Can math help your students learn French?
Can a history lesson teach Japanese grammar?
Can you harness the power of art to tackle Chinese in the classroom?
If you’re familiar with Content and Language Integrated Learning, you know that it’s possible.
With this methodology, you can use academic subjects outside of foreign language education as a vehicle to teach grammar and vocabulary.
Of course, not every foreign language educator is trained in math, history or another one of these subjects.
With CLIL games, you can employ this framework in your class on a short-term basis, engaging your students’ outside interests and boosting their proficiency.
Let’s look more closely at how CLIL works and what games you can use in your own classroom!
What Are the Benefits of CLIL?
If you’re not familiar with CLIL, here’s the basic idea: Educators teach subjects to students in a language other than their native language. For example, if your students’ target language is German, you could teach an art class in German. Rather than drilling German grammar and vocabulary as in a traditional foreign language class, you’ll use the art lessons as a vehicle for communication in German.
The most obvious benefit of this framework is that students will pick up new grammar and vocabulary in context, instead of via rote memorization. But CLIL is especially effective because it allows you to harness your students’ interests outside of the classroom to fuel language acquisition; for example, creative thinkers may find they pick up language more easily when learning how to play guitar chords in a CLIL setting.
Ultimately, by reframing foreign language teaching in this context, you can increase student motivation to learn, leading to greater language competence.
Why Use Games to Incorporate CLIL into Your Classroom?
For this post, I’m going to focus specifically on how to incorporate CLIL into your classroom through educational games. For a broader primer on getting started with CLIL, you can check out this post.
One reason that games are so useful is that they create a point of entry in the CLIL framework for educators who aren’t trained in teaching subjects outside of foreign language. If you have students who would benefit from a CLIL math class in the target language, but you’re not comfortable teaching formal math lessons, you can use math-based games to engage these learners in a context you’re more comfortable with.
Of course, not everyone in your class is necessarily going to respond to math lessons. Because they can be employed on a short-term basis, CLIL games let you explore a range of outside subjects to meet all of your students’ varied interests and skills.
The short-term nature of CLIL games can also be helpful for teachers who aren’t in a position to adopt CLIL for their entire curriculum. You can get your toes wet with CLIL games and then incorporate the methodology more and more into your class, or just use them to diversify your class environment and engage different learning styles.
CLIL Game Resources
Before we start you off with some great games you can start using in your classroom right now, let’s take a look at a few resources you can use for finding, sharing and creating CLIL games.
- Playing CLIL: This program offers a variety of CLIL games, largely inspired by theater and drama. The games and guides to using them are presented in an e-book that’s free to download. Playing CLIL spans several languages as it was developed with partners from Germany, the U.K., Spain and Romania.
- E-CLIL Games Engine: This is a tool for teachers to create their own online CLIL games, which are then posted on a platform for students to access. For language teachers, this tool is arguably best for teaching new vocabulary, based on the game types that are available. You can also find games created by other teachers to adapt to your own classroom.
- CLIL Teacher Resources: This resource is specifically for Spanish and English teachers (it was designed for teachers in bilingual schools), covering a wide range of subjects from history to physical education to technology. You’ll find ideas for and links to group games, classic games such as bingo, worksheet game boards and much more to adapt to your class.
- British Council CLIL Resources: The British Council is not exclusively a games resource, but it’s a great place to turn for fun activities in a variety of CLIL subjects. You’ll also find broader guidance on CLIL principles and best practices.
Fun for All! 5 CLIL Games to Engage Every Student
1. The Amazing Map Race
This is a CLIL geography game that requires reading in the target language.
The gist: Students follow your printed instructions to get from point A to point B on a map as quickly as possible.
