A brief look at key skills for training CLIL subject and language teachers in the context of Zurich‘s University of Teacher Education

What skills do CLIL teachers need?

First of all, there is a set of skills which every teacher (and their learners) will benefit from. In the case of CLIL, learners will usually be taught in primary or secondary classes, and therefore what is important for teachers of these age groups is also an important basis for a CLIL teacher. So a set of general teaching skills should be included in training programmes for CLIL teachers. Because CLIL implies the teaching of a content subjects (or several content subjects) in the language to be learnt, the teacher should also be a subject specialist and thus be trained in subject specific skills. Moreover, CLIL teachers are expected to foster and monitor language learning processes. As a result, they need to be trained in language teacher specific skills.

Demands on the teacher

The demands a CLIL teacher has to face are remarkable, and the aspects mentioned above imply that he or she might be trained to be able to teach a content subject in the first and the target language as well as to teach target language competence as a subject. In many contexts, CLIL programmes are taught by experienced teachers who have been trained for teaching a content subject and who need some further training in terms of language teaching, either through in-service training or by receiving support from a languages department.

In a pre-service situation however, future CLIL teachers will benefit from a programme providing all the aspects involved at the same time. If we want to set up a pre-service training programme for CLIL teachers, they thus need to be trained for all of these elements:

  • working with young learners of a specific age range (primary or secondary schooling);
  • teaching a content subject according to professional standards;
  • monitoring language learning processes and setting up activities for building up learners' communicative competence in the target language.

The Zurich Approach

At teacher training institutions in Zurich, Switzerland, teachers have been trained according to these needs for long time - before CLIL was an issue.

Nowadays, Zurich's University of Teacher Education, Pädagogische Hochschule Zürich, is training CLIL teachers on the basis of a long experience with teacher training courses meeting these needs.



(Pädagogische Hochschule Zürich)

General teaching skills

General knowledge and skills relating to teaching children and teenagers is of major importance in all courses. Trainee teachers learn about psychological and pedagogic issues of childhood and adolescence, and about characteristics of human learning with a special focus on cognitive processes.

In addition to this, there are many issues which are important to trainee teachers of any subject, and these are examined and discussed in subject independent training modules, e.g.

Finally, specific training modules help students to develop general personal competences for the classroom, including:

  • performing competence, developing trainee teachers' ability to speak in public and to monitor group and class processes;
  • general classroom skills including storytelling, reading texts aloud, blackboard handwriting, mastering classroom technology and media.
Primary teacher profiles
4 compulsory subjects

·        German (L1) and handwriting  

·        mathematics   

·        humanity and environment (consisting of biology, geography, history,religion & culture)   

·        foreign language (French or English)

3 subjects out of …

·        physical education 

·        music 

·        art 

·        woodwork 

·        handicraft

·        second foreign language (French or English)


Secondary teacher profiles123
2 subjects

Nature &  Science


German (L1) or Mathematics

English or French or Italian


German (L1) or Mathematics

English or French or Italian


French or Italian or English

2 further subjects out of …

geography / history / housekeeping / religion and culture / physical education / art    

music / wood- and metalwork / handicraft


Subject teacher skills

Future primary teachers are trained to teach seven subjects, at least one of which is a foreign language (English or French), future secondary teachers are trained to teach four subjects which may include one or two foreign languages.

As a result, teachers of foreign languages are also subject teachers who attend training modules for acquiring knowledge and competences in the following areas:

•  academic knowledge of subjects (more in-depth for secondary);

•  subject teaching methodology standards and procedures;

•  guided assistant teacher practice modules.

Foreign language teacher skills

Training modules for foreign language teaching are situated in three main areas:

•  Language competence courses. Primary teacher trainees need to achieve level C1, secondary teacher trainees level C2, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

•  Language teaching methodology courses, including an assistant teachership in an area where the target language is the first language.

•  Academic courses in literature and linguistics at the University of Zurich (secondary only)

The fact that the Zurich curriculum of English implies that English is taught through topics taken from different school subjects, i.e. according to a CLIL approach, has an impact on pre-service training modules.

Programme delivery

Let's now have a closer look at the way language teaching methodology is taught to trainee teachers.

•  Two basic modules introduce trainee teachers to issues relating to language in general and to second language acquisition and learning, independent from the target language.

•  Two further training modules are dedicated to English Language Teaching methodology, covering a wide range of topics, including language skills, assessment, task-based learning, and CLIL. TBL and CLIL play a pivotal role in these modules, as most of the practical examples are relating to the teaching materials in use which are based on a TBL and CLIL methodology.

•  In teaching practice modules in target level classes monitored by ELT lecturers, trainee teachers have opportunities to apply what they have learnt. 

Zurich CLIL teaching materials

Through the last few years, CLIL based materials have been developed and are being developed for Zurich primary as well as secondary schools. These three courses are now being used:

•  First choice for primary 2nd and 3rd grade classes;

•  Explorers for primary 4th to 6th grade classes;

•  Voices for secondary 7th to 9th grade classes.

The approach of all these courses is to work with topics from various content subjects in the English class, considering the fact that English teachers are systematically trained to teach content subjects as well. These teachers therefore stand on a sound basis to teach English according to a CLIL approach.

Internet links

Pädagogische Hochschule Zürich


Christoph Suter, September 2009

For more on Skills for CLIL see Jeans Brewster's article on Thinking Skills.

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