Bloom’s Taxonomy: Learner Acquisition of Language in the Classroom

Definitive Article

Bloom’s Taxonomy: Learner Acquisition of Language in the Classroom

InKnowledge this article we explore Bloom’s Taxonomy (The 6 levels of knowledge) and how it relates to learner acquisition of language in the classroom. Before we begin with the practical, it is important to have an understanding of how we can measure knowledge.





Here’s the intro on Bloom’s Taxonomy Wikipedia Entry:

Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. The three lists cover the learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains. The cognitive domain list has been the primary focus of most traditional education and is frequently used to structure curriculum learning objectives, assessments and activities. As with most theoretical models, they are controversial even while commonly used.[1]

They were named after Benjamin Bloom, who chaired the committee of educators that devised the taxonomy. He also edited the first volume of the standard text, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals.[2][3]


For our purposes in this article we will focus on the cognitive domain as picture above.

The 6 levels of knowledge
The term ‘to know’ is quite obtrusive. It doesn’t really mean anything, the concept is indescribable, and it is used incorrectly far too often. To help us understand what it means ‘to know’ Bloom has broken down the cognitive domain into 6 levels of knowledge. Here is the 10 cent introduction:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

1. Knowlege

  • Exhibit previously learned material by recalling facts, terms, basic concepts and answers
  • Key words: who, what why, when, omit, where, which, choose, find, how, define, label, show, spell, list, match, name, relate, tell, recall, select.
  • Teachers tend to ask questions in the “knowledge” category 80-90% of the time.

2. Comprehension

  • Demonstrate understand of facts and ideas by organising, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions and stating main ideas.
  • Key words: compare, contract, demonstrate, describe, interpret, explain, extend, illustrate, infer, outline, relate, rephrase, translate, summarise, show, classify, infer.
  • Teachers tend to only ask questions in the “comprehension” category when assigning tasks.

3. Applicationeureka-720x320

  • Solve problems by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way.
  • Key words: apply, build, choose, construct, demonstrate, develop, draw, design, experiment with, illustrate, interview, make use of, model, organise, plan, select, solve, utilise.
  • Life Clubs need to be aimed at this layer of knowledge, using the language in a meaningful way.

4. Analysis

  • Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes; make inferences and find evidence to support generalisations.
  • Key words: analyse, categorise, classify, compare, contrast, discover, divide, examine, group, inspect, sequence, simplify, distinguish, distinction, relationships, function, assume, conclude.
  • Concept check questions (CCQs) from this category tend to be the most effective.

5. Synthesis

  • Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions.
  • Key words: combine, compile, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, imagine, invent, make up, originate, plan, propose, solve, solution, suppose, discuss, modify, change, improve, adapt, minimise, maximise, delete, elaborate, improve
  • Most of your projects in university probably aimed at utilising this level of knowledge.

6. Evaluation

  • Present and defend opinions by making judgements about info action, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria.
  • Key words: award, choose, defend, determine, evaluate, judge, justify, measure, compare, mark, rate, recommend, rule on, select, agree, appraise, prioritise, support, prove, disprove, assess, influence, value.
  • As teachers we need to be questioning ourselves on our learners’ language acquisition – The Evaluation of Learning. – by using our level 6 knowledge of the language, and observed behaviours in class.


Great! Now you have read the 10 cent introduction into Bloom’s Taxonomy, or maybe you went out and read a book or some articles. You might have achieved level 1 or level 2 on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Whoa, going a little meta here!Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 4.50.16 PM

But now you’re thinking: “Jimmy, how does Bloom’s Taxonomy relate to the acquisition of lexis by our learners in the classroom?
And I will answer you with a question: “To which level of knowledge do you teach the target language to your learners?

We often spend large chunks of a lesson drilling in chorus or popcorn drilling – whatever your forte. This transfers to the learners which level of knowledge? Level 1 or 2 right? Just like your current understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy – you can recall/repeat the 6 levels, you might even comprehend enough to explain to another teacher – but the next level moves on to application. What do you need to do, behaviours or actions you need to move your knowledge of Bloom’s Taxonomy to level 3? Now think about your learners and how they achieve level 1 or 2 knowledge after drilling. What actions or behaviours can you or your learners do to achieve higher levels of knowledge?

