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Learner-Content Interaction: Best Practices

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Revisiting learner-content interaction: Implementing Processing Instruction What is Processing Instruction?Components of Processing InstructionSteps for creating structured input activitiesResearch findings on the efficacy of Processing Instruction
This lesson is part of the NFLRC Online Language Pedagogy Series, designed for in-service teachers of world languages online.

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Seminal Studies on Processing Instruction

If you are interested in implementing processing instruction in your second or foreign language classroom, you should read the seminal studies by VanPatten and Cadierno (1993a,1993b). The researchers investigated the acquisition of object pronouns and word order in Spanish among learners whose first language was English. These studies were the first to demonstrate that processing instruction was superior to traditional instruction for interpretation tasks and that it was equal to traditional instruction for production tasks. The findings are particularly important because learners who received processing instruction never produced the targeted forms during their instructional treatments, yet they performed equally well as their counterparts who received traditional (output-based) instruction.

Input Processing Principles and Sub-Principles (VanPatten, 2004, pp. 14 -18):

Principle 1: The Primacy of Meaning Principle. Learners process their input for meaning before they process it for form.

Principle 1a. The Primacy of Content Words Principle. Learners process content words in the input before anything else.

Principle 1b. The Lexical Preference Principle. Learners will tend to rely on lexical items as opposed to grammatical form to get meaning when both encode the same semantic information.

Principle 1c. The Preference for Nonredundancy Principle. Learners are more likely to process nonredundant meaningful grammatical forms before they process redundant meaningful forms.

Principle 1d. The Meaning-Before-Nonmeaning Principle. Learners are more likely to process meaningful grammatical forms before nonmeaningful forms irrespective of redundancy.

Principle 1e. The Availability of Resources Principle. For learners to process either redundant meaningful grammatical forms or nonmeaningful forms, the processing of overall sentential meaning must not drain available processing resources.

Principle 1f. The Sentence Location Principle. Learners tend to process items in sentence initial position before those in final position and those in medial position.

Principle 2: The First Noun Principle. Learners tend to process the first noun or pronoun they encounter in a sentence as the subject/agent.

P2a. The Lexical Semantics Principle. Learners may rely on lexical semantics, where possible, instead of word order to interpret sentences.

P2b. The Event Probabilities Principle. Learners may rely on event probabilities, where possible, instead of word order to interpret sentences.

P2c. The Contextual Constraint Principle. Learners may rely less on the First Noun Principle if preceding context constrains the possible interpretation of a clause or sentence.

Optional Reading

Russell (2012) investigated the efficacy of processing instruction and structured input activities for the acquisition of the subjunctive among online learners of Spanish.

Here is the study’s abstract:
This study investigated the effects of processing instruction (PI) and structured input (SI) on the acquisition of the subjunctive in adjectival clauses by 92 second semester distance learners of Spanish. Computerized visual input enhancement (VIE) was combined with PI and SI in an attempt to increase the salience of the targeted grammatical form for Web-based delivery. VIE was operationalized as word animation of subjunctive forms. Four experimental groups (+PI +VIE, +PI -VIE, +SI +VIE, +SI -VIE) were compared with traditional instruction (TI), and the results indicate that for interpretation and production tasks, there were no significant differences between TI and the experimental groups. However, for interpretation tasks on the immediate posttest, the +PI +VIE group outperformed the +SI -VIE group. In addition, responses from the Posttreatment Questionnaire revealed that learners who received PI, with or without VIE, expressed a preference for the PI materials over their regular course materials, which fell under the TI paradigm.

The full article is available here:

To learn more about the creator of processing instruction, read the following Interview with Bill VanPatten:

Suggested References

Lee, J. F., & VanPatten, B. (2003). Making communicative language teaching happen (2nd
Edition). New York: McGraw Hill.

Russell, V. (2012). Learning complex grammar in the virtual classroom: A comparison of
processing instruction, structured input, computerized visual input enhancement, and traditional instruction. Foreign Language Annals, 45, 42-71

VanPatten, B. (1993). Grammar teaching for the acquisition rich classroom. Foreign Language
Annals, 26, 435–450.

VanPatten, B. (1996). Input processing and grammar instruction: Theory and research.
Norwood, NJ: Ablex. VanPatten, B. (2002). Processing instruction: An update. Language Learning, 52, 755–803.

VanPatten, B. (2004). Input processing in SLA. In B. VanPatten (Ed.), Processing instruction:
Theory, research, and commentary (pp. 5–31). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

VanPatten, B., & Cadierno, T. (1993a). Explicit instruction and input processing. Studies in
Second Language Acquisition, 15, 225–243.

VanPatten, B., & Cadierno, T. (1993b). Input processing and second language acquisition:
A role for instruction. Modern Language Journal, 77, 45–57.

Wong, W., & VanPatten, B. (2003). The evidence is IN: Drills are OUT. Foreign Language
Annals, 36, 403-423.]

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