Adrian Tennant sets out why he thinks the issue of methodology is as important and challenging as the issue of language proficiency.

Anchor Point:1Introduction 

While many CLIL teacher trainers and writers emphasise the issues surrounding language, and in particular the challenge faced by many subject teachers who are suddenly expected to teach in English rather than in their L1, I think there is another issue that is as important and as challenging - methodology.   

Anchor Point:2Why is methodology an issue?

Over the past few years I have trained quite a few subject teachers who have suddenly found that they will have to teach their subject in English. In most cases they have been worried about their level of English, but as the course has progressed their biggest surprise has been the difference between how they have taught the subject in their own language and the methodology introduced during the course. 

Predominantly it appears that most subject teachers have a very teacher-centred approach. Even in science classes where the learners do hands-on experiments, teachers appear to feel they must control the lesson. To my mind this teacher-centred approach runs contrary to the underlying principles and ideas behind CLIL.   

Anchor Point:3So what are the CLIL principles?

The overriding principle has got to be a cognitive approach to teaching and learning. Such an approach relies on building on learners' existing knowledge, skills, interests and experience. Learners need to process and analyse what they are taught in order to understand it, rather than simply be told what the information and answers are and just learn facts. Such an approach to learning changes the emphasis from one where the teacher is the centre of the process to one where the learner is now the focus. Learners are actively expected to 'discover' things rather than being told. In other words, an inductive approach to teaching and learning replaces a deductive one.    

What do we mean by inductive and deductive approaches to teaching and learning?

 In a deductive approach rules or facts are presented first and then checked or tested. So, for example, in a science class learners might be told that if something is acidic - with a pH range from 0-6 - a test paper used to distinguish between acids and alkalis will turn red, whereas if something is alkali - with a pH range from 8-14 then the paper will turn blue. Learners will then be given a variety of substances such as coffee, egg white, lemon juice, hand soap etc and asked to check whether they are acidic or alkaline. However, in an inductive approach learners would start out by doing the experiment and then be asked to try and draw some conclusions on their own and work out the rules and facts They would be helped to do this by being given targeted questions such as What colour did the paper turn when dipped in lemon juice? What about when it was dipped in egg white? or hand soap? Was there a difference? Why do you think there was a difference? What do you think this might show? etc. Then learners are given a short article about pH measurements and after reading it review their ideas before reporting back to the class. 

There are some excellent examples of inductive science lessons in the Young Learners, Science - Experiments section where many of the worksheets have learners carry out experiments, then do a number of guided activities before writing up a report. These can be found at

But isn't an inductive approach slower? 

In the short term, yes it probably is. However, in the long term the likelihood is that the learners are more likely to remember what they have learnt and will need less revision. It's also a much better way of building on existing knowledge and you are far less likely to teach something that the learners already know.     

But can such an approach / methodology be used for all subjects? 

One of the arguments I often hear is, "Well that won't work for History or Maths or Cookery", but why not? Of course the activities can be different but the fundamental principles behind them remain the same. 

Let's have a look at a few more CLIL activities.   

Anchor Point:4The mutual dictation

Find two short texts (about 120 to 180 words each) about the same topic. Write five questions about each text, but put the questions at the bottom of the other text. Put learners in pairs, one with text A and one with text B. Get them to read their text and then take turns asking their partner the questions. You can also use this technique to check answers. An example of this can be found at:- with a History worksheet about Columbus.

Solving puzzles

This is another excellent activity type. It can take the form of traditional puzzle activities. For example, here is a maths problem from a worksheet on fractions: 

Today is Jenny's birthday party. She sent out 12 invitations and 8 of her friends came. What is the correct fraction to describe the number of friends who came vs invitations?
a) ¼  b) ½   c) 2/3 

Or a jumbled sentence activity on cookery where learners need to put the sentences in the correct order. For example:

Add salt and pepper to the eggs (to taste)


After a few minutes add the potatoes to the frying pan.


After cooking leave to cool and then put the omelette in the fridge.


Boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes.


Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and then pour in the mixture.


Lightly fry the onion.


