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CLIL - tips 4

Tips on creating your own CLIL materials

Introduction

Is it difficult to write your own CLIL material? Well, the answer is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. A lot of it depends on how experienced you are in writing materials for your classes. If you already do this, then writing CLIL materials should not be very difficult. The main thing to remember is the shift in focus away from language to content.

What does this shift mean?

Let’s take a lesson where the mode of presentation is a reading text. In many lessons, even ones supposedly with a skills focus (i.e. Reading for gist, Matching headings to paragraphs, etc), there will be exercises that focus on the language used in the text. Therefore, if there are lots of examples of the past simple and past perfect in the text, there will be one or two exercises that look at this area of grammar. If the text has lots of discourse markers that signpost order/sequence, then there will be an exercise on this. The language focus might also be lexical: for example, if there are lots of adjectives, then this will be highlighted. In other words, the text is being used as a vehicle (way) of introducing the language that the teacher wants to present and practise.

In a CLIL lesson the reading text is chosen purely based on the content or topic. Any exercises focus on the topical aspect of the text and not on the language used. Any exercises that look at lexis do so only because the vocabulary is related to the topic (and because understanding the vocabulary will help in understanding the topic).

Is this shift difficult?

Well, again it’s difficult to give a definitive ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. But, in my experience, language teachers often have a problem with ‘letting go of grammar’. When we see a text full of a particular area of grammar we rub our hands and start thinking of ways of manipulating the language. As long as you can resist this urge, then the shift shouldn’t be difficult.

So, how do I go about writing the material?

  1. Start off by selecting a subject area e.g. history, science, art. Select this subject area based on your students’ interests or something they are covering in another school/college subject class.
  2. Next, narrow down the topic to a particular aspect e.g. 'The Romans', 'Making Paper', etc.
  3. Look for a text. Here you’ll need to think about the level and also the length (how much time do you want to spend on reading/listening?). Remember, the text doesn’t have to be a reading text; if you have access to a good listening text, then this is fine (there are quite a few interesting listening sites/texts on the Internet.
  4. Read the text and familiarize yourself with the content. (You may also wish to discuss the text with someone who teaches that subject).
  5. Think about the best way of exploiting the text. Simple comprehension questions, True/False statements, gap-fill. Try and make sure that students don’t have to guess: for example, a matching-words-to-definitions activity before the reading is pointless as they either already know the words/meaning, (in which case why are they doing the task?), or they don’t and will have to guess. However, this kind of exercise might be good after the reading when they can look at the words in context.
  6. Try out the material (either on a colleague - maybe even the teacher of the subject you've chosen! - or on a class) and then rewrite it making it better.

Conclusion

I recently ran an in-service teacher training course where we wrote our own CLIL materials. Teachers worked in small groups brainstorming ideas, discussing task types, etc. And, at the end of three afternoons, we went away with some great materials. The two main issues were letting go of a language focus and writing material for the students rather than a lesson-plan for the teacher (or inspector). So, remember these things and don’t be worried about writing materials for a subject you know little or nothing about. A lot of the fun is in learning new things yourself and often your enthusiasm will rub off on the students.

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