5 things I wish I had known when I started teaching CLIL

December 5, 2022


After 15 years of CLIL teaching, I dare say I know how it works a little. But that was definitely not the case when I started out with CLIL. And back in the day, there were way fewer (online) training possibilities. I learned by doing. By making mistakes and trying again. In this post, I want to share some of the mistakes I made. So you don’t have to.

Estimated time to read this article: 5 minutes

1. Want to change the world

When I just started (CLIL) teaching, there were a lot of things I wanted to improve: classroom activities, source materials, curriculum choices etc.

And when it came to CLIL, I thought I had to implement all of the ideas ASAP.

I was wrong.

You can start out with CLIL just one, tiny baby step at a time.

For example by asking students to describe a concept within a limited amount of words.

Or by ending the lesson by asking students to write down what they have learned.

Nothing more.

Just the other day I saw the quote:

“You don't have to be great to start

but you do have to start to be great” 

Zig Ziglar

And that’s it. Just start with one little change. Don’t change everything at once. You do not need to be overwhelmed.

Key Take Away

Change one small thing at a time, not everything at once

2. Feel like every English mistake is a problem

While I was quite confident in my use of the English language, I did make the occasional error. And still do.

The difference between then and now is that I care a lot less.

Back then, I would stop, think about how to say it correctly, and try again.

Disrupting the flow of the story I was sharing.

Nowadays, I would either ignore it or make a joke about it.

It is okay to make mistakes. I would even argue it is important for students to realise you also make mistakes sometimes.

Key Take Away

It is okay to make mistakes, even as a teacher

3. Keep talking in English all the time

Obviously, I felt the need to keep talking in English. After all, I was hired to teach in English, right?

Partly true.

Yes, during instruction moments, classroom discussions or even individual sessions I would generally speak English.

But if a student really doesn’t understand and the language is too much of a barrier, I will switch back to Dutch.

I think teaching in a second language actually gives you more tools to explain things.

After explaining something in English in a couple of different ways, I can switch back to Dutch.

Something a non-bilingual teacher cannot do.

And yes, obviously I am careful not to make students lazy.

But I am a math teacher first, a language teacher second. In that order.

Key Take Away

If language proves to be too much of a barrier, remove it


4. Provide little scaffolding

With language being a possible barrier for students, it is important to be aware of this and scaffold the language.

This can be as simple as providing a few keywords at the start of the lesson to talk about during the lesson.

Making the language salient, and making students aware of the fact language is also an (important) part of the lesson.

I didn’t do this at first. I basically assumed the students would be fine.

Only after I implemented step-by-step instructions and language-supporting scaffolds, I noticed students were no longer struggling with the language.

And as a bilingual/CLIL teacher, that is certainly something I feel is my responsibility.

Despite the fact I am ‘only’ a language teacher second.

Key Take Away

Provide language scaffolding for key concepts to help students to understand

5. Not ask for help

With the whole ‘let’s change the world’ mindset I had when I just started out, I also felt I needed to do it all on my own.

And just to be sure: you don’t.

If there is one thing I take away from organising three online CLIL summits: CLIL teachers all over the world face the same challenges.

So, please feel free to reach out and ask for help.

And that does not mean: “Do you happen to have a ready-to-use lesson plan for 5 lessons on this specific topic for my students?”

But something more along the lines of: “I tried to implement this in my lesson and it didn’t quite work, can we talk about what can be done to improve it?”

Or “I want to try something else in my lesson, do you have any suggestions?”

Key Take Away

Ask for help if you face a challenge You are not on your own


It didn’t take me 15 years to realise what I should have done differently, but it would have saved me both time and energy if I had known these things from the start.

I hope these suggestions serve you as well

Just wondering, which ‘mistake’ do you recognise?

Curious to hear about it!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}