CLIL – Good Practice for Teaching and Learning
Since the commitment, from within Europe, to promote the learning of foreign languages and develop multiculturalism, CLIL has been nominated as the approach for bilingual and plurlingual programmes across Spain.
Despite theories and evidence arguing that CLIL is “the best way” to teach, many teachers still have reservations about implementing the approach in their classrooms. Yes, CLIL may initially seem overwhelming and daunting, but with the right information and training it can be extremely effective and rewarding.
Here are some of the many doubts and questions we have heard from teachers about their CLIL situations. Do any of them sound familiar?
- What exactly is CLIL?
- I worry about using a different language to teach.
- Making learning more communicative is hard because there are 30 students in each group.
- We have to use it, but is CLIL really beneficial?
- Where can we find more CLIL resources and material?
Let´s try to find some answers.
What exactly is CLIL?
We certainly cannot say that there is a “one-size-fits-all” CLIL definition. In fact, several definitions exist but you do not need to worry about this! CLIL is flexible to the learning environment in which it occurs, which means your definition totally depends on your context. Consider this explanation:
“CLIL refers to situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language”.
(Marsh, D. 2002. Content and Language Integrated Learning: The European Dimension – Actions, Trends and Foresight Potential).
In other words, your definition will vary depending on whether you teach all or a percentage of your subject in English, and also the number of hours per week.
I worry about using a different language to teach.
Some teachers feel embarrassed or are lacking in confidence when it comes to teaching through English or a different language. They may also worry that the students´ language level is too low to meet the subject demands. After all if students don´t understand, they won´t learn anything; neither language nor content.
It isn´t essential for students to have a strong language level to be successful CLIL learners, although of course this would be preferable. Teachers do not need to have a native level either, so don´t panic. The key is in carefully selecting the language functions you need for each lesson. Thorough planning and thinking of clear, concise instructions will go a long way. It is also useful to have several ways of checking students´ understanding of the activities you want them to do.
Remember CLIL is NOT a language lesson. The main focus of the lesson is still the content; language is used as a vehicle in order to transmit the subject knowledge.
Patience! Easy to say, but over time you will get used to teaching through English, and students will too.
Making learning more communicative is hard because there are 30 students in each group.
While a lot of communicative activities are commonly associated with language-only lessons and small classes, they are just as effective with large groups. They significantly improve students´ motivation and are an essential factor in CLIL.
Furthermore, if students receive information in different ways, they are more likely to remember it. Pair work and group work give students plenty of opportunities to communicate, interact, think creatively and produce language – some of the main goals of CLIL.
Is CLIL really beneficial?
Here´s the good news. A lot of the fundamental principles of CLIL are what we consider to be good practice in an educational sense anyway. So there is no need to change quality, tried and tested teaching habits. Here are some examples of the benefits:
- As teachers have to provide different types of activities to ensure students understand the content – as we said above; pair work, group work etc, this increases the skills-based focus of the lessons.
- Students learn language which is relevant to them as it is focused on and related to the subject matter they need to learn.
- CLIL is perfectly suitable for learners of mixed abilities, in other words it is NOT confined to high-achieving students.
- Challenging students with CLIL develops cognitive or thinking skills, gives them more confidence in their own abilities and increases motivation.
- Combining content and language in the same classroom naturally creates pathways for students to learn more about culture, their own and others.
Where can we find more CLIL resources and material?
Here are some websites we recommend for CLIL resources including lesson plans, materials, teaching ideas, CLIL-related articles and experiences from other CLIL teachers.
Introduction to CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning.
CLIL resources from English with Sofia.
Bilingual and English language resources for content teachers.
Workshops, coaching and training in CLIL and educational technology.