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Easy CLIL ideas for the young learner classroom

Children in playgroundTeacher trainer, Freia Layfield, offers some practical ideas to bring CLIL into the young learner classroom.

Categorisation tasks (science)

Bring a selection of flashcards to class. Draw two large circles on the board. Label them with two different categories. For example, fruit / dairy, plastic / paper, animals / plants. You can use more challenging categories for older students, like living / non-living. Ask individual students to place a flashcard into the correct circle on the board. If the students are older and able to read and write, you can ask them to write the name of the thing in the correct circle. As a group, the students can then check and decide if the flashcards are in the correct circles or not.

Measure it or weigh it (maths)

Ask the students to measure or weigh a number of objects in class that are related to a topic you are studying. For example, weigh classroom objects or measure hands, feet and height. Ask students to draw and record their results. Allow them to work in pairs. Each pair can share their answers with the class. This exposes them all to a lot of English and develops their maths skills.

Magazine collages (art)

Bring a selection of old magazines to class, or ask the children to bring in one each. If possible, the magazines should be related to a topic you are teaching. For example, home and garden magazines if you are looking at houses, holiday magazines or brochures if you are studying countries and holidays, or wildlife magazines if you’re looking at animals and the environment. Put the students into pairs and give each pair a piece of paper. Ask the students to cut out, and stick onto the paper, pictures that are connected to a topic. For example, Places you want to go to or Animals you like. Students can share these collages with the class and talk about the pictures they have chosen. This works well with all ages.

Internet research and peer teaching (social science)

This works very well with slightly older children. Divide the class into small groups of 2–3 students. Give each group a different research topic. For example, if you’re studying animals, assign each group a country to research. They should work together to identify 3–4 animals in that country and then find out a fact about each animal. For example: The Kangaroo is a marsupial. It carries its baby in a pouch. Students can print pictures or download them onto a memory stick to show the other students in class. Each group then gets a chance to present their new knowledge, in English, to the rest of the class.

Would you like more practical tips on using CLIL with your young learners?  Head over to the Oxford Teachers’ Club for ideas and teaching tools for young, and very young learners. Not a member? Sign up here – Ii’s easy and free. 


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Engaging Young Learners Through CLIL

Kids lying in a circle making goggle eyesCharles Vilina, co-author of the new Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, offers some practical tips on making the most of CLIL in the young learner classroom.

As a teacher of young learners, it’s easy for me to see when my students are engaged in the lesson. I see it in their faces, in their posture, and in the way they inquire and respond. The class is almost vibrating with positive energy.

What are the qualities of learning in such a classroom? Here are just a few suggestions:

active, useful, meaningful, productive, experiential, challenging, rewarding, shared

Students who see value and purpose in their learning, who are challenged to think actively and to ask their own questions, are going to be engaged in the lesson. Take those qualities away, and students become bored and disenchanted.

Discovering the World

This brings us to the subject of content-based language education, which many teachers know as CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). In a CLIL lesson, we open the windows of our classrooms and invite our amazing world inside. Students discover the world for themselves, using the tools of language in a meaningful way as they move through the lesson. As a result, language fluency is increased.

For our young learners, a successful CLIL lesson is meaningful, challenging, rewarding, and requires them to think deeply and learn actively.

Eight Points for Success

There are eight points to remember when incorporating CLIL into your young learners’ classroom.

1. Introduce the world through many core subjects

Since our purpose as language teachers is to build fluency, students should be introduced to a wide variety of core subjects (in the areas of social studies, the sciences, the arts, and math) to build strong language skills. Each core subject has its own particular vocabulary, grammar, and approach to learning. Social language (BICS) and academic language (CALP) are used in these CLIL lessons, integrating and strengthening both.

2. Let students lead the way by asking their own questions

When we introduce a subject, students should first have the opportunity to discuss what they know and what they want to know about it. This inquiry-based approach to learning engages students from the start. Students are invited to discuss their prior knowledge and experience of a subject, making them feel that they are active participants in the learning process. When students then go on to wonder, to ask their own questions about the subject, they create a personal interest in finding the answers. This supports strong student engagement.

Questions might include, based on the subject matter:

Why do butterflies have four wings?
Why are there 365 days in a year?
Why are cities often built near rivers or lakes?

The teacher can contribute to this process by wondering, too. As the teacher also has questions, this changes student perception. They begin to look at their teacher as a partner in learning.