If you have a lesson plan in which 20 minutes is dedicated to the vocabulary – how can you maximise learning results to reach higher levels of knowledge? Many teachers do a great job of transferring the habit of playing with language. If you have had a student call you a monkey or a banana – they have applied the knowledge in a new situation. This is great fun and works for one or two situations, however we cannot always have our learners calling the teacher names; banana, closet, finger, cafeteria, dolphin burger. It does not reach true application level.

Here are a few ideas that I have found work to get learners to higher levels of knowledge:

1. Present vocabulary and the structure together.

Apply the sentence structure in your drilling of the target vocabulary. Instead of learners shouting “banana” for 5 minutes, they can be shouting “I like bananas” or “I don’t like bananas“. It might be a little tricky at first because the learners are not used to such complete input, however once it is part of the routine you will never go back.

2. Model once, then run away.

Not really run away, but remove yourself from the production as soon as you can (save that beautiful voice of yours). Set up a dialog with the structures the learners have just acquired – or even semi-acquired – and have the learners be the prompter. In too many lessons the teacher is the one always asking the prompt question and the learners never get the opportunity to practice the new language in communication. Have the learners ask and answer, then you can drink your coffee and watch – or record it for MediaHub.

3. Stop explaining.

If your group can explain the grammar, let them. If a student can explain a word, let them. If learners can discover for themselves, let them. Many teachers get caught up in explainations, their eyes roll into their heads as they internalize their thoughts and phrase their language in a way that the learners will understand, grading that language into a dull spiral of verbose abstraction … minutes pass and the group is more confused. Introduce the habit to your group of ‘little teacher’ where there are certain students that can use L1 upon request/instruction. Introduce the habit of a group getting a ‘grammar box’ handout and have 1 minute to explain to the teacher what the grammar rule is. Introduce the habit of learners checking your board work by making frequent errors in your written form. Welcome to level 4.

4. Increase/accommodate incidental language

The best teachers in the world can get their learners to speak naturally, with intonation, stress, and discourse markers – those little bits of speech native speakers use, and when a non-native speaker uses your ears prick up. “You know“, “actually“, “it’s like” use these in your classroom and encourage your learners to use them too. I remember a Small Star Blue I had where the screensaver turned on, I said “Uh-oh” and thought nothing of it. Later when a child’s markers had fallen on the ground the entire group erupted in Uh-ohs. It was our word and the learners had acquired such a meaningful (and useful) minor phrase. Use the words with the learners that you used back home, colloquialisms and slang, raps and speech combos. It feels good walking into a class of 4 year olds saying “How you doing?” and answering with “It’s aiight.

5. Make mistakes

The best way to learn is to teach. Make mistakes in your presentation, in your board-work, in your teacher to student interaction. The learners will correct you, and be on the lookout for further errors. They will be motivated by the fact that they know more than their teacher, and grow in confidence because “even the teacher isn’t right all the time.” And congratulations, you are bringing the learners up to level 4.

6. Identify the level to which you present the language to the learners

Every great teacher reflects on their lessons. The first thing I think about when I finish a lesson is all the things I did wrong. This self reflection comes from habit and experience in the classroom – the more experienced you are the more you notice (level of knowledge anyone?). During your reflections evaluate the level to which you presented the language, and the level to which the learners were able to practice and apply. You will be surprised how often you aim at level 1. Once you have the awareness of Bloom’s Taxonomy, you can begin to apply it in your lesson plans and teaching. Plan lessons around the aim of getting learners up the knowledge triangle.



Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.24.09 AMFor some of you this article might be a little confusing or you feel it out of your reach. No problem, we are all learning as teachers (I have been teaching for 12 years and still moving up the triangle). If you have been teaching for less than two years and understand the article and application (level 2 & 3) then you are doing much better than I did. For some of us teaching comes easy, for others we need to work hard, read books, educate ourselves and bomb the odd lesson or two. Like your students learn from your experiences, level 1 to level 6 is impossible, level 1 to 2 is easy. One class at a time, one skill at a time.

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