- Printed road maps of a city or neighborhood (Moon Travel Guides has existing maps of select areas; ViaMichelin lets you print road maps of your choosing)
- Printed driving instructions that you have written in the target language to get from point A to point B
- A batch of colored pens
Let’s say we’re playing this game with English language learners, racing from Grand Central Station to Times Square in New York City. Your printed instructions might look something like this:
- Drive straight on W 43rd Street for five blocks
- Turn right on 8th Ave
- Drive straight on 8th Ave for three blocks
- Turn right on 46th Street
- Drive straight for one block
Students will use a red pen to “drive” along their map following your instructions. The first to hit point B with the correct path is the winner. For brevity’s sake, I’ve used a very short example here (albeit one that would be infuriating to drive in real life). Depending on your students’ proficiency levels, you’ll likely want to choose a longer and more complicated route. Your role during the game is to answer questions—for example, in the game above, you might have to explain in English what a “block” is. To tie this game more tightly to geography concepts, you can use cardinal directions instead of “left” and “right,” and use local landmarks in your directions instead of just street names.
Technically, this game can be played with a map of any location, but if you focus on an area where the target language is spoken, you get the benefit of familiarizing your students with an area they may ultimately want to visit as they strive for fluency. If applicable, you can also use this game as an opportunity to teach the range of places where your target language is spoken and certain countries’ colonialist histories.
You can put a fun twist on this game if your classroom has access to a computer lab. Instead of following your instructions with a pen and map, they can use Google Street View to mimic the act of driving. There are two big benefits here: Students get a virtual on-the-ground exploration of a target language region, and it also feels more like a real race, which can be exciting and motivating for students.
This classic trivia game may have already made an appearance in one of your classes, and if you need a refresher you can check out this post for some basics of playing and things to consider. In the CLIL framework, however, Jeopardy can be geared towards a specific subject such as history, literature or science, with questions and answers all delivered in the target language.
- A list of questions and answers (Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy board has 30; you can adapt the number based on the size of your class)
- A Jeopardy board to display at the front of the class (some board-making tools are available online such as Instant Jeopardy Review and Jeopardy Rocks)
From a CLIL standpoint, Jeopardy is useful because it can be re-adapted over and over to different class subjects and topics. You can create a Jeopardy game about food one week and politics the next. Of course, the Jeopardy board is fairly laborious to create in that it requires an original question-and-answer set every time. You may find that it’s easiest to work on the board little by little over the course of a unit, and then use it to close out that unit or warm up before a test.
There are a couple of adjustments to traditional Jeopardy that you may want to consider for your classroom. First, in order to give everyone an even shot at the questions, you can give each team only one question per turn even if they were correct. Second, the “what is” answer/question structure that Jeopardy is famous for can be needlessly confusing for foreign language learners—you’ll likely want to stick to the regular question format.
3. What’s My Line?
Here’s one for the performers and creative thinkers in your class. What’s My Line is a theater-based game that requires reading a target language script and listening to direction to act it out.
- A sandwich bag
- Target language sentences, expressions or questions printed out and cut out
- Some “stage” space in the front of your classroom with a table
Before you begin this game, take some time to talk in the target language with your class about different emotions an actor might need to portray on stage. Try to get beyond happy and sad and toward more specific feelings, such as proud, indifferent, awkward, disappointed, etc. You’ll likely be teaching a lot of new vocabulary here, and you should write down all the emotions mentioned on your board.
Next, put the cut out sentences into the sandwich bag and onto the table. Students who volunteer as performers will pick the sentences out of the bag to read in the style dictated by the class. You can either pick individual students to briefly act as “director” and tell the performer what style to act in, or if your class is mature enough, have them call out directions at will from the audience. They should be pulling from your earlier conversation, referring to the emotions listed on the board in front of them. To keep the game fast paced, have each performer do three to five lines in a row before leaving the stage.
The lines that you write out can be fairly straightforward—the idea is that the director’s cues will make them interesting or even silly. Sentences like “the car is almost out of gas” read in an “overjoyed” tone of voice can get students listening and laughing. For this reason, you want to make sure that direction is called out before anybody knows what the line is—although if you’ve got a particularly skilled performer in the class, students may want to hear the same line read over and over in different emotions. What you’re ultimately looking for here is active listening, good pronunciation from your performers and engagement with new vocabulary.
