King of CLIL, Keith Kelly reveals all about his love affair with Bulgaria, shares tales of a tough introduction to teaching in Bristol and gives a modest tip for budding CLIL authors.

keith kelly

Tell us a little bit about yourself …

As an undergraduate of Russian, I spent a period of study in Bulgaria and remember thinking what a lovely place it would be to maybe work and live in. Always one to follow my gut instincts, I came back as a volunteer teacher of English with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and worked in a Mathematics School in Plovdiv in 1992. I later worked with Science, History and Geography teachers who teach through the medium of English in the Languages Grammar School in the same city (it really is that beautiful!). Now my home and family is in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. My office is in the basement of our apartment block where my neighbours keep their winter pickles and wood for burning in their stoves. I spend my mornings looking after my two-year-old daughter and my afternoons writing teaching and learning materials for CLIL. I still teach in the Plovdiv Languages Grammar School, I manage the FACTWorld website ( and egroup (

In five words, how would you describe yourself?

Cuddle-freak, cooking-addict, creative, crabby, communicative.

How did you start your writing career?

I think of myself as a squirrel collecting ideas and hoarding them together, and I've written and co-written a lot of materials over the years as products of training courses and projects. Two examples are Ethical English and Share Your World; both collections of resources based on the Science Across the World programme and both products of summer schools in Varna, Bulgaria. I really only sat down to write a book when I wrote the VPS Science. This came from a meeting with commissioning editor Emily Rosser during a summer course I worked on in NILE. Emily was researching CLIL and we talked about what kind of a resource would be useful for teachers and the Vocabulary resources were the result.

Where’s the most interesting place you’ve taught?

I think it always has been and always will be the Bayswater Centre in Bristol. This was a centre for school phobics and truants where I spent a half day a week throughout the year of my PGCE in Bristol. Completely unprepared for working with young people with problems and issues I couldn't begin to understand, to say that I felt out of my depth is an understatement. One of the students there was unapproachable, keeping himself to himself, busying himself everywhere he would go with his juggling. I asked him if he could teach me. He taught me to juggle. I owe my passion for juggling to that young man and it's something that has permeated my teaching ever since. I occasionally meet former students from my school juggling clubs who tell me that they can now juggle a five-ball cascade comfortably.

What are you most proud of in your teaching and writing career?

One of my students from the Maths school in Plovdiv in 1992 asked if I would help him apply to study at Oxford University. He wrote to the University. Oxford replied that they would be willing to have him sit the entrance exam for Mathematics. I agreed to invigilate the exam. I can remember the envelope arriving and being placed in the school safe. He did the exam. He was offered a place. His family scraped together a sum of money (goodness knows how!) to get him through the first term. He worked in the laundry, babysat and moved on to be a technician in the computer lab, all the while doing his studies. Now he has a PhD from Oxford University and offers consultancy to an IT company based in California. We occasionally share stories nowadays about our daughters when he comes back to Plovdiv to visit. It always makes me smile (and occasionally reach for a tissue) thinking about this student.

What’s your most embarrassing teaching moment?

I broke my leg during the first week of my teaching practice as a teacher of French and German at the Churchill School in Somerset in 1989-1990. I had to do my teaching practice on crutches. The school rearranged their timetables so that I could be on the ground floor the whole time and in the same classroom. I had to wear a pair of cut down tracksuit bottoms as it was the only thing I could get on. Having said all that, they did give me my first teaching job!

What’s your favourite joke?

Ivancho and Mariika have their first baby. They've read all the books and leaflets and it's time for the first bath. They head off to the bathroom, baby in arms. The doorbell rings. Mariika says, 'You know what to do, I'll go get the door'. It's the neighbour with some gossip. They start chatting. After a few minutes, there is a scream from the bathroom. Mariika runs back to find Ivancho holding baby by the ears and swishing it up and down in the bath water. Mariika says, 'What are you doing? You know you're supposed to put baby in the crook of your arm and gently scoop the water over baby'. Ivancho says, 'You try doing that with this boiling water!'

What are your tips for becoming an ELT author?

I have to admit that I don't consider myself an ELT author at all. I've met a lot of ELT authors and read a lot of their stuff, and used a lot of it in my classrooms. I don't think I do what ELT authors do. I write materials for integrating content with language and that essentially has me working with a subject specialist. The content comes from the subject specialist, I just try to make the language accessible to the learners. So, if you want to become a CLIL author, you need either to be a subject specialist who also has a background in language teaching, or you are a language teacher with lots of subject-specialist friends you can call up for help! I'm lucky to be in the second category.