clil teaching

8 Teaching Techniques for the CLIL Teacher’s Soul

FYI: This is one of those pages where you should be using the “Bookmark” option in your browser.


Because you’ve just found a CLIL techniques page, and we all know that’s hard to come by online.

Wait a minute, though, for the benefit of all, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Before getting into those rare, treasured techniques, let’s talk about what CLIL is in the first place.

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What Is CLIL in the First Place?

The term “CLIL” is generally credited to Professor David Marsh from the University of Jyväskylä, in Finland.

CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. Quite simply, it is the teaching of subjects to students through the use of a target language—that is, a language different from their mother tongue.

For example, if you have an ESL class full of students from China, you’ll teach them subjects but won’t use any Chinese to do so. You’ll be using English and only English instead. Furthermore, you won’t be explaining vocabulary, grammar and other linguistic notes, but rather you’ll be helping them assimilate all this into their knowledge of the English language by natural, repeated exposure as you straight up teach a subject class. By immersing them in the language, your wards will not only learn about things like math, science and literature, they’ll also pick up English.

The subject can be about anything really: history, physics, drama, even basketball or dance.

For a class of English-speaking American students, you may have CLIL classes like:

  • Philosophy in German
  • Art studies in Italian
  • Baking in French

For sure, the first few sessions will prove to be challenging for you and your students. You’ll be giving the lessons in a language unfamiliar to them, so they may be sitting quietly with a lot of question marks hovering over their heads. There’ll be stretches during discussions when it will feel like it’s just you in class. But, if you use the techniques I’m going to show you in this post, you’ll quickly realize that it’s possible for them to learn both a new language and a new subject at the same time.

By studying subject matter, by Googling translations for words, by wrestling with the reading assignments, projects and coursework, by familiarizing themselves with the language’s associated cultures, your students will inevitably gain competency with the language.

The letter “I” (for “Integrated”) in the acronym is particularly important in CLIL. It means that the class is pursuing both knowledge of the subject matter and the target language at once. It also means that, as a teacher, you need to teach both at once.

But does it follow that, in addition to being a language teacher, you need to become a subject matter expert? Do you really need to go back to university and get a degree in history, science or math in order to employ CLIL?

Not at all. You can use CLIL, not as a whole subject area, but as a single lesson for your language class. That’ll still make for a pretty interesting and immersive lesson. If you’re teaching Italian, maybe you can talk about the subject of religion and teach a prayer or two in the target language. If your language class is Spanish, then you might talk about cambio climático (climate change). There’s actually no limit to the subjects you can talk about.

In this post, we’re going to cover the techniques you can use in your language class, with the major condition that, with CLIL, the lesson is to be conducted only in the target language.

8 CLIL Teaching Techniques That’ll Work Wonders in Your Classroom

Comprehensible Inputs

As a language teacher, you need to ensure that students understand all the crucial vocabulary and concepts in your lessons. In short, you must give comprehensible inputs.

But how does one apply that in CLIL, when its immersive nature requires that one use the target language as medium of instruction?

Well, just because you need to be understood doesn’t mean you immediately resort to direct translation. The next set of three techniques will show that, in spite of wielding the target language, you can still be understood by your students.

1. Repetition

When you repeat the crucial words and phrases, you’re giving students multiple chances to get the definition and usage right. Because the medium of instruction is unfamiliar to them, they’ll be forced to use context and their critical thinking skills in order to figure out the meaning of certain words. By using the same words repeatedly and in different contexts, you’re helping students validate (or toss out) their initial guesses.

In a German class where the subject is food, you’d have to repeat saying Mund (mouth) in different contexts for the students to really understand that you mean mouth.

In addition, repeating words or phrases gives students the chance for auditory practice. One of the most important skills for learning a language is listening. The honing of this skill cannot be overemphasized enough. Repetition, in different pronunciation speeds, allows the students to fully learn the sounds of the language.

2. Animated gesturing

The first technique involved some auditory elements. This time, we go to the visual side of teaching a new language. Here, you’ll have to use your whole body to convey nuanced meaning to your students. Don’t just use your hands. Even your eyes can speak. The tilting of your head, the way you stand, even when you pump your chest or not, they all help convey meaning.

Think about it like this, if you can’t speak, how will you act the lesson in such a way that the last person at back perfectly understands you?

You’d have to be expansive in your actions, right? Yes, to the point of being cartoonish. If the German lesson is food, and you want students to understand essen (eat) then you better open your mouth wide, chew distinctly, rub your tummy and pretend to savor the dish with your eyes closed as if it’s real food that came from a Michelin-starred restaurant kitchen.

Exaggerate things, your facial expressions and movements. Doing this will not only help convey the meaning, it will help maintain the interest and attention of your class. Students prefer to sit in a class where the person in front is moving around, gesturing away, and where there’s always something new happening in front of them. It’s much more engaging than a class where the teacher just stands on a lectern and monotones away for the next 60 minutes.

For a sampling of how comprehensible input can be achieved even when the crowd doesn’t speak a word of the medium of instruction, here’s a cool Stephen Krashen video.

3. Use of visual aids and props

What if you gotta teach a concept that you can’t sufficiently gesture away? Easy. Use images.