4. Math Bingo
This CLIL math game will get students thinking, counting and calculating in the target language.
What you’ll need:
- Printed bingo boards for every student in your class
- Game pieces or chips for students to mark their boards
- A bingo cage or a pad and pencil to keep track of numbers you’ve called out
Here’s how this game differs from regular bingo: Instead of using numerical values on the board, you’ll use math problems. So the first row of a board might read 8/2, 3+3, 2×7, 10-5, 4+3 instead of 4, 6, 14, 5, 7. However, you’ll still be calling out simple numerical values; this requires your students to do mental math in the target language. If you call out B10, a student with B9+1 would get to put a chip down on his or her board.
There are a number of free online resources that you can use to make the boards: Here’s one that will automatically create a large, randomized batch. The simplest way to create a math-based board is to choose a number range that you’ll be working with—say, 0 to 30—and then type in a string of problems that equate to numbers between 0 and 30.
After the first game or two, your students should become as comfortable with this version of bingo as they are with the original. Because of the relatively simple mental math required, you may find that this game keeps the attention of younger students longer than older ones. However, it’s possible to adapt this game to middle school and high school students, by throwing in, for example, squares or longer multiplication and division. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues down the hall what math concepts you might want to include on your bingo board!
5. Two Truths and a Lie: History Edition
Two Truths and a Lie is a classic icebreaker game that many foreign language teachers may have already used to spark classroom discussion in the target language. This adaptation allows you to teach history through the target language in a fun and informal setting.
Here’s how it works: One student recites three “facts” about a historical event or figure from the target language culture. Two are true and one is made up. The other students write down the “fact” that they believe is actually a lie. Everyone who was right gets a point; the student with the most points at the end of the game wins. (Unlike the original Two Truths and a Lie, you can also play this game in a team setting.)
Here’s an example setup:
- Benjamin Franklin designed the first American penny
- Benjamin Franklin was an avid butterfly collector
- As a teenager, Benjamin Franklin wrote fake letters under the name Mrs. Silence Dogood for his brother’s newspaper
Can you guess the lie?
Now you’ve got students speaking and actively listening in the target language, while becoming more knowledgeable about the history of the culture or places they’re studying. You may want to keep track of repeated grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation errors and alert students to them at the end of the game, rather than correcting them in real time and interrupting the game flow.
In order to save class time, it’s best to have students come up with their truths and lies as homework. You can assign different events or historical figures to your students in order to ensure that the game covers a diverse range of topics.
(The second Benjamin Franklin “fact” is the lie, by the way.)
With these CLIL games, you’ll be able to spark a range of student interests while encouraging target language communication.
Your students will be picking up new language skills without even realizing it, while also becoming more knowledgeable about the different topics your games cover.
And One More Thing…
If you’re loving the idea of teaching a foreign language through a variety of subjects, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. It’s designed to get students familiar with foreign vocabulary in a fun, friendly, totally approachable way. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news, inspiring talks, cartoons and more.
With FluentU, your students will learn the real language—the same way that natives speak it. They’ll hear their new vocabulary words in context, spoken naturally and casually. Every student is guaranteed to find videos they love to watch, and you’re guaranteed to find videos that meet your teaching needs. FluentU has a very wide variety of videos, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is easily within the reach of any student, at any skill level, thanks to the interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that your students are learning. It uses that vocab to give students a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
You can organize chosen videos into “courses,” name your courses and assign them to your students for homework or in-class activities. They can each sign in using nothing but a secret password that we bestow to you, the teacher. Then you can track their progress individually and as a group. How many videos and activities have they progressed through? What percentage of the exercise questions are they getting right? You’ll be able to see all this information and more.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.