Lately, the CLIL method of teaching has become incredibly popular, mainly due to the growing interest in educating bilingual children.
If you’re still unfamiliar with it, CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning, and it’s a fabulous language immersion method that aims at teaching subjects such as science, history, geography and art to students through a foreign language.
David Marsh, Do Coyle and Philip Hood codified the principles of CLIL, namely dual-focused education, using language across the curriculum and making content king. Unlike traditional language teaching strategies, CLIL promotes education through construction rather than instruction. It’s aiming for fluency, not accuracy.
Eager to learn more about how to bring this revolutionary method of teaching to your language classroom?
Read up, and discover how it’s done.
Why Implement the CLIL Method of Teaching?
CLIL is a fantastic method to empower students of all ages and levels of fluency. By teaching CLIL lessons, you’re giving students the tools to grow, acquire and activate cross-disciplinary skills by using a language different from their own.
It’s also a great method to promote positive attitudes towards language learning from an early stage. Students won’t be corrected on every single error they make. Instead, they’ll be encouraged to keep talking and learning in the language, which lets them feel good about their ability to communicate from the get-go.
CLIL supports critical thinking and collaboration skills. Students won’t be spoon-fed their language lessons, but rather they’ll need to pay attention, observe and learn the language by learning about other subjects in that language. They can look to their peers to support them in this process.
Concretely, if you’re teaching native German students, you won’t be spending time discussing subjects like history and math in German. They’ll learn these subjects while learning a new language, say French or English. This will allow your students to learn a wide range of subjects, develop their knowledge of Francophone or Anglophone cultures, and learn either language naturally.
That’s because the CLIL curriculum balances bilingual education and language learning. Rather than being the focus of teaching, language becomes a tool for communication. Repeated exposure and stimulation helps students to assimilate the language while learning content that will greatly expand their horizons and promote curiosity.
How to Implement the CLIL Method of Teaching in Any Classroom
1. Rethink Your Syllabus
First, you should start by considering how to work CLIL into your syllabus.
- Incorporate cross-disciplinary themes. A great CLIL syllabus should replicate any traditional subject lesson syllabus. Rather than thinking of yourself as a language teacher, imagine that you’re a subject teacher. The main difference is that your students will learn this subject in another language. Here are some examples of subjects you could teach:
Literature in French
Mathematics in Chinese
Philosophy in German
Art in English
Physical Education in Spanish
To this effect, it’s important to research the subject matter ahead of time. Don’t hesitate to work together with the school’s subject teachers for feedback and insight on what the students already know.
Make sure that you highlight key concepts and proper terminology. This will facilitate assimilation and reinforce recently acquired knowledge, hence benefiting their language and subject studies.
- Work by themes. If you feel that this may become overwhelming and unsustainable in the long term, fear not! You can use CLIL as a single lesson for one language class—you don’t have to teach CLIL all the time, but it can instead be part of your varied teaching arsenal. You may rotate between subjects so you only teach the subjects that you’re most comfortable with.
This helps to create targeted lessons that are packed with information. The idea is to cover a lot of ground and help students to accumulate as many vocabulary words related to the subject matter as possible. Here are some great theme ideas for teaching art in a foreign language:
“Whistler’s Mother”: History and analysis of a major work of art
The art of the Renaissance: Masters and key artwork
Sketching comics: Key principles and theories
Symbolism in still-life paintings: Hidden meanings and importance in art
Contemporary art and dissidence: Li Wei in communist China
As you see, a good CLIL lesson covers a specific topic, concept, movement or theory at length to promote effective learning. Complement it with follow-up assignments, discussions, readings and coursework so students can digest content and conduct their own research.
2. 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 the 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 to communicate key concepts in the target language in real-time and in real situations.
Some great CLIL activities include:
- Presentations: One student takes the center of the stage to introduce to the rest of the classroom a tangential theme related to the subject you’ve been discussing. Encourage them to use graphics, images and multimedia material, and to prominently write keywords on the blackboard so their fellow classmates can take notes.
- Role-plays: Students impersonate major figures and stakeholders to give life to a concept or theme they’ve learned in the classroom. Ask them to prepare the reenactment ahead of time by working together to write and memorize a mini-play around this theme. Recap by letting the class interact with student-actors to ask questions about the subject matter.
- Science experiments: These are fantastic tools to help your students discover science, chemistry and biology, and have fun along the way! Ask a subject teacher from your school to come and supervise if you’re unsure about certain elements, and don’t forget to pre-teach important concepts and words so students know what to do during the experiments.
- Cooking classes: What better way to motivate students and strengthen the bonds between teachers and learners than food? An essential part of culture, society and language, food helps to bring the class together—and cooking is where it all starts. Start by selecting a recipe and discuss it in class ahead of time. Then ask students to compete and make their own versions of the recipe. They can customize presentations, add different spices and mix together ingredients that inspire them. Then recap in class and ask students to discuss, taste and compare their productions.
The end goal is to de-compartmentalize knowledge between subject and language classes, so students can apply new information to their entire school curriculum, and even outside the classroom!
3. Choose the Right Moments to Give Feedback
Feedback and motivation is at the heart of any language class. After all, errors are opportunities to teach and learn!
However, 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.
4. Teach Grammar in Context
We—along with our students—often have the tendency to think of a foreign language as a subject rather than as a medium.
As you bring CLIL to your classroom, keep in mind that the CLIL method isn’t about having students learn about the language, it’s about having them use the language.
In this respect, listing endless grammar rules is rarely effective. Students often keep making the same mistakes over and over and often freeze rather than using the words and communicating.
To correct this, make sure that students learn grammar in context based on the topics they study and through constant exposure to the language. Revise and recycle grammar periodically to let students observe the language. This allows them to pick up grammar, syntax and conjugation naturally so that they can use it throughout class sessions. When introducing grammar, include charts, documents and pictures that demonstrate a use of the rule prominently.
You could also present some authentic materials, such as newspaper articles or documentary clips, that use the grammar while also teaching something related to a subject. Have students read or watch and try to pick up on any patterns, or anything that seems different (if you’re teaching a new topic). Then, discuss the vocabulary or grammar lesson you have in mind. After that, watch the video again and allow students to piece together the meaning of the language lesson you’ve discussed.
Rather than having students do cut-and-dry grammar exercises, grade their usage of grammar in context. Ask students to produce their own work by writing an article, participating in a debate, creating a web page with text and pictures or creating a radio broadcast featuring news, interviews and various recordings from fellow students discussing the subject. After they’ve completed this, you can focus on correcting and providing feedback on grammar usage in particular.
Now that the CLIL method of teaching holds no secrets for you, we’re sure that you’ll have no problem improving your students’ abilities in the target language.
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