“Chris, we’ve been asked to work with some schools to develop their CLIL courses. Can you look after that?” That was the first time I heard the term CLIL. I said yes, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for, but now, many years down the line I hope some things I learnt can be of use to others having to design and teach CLIL courses.
Much has been written on what CLIL is and why to do it, for example the articles on TeachingEnglish, but there is very little practical guidance on how to plan and teach CLIL lessons. If you are a subject teacher who has been asked to teach in English (or any other language for that matter), or a language teacher who has been asked to help teach content then this article will show you where to start.
Where to start
The first things to think about when planning a CLIL lesson, or indeed a whole course, are the who and the what. That is who your students are – their level of English (or whatever the second language is), level of content knowledge, and their requirements. What refers to what you will teach, in terms of both content and language, and what materials to use. The who feeds in to the what.
Who your students are
In one secondary school in Italy that I taught CLIL in the students had generally quite a high level of English and that meant that I could focus more on the content side (here science and technology), using English as a vehicle for content. With these students, I was able to adapt material designed for native English pupils. On the other hand, in another school the English level was quite weak, so I had to go for a more language-oriented approach, focusing on the particular vocabulary related to the content areas (in this case art and design). With these pupils, native English text books were linguistically too hard for them, so I had to write and adapt my own materials to both teach key art and design vocabulary and also develop language skills, with the goal of allowing these students to be able to use “real” English content text books by their last year of school.
Another important factor to consider when selecting materials is cognitive load – that is you don’t want to blow their brains with too much information. This can be done by choosing a relatively simple content area or by using an area that you have already covered in L1 and doing the CLIL lesson / course as revision and extension.
A colleague in a Japanese university recently explained to me how he chose his materials. He teaches an introductory English course to help science and engineering undergraduates be able to cope with the English that they will need later on at university. To do this he uses a science text book designed for native English secondary schools. This works very well for both teacher and student as the content level is not too hard, but provides an authentic context for the vocabulary that the students will need later on. As the book is already there with its exercises ready-made, all that remains for the teacher is to design activities to teach the language that is in the book.
Finding CLIL materials
There are also many sources of materials on the internet, some good ones are in the Links section of this site . One particularly useful one is Wikipedia, both the normal English and the 'Simple English' sites are great sources of texts that can be legally adapted and used in class.
If language teachers and content teachers are working together then it’s vital to work as a team. If you can then observe each other’s lessons and talk together. Content teachers will have loads of materials which you may be able to find equivalents of in English, and language teachers will probably have ideas as to how to exploit those materials for language.
How to exploit materials
When you’ve found a text that you want to cover (written or listening), the next question is how to exploit it. Here language teachers are in familiar territory, but subject teachers are probably less familiar with the techniques of how to exploit a text for language. One of the first aspects to think about may be the vocabulary – is there any technical or specialist vocabulary that your students need to know for the course or to understand the text? If so then you might want to pre-teach this by getting students to match words to definitions or pictures, or by making a gap-fill. Alternatively, you could help them discover the meanings through the text – helping them to guess meaning from context.
Your main activity will probably concentrate on general comprehension of the text. You can do this with comprehension questions, information gaps, jigsaw reading tasks, jumble tasks, or many of the other ideas on the Try section of TeachingEnglish.
Follow-up activities can work on reinforcing the vocabulary taught earlier and developing both language skills and comprehension of the topic. These activities can include group discussions, individual presentations, making posters and writing about the topic (for homework or in class).
Have a look at the CLIL activities on TeachingEnglish for more ideas.
David Graddol once noted that when CLIL works, it works well, but it is hard to do well. Hopefully this article will help you to avoid some of the pitfalls – spending too much time looking for materials and designing. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rewarding experience of being a CLIL teacher – seeing your students develop their language as well as knowledge and understanding of the world. If you have any comments, please feel free to write them below and we can start a discussion on the area of CLIL lesson and course planning.
By Chris Baldwin