It remains an interesting irony that subject teachers have been exhorted, ever since the famous Bullock Report in 1975, to become ersatz-language teachers in the ‘Language across the curriculum’ movement, whilst language teachers have never been exhorted to understand the world of content. They remain in the dark when it comes to subject teaching, and rarely observe teachers in ‘normal’ classrooms. The closest they often get to that world is by practising ‘Soft CLIL’ (allegedly ‘language-led) but this is something of a misnomer. Why would we want to make something ‘language-led’? Why not make it ‘concept-led’? Just use the language to help. If subject teachers are being asked to understand language, why cannot language teachers be asked to understand (and use) content? After all, there is a huge smorgasbord of the stuff out there, just waiting to be used.
Nevertheless, if language teachers want to understand and contribute to CLIL, for example in a bilingual school context or in any school dabbling with the approach, then it’s useful to understand the three-dimensional aspect of ‘content’. The world of CLIL is basically conceptual, procedural and linguistic. Language is also content, when viewed from this perspective. At any point in a lesson, the teacher may find that one of these dimensions is more prominent than the other. If the conceptual dimension (demand) is high then the linguistic demand is probably similar. In this case, the teacher, as in a mixing-studio, can turn down the procedural volume, and make the ‘how’ the quieter/easier of the three dimensions. The combinations are various, but this is good teaching –adjusting the ‘volumes’ according to the shifting demands.
It’s a powerful idea – that we employ conceptual content, by means of procedural choices (cognitive skills), using specific language derived from the particular discourse context. It is the interplay amongst the dimensions that lies at the heart of CLIL practice. The concepts are ultimately understood by doing something, using a certain type of discourse.
A good way to combat scepticism (and thus spread the good word) is to emphasise that the twin core features of CLIL are basically these:
supporting language learning in content classes (Hard CLIL)
supporting content learning in language classes (Soft CLIL)
If these things happen, all the rest can follow. And it may even be worth changing the above two sentences to read:
supporting language awareness in content classes
supporting content awareness in language classes
Successful CLIL, whether taught by a language or a subject teacher, tosses its learners into the deep end of the conceptual and procedural swimming-pool, then throws in the linguistic arm-bands. Language teaching has for decades carefully taken learners to the shallow end, in the vague hope that someday they might swim. Far too many never get anywhere near the deep end.
Teacher 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 overto 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.
Charles 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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Anna 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?