• Destiny Yarbro

Gange’s Nine Events of Instruction in the Foreign Language Classroom [Infographic]

Each of Gagne’s nine events of instruction can be interpreted as cognitive or behaviorist approaches. I indicate my preferred approach by exploring classroom strategy and practice examples for minority language courses.

1. Gain attention of the students.

Using icebreaker activities, asking thought-provoking questions, and creating “disequilibrium” are cognitive practices because they spark an eagerness to explore further (McLeod, 2018). I start sign language courses with charades, signing and acting out a movie, famous quote, fairy tale, or historical event to help students switch into a visual mindset, build vital comprehension skills, and make sign language immediately relatable to their interests.

2. Inform learners of objectives.

This event can be quite behaviorist as it focuses on what and how a student is ‘supposed’ to learn. To make this more cognitive-friendly, I would introduce a class saying, “By the end of class, you’ll be able to have a conversation about your favorite movies, books, and hobbies!” Yes, this is stating what “[I] want [my] students to accomplish” (a more behaviorist idea), but it shows the content’s immediate benefits to the students and how it can further their personal communication goals (a cognitive idea) (Borich & Tombari, n-d).

3. Stimulate recall of prior learning.

This behaviorist event builds “on previous knowledge or skills” with each building block of learning placed in the “learning hierarchy” (UFL, n-d; Borich & Tombari, n-d). Traditional language instruction methods see grammar and conjugations as foundational, resulting (in my experience) with students who are terrified to speak and make mistakes. To combat this fear, I initially teach a language like it is a pidgin, what linguist Armin Schwegler (2012) refers to as an “emergency language” because pidgins emphasize immediate communication above all else. For example, students easily pick up pidgin sentence structure such as “Past I live China with family. Future you live China?” Thus, their ability to communicate is immediate. As the course proceeds, I gradually introduce more complex lingual elements like conjugations, cases, tenses, tones, etc.

4. Present the content.

Borich and Tombari (n-d) state that a behaviorist presents the content “in a way that will give learners frequent opportunities to make correct responses,” informing students that “this is what you are required to learn to pass the course.” Instead, my approach is more cognitive and student-centered. “When a Deaf person comes into your workplace, these five phrases can get the conversation started. Take a moment and write down five more phrases that would help you specifically at your job so you can learn them today.”

5. Provide learning guidance.

This event can be quite behaviorist as “guidance” can come in the form of regulations about what to do and what not to do so students do not “become frustrated by basing performance on incorrect facts or poorly understood concepts” (UFL, n-d). Instead, I follow the idea that this event is about “help[ing] students learn how to learn” and reminding them of what tools they have at their disposal. (NIU, n-d). For example, as fingerspelling is usually very challenging for students, I provide tips and tricks that may help them learn. Tip 1: Understanding fingerspelling is like jeopardy, you don’t focus on every individual letter but on the whole word and filling in the blanks. Tip 2: Use the conversation’s context; rarely does fingerspelling come out of nowhere. Tip 3: Sound out words in your head like you’re reading, not saying the letters “K-E-T-C-H-U-P.” Tip 4: Note the first and last letter and the easily-recognizable letters (B, C, L, O, J, R, V, W, X, Y, Z).

6. Elicit performance (practice).

This cognitive event allows students to “play,” explore, and experiment with what they have learned (Gray, 2008). I encourage hands-on-learning activities (quite literally) where there is no right or wrong answer, such as “Create a game to help the class improve their fingerspelling. Build your game from scratch or adapt your favorite game.” This basic structure frees the students to create and practice without restraint.

7. Provide feedback.

Confirmatory, evaluative, and remedial feedback focuses on what the student did right or wrong in an assignment. Descriptive or analytic feedback is formative and more cognitive theory-friendly as it “provides the student with suggestions, directives, and information to help them improve…” (NIU, n-d). An example of descriptive feedback could be, “You are a fingerspelling rock star! To help your brain let go of English and embrace visual ASL, imagine yourself directing The Sound of Music’s opening scene. Instead of signing “There is a woman standing on a hill and singing,” sign like you are filming from a helicopter: “Mountains surround me, passing beneath my view. I see a small speck in the distance. I come closer and closer. It’s a woman standing on a hill, arms open, looking up, smiling, and singing.”

8. Assess performance.

Project-based and community-centered assessments allow students to apply what they’ve learned to real-life scenarios. These “authentic measures” of progress allow for more student diversity and critical thinking than any standardized tests with multiple choice and true/false questions (Armstrong, 2018, p.129). For example, a less-formal assessment could be held after a ‘Deaf Chat’ activity. “Who did you meet? What were you able to chat about? What sign(s) did you wish you knew in that moment? What do you want to be able to chat about next time?” This honest, low-pressure, self-assessment allows myself and the student to identify what they know and what they hope to know.

9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job.

Both cognitive and behaviorist approaches emphasize retention. Rather than placing “transfer to the job” at the end of the list (a seemingly behavioralist, “sequenced” approach), cognitive theory encourages the consistent application of knowledge to life in every event listed above (Borich & Tombari, n-d). As the brain is much more likely to retain information that matters personally to the student and “holds currency within a social context,” one strategy I use is to bridge the gap between school and the community by inviting visitors from the sign language community (Saaris, 2017). Sign language ceases to be a chore or even a fun pastime when students meet leaders in the Deaf community, see the diversity in international sign languages, and explore the variety of fields that need interpreters.


Exploring Gange’s nine events of instruction per my language teaching practices and strategies further honed my preference for cognitive approaches. For the most part, I find cognitive theory creates a more learner-centered environment and helps me prioritize the student when managing behavior, constructing my lesson plans, and instructing in the classroom.


Armstrong, T. (2018). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (4th ed.). ASCD.

Borich, G. D. & Tombari, M. L. (n-d). “Behaviorism in the Classroom.” Lumen Educational Psychology. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/edpsy/chapter/behaviorism-in-the-classroom/

Gray, P. (2008, August 20). A Brief History of Education. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/200808/brief-history-education

McLeod, S. A. (2018, June 06). Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html

NIU. (n-d). Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction. Northern Illinois University. https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/learning/gagnes_nine_events_instruction.pdf

Saaris, N. (2017, June 30). The Benefits of Deeper Learning: Retention, Transfer, and Motivation. Actively Learn. https://www.activelylearn.com/post/the-benefits-of-deeper-learning-retention-transfer-and-motivation

Schwegler, A. (2012, March 15). The French Creole Connection. Semester at Sea. https://www.semesteratsea.org/2012/03/15/the-french-creole-connection/

Schwegler, A. (2017, April 6). African roots in Latin America: Palenque (Colombia). TEDxUCIrvine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY4RTVaD9Sg

UFL. (n-d). Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction. University of Florida. https://citt.ufl.edu/resources/the-learning-process/designing-the-learning-experience/gagnes-9-events-of-instruction/

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