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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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CLIL: just a fad, or still rad?

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 Herdon is a Senior Teacher Trainer at OUP, and has been involved in CLIL for six years. 

For a number of years we’ve been hearing and reading about CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning).  CLIL programmes, in which a subject from the mainstream school curriculum is taught in a second language, have become increasingly common in both primary and secondary, especially in the last decade.  In the mid-90s, when CLIL was a new initiative, there was a certain amount of scepticism about this approach, which was natural and probably quite healthy – it would be chaotic if we jumped on every new bandwagon that came along.  However CLIL now looks set to stay and in many countries it has strong government support with funds allocated towards teacher training and syllabus and materials development.

In fact the impact of CLIL is such that it is even having a backwash effect on the way ELT coursebooks are published.  More and more courses now contain short cross-curricular sections in some or all of the units.  This has come to be called ‘soft CLIL’ – a short excursion into the world of CLIL rather than a full journey.  Predictably, ‘hard CLIL’ is the term used to describe the full journey:  the teaching of a complete subject, or a specific area of a subject, in L2, over a longer period of time.

This raises an interesting question for English teachers:  in the future will we see a gradual shift from soft CLIL to hard CLIL?  I would say that yes, I think we will:  CLIL continues to gain in popularity, and I think its impact on General English course materials will continue to increase.  And the way CLIL is implemented is partly responsible for changing perceptions: in schools the English teacher is often central to the implementation of CLIL programmes, both in terms of teaching and coordination.  In fact the increased contact between English teachers and teachers of other subjects through involvement in CLIL programmes has been one of the biggest benefits, and this has contributed to CLIL’s increasing popularity.

The Lexical Approach has come and gone, Audiolingualism has been dragged screaming from the room and the Silent Way has now fallen, well, silent…  what about CLIL?  Is it just a passing fad, or is it here to stay?  What do you think?

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Content and Language Integrated Learning in action

Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English second edition takes a look at CLIL and how it can be used in the classroom.

What is CLIL? It means Content and Language Integrated Learning. (Have you noticed how we seem to love acronyms in language teaching? The list seems never-ending: TBL; PPP; CLT; TTT! Can you identify them?).

The idea is simple. Other subjects in the curriculum are taught and learned in a language, which is not the mother tongue. By weaving together a foreign language and the curriculum content from other subjects we aim to provide a rich learning experience for children.

There are a number of ways in which CLIL has been interpreted but the bedrock of the idea is this: children are not focused on learning language per se. They are focused on the content of the lesson.

I think that this definition from Nixon continues to be valid: “the study of a non-language subject through the medium of a major world or regional foreign language” (Nixon, J., 1988).

CLIL is not a newcomer to the world of language teaching; you can see that from the date on that quote. It’s been around for some time. It is an aspect of language teaching which I think has gained strength and continued to develop since Nixon wrote those words.

What does CLIL mean in practice? Let’s look at a concrete example taken from a coursebook. Remember that this is how we have interpreted CLIL and blended it into our material. There are other variations and possibilities.

The topic area for this CLIL lesson is very relevant in many parts of the world at the present time: uses of water!

In the CLIL lesson on this topic children learn about what we use water for. They look at how much water is used for each activity. They learn how to measure a quantity of water. They learn how to make a water meter. In terms of the syllabus these are more related to science than to language.

But out of this would spring language. For example, “Having a shower”. Then how we measure quantities of water in litres: “6 litres”, “30 litres” etc. On top of that how much water we need for each activity: “You need 4 litres of water”.

As you can see, the language that children are using naturally springs out of the topic area. Talking about uses of water demands certain vocabulary and structures. There is a real communicative purpose. This is in contrast to choosing which vocabulary and structures children should learn and finding a topic that comes out of it. In other words they will be using language communicatively and therefore learning it.

This can sometimes lead to a challenge for teachers (it was certainly a challenge for me when I was first introduced to CLIL). How should the language syllabus be ordered? For example, when do you think the present simple passive (it is + past participle) should be introduced to children?

A more traditional syllabus would look at the complexity of the structure and would introduce it later rather than sooner. But that syllabus is ordered on the complexity of the structure rather than on the complexity of its meaning/use. “It’s made of plastic”, to describe a toy is not conceptually complex. Linguistically it’s a nightmare (if you look at its component parts). Or do you disagree? At what age do you think children can cope with this piece of language? At what age group do you think we first introduced this language in our coursebooks?

CLIL is an attempt to combine content and language to make an engaging and useful lesson. In a CLIL lesson children are ticking CLIL-appropriate areas: content; cognition; communication and community. Children are engaging in learning about something, learning to do something, learning to express it and how it relates to a community.

Do you think taking a CLIL approach to language learning is more beneficial than selecting the language and building an exercise around it?

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Teaching CLIL: Classroom Benefits

Wall-mounted map with woman pointing to a townIn her first guest post for OUP, Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blogger, talks us through some classroom benefits of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

Sometimes, just thinking about developing a CLIL program or even teaching one CLIL lesson can be intimidating, overwhelming, and confusing. But don’t let the tough appearance of CLIL fool you – it can be a very intuitive, natural way to teach and learn. Like any instructional method, though, it requires a certain amount of understanding and dedication from you. It also helps if you’re willing to learn through the process of teaching, as I’m sure you are – being teachable is one of the keys to successful pedagogy. CLIL can be successfully implemented by one teacher, but often, two teachers collaborate before developing lesson plans – and that means learning from each other. By expanding the knowledge available to your students, you’re also expanding your own understanding, learning new material so that you can teach it well. Although it can be a difficult process, it’s often rewarding to teach CLIL. But no matter what you have or haven’t heard about this method, the following description of CLIL and its benefits and challenges can help you decide whether or not it has a place in your classroom.

The pedagogical intentions behind CLIL

You’re probably well aware that Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is a way of approaching foreign language instruction subtly through subject-oriented teaching. For example, you might focus on teaching the geography of Spain, but the secondary learning objective would be Spanish vocabulary associated with geography. It might not sound like the most logical approach, but why has it been growing in popularity? – And what’s the point of CLIL?

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