3 Ways to Create CLIL Resources That Integrate Content and Language Like None Other

You’ve met CLIL, right?

It’s the best way to get your language students hitting two birds with one stone.

CLIL is a language learning and teaching method. It stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning.

Let’s say a student wants to learn German. They could take a German language class where they’ll be taught lists of vocabulary and tables of grammar patterns, or they can take any other class that piques their interest taught in German—say, history, math, physics or philosophy.

CLIL suggests that, by studying a subject taught in the target language—working on the course, grappling with the readings, getting immersed in classwork—a student can efficiently learn the target language as well (and, what’s more, they’ll acquire it faster because they’re learning it in a specific context.)

Yes, that’s the CLIL we’re talking about here.

Perhaps you’ve heard about its merits and wanted to give it a shot in your classroom. Perhaps you’re already teaching this kind of class and need some backup. One problem though: When you went online to look for CLIL materials, you didn’t get very far and found only tons of more generic stuff. For some reason, there isn’t that much out there in the way of CLIL resources.

This post is here to help. We’re giving you three specific strategies you can use to make teaching CLIL work for you..

The Dual Nature of Teaching CLIL

The key to the CLIL acronym is the letter “I”: Integrated.

This means that in a CLIL setting, students are hitting two birds with one stone. They’re learning content (the subject) and language (the medium of instruction). But this also means that the CLIL practitioner must both become a language instructor and a subject matter teacher at the same time. And this is easier said than done because those are two very different propositions.

Generally, there are two types of teachers who end up using the CLIL method. The first is language teacher who teaches, well, language. They self-educate on different topics and use these as vehicles to teach language.

The second type is the content teacher who teaches a specific subject: physics, history, math, economics, biology, etc. The content teacher operates in their native language and the non-native students in their classroom must learn to better understand the medium of instruction along the way. This teacher might make accommodations, speak about language usage to the best of their ability or spend a little extra time one-on-one with non-native students.

Since CLIL is about integrating subject learning and language learning, the teachers would have to cover for the “other side” of things. The language teacher will have to learn more about the subject, while the subject teacher must learn how to teach language.

How Can Subject Teachers Teach Language?

Let’s say you’re a history professor teaching in French, to a class who doesn’t speak French. Here are some quick things to bear in mind for the subject teacher learning to integrate language instruction:

  • Speak a lot slower than you normally would. Remember, your students are learning language at the same time.
  • Repeat yourself more times than usual. Repetition is key to teaching language. Try to present the same ideas using different sentence structure and examples to keep things interesting.
  • Use a lot more gestures, visual aids and props. You used to just stand there and talk. With CLIL, not anymore. Illustrate what you’re speaking about, and you’ll see that students are better able to grasp your message.
  • Pre-teach vocabulary before diving into the lesson proper. Pick the important concepts and words and teach them in isolation from the main lesson.

For the most part, CLIL is practiced by teachers from the content side of things—and most profitably by subject teachers who have undergone language training.

But does that mean that language teachers cannot use CLIL in their language class? Of course not.

How Can Language Teachers Teach Content?

Let’s say you’re a German language teacher. Here are some things to bear in mind for you to integrate content, CLIL style:

  • You don’t have to turn your language class entirely into a subject class. You can use CLIL as a single lesson in your language class. For example, you can have lessons and activities that deal with subjects like biology, math or physics, and then you can return to the language-oriented parts of class.
  • You cease to be a language teacher for the duration of the lesson or activity. You become a subject teacher. Assume your students are native speakers of the target language and just teach the subject. So for example, when the lesson is about math, teach actual addition and subtraction, not the translation of word “addition” in German. Teach the math and be a math teacher for the duration of the activity. In the course of the lesson, your kids will be compelled to use their critical thinking skills to figure out the meanings of any unknown words. (And this is one of the advantages of the method.)
  • Have a post-CLIL or pre-CLIL session. This is when you actively teach the vocabulary and the language structures involved in the subject lesson. You can prep students by doing this beforehand or choose to wait until after, so students can exercise their brains to infer the meanings of unknown words along the way.

Because CLIL is relatively new (circa 1994), you’ll quickly realize that there is generally a dearth of materials online. In addition to the results brought up by a standard Google search, how does one come up with subject specific and language specific CLIL materials?

