Bloom’s Taxonomy and Language Learning in 500 Words

Longtime readers might know that in my day job–the one I go to when I’m not blogging or fighting crime in Gotham–I develop documentation and training. Lately, I’ve been creating classroom curriculum for technical trainers.

Something I’ve had to become somewhat familiar with is Bloom’s taxonomy. The taxonomy is so influential in educational circles that I’m surprised it hasn’t been more prominent in language learning. I’ve seen some mention of it from MFL teachers, but for the most part it’s not paid much attention.

You could literally write a dissertation on Bloom’s taxonomy’s relevance in second language learning. (You’re welcome, grad students.) So I’ll try to cover the topic in 500 words.

(UPDATE: When you’re done, please be sure to check out the follow-up article, which clarifies a couple things here and adds a few others.)

Who, What, Where, When? (I’ll cover “Why?” later.)

Bloom’s taxonomy was created in the 1940s by a group of United States educators, headed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom. In 2000, it was updated by cognitive psychologists.

The taxonomy separates educational goals into three general “domains”–cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling), and pscyhomotor (doing). The first, cognitive, is the domain that education generally deals with.

The cognitive domain is further broken down into different skills, going from least complex to most:

  • Remembering
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analyzing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

How does Bloom’s taxonomy apply to language learning?

So if you consider the skills I mentioned above, then you can determine what kind of language learning activities would go in each category.

I put some thoughts into the following graphic, which you can share on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. (Hint, hint.)

These categorizations aren’t set in stone. As the Big Lebowski would tell me, “That’s, like, just your opinion, man.” Maybe speaking belongs in the “Creating” category, vocab drills in “Understanding,” and so on. My goal here isn’t to be the definitive source, though, but to give you some food for thought.

So what?

Okay, so next question: Why do we care?

Three reasons. The taxonomy:

  • Lets you know lower level skills–remembering and understanding–are prerequisites to higher-level ones. You know you have to learn words before you can argue politics.
  • Gives you an idea of how complicated an activity is. You know what’s appropriate for your current level.
  • Provides a progression track. If all you did was memorize lists of vocab words, you’d not be challenging yourself nearly enough to pick up higher-level skills.


Please consider the taxonomy as a very flexible model. I can think of two reasons why you shouldn’t obsess over it:

  • It doesn’t account for differences among the four basic language skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. For instance, listening is generally much easier than speaking, even though both are in the “Applying” category.
  • Acquisition doesn’t follow this model. Easy example: Many people learn to speak grammatically comprehensible sentences without ever learning a grammatical rule. In some ways, learning a language is like learning history or math, but in some ways it is way different.

But I still think Bloom’s taxonomy provides value to language enthusiasts, if for no other reason than to make you analyze why you’re doing what you’re doing.


  • Cori

    Interesting. To be honest, it´s the first time I ever heard about Taxonomy and its concept. You are right…it´s good food for thought!

  • James O’Donnell

    I just love “Drill Grammar” in Analyzing. I understand what you mean. It is the terminology that may annoy individuals. “Understanding
    grammar” may be better than “drill grammar”. Case in point for French: past participle agreement with reflexive
    verbs, such as elles se sont téléphoné and elle se sont vues. Limiting the chart to one example for each category is forcing a point
    of view. I am sure that is not your intention. I propose that categories have more than one example.

    As you have pointed out, language is not a flow chart and the four
    skills do not have equal position in all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Here is a thought, pictorial representations are traditionally two-dimensional. Two dimensions will limit the scope as it shapes the data into a compressed representation. A more accurate model will be three-dimensional, allowing for connections that bypass some stages. If cartographers had drawn maps on spheres, no one would have stated that the Earth was flat. We know that Greenland is about 1/3 the size of Brazil, but most maps portray it as being twice the size. How will the general public understand when being presented with a graphic where one cannot believe his own eyes ?

    • Ron G.

      Hi, James! Great points, and good idea on the 3D model. I think that given the context of the article, most people *should* understand that my point with the chart is to very briefly give some examples. But I have to admit that since it is the most eye-catching element on the page and could be a standalone artifact (and I essentially encouraged people to share it as such) I am promoting a pretty specific, limited point of view. I took some technical communication grad classes that discussed the rhetoric of charts, which I’m mentioning only to say that I agree with you that I’m “forcing a point of view” here, albeit inadvertently.

      This post has gone somewhat viral. I’m happy about that as a blogger, but I’m concerned that new readers not familiar with my site and what I’m about will assume things–like I’m suggesting education policy, or claiming to be a professional linguist, or so on and so forth. Still, I can tell by some of the comments on social media that I got the gears turning, so in the end I’m glad that I wrote something that grabbed people’s attention, even if it’s imperfect.

  • Jared

    Definitely a useful graphic,thanks. We’re working on developing more language learning tools so this helps me organize and structure my ideas better.

    • Ron G.

      Thanks, Jared! Glad it helps.

  • Nada

    Thank you for valuable information. I need resources about the limitaions of Bloom’s taxonomy in langauge learning and aquisition.If you can supply some, please do. Thank you

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