How to Implement the CLIL Methodology of Teaching

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.

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

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.

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.

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: 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. 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

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.

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. You can find authentic examples of the target language all over the internet, most notably videos including native speakers from FluentU.

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.

Teaching Activities for CLIL

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

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 out the lesson in such a way that the last person at the 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”?)

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.

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 the 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.


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.

Happy teaching!

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