Let’s talk about that in the next section.

Need CLIL Resources? 3 Strategies That Make a World of Difference

1. Find Authentic Materials Instead

Are you looking for CLIL materials by searching for a specific topic translated into a specific language? Or something subject-oriented but geared towards language students?

The thing is, you probably won’t. Why? Because they haven’t been made yet.

As mentioned, CLIL is a relatively new movement and unless you’re doing CLIL in English (teaching a subject in English for a bunch of international students, for example), you’re not gonna have much luck finding anything. So what’s the next best thing?

You turn your sights and search for authentic material. The important thing to remember about authentic materials is that they were never meant to teach language. (But we’ll use them for language learning purposes anyway.)

Let’s take the case of German as an example. As we speak, there are commercials and advertisement playing on German television sets. These commercials are “authentic materials.” 

Authentic materials are Germans communicating with other Germans without the impediments of a language barrier.

They’re used to communicate something to German native speakers, persuading them to buy a product, watch a program or support a cause. The commercials assume that their audience speaks German and make no point of explaining anything related to the language.

In the same manner, a German flyer handed to you that screams all the details of a rock concert is an authentic material. So is a restaurant menu listing the different dishes and their prices. German newscasts are authentic material. The presenters assume they’re completely being understood and might even speak too fast and use idiomatic expressions.

Compare that with a language textbook or a language learning TV show (a.k.a. instructional materials). Observe how slow, how loud and how child-friendly the presenters speak. Surely ordinary native speakers, of any language, don’t speak that way! In a language learning environment, the speed of talking is artificially reduced so that language students are able to follow. Sentences are broken down to their constituent parts so that non-native speakers are able to peek behind the scenes. Only language suited to a certain level is uttered. Well, that’s not authentic at all!

So, instead of looking for CLIL materials in the subject you want, look for authentic materials about the subject at hand. For example, instead of looking for CLIL-specific materials pertaining to philosophy in German, you look for native German discussions, blogs, websites, forums and book excerpts about philosophy.

By changing your perspective, you now have a whole country and a whole culture that you can comb for materials. Suddenly, you have an explosion of materials that can help in your CLIL class.

In a search engine like Google, how does one exactly find authentic materials?

Two quick tips:

  1. When you type the search terms, type it in the target language. NOT English.
  2. When that’s not enough and you still want to tighten search results, use “Advanced Search” and make Google give you results in a particular language.

“Advanced Search” is found by clicking on “Settings” at the bottom right corner of the Google main page. When you’re at the “Advanced Search” page, look for the “Then narrow your results by…” section. The options that concern us here are “language,” “region” and “site or domain name.”

  • Use the “language” pull-down tab when you want Google to find pages in the particular language that you select.
  • Use the “region” pull-down tab when you want Google to find pages published in a particular region.
  • Use the “site or domain name” pull-down tab when you want Google to restrict search to a particular domain—like “.de” for Germany or “.fr” for France.

You can experiment with these three advanced search options to suit your needs, or you can use them all at once.

With just these two techniques alone, plenty of authentic doors will swing wide open and you may not even have enough time to deal with all the materials you’re going to get. But in addition to using search terms that are in the target language and restricting searches to a specific language, region or domain name, there are three particular sites that are naturally loaded with authentic materials and educational links. These are:

  • Government sites and ministries

One of the aims of national leadership, for all states, is the education of their populace. So you can be sure that their websites have links to resources that can help you find material for CLIL. For example, the site for France’s Ministry of National Education has links to academic sites and even its own search engine. Sure, everything will not be served to you on a silver plate and you may have to click a couple of times to get where you want to go, but these sites are always good places to start when looking for authentic material.

  • Websites for the top universities in the country

Naturally, these sites are replete with links to the latest research, publication, lessons and journals. You may also find online libraries, databases, even e-books you could use. Take the example of Technische Universität München, one of the top universities in Germany.

  • Forums for native speakers

When you join these forums, you would have reached the inner sanctum of the country, at least its online component. Read the posts and discussion and you’ll have an insider’s look not only at their relationship problems, you’ll find in their postings, links to sites that native speakers actually use and recommend to each other. So whether your subject is science, history or literature, forums are a good starting point to hunt down authentic materials. And practically every country, big or small, has a favorite place where native speakers congregate. This one’s big in China.

