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How should CLIL work in practice?
by Alex Mackenzie
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Putting it in to practice

CLIL is not a new concept, the name has been around since the early nineties, but people have been learning languages in this way for centuries. Migrants, economic or otherwise, have learnt this way since time began. Let’s take the example of the recent influx of eastern Europeans to the UK, many of them without any formal language education background. On a day-to-day basis, they put themselves in the position where they have to converse, deal with situations and ‘do tasks’. The contexts of these situations force them to not only use but also develop their language. Obviously, learning this way can lead to somewhat of an imbalance in their language skills in certain cases but there is no denying that it works. How many of us, as language learners, can say that we have learnt a language this way? I, for one, certainly can. It’s a natural, proven way to learn a language- the question we have to ask is how can we replicate (and improve on) this in our language schools.

I’m going to look at four different aspects of integrating CLIL into EFL classrooms: Syllabuses, In the Classroom, Teachers and Grammar. This is obviously not exhaustive; merely four factors I believe should be discussed.

Syllabuses

Before I go into this I’ll give you a little background on my school, The Mackenzie School of English. We specialize in year-round education, culture & activity programmes for groups of high-school students. We run content-driven, task-based General English classes as well as CLIL lessons based on traditional school subjects. Both these modes of tuition operate using the principles of CLIL stated above.

Our General English syllabus is thematic and based around topics which appeal to teenage students such as cinema, sport or boys & girls. All tasks in the lessons revolve around this theme and include things such as role-play, games and project work. The lessons consist of extensive integrated skills and encourage students to feel more confident about speaking English without the pressure of accuracy. The tasks and themes lead the way for the lessons; the language taught stems from them rather than the other way around.

The CLIL syllabus follows the same pattern only the topics are traditional school subjects. Again the lessons include group work, tasks and are heavily skills based. This syllabus can actually run in conjunction with General English to provide a bulkier, more academic programme. I see these lessons, in my school, as being an extension of the students’ curriculum back home not something that by any shape or form replaces or works in tandem with it. Obviously with extended CLIL programmes this would have to be rethought.

In the classroom

Tasks are all important and lessons are skills based. The theme of the lesson is adhered to throughout. Students are encouraged to explore topics and their own knowledge of the world is essential. We acknowledge that learners are well-informed, creative individuals and encourage them to bring their own personalities and backgrounds into the lessons.

Very often there are end products to lessons, or a block of lessons, such as videos, magazines and reports. Our lessons are motivational, engaging and entertaining. Language is picked up and mistakes are looked at but the themes and topics lead the way. What the students can actually produce is the language which is worked with and extended. I wouldn’t say this is level specific; even post-beginner and elementary students have enough grasp of the language do this. Vocabulary and Grammar is revised and recycled on a regular basis and students are encouraged to ‘notice’ language.

I have to say we have been overwhelmed by the students’ feedback on the courses we have run so far. They recognise that this is a different way of learning and teaching; they find it intriguing, rewarding and fulfilling. We try our best to instil a ‘can do’ attitude in our student and we’re doing a pretty good job!

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