It’s true what they say. A picture is worth a thousand words. Use images that feature interesting elements, exploding colors and relatable characters.

If showing pictures isn’t enough, get the actual thing! If you can demonstrate how to use the prop, then you most probably have just conducted a class that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

For example, if the lesson is about food, bringing the ingredients and demonstrating how to slice, dice and toss it will be much better than showing pictures, much less trying to gesture about the ingredients and actions. (How can you gesture “lettuce,” or the difference between “slice” and “dice”?)


Just as in construction, scaffolding in the educational context is essentially about support.

You’ll need to be thinking about how to bring the content to each student’s skill level.

This category covers the different ways a language teacher can build in her students a stronger understanding of the language. Scaffolding is you taking your students by the hand and slowly but surely pointing them to the light, all with their individual skill levels in mind.

4. Pre-teaching vocabulary

Sometimes it’s better to isolate vocabulary that you want students to remember.

Instead of just using words in a lesson and letting the students figure out the meanings for themselves, you might want to be more direct about what vocabulary is being featured and needs to be learned.

In this case, you’ll want to pre-teach vocabulary ahead of the main lesson. So, if you’re teaching about sports, you could open with a sports-related vocabulary session using the comprehensible input techniques we talked about earlier.

Pre-teaching vocabulary gives your students a leg up by offering words and concepts in manageable pieces before actually embedding them in the main lesson. In a way, you’re giving them a little heads up. By knowing some of the words beforehand, you’re helping them figure out on their own many other words and concepts that’ll be included in the lesson.

So, it’s a win-win.

5. Language lesson sidebar

Instead of letting students figure out for themselves some rules of grammar, you can go ahead and do a quick and painless language lesson as a sidebar.

What does that mean exactly? For example, in a Spanish class where you’re all set to deliver an awesome storytelling session, you might actually go on a very short detour by discussing the definite articles la and el. Instead of you waiting for them to figure out that la is used for feminine nouns while el is used for masculine, you directly explain to them gendered nouns in Spanish.

I know I said you’d be avoiding traditional linguistic lessons, but sometimes it just needs to be done. It all depends on your class and individual students. Do they need a little hand holding? Then you’re all set to detour. Just be sure to continue speaking in the target language throughout the mini-lesson.

Doing this will allow students to concentrate on your story and not get tripped up by a grammar rule that can be explained very quickly.

6. Direct translation

This is a scaffolding as well as a time-saving teaching technique.

I know that CLIL, as a totally immersive experience, is encouraging teachers to use the target language in the conduct of classes, but in instances when you feel giving a direct translation would get students unstuck, then do it.

It would still be much better for students to discover for themselves the meanings of words and concepts, because the brain retains the information it has worked for much better, but if you feel giving the direct translation would outweigh this benefit, then do so.

For example, in an Italian class with art as the subject of interest, you can provide your students with a one-page handout that profiles a famous painter, his life and works. After some time reading and wrestling with the Italian text, you process the material by giving students a written activity (e.g. a fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire). In the aftermath of that activity, you give students another handout, this time in English, that allows them to review and check how much they understood. Then, let students come back to the written activity and correct what they missed, armed with a more empowered understanding of the subject.

It is this kind of iteration, going back and forth between the original, target language material and the translated bit, that’s most effective for students. No matter what else, it certainly beats simply giving a dry list of vocabulary words and their English equivalents.

Task-based and Communicative Activities

In these last two techniques, it’s the students who’ll do most of the talking.

Give plenty of room for them to engage in activities that offer the chance to practice the target language. One way of doing this is by giving them hands-on, language-related tasks or games that can only be completed by using the target language.

This way, they’ll have a feel for what it’s like to be using it.

7. Show and tell

This has become a classic classroom activity because it compels student engagement with both the subject and the language.

For example, you can ask each student to talk about the subject in their own words—using the target language, of course. A presentation of about five sentences will do. What’s important is that you let the students experience what it’s like conversing, interacting and conveying a message in the target language.

As much as possible, don’t interrupt the presentation even if you hear wrong use of grammar. Instead, after each presentation, do a rundown of everything right that happened during a student’s show and tell.

This way, instead of being an unnerving exercise, this can actually be a confidence-building one. It lets everyone know that they can handle the target language, that even if they commit mistakes it’s not the end of the world.

This is a very healthy attitude in CLIL, as well as any other type of language teaching and learning.

8. Role playing

You can also let the students work in pairs or groups and present a little bit of role playing. Maybe in a French class where you’re teaching history, you might ask students to re-enact pivotal moments in history. A two-minute presentation is really more than enough.

This activity has the dual purpose of serving as language practice and, at the same time, apprising you, the teacher, of what students have learned. Listening to the presentations, you’ll know what elements of the lesson need scaffolding or which students need a little extra support, for example.

This is also a good way of encouraging students to come out of their shells. If the solo nature of show and tell is too much for some of your students, the group or pair nature of role playing could encourage them to try more active participation in class.


So what are you waiting for? Practice these CLIL teaching techniques in your language classes!

You now have eight tools in the bag. They’re your partners in education and they’ll work as hard as you do.

I hope you use them every time you’re looking to teach subjects in a language class, and I wish you good luck!

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