2. Translate English Resources into Your Target Language

There are relatively plenty of sites for English language teachers of CLIL. Take advantage of those and simply translate the lessons into the target language.

The hard work has mostly been done, because they will break down the language into key vocabulary lessons and other things to linger on in class. You may also find that these materials that have accompanying quizzes, activities, games, exercises, readings, discussion questions and sample dialogues. You can take the time to translate this into the target language, and then you’ll have a whole lesson ready.

It’s very important that you match the translations to the language level of your students. Let’s say you’re going be translating an English story for a Spanish language class composed of 10-year-olds. Try to use words, phrases and expressions that are simple Spanish. Yes, even if the material you’re taking it from is a little above the level of your wards.

This is an advantage of translating from the English resources. Not only do you have more materials to choose from, you can also appropriate your materials to the target audience.

Lastly, by using this method, you can pick from a variety of English sources and create a unified lesson. You can take your story from a different source, for example, and have your quiz or games from another. You really have more elbow room when you translate.

And, come to think of it, this method is not only good for CLIL—this method will serve you well any time you’re running short of material in one language. Simply translate.

3. Develop Your Own Material

This next one goes a step further than simple translation. Sometimes, you just can’t find that perfect material to suit your needs. When all is said and done, and you still find yourself empty-handed, you may just have to develop your own material.

Again, CLIL is relatively new.

Fortunately, developing your own material isn’t that hard and one should not balk at the thought of it. The resources that are now available online came from teachers like you who probably didn’t find what they were looking for.

You’re in good company, so don’t worry too much. You only need to follow three steps:

Step 1: Choose a Topic

Your topic must be specific. You can’t just say, “This lesson is gonna be about science.” What about science? You need to be more specific. So you say, “This science lesson would be about the life of Isaac Newton.”

Next, your topic must be inherently interesting. Really. What’s the point of developing your own material when you know it’s going to fall on deaf ears? You practically have complete control here, so choose wisely.

Step 2: Create a Written Text Explaining the Topic

The heart of CLIL material is usually a printed text written in the target language. Include photos and images if possible.

You’ll be teaching this text, so this will be the meat of your lecture.

And there’s a very good reason why printed material is central to CLIL. A written text can be studied, reviewed and analyzed on a deeper level. Students can spend extra time poring over this, or keep focusing on a single sentence that they’re stuck on. In a method such as CLIL, where students are learning both a language and a subject, written text is critical. Your lectures vanish into thin air as soon as you say them. Your explanations join the ether faster than you can say “Class dismissed!”

But a printed piece of text remains.

Students can wrestle with the language and subject. It gives them the opportunity to use their critical thinking skills and negotiate the meaning of the text. They can scribble annotations and write translation for words and phrases. They can read it aloud and practice the language.


That being said, if a written text is all one has, then one has a very boring lesson. So you must support this text with anything in the world that can give it life. For example, you can pair a one-pager about Isaac Newton with images of the guy, the apple tree or his famous experiments. You can have video clips about the events that happened in his life.

Anything, absolutely anything that can heighten interest and make the text come alive is fair game.

Step 3: Create an Activity That Gets Students to Interact with the Target Language

You can have as many as three activities per topic.

If Step 2 is about you delivering a memorable lesson, Step 3 is about your students responding to that and exhibiting what they’ve learned. So when you develop original material, it should include an activity that’ll give opportunity for your students to actively partake in the learning process.

For example, in an Isaac Newton Science lesson, you can ask pairs to role-play different events in his life. You can ask the pairs to develop their own dialogues. Give them ample time for this. This is where they really struggle with the language, negotiate meaning and practice it.

In the end, the pairs’ presentations aren’t really as important as the behind-the-scenes process, the process of how they came up with their own dialogues. Because that’s where the learning took place. The presentation is simply a vehicle to get your students to wield the language. What you’ve done is simply given them a task that can only really be accomplished if they applied the language.


And that’s how you develop your own material!

Those are the three ways of dealing with the dearth of materials in CLIL.

Who knows? Maybe in the future you can share those materials online, help fellow teachers and make it easier for those who’ll come after you.

Always, I wish you all the best as you try to make a positive difference in the lives of those students sitting in your class.

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