend
How Does It Apply to My ESL Classroom?
So, how does Bloom’s Taxonomy specifically apply to an adult ESL classroom? While I usually see it used by public school educators or when writing formal lesson plans and objectives, it’s an incredible tool when it comes to language learning.
I love to use Bloom’s Taxonomy when writing lesson plans. It really is a great way to center my scrambled teacher brain and focus on creating activities that will gradually stretch my students. Try mapping your activities against the taxonomy. Use it as a road map.
I like to focus on 3-4 levels of learning in a single lesson, but you can focus on more or less, depending upon your students. With that in mind, I do a quick reflection on how my students have previously encountered the material I’m teaching, and where that would place them on the taxonomy.
Let’s set up an example. I’m teaching a class of adult learners who are nearing the end of a unit on vocabulary and language related to urban settings; however, they’re still at an intermediate-level. I’m going to place them at an application level on Bloom’s Taxonomy. They’ve already learned about the vocabulary, read different pieces of text related to the topic, and are ready to apply the information.
Activity 1: Role-Play - Application
- Person A lives in the city of their choosing. Person B is planning on visiting, but is nervous. What are some things that Person B is nervous about and why? How can Person A calm their fears and get them excited to visit?
Activity 2: Compare/Contrast - Analysis
- Students work in pairs to analyze an overview of two different cities. They must compare and contrast the cities, as if they were considering relocating. They must pay attention to job opportunities, transportation, housing, weather, and recreational activities.
Activity 3: Create a City - Synthesis
- Students work in small groups to create their own perfect city. They must discuss what is important to them as a group and make decisions accordingly. This is a great segue to a presentation or debate, which can lead to an evaluation-level activity.
While this may seem like a pretty complex or advanced class, it can work really well on more simple terms for a beginner-level class. Just add in some more help from you, the teacher, be sure to go over the vocabulary they will need, and take it slower.
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great tool for when you are lesson planning and are just not sure where to go with your topic or concept. It can be difficult to know how to push your students towards higher levels of thinking and more complex tasks, but using this as a guideline can be really helpful.
If you'd like to learn more, or are looking for more resources related to Bloom's Taxonomy, check out the links below!
I Want to Hear From You!
How do you use Bloom's Taxonomy as an adult ESL teacher?
How do you implement more higher-level thinking tasks in your beginner-level classes?