CLIL Activity: How to get your students to come up with problems

February 19, 2018


The book as a start, not as a goal..

As a Maths teacher, I always use my book as a source for the problems my students have to do. It is simply too much of a task to come up with all of the problems myself. Yet, instead of just copying these problems and motivating students to do them, I use these problems as examples of student-generated problems and do a great CLIL activity.

Allow me to explain how:

Students can do it on their own

Whenever students have done a couple of problems that are alike, I ask them to create a few for each other. With this CLIL activity I achieve a couple of things

  1. Check for understanding. Students have to understand the problems they were working on before in order to be able to reproduce those problems.
  2. Creativity. Students have to come up with ideas on their own, which requires them to get out of their comfort zone and be creative.
  3. Responsibility. Because students have to create problems for each other, they will be held accountable when it is not done properly by other students.

My step by step plan

To make sure that students do this CLIL activity properly, I give them a series of instructions that might look like this:

  • Think of 3 problems that are like the problems you just finished.
  • Write down the problems and the answer in your notebook. Include the calculations.
  • On a separate piece of paper, write down the problem and your name.
  • Hand in the piece of paper.
  • I will hand out the pieces of paper. Do the problems and then check the answers with the student who came up with it.

Pay particular attention to step 2, as there will very likely be students who try to come up with impossible problems. Because they have to be able to calculate the problems themselves, they are less likely to make the problems too hard.

How scaffolding can help

Still, despite this structure, students might find this CLIL activity hard to do because of the amount of freedom they might not be used to. This might result in students just copying problems from the book, which we don’t want them to do.

Enter scaffolding

Using scaffolding during the instruction, I provide a structure for them to follow in order to make sure they all do something alike.

Last week the activity looked like this:

Create a formula that looks like this: …. x +/- ….

On the dots you can fill in any integer between -10 and 10.

Afterwards, think of three possible inputs for x, again, integers between -10 and 10 and calculate the answer.

Possible formulas are: -3x + 2, 5x – 4 or -3x – -4

This way, the structure is obvious and students know exactly what to do.

Applying this to other subjects

One might think this CLIL activity is best suited for math-like lessons, but this can be applied to other subjects as well. For example, you can ask students to think of 5 questions about a text, with each question beginning with Who, What, Why, Where or How. That way, students again have some idea on how to start.

Why this is not the highest level of Bloom

Despite the fact that “Creating” is the top level of Bloom, I would argue this is not that top level. The creating stage of Bloom suggest a lot more creativity than this CLIL activity provides, especially when scaffolding it so clearly. I would argue this is more on the “Analyzing” level, as students have to analyse the different aspects of a problem, understand how it works and apply it a couple of times.

Materials for the next lesson

One more thing: You can also use this activity at the end of a lesson to create lesson starters for the next lesson. Win-win!


This is a CLIL activity that requires little preparation, apart from the scaffolding which I think can be done on the fly. Combining scaffolding with the fact that students have to communicate in order to find the correct answers, this is a great example of an easy to apply CLIL activity!

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