Teaching Material | Teaching English Better

7+1 tips to make CLIL work with your class



CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) has been adopted by a growing number of schools and language schools for a number of reasons, including more opportunities for language practice, motivation for learners who are interested in subjects other than English and developing 21st century skills. Yet, many educators often feel that the syllabus and previously followed practices, hinder CLIL and their students are deprived of the opportunity to reap benefits from its implementation.


By Dimitris Primalis


Indeed, habits from the past may jeopardize the efforts of the leadership and the teaching staff to facilitate learning and raise the standards.  The following tips may help towards creating an environment that will allow CLIL to be fruitful and boost language production and reception:






      Balance testing with language production time



Tests are tangible, measurable and go down well with parents who feel that their kids are closely monitored. In fact, many teachers saw their popularity rise among ever concerned parents because they tested their students on a daily basis. Yet, quite often there is so much testing that there is not enough room left for students to be exposed to language, let alone produce it.


Ensure there is a balance and move towards other forms of assessment such as evaluating projects with the aid of rubrics and giving more feedback to learners. These are often friendlier to the learners and they may even motivate them more as they will be actively involved through peer correction or negotiate the criteria to assess projects or presentations.






      Make the most of technology


Learning more about a natural phenomenon by searching it on the internet, carrying out a poll or creating their own video or animation on the topic you are teaching this week? These may be skills and activities that your students may be doing in their free time in real life. Isn’t it about time the school integrated them into the syllabus? By exploiting technology, students can reap numerous benefits ranging from exposure to L2 and having their schemata activated with diagrams and flowcharts, to developing learner autonomy.





      Avoid lectures, involve learners




Pairwork, groupwork and communication among students will neither ruin your class management nor challenge your authority. On the contrary, this can be achieved easily if you lecture throughout the lesson till the student switch off. This can get even worse by asking them if they have understood and then you receive the usual “yes, Miss!”. From my experience, the answer is always “yes” to such a question irrespective of whether they have understood or not. Learning can be facilitated with student engagement and different forms of interaction. Through these, students have an opportunity to express themselves, have a personal stake in their learning and assume responsibility to carry out a task rather than being passive recipients.






      Stop spoon feeding your learners


It is often thought that being a good teacher means giving lengthy explanations about everything even before your students ask you. But there are two points to consider: a) you will not be on their side forever so they need to start forming hypotheses and b) CLIL is about discovering knowledge. Providing all the answers before your students try to figure them out, defeats the purpose. Devoting some time to help them develop their critical thinking skills is a mid/long run investment that will compensate you and the learners.





      Grammar without context? Exploiting available resources


Many teachers feel that they are not teaching enough grammar – compared to a grammar- based syllabus – and tend to teach grammar without context, often with piles of photocopied exercises. In extreme cases, they teach the structure and all its aspects all the way down to the last exception that even a grammarian may not be aware of.  This can impose a huge strain on the syllabus.


Surely, there is a video, a reading or listening text to exploit so that students can use the context to grasp it more easily. It is also worth bearing in mind that in some forms of CLIL, grammatical structures are treated as “chunks” of language and I personally feel that sometimes they are easier to be treated as such.  In any case, assessing the priorities of the class and selecting what needs to be taught explicitly and what implicitly can act as a compass that will save you time and effort.






      Make the most of projects


Inquiry based learning may not bring the desired results in terms of language accuracy and surely it cannot be controlled by you. Plus, you may find some parents complaining that project work is time consuming. But it is through these projects that you can give your learners freedom to choose topics that are of interest to them and give them the opportunity to immerse into new language and develop more autonomy as learners. Projects can be easily integrated into any syllabus and can be done by learners over a lengthy time period without requiring any time in class. Learning technology enables teachers to provide personalized feedback while blogs, Learning Management Systems and school websites offer a splendid room for display and sharing with the community.






       Don’t encourage learners to translate texts word for word


Many parents ask students to read the text aloud at home and translate it word for word. Some teachers, either because they are aware of the above practice or they are used to more traditional approaches and methods (grammar translation) may be tempted to do so in class or assign it as homework. Considering though that CLIL texts are usually longer and more challenging than the usual EFL ones, it will not really help the students. On the contrary, they are likely to be demotivated by the number of new words and length of text. Developing word and text attack skills in class, doing pre-reading tasks that can activate learners’ schemata and breaking the text into manageable chunks in the while-reading stage are not a waste of time. They will help your learners deal confidently with texts and later, approach academic texts and books more efficiently.


Be prepared to explain to parents and learners at the very beginning of the year that not all words in a text are important and that you aim at helping learners develop reading skills. This is likely to prevent many reactions and complains expressed by the above mentioned stakeholders.




 Be consistent and patient


This applies to any new approach that is being implemented. No matter how many difficulties you may face, repeating the same steps on a regular basis, builds a creative routine that allows students to feel secure, knowing what they are expected to do.  Despite the initial shock, students tend to adapt easily and as time passes, they tend to respond more enthusiastically. No new approach has ever seen measurable positive results overnight and it would be unfair to condemn your and your students’ efforts without allowing for enough time to apply it.


Some more thoughts instead of conclusion




An educator’s constant concern is to ensure that their learners will be able to cope with the challenges that are yet to arise. Implementing change may take you out of your comfort zone and require longer hours of work, observation, feedback and adaptation. However, it can be motivating and rewarding in terms of exploring and exploiting potential that you never thought you (as a teacher), or your students had.


Enjoy the journey!