3. Present content through both fiction and non-fiction

Everything in our world is enriched when presented through fiction as well as facts. Our young learners need exposure to stories as well as to expository texts, giving them fresh examples of how knowledge can be presented. This builds literacy skills as well as knowledge.

Here is an example of providing both fictional and non-fictional content for students, taken from Oxford Discover. The core subject is natural science, and it poses the big question, Where are we in the universe?

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

In the first reading above, the subject is presented through a fictional poem about a little girl and her imaginary spacecraft. In the second reading, a science article presents information about our solar system. Through both readings, students approach learning in a unique way.

4. Match the content to the students’ language ability

Be sure that the content you present is at a level of vocabulary and grammar that is comprehensible to your students. This means that the majority of the vocabulary and grammar in the readings has already been explicitly taught and learned in previous lessons.

However, every CLIL lesson will introduce additional vocabulary and grammar that are needed to understand the particular subject or topic. This additional vocabulary and grammar are taught explicitly, either before or after students are introduced to them in the readings. As students experience the new words and grammar through the context of the readings, their understanding increases.

5. Present content in an interesting and challenging way

The world is a fascinating place, but material is often presented in a dull way. Find content that triggers a child’s natural spirit of curiosity. There should be a sense of wonder, exploration, and discovery within the words of the readings.

6. Allow students to organize the content in a meaningful way

Once students have discovered information about a subject, they should have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. This can begin with comprehension activities, but it should soon move to higher order thinking tasks.

A successful CLIL lesson often uses graphic organizers such as time lines, Venn diagrams, mind maps, or charts (illustrating cause and effect, chain of events, etc.). Graphic organizers require students to analyze the information and make sense of it.

Here is an example of a graphic organizer used for the reading shown above about our solar system. It is a Venn diagram, asking students to compare and contrast Earth and the planet Venus.

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

By challenging students to think more deeply, you create a much more active and motivating learning experience for them.

7. Give students an opportunity to talk about what they have learned

Throughout the CLIL process, students are building literacy skills through intensive reading. However, they need an opportunity to build their listening and speaking skills as well. Many opportunities exist in a CLIL lesson for this. For example, students should be encouraged to create their own questions about the readings. This lets students take control of their own learning, as well as to demonstrate what they know. As students share questions and answers, fluency is improved.

In addition, the graphic organizers described above can be a jumping board for dialogue. Students can work in pairs and complete the graphic organizers together while discussing their choices. Later, student pairs can work with other pairs to discuss what they have learned.

8. Provide a summative project to complete the CLIL lessons

A summative project allows students to take what they have learned and create something original with it. A strong summative project is collaborative (getting students to achieve something together) as well as creative (contributing their own original ideas) and communicative (listening, speaking, reading, and writing through the process). In addition, there should be an opportunity for students to present their projects to the class, building their public speaking skills.

Here is an example of a summative project around the subject of our solar system, taken from Oxford Discover. Students work together in small groups to create a model of our solar system, and then present it to the class.

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

To conclude, a successful CLIL lesson is a student-centered approach to learning. The teacher facilitates the learning process by moving around the class, ensuring that students are actively involved and using the language tools they need to succeed. It is inquiry-based, encouraging students to ask their own questions and seek their own answers together.

Most importantly, CLIL allows students to use their language skills in a meaningful and productive way, building fluency and confidence as they seek and discover knowledge.

Would you like more practical tips on using CLIL and teaching 21st Century skills to your young learners? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.


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What are we learning today? CLIL in the Kindergarten classroom

Curious child crouching in forest

Photo courtesy of Jesse Milan via Flickr

Margaret Whitfield, co-author of the new Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on making the most of CLIL in the Kindergarten classroom.

CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) has been a buzzword in English language education for a number of years now, and is an established part of many programs. Its supporters claim that combining subject learning (e.g. science or music) with language learning can increase student motivation and improve understanding. However, they’re often talking about older children who have some existing knowledge of English and the subject – can we bring CLIL into a Kindergarten classroom with equal benefits?

Well, the good news is that we don’t have to. CLIL is already there! In Kindergarten, children are being exposed to new concepts and content all the time, from number work to songs to mixing colored paints and beyond. In addition, young children are innately curious about the world around them and love to explore new things. So instead of starting from scratch, let’s look at the ways in which everyday Kindergarten activities can be exploited to make the most of their subject-learning and language-learning potential.

