Number one for English language teachers

CLIL - tips 3

Tips on integrating CLIL into the school English curriculum

There are probably three issues that we should deal with on this page of tips. The first is the most obvious – where does CLIL fit into my English class? The second – where does this all fit in the overall curriculum? And finally, what are the implications for testing?

CLIL in the English class

In previous ‘Tips’ pages we have touched on this issue. First, you need to decide where and when CLIL materials fit into your class. This will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • availability of time
  • flexibility of curriculum
  • your flexibility
  • co-operation of colleagues

Time and flexibility are often issues within a school curriculum, especially if the end of term/year tests are set by someone other than the class teacher. There often seems to be pressure to get through a certain section of a book (or a set of particular grammar topics) by a set date.

The problem with this approach is that it usually fails to take into account the differing abilities of students. You may find that students who struggle with grammar-focused materials flourish when using CLIL materials. The problem is, do they perform any better on the tests?

Your flexibility is important. If you try to focus on skills work or grammar when using CLIL materials, they won’t work as designed. Adjusting your focus is a key to the success.

The importance of colleagues' co-operation has been mentioned before. Talking to your colleagues and ‘getting them on board’ before you start using CLIL worksheets can only benefit everyone involved.

Overall

In the overall curriculum CLIL materials can be extremely useful for revision, recycling and clarifying. Students automatically get a second look at stuff they are doing in other subjects as well as an opportunity to talk about it with another teacher (although you need to be careful if you don’t know a lot about the subject). CLIL materials also allow topics that are of particular interest, but where there is not enough time to spend longer on them in the particular subject area, to be revisited.

Testing

Testing is a key issue. First, there is the different focus that CLIL materials take – therefore, a traditional test looking at grammar, vocabulary and skills doesn’t fit (assuming that we want the testing to test what is taught). And secondly, if you test the content (which is really the main focus) then are you testing your students’ English or their knowledge of the subject/topic?

The real problem lies with the fact that CLIL materials are simply a way of packaging the language where the focus is on communicating information rather than on learning facts that can be subsequently tested. Not that this in itself is a problem, but it doesn’t ‘fit’ with the conventional ideas of testing. My personal view, for what it is worth, is that testing in EFL needs a review and probably a fairly major overhaul.

However, if you can avoid ‘rigid’ tests that focus solely on discrete language items and instead ask students to complete a CLIL worksheet as a test of their overall ability to understand English as a tool for communication, this will give you a much more reliable indicator of their ability to ‘use’ the language.

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