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Book Review: Putting CLIL into practice

Book Review: Putting CLIL into practice

Book Review: Putting CLIL into practice

The latest in-depth CLIL Book

It doesn’t often happen that a CLIL book that tries to challenge the established ideas, shake them up a little, and approach CLIL from a different perspective is published. Putting CLIL into Practice does exactly that. I found it to be a refreshing read, cover to cover.

The three dimensions

One of the main themes of the book is the introduction of the phrase ‘three dimensions of CLIL.’ With this, the authors imply that every CLIL activity consists of three dimensions:
1) Concepts
2) Procedures
3) Language

In other words, if you design a CLIL activity, think about what you are going to discuss subject-wise, what language challenges might arise, and how you’re going to teach your students.

The role of language in a lesson

The authors of ‘putting CLIL into practice’ also argue that as content is always taught through a language (be it a L1 or L2), the terms language and content can never be discussed separately. As such, language plays a vital role in any classroom setting, but even more so in a CLIL setting where the role of language is even more obvious. It is, however, still a vehicle through which subject content is taught, not a goal on its own.

It should be pointed out, though, that knowledge of the grammatical rules and extensive vocabulary skills are not necessarily skills that every CLIL teacher has acquired. These language statements can therefore appear to be a little daunting. I, for one, know that I simply lack the time to think about the language being used during every activity and task during a lesson.

This does not, in any way, diminish the important aspect of thinking about the use of language during an activity, but it does require more time during the preparation phase.

Soft CLIL vs. Hard CLIL

I had never heard of these phrases before reading this book, but the authors use the terms “Soft CLIL” and “Hard CLIL” throughout. They define Soft CLIL as the broad linguistic aims that a language teacher brings to the classroom, whereas Hard CLIL refers exclusively to the subject-based aims and objectives where subjects are taught in a foreign language.

Because I live in the Netherlands, I can only reference the way Dutch teachers use CLIL, and in my experience we only define CLIL as the methodology used to teach a subject in a different language. In other words, hard CLIL. Teachers in the Basque Country use both ‘versions’ of CLIL in their teaching context, as is exemplified a lot in the book itself. This way of defining CLIL was new to me, but is clearly a phenomenon that is posing a challenge in different countries.

Doing the Dozen!

The book provides many practical ideas that can be used in CLIL lessons, and I would like to point out one of them as a taste of what to expect from putting CLIL into practice. The activity is called “Doing the Dozen” and is used to recap 12 words that might prove important to the next part of the lesson/text/etc.

Two students divide a list of twelve words, after which the first student describes a word from the list. The other student needs to identify what word is described. They continue in turns until all words have been discussed. This effectively ensures that students explain terms in their own words because (and I quote) “If the students defining the terms do not understand them, they have a difficult time with this task.”

Conclusion

I could easily keep writing about the many things I consider little gold mines from the book. For example, the clear definition of ‘a task,’ the importance of sequencing in a CLIL lesson, and the distinction between embedding and scaffolding are all examples of topics I would love to write more about. This review is limited by a word count though, and I therefore have to conclude that this is indeed a very interesting read and a source of inspiration for every CLIL teacher.

The book shows clear examples of activities to be used in class, as well as background information on a variety of topics, backed by examples and research (although many references are made to research done by the authors themselves).

I highly recommend the book Putting CLIL into practice. Teachers, trainers, and school leaders will all find something of use in this book.

This book review was published in CLIL Magazine Fall 2016.

More information: Putting CLIL into practice by Phil Ball, Keith Kelly and John Clegg

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