Let’s pretend

Pretending is a fundamental part of children’s play at this age. Whether they use costumes or just their imaginations, children are exploring the adult world they see around them. You can use this in a number of ways to explore different themes:

Social science

Focus on families, learning the names of different family members and talking about what they do, and providing opportunities for children to role-play families. Extend this to science, talking about and role-playing animal families.

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 2

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 2

Language arts

Focus on fictional characters that the children are interested in – superheroes, princes and princesses, pirates, and so on. This can be a great way into describing people as well – look at storybooks together and talk about what the characters are like and how they feel at different points. Then the children can act out the characters, being happy, sad, fierce or brave!

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 3

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 3

Social science

Focus on jobs, learning the names of different jobs and clothes and color vocabulary to talk about uniforms. Talk about what people in different jobs do and encourage children to role-play firefighters, doctors, police officers and so on – they won’t need much encouragement!

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 3

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 3

All these activities link with language areas that you might be teaching, but the role-play will also generate a need for more language that children will then practice in a memorable way through their play.

Hands on

Practical activities are key to keeping children of this age interested and motivated, and they can be used to explore all kinds of topic areas. Take a look at the free ‘sink or float?’ experiment activity. Here are a few more ideas.

Subject focus Language focus Activity
Math: counting, simple addition and subtraction, finding one more or less Number namesToys vocabularyHow many …? Use toys (or other objects) to count in different scenarios, e.g. a teddy-bear picnic.
Music: learning a song, keeping the beatMath: counting backwards Number names Learn a simple counting song like ‘Five little monkeys’; use percussion instruments to keep the beat.
Science: learning about the senses  Food vocabularyIs it …?I like/don’t like… Use taste and smell to identify food without being able to see it.
Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 1

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 1

A table like this can be a useful tool for planning CLIL activities: whether you start with a subject area, a language objective or an activity that you already do that you want to exploit further, it can help you to consider the different elements together. Make sure that there is a natural fit between the language and the subject, and the activity will provide memorable, contextualized language practice. Consider the difficulty of each element, as well – if the language is tricky, maybe it would be better to use a subject area that children are familiar with; if the concepts are challenging, try to match it to language that the children already know.

I hope that, if you didn’t already, you’re now feeling that CLIL is an inspiring and achievable tool for kindergarten. Please post your experiences, and especially activities that have worked well for you, in the comments section below.

Would you like more practical tips on using CLIL and teaching 21st Century skills to your kindergarten children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.


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Old techniques, new results

Cooking class at schoolAnna Silva has been a language teacher for over 20 years in Brazil, teaching in state and language schools. In this article, she looks at ways of reinforcing vocabulary and grammar through practical application for young learners.

It seems that children can learn another language fast; however, they forget as quickly as they learn. So teachers try to find ways to keep young children interested and at the same time help them learn and use the knowledge acquired.

Is there a magic formula to help us?

Over the years, I have developed several projects and I repeat some of them year after year because I do see good results. One of these projects is our cookery classes. I have noticed that cooking really holds the students` attention and helps them memorize vocabulary related to food and verbs related to instructions. Parents have also expressed how surprised they are when they are abroad and see their children mastering the use of simple structures and daily expressions or words. One of these parents was especially amazed because he saw his son asking a waiter for a straw as naturally as if he was using his first language.

In our cookery classes, we follow some steps which I think are crucial to enrich the learning process: introduce the ingredients/ vocabulary, explain the steps, ask students to repeat and explain by themselves what was taught, make the recipe, taste, take a sample home along with the recipe and do a follow-up activity.

As scientists have emphasized the importance of using as many senses as possible to help our brain retain the information taught, the classes are completely practical and the hands-on technique is of crucial importance. Besides this, the very act of cooking brings joy and a lot of laughter to our classes.

The follow-up activity can be a simple and entertaining exercise like a crossword puzzle or  ‘match the columns’, ‘circle the ingredients used’ and ‘put the instructions in the correct order’; but it´s another important step to help them look over what was taught. Howard Gardner proposed that teachers shouldn’t give priority to any one type of intelligence, but that, on the contrary, all types should be catered for in every single class. We can easily follow this advice in any cooking class because students are asked to listen, read, see, make things, walk, taste, and speak.

Another project which complements the cooking class is the gardening project. Every semester, we teach the vocabulary related to gardening: soil, flowerpot, seeds, etc. After this traditional teaching, students not only plant the seeds but often follow their growth. Sometimes we even use them in our cookery classes or just make a flower pot.

