Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


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.

Bookmark and Share


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?

Bookmark and Share


What do teachers find most valuable about intensive refresher courses?

Tim Herdon is a Senior Teacher Trainer at Oxford University Press and runs the Oxford Teachers’ Academy. In this article, he explores some of the benefits of intensive teacher training refresher courses.

Every year in July a unique teacher training event takes place in Oxford. Approximately thirty-five non-native teachers come from all parts of Europe – and this year also Latin America and the Middle East – to spend three days discussing approaches to language teaching, trying out new ideas and activities and reflecting on their own practice.

The Oxford Teachers’ Academy (OTA) is an 18 hour refresher course for language teachers and is divided up into three 90-minute workshops per day for three days, interspersed with periods of reflection and feedback.

Normally these courses take place outside the UK, and the participating teachers tend to be mainly the same nationality, have similar educational backgrounds and in some cases all work in the same institution. The difference with the OTA held annually in Oxford is that teachers are all from different countries and have a wide range of different attitudes and experiences to bring to the course. Inevitably, these ingredients make for a highly stimulating course, and from the morning of day one the atmosphere is buzzing as teachers realise that despite the wonderful diversity of the group they experience very similar challenges, frustrations and rewards on a daily basis in the classroom.

What do teachers value most about OTA, (and I refer to OTA in general, regardless of whether the course is held in Oxford or elsewhere)? Well, before joining Oxford University Press (OUP) as a Senior Teacher Trainer with responsibility for OTA, I was a freelance teacher trainer and was lucky enough to lead several OTA courses in Brazil and one in Kazakhstan, as well as being involved in OTA trainer training in Russia – so I have the advantage of two different perspectives. I’ve read hundreds of feedback forms as part of my current role and the value of this kind of training is perceived in many different ways. For some it’s the course content; for others it’s the professionalism and resourcefulness of the trainers; and for others it’s the opportunity to take a step back and have a think about what good teaching and good learning means.

After last year’s Oxford OTA course, one of the participants, Erika Osváth, posted a wonderful article on this blog in which she pointed out the special benefits of a course that is face-to-face and, moreover, face-to-face in an attractive, inspiring location steeped in history and tradition. This sparked some interesting comments on the blog in which teachers discussed the merits of face-to-face versus online training. As OTA will be offered in an online version as well as face-to-face from 2013 onwards, I have a particular interest in this issue, and am always interested to hear what teachers think. Although from the OTA point of view this is still uncharted territory, my general feeling is that it’s not so much that one model is better than the other, but rather that each mode offers different advantages.

Erika’s enjoyment of all the educational discussions she got involved in is a good example of this. In face-to-face mode, discussions (both inside and outside the course) are hugely enlivened by the immediacy of direct personal contact, and online mode is weaker in this respect. However online discussions have the advantage of being more representative of the whole group: as a participant you have access to what all discussion contributors think about a given issue, whereas in face-to-face discussions between different groups spread out across the room, you are physically limited to the group you’re actually working with. So, different advantages for different modes.

Beyond that, however – and this aspect is rarely alluded to directly but is there nevertheless – I think there is great value attached to the fact that OTA courses are not assessed, but are certificated. Not being assessed means that participants have the freedom to experiment with new ideas without the pressure of knowing that their participation and output may be evaluated and therefore count towards assessment in some form. At the same time most teachers are also keen to have an official piece of paper to show for their time and efforts, and the OTA does lead to a certificate, based on participants being able to demonstrate written evidence of learning during the course. The certificate shows that the teacher has successfully participated in a course jointly designed by OUP and Oxford University, and whilst it is primarily a certificate of attendance, in some countries it counts towards the formal professional development requirements of teachers working in state education. So this ‘best of both worlds’ aspect gives the course the right balance of flexibility and concrete value.

Have you taken part recently in an OTA course, or a similar short refresher training course for teachers? If so, what was the most valuable aspect of the course for you? I’d be very interested to hear your comments and thoughts on this topic.

Bookmark and Share