After frying the onion and potatoes mix six eggs together.


Start by peeling about ½ kg of potatoes.


Put the fried onion into the eggs and stir well.


Serve cold with some salad.


Slice the potatoes thinly and put the slices into a saucepan.


Slowly fry and turn the omelette over after about five minutes.


While the potatoes boil chop some onion.


Reading texts can be used in a multitude of ways to make students think. Rather than using standard comprehension questions why not use activities that require learners to process the texts they read in more detail.

Here are just a few examples:

Complete sentences with the correct name. This could be a place, a sport, an animal, an invention etc. You can find an example of this at: on the topic of capital cities.  

Another possibility is completing a table with information from a text. You can find two examples at which is on the topic of natural material for a lesson on textiles and - activity 2 about whales. 

Or why not turn the reading into a quiz. Here is an example on inventions which can be used for either a science or history lesson:    

Anchor Point:5Is this methodology unique to CLIL? 

The simple answer to that is, probably not. Good methodology is good methodology whatever the subject or the language. In other words, these techniques can be used just as effectively if the subject is taught in the L1 or in another language and they can be used whatever the subject.  Many of the ideas suggested here for CLIL are frequently used in English Language classes, so they are certainly not new or unique. They encourage the learners to think and to be, in some way, responsible for their own learning. Promoting a learner-centered approach and encouraging learner autonomy is a central aim.

Anchor Point:6But what about the issue of language proficiency and competence? 

We certainly should not ignore the issue of language proficiency for teachers, but this methodology does mean that the teacher is likely to be speaking less than before. This reduction in the amount of time they are speaking can be beneficial as teachers are less likely to make mistakes and there is more time to think about what they are going to say. It's also worth pointing out that in a lecture style classroom the teacher is speaking so much that there is far more pressure on them.   

Are there any other advantages to such a methodology? 

Yes, plenty. For example, it helps develop thinking skills. The emphasis is on learners finding out things for themselves. Rather than expecting the teacher to always provide the information, content and answers, learners are expected to be far more active and engaged in the learning process.  

The methodology also caters for different learning styles. In the traditional classroom the majority of activities and tasks favour learners who are mathematical / logical or verbal / linguistic. Learners who are kinaesthetic or visual / spatial etc tend to loose out and are at a disadvantage. However, one of the key elements to this methodology is that it allows for far more variety in activity types and therefore enables the teacher to cater for a wider range of learning styles within one lesson.    

Anchor Point:7Conclusion 

At the start of this article I claimed that this issue of methodology is as important and challenging as the issue of language proficiency. There are a number of reasons for this and here are the main ones. 

Firstly, the change in terms of the teacher's role is quite significant from being the font of all knowledge to the person who simply enables learning to take place. This change can cause insecurity and confusing for both the teacher and learners who are used to a more lecture style or presentation style of teaching. 

Secondly, it is likely that at the start it takes longer to prepare for classes. Materials need to be designed to engage the learners and get them thinking and actively involved in the learning process. 

Thirdly, learners may find the approach disconcerting and will look to the teacher to support them. If the teacher doesn't really believe or trust in the methodology then it can be all too easy to revert to the tried and tested methods that they have used in the past. This is certainly the case when coupled with the feeling that it is taking too long, that there is a syllabus to cover and that the methodology isn't appropriate. 

Finally, while there is an acceptance that you need to speak English reasonably well if you are going to teach in the language, why do you need to change the way you teach? Unless you can see benefits, and quite sizeable benefits quite quickly, then are you really going to embrace something that is new and different and requires hard work?

Adrian Tennant, September 2009

Do you agree or disagree with Adrian's point of view? If you'd like to comment on any of the issues raised please go to the discussion forum. Adrian will be responding to any messages posted.

Adrian Tennant is a teacher and teacher trainer as well as an ELT and CLIL Author. He has worked on numerous titles for Macmillan Education including American Inside Out  SynergySkylineAttitude, MoveInspiration and Straightforward. He also writes for onestopclil and onestopenglish and writes a regular column for the IATEFL Voices newsletter