Published 22nd December 2020
As we all know by now, there are many different ways to teach English as a Foreign Language. Even if you don’t use all the different teaching methods you have learned about on your TEFL course or in your TEFL career, you will still be aware of them and their principles so you can make use of them if it is appropriate for your learners. So while you might know about Total Physical Response and Suggestopedia and the Lexical Approach, you might not know how to put them into practice in your classroom.
Today let’s talk about Content and Language Integrated Learning, also known as CLIL. What is it exactly? What are the benefits of CLIL? And how we can utilize CLIL strategies in our classrooms?
What is CLIL?
As we said, CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning, but what does that actually mean? Let’s look at how to integrate CLIL into your EFL lessons.
In a CLIL lesson, the topic of the lesson is more important than the language. In other words, students are taught a subject rather than English, but in English. So rather than the topic of the lesson being just a vehicle for the teaching of language, the aim of the lesson is to learn about the topic more than it is a specific language aim.
To be clear, CLIL is not re-teaching students’ content but using English as the medium of instruction rather than the learners’ first language. CLIL lessons teach new content, with the added element of a challenge being that it is being taught in English. In this way students are actively interested in the content of the lesson; the language aims are secondary.
What are the benefits of CLIL?
So why should we be using CLIL in the EFL classroom?
- When students are immersed in a topic, they are not consciously thinking about the language even though they are using it. They are more concerned with using their language to talk about the topic. In reality, this is why we need language and how we use language, so it makes sense to have this replicated in the classroom.
- Focussing on a topic makes it more likely that your learners are going to be interested in the lesson and highly engaged. Sometimes even the hint of a language focus (now let’s look at the use of the present perfect in this text) is enough to demotivate even the most dedicated student. This also helps when it comes to generally unenthusiastic language learners. If they generally don’t enjoy language lessons, you can find a subject that will interest them.
- In a CLIL lesson, there is more of a focus on fluency than accuracy. Students engage with the content and collaborate with each other in order to get to grips with the learning material. Through this natural use of the language, they will understand the language being used. As an added benefit, critical thinking skills are also developed.
Are there any disadvantages of CLIL?
Even though there are more than a handful of benefits of using CLIL in the classroom, we must acknowledge that there are a few disadvantages too.
- Teachers need to be knowledgeable not only about language but about the subject matter too. This can mean extra time spent on lesson prep to make sure the teacher is fully prepared to teach the subject.
- Lessons need to be very carefully constructed and planned. Extra consideration must be given to scaffolding activities in order to ensure the lesson is successful. Teachers need to be mindful of the simultaneous content and language aims.
- The individual interests of learners need to be considered. It can be tricky to teach a subject which is of interest to all your students.
Bearing in mind these challenges, it is still worthwhile to consider bringing CLIL into your EFL classroom. At the moment, CLIL is only just emerging as a methodology in the traditional EFL classroom but it has been popular in international schools for a number of years, as these schools use immersion learning in their classrooms.
Read more: 4 Ingredients for Successful CLIL Lessons
Characteristics of a CLIL EFL lesson
While this all sounds good in theory, you might not yet be able to visualize how this will actually work in reality in the EFL classroom. So let’s look at the general characteristics of a CLIL EFL lesson.
- CLIL EFL lessons are integrated skills lessons. Activities will incorporate all four skills in one lesson. For example, learners may listen to a text and take notes, then read a follow-up text, discuss the topic further, and then write up their thoughts and/or findings.
- Texts which are used are usually accompanied by visual representations, such as tables, diagrams, and timelines. This helps the learner to process the information on a number of different levels and it is useful for catering to the different learning styles of the learners.
- The aim of CLIL lessons is usually information gathering. Learners work with texts to be able to extract information. They then do a variety of activities related to the text which will develop their critical thinking as well as their knowledge of the topic.
- Language support is given in the form of a brief look at useful language needed in order to complete tasks. This might be, for example, the language of comparison, discourse markers, relevant collocations, or any subject-specific language.
A useful tool
In essence, CLIL is a useful tool to have in your teaching arsenal. There is no need to utilize CLIL lessons for every lesson, and it can be a nice change from your usual EFL materials. If you consider the needs and interests of your learners, you should be able to identify an appropriate subject for your lesson. Then you can look for relevant lesson plan materials online or find your own authentic texts. Planning a CLIL lesson may be a little different from your normal EFL lesson planning, but once you’ve done it you should have no problems doing it on a regular basis.
So go on, spice things up in your classroom and give CLIL a go and let us know how it works out!