Two of our gardening experiences were remarkable: planting tomatoes and strawberries. The tomatoes were used to make a pizza and a smoothie was made with the strawberries. Flowers were also a good idea, since the violets grown were given to their mothers as gifts for Mothers’ Day in May.

The cookery classes help me teach all the vocabulary related to food, which is absolutely fundamental to everyday conversation. The gardening classes are also helpful, not only in what refers to food vocabulary, but also in developing environmental awareness. On Water Day, for instance, we discussed the importance of water for our existence and elicited ways to save water, as well.

Although I love using technology in my classes, I do think that nowadays these activities outside the classroom are a way to surprise students, break the routine and teach new vocabulary effectively! Why don´t you give it a try?

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CLIL: just a fad, or still rad? (Part 2)

Students in biology classIn the second of two posts to celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, Tim Herdon writes about some of the practical implications of CLIL programmes and considers where we are going with CLIL (or where CLIL is taking us). Tim is a Senior Teacher Trainer at OUP, and has been involved in CLIL for six years. Read the first post here.

When I worked as a freelance CLIL trainer in Spain for five years, I noticed that the type of question teachers asked me about CLIL gradually changed during that period. In the first couple of years it was all about what, and why. What is CLIL exactly?  And why is it good for schools and for students’ education? Towards the end of that period, the answers to those questions seemed to be more or less givens, and the focus shifted to how: How do we go about implementing a CLIL programme?  How do we deal with the practical issues?

The second part of this article takes some of the more frequent ‘how’ questions and has a brief stab at answering them. On the assumption that one day in the not too distant future a much larger number of teachers will be directly or indirectly involved in CLIL in some way (see part 1 of this article), I hope that this shines a little light on some of the darker CLIL implementation challenges.

1) Are CLIL programmes common in other countries, and do all countries adopt a similar approach to implementation?  

Until recently CLIL has been a European initiative. Now however it is becoming increasingly common in other parts of the globe. Each country has adapted CLIL to meet its own specific needs. For this reason it is felt that there is not a single ‘correct’ way of implementing CLIL.

2) Does the CLIL subject teacher have to ‘teach’ language? What happens when this teacher encounters a language problem that s/he can’t explain?

CLIL teachers generally do not teach language in the way that language teachers do, although parts of their lessons will involve teaching or recycling key vocabulary. One of the aims of coordination between language and subject teachers is to identify language problems in the topic in advance so that they can be dealt with effectively.

3) What is the balance of the teaching focus between content and language?

A thorny issue, on which much has been written. But common sense dictates that content is the main focus. The L2 supplies the medium of delivery and communication. The CLIL teacher focuses on language only in the sense of enhancing the effectiveness of this role; he or she doesn’t venture into delights such as the difference between the past simple and present perfect.

4) What kind of support does a CLIL teacher need if his or her background is not language teaching?

For a CLIL programme to be successful it is very important for the CLIL teacher(s) to coordinate regularly with the L2 teacher(s) in order to plan strategies and activities for coming lessons, and to clarify any questions about language that the teacher him/herself might have.

5) What strategies can the CLIL teacher use to help students understand the subject in L2?

Using more visual materials, speaking in shorter sentences, checking comprehension frequently and using an interactive methodological approach are some of the ways in which teachers can tackle this challenge. This is of course a very short answer to an issue that is often dealt with in training courses ranging from several hours to several months.

6) Is a successful CLIL programme mainly a question of the teacher having a good level of English?

More important than the teacher’s command of English, is his/her ability to communicate in L2, and to find ways of getting students to do the same. CLIL tends to emphasise the importance of effective communication rather than correct language usage.

7) Is it right or wrong to occasionally explain things in L1?

Finding other ways to explain ideas and concepts using all linguistic and non-linguistic resources available is one of the most interesting challenges of CLIL. However in the interests of economy, it may occasionally be desirable to clarify a point in L1 – this is acceptable as long as students do not gradually come to rely on L1 as a crutch for solving language comprehension difficulties.

8) What about the English language teacher? Will his/her role change in the English language lessons?

A CLIL programme does not change the necessity for language lessons given by a specialized language teacher. In fact it can create opportunities for cooperation between subject and language teachers that are highly beneficial for students.

What’s your opinion?  Let me know what you think of these questions and answers – CLIL is many different things to many different people, so it’s always interesting to hear a range of viewpoints.

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