CLIL it Up: How to teach CLIL to your ESL class
Receptive Skills: Reading & Listening

CLIL it Up: How to teach CLIL to your ESL class

We get to speak our mother tongue by being constantly stimulated by the world around us; we learn about the way gravity works, and here it is: we’ve learnt the word gravity; we are shown how to add numbers, and we learn what the plus symbol stands for. Why should foreign language learning be any different?

CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning and refers to teaching subjects such as science, history and geography to students through a foreign language; if you’re a subject teacher working through the medium of a foreign language, or a language teacher bringing in content into your English lesson, chances are you already work within the area of Content and Language Integrated Learning.

“CLIL refers to situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language”.
“It [CLIL] provides exposure to the language without requiring extra time in the curriculum“.

(Marsh, D. 2002. Content and Language Integrated Learning: The European Dimension – Actions, Trends and Foresight Potential).

How to: Introduce CLIL to your English as a Second Language class

Focus on Tasks in the Classroom

Like the traditional monolingual classroom, CLIL promotes collaborative work and the acquisition of multidisciplinary, task-based skills. This gives students a clear purpose and the motivation to learn and complete the task to the best of their ability. It also rewards their ability to use their own personal knowledge to succeed in the classroom.

Better yet, CLIL encourages the acquisition of oral and practical skills rather than theory through real-life activities.

Great CLIL activities promote teamwork and encourage students to become key participants in the classroom. Activities, in this respect, are fantastic tools of learning in CLIL because they integrate language and content, and they promote learning by doing. This helps students communicate key concepts in the target language in real-time and in real situations.

Choose the Right Moments to Give Feedback

Minimal feedback and maximum positivity are essential parts of CLIL.

The goal is to boost your students’ ability to communicate while also allowing them to focus on learning subject lessons. Along the way, you’ll build their positive vibes for the target language and culture. So, the best strategy is to aim for communication rather than accuracy when your students speak.

Concretely, you don’t want to interrupt students during activities, even when their language may not be completely accurate. This will break the flow of the activity and may even cause students to lose their confidence. Rather, take notes and try to recap each activity by giving students language- and content-related feedback. So that this benefits all the students, try to give feedback before the entire class rather than to students individually.

Use the same principles for writing activities. Let students express themselves and write freely, but try to identify frequent, specific misunderstandings and mistakes, and then use your next class to address them. Write down words and expressions on the blackboard, and use colors to circle specific letters or accents to watch out for.

Ask for feedback from students, monitor results and adjust accordingly. Implementation varies from classroom to classroom, so it’s up to you to take the pulse of the class and reshape your CLIL syllabus and activities.

We—along with our students—often have the tendency to think of a foreign language as a subject rather than as a medium.

Contextualise Grammar

CLIL is “…an approach to bilingual education in which both curriculum content (such as science or geography) and English are taught together. It differs from simple English-medium education in that the learner is not necessarily expected to have the English proficiency required to cope with the subject before beginning to study“.

(Graddol D. English Next, British Council Publications, 2006)

CLIL views language as a ‘vehicle’, not simply as an entity in itself. As such, consolidating grammar structures becomes an implicit learning mission which occurs within a meaning-based and communication-orientated environment. In this context, grammar instruction is simply a brief intervention in the lesson’s flow.

This is a central component of the CLIL package. David Graddol said something similar too, in his book English Next, when he talked about the world now viewing English not so much as a language but as a core skill. This is a crucial observation, and it lies at the heart of the educational and social change that has taken place since the development of the Internet and the parallel growth of globalisation. As English becomes an essential add-on to any curricular programme around the world, it is moving into a position where it becomes a subject that pupils learn in order to do something else.

So, how should we approach grammar instruction in a CLIL framework?

  • Let students infer key grammar structures while you are scaffolding and aiding when necessary;
  • Revise, recycle, and model grammar structures often;
  • Present authentic materials, such as newspaper articles or documentary clips that use the grammar while also teaching something related to a subject;
  • Make sure that the meaning is clear;
  • Let students practice the rule in parallel contexts;
  • Let students improvise and create new sentences using the target language. 

Why does CLIL matter?

“CLIL is about using languages to learn… It is about installing a ‘hunger to learn’ in the student. It gives opportunity for him/her to think about and develop how s/he communicates in general, even in the first language”.

(Marsh, Marsland & Stenberg, 2001)

Does CLIL install a ‘hunger to learn’ as Marsh et al claim? We can examine this in subsequent articles, but for now, why does CLIL motivate more than other conventional approaches?

  • It provides reasons for learning and improving the foreign language level, because the understanding of the subject content is compulsory.
  • It focuses on and assesses the subject content, so the learner is not being assessed on his/her mastery of the Past Simple (for example) but rather his/her ability to use it in the appropriate places.
  • It gives students a feeling of real achievement. They are coping with, and talking and writing about, complex material in the foreign language.

Find your CLIL resources!

4Minds, our new series for CEFR levels A1- B2+/C1, includes CLIL sections on PSHE, Citizenship, Maths, Science, History, and many more!

i Wonder is a six-level series that teaches English alongside other school subjects and brings all the wonderful elements of the real world into the language classroom.

Hashtag English, our four-level course for learners at CEFR Levels A1-B1, consists of 30 units that explore current, cross-curricular topics.

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