A discussions and advice on using CLIL in the English classroom.

I teach in an Irish Institute of Technology which is currently investigating the possibility of introducing CLIL teaching as part of language courses. While the benefits of this for Irish students studying French or Spanish are obvious, I teach English to international students and was wondering if the authors had any thoughts on the benefits of teaching using CLIL to students who are already studying all subjects through English.

Una Cummins

Hi Una,
The simple answer is ‘Yes’. In fact, in your situation a combination of CLIL and some language and skills focused lessons are probably more beneficial than in many EFL situations. Your students already need English for very specific reasons and by using this need and their interest in the topic you’ll probably find they learn more effectively.

I imagine you’re in a similar position to many teachers working in further and higher education institutions around the world. Your primary responsibility is language support and you’ll have students with wide ranging levels, sometimes in one class and sometimes on a one-to-one basis. By building on what they already know and using their subject as the catalyst you’ll be supporting their other studies and helping them directly. One of the main advantages to this approach is that you’ll build their confidence both in their own feelings towards learning English and also in the fact that they will be better able to cope when studying their subject with students whose English is a first language.


  1. Ask the students to talk about their subjects. Show a genuine interest and ask them to try and explain things to you so you can understand them. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be a subject specialist to use the subject to help them improve their English. In fact, it’s sometimes better to be very ignorant about the subject but willing to learn about it yourself.
  2. Talk to the subject tutors about what they have done and what they will be doing. If possible ask them for a scheme of work so that you are aware of what is covered and when. It’s also important that you explain to them what you are doing and why, 90% of the time they will be very supportive.
  3. Find out if there are any particular areas students are finding difficult. There is always a benefit to revising things and if you are repeating what is happening in the subject but in a different way this should help all those concerned.
  4. Remember that you are the specialist when it comes to teaching international students. It is quite likely that subject tutors don’t understand the problems that the international students are having. In the end many of the problems these students are experiencing are language related and not due to problems with the content itself. By using the content again, but levelling the language you’ll probably be supporting these students in a far more positive way.
  5. There is also an inherent assumption that students know all the terminology and lessons are often built on these assumptions. However, if a student doesn’t understand a particular piece of terminology they will struggle. If you need to learn about the terminology yourself then:
you’ll be in a better position to explain it to the students
you’ll be able to ask students to explain it to you without coming across as patronizing, and
by asking subject tutors to explain things to you so that you can understand it you will make them more aware of the problems that might face international students.

Practical ideas

On top of the suggestions listed above, I would suggest getting hold of a few pieces of subject (content related) material from the students and subject tutors. Then, use this material and create your own CLIL lesson. Start off by looking at the peripheral language (i.e. the grammar and structure of the piece) - can it be rewritten so that it is easier to understand?

In my experience most subject material is written in quite complicated language (the assumption being that students don’t have problems with the English). If you can make it easier to read then the content aspect will be much easier to focus on.

You could even use the same piece of material to focus on the language in a skills or grammar lesson. However, I’d suggest you try to keep the two lessons separate and don’t try and focus on things like grammar during the CLIL lesson – the focus should be on the content/subject. Students will start to notice particular features (i.e. that scientific subjects use a lot of passive constructions) through repeated exposure without needing it pointed out.

Having looked at the course information for the Irish Institute of Technology on the Internet I was particular struck by what was written on the Introduction to Engineering and Construction Studies. There appears to be great scope for some fascinating CLIL lessons on topics such as water in the home, food production, fizzy drinks etc. The focus on the process rather than just the product seems to lend itself to a CLIL approach.

Finally, have a look at a couple of the CLIL lessons in the Business and ESP section of onestopenglish
and at the tips in this section.

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