CLIL and mathematics: 3 ways to improve this combination

October 17, 2016


CLIL and mathematics. By many considered to be challenging at best, maybe even impossible to implement.

Don’t worry thought, I am here to help! And believe me, after teaching mathematics in English for almost ten years, I can assure you both CLIL and mathematics can be integrated use as easily as subjects like geography, history and biology.

What makes CLIL and mathematics slightly harder?

One of the key elements of CLIL is obviously: language. Not only that, CLIL involves practicing language by using it in different contexts, like mathematics (what a coincidence).
The problem maths teachers encounter though is that the relative low amount of written language output, compared to other subjects.
As maths can be argued to be a language on its own, and the output is generally related to numbers (with the occasional x and y), this is a valid point.

However, with a little bit of creativity, this challenge can easily be solved!

Even more so. I think that CLIL can help improve your lesson as it helps you focus on different aspects of your lesson that would normally not be as evident.

In this blog post, I want to talk about generating output in a way that is helpful for your students, barely requires any preparation time and is indeed very CLIL!

1. Stating the goal of the lesson

As I stated before in another blog post, I think you should always show your students what they are going to do this lesson. In my humble opinion, the best way to do this is by using “Know” and “Can” statements.

For example, at the beginning of a lesson I mention

‘ At the end of this lesson you …

Know the formula for the area of a triangle
Know the steps to calculate the area of a triangle

Can calculate the area of a triangle’

This involves language in more than one, the obvious one that you can introduce important key phrases this way. Another reason this stating of the goals is important for language use is that it helps you focus as well. Without these statements you might not be as motivated to clearly know what you want to do.
The final reason to use these goals is to be able to reflect upon them, which I will cover below.

2. Writing down the steps

This is a trick I picked up after following a course called RTTI, a method of creating tests. The R stands for reproduction and the course states that you should always ask at least one question that is pure reproduction. Something along the lines of “Write down the area of a triangle” or ” Write down the steps to calculate..”

Too often would I show students one or more examples, and assumed they would be able to deduct the steps to take in a similar situation.

I was wrong.

When I simply asked students to tell me the steps to take to for example solve a linear equation using the balance method, I would find students doing all kinds of things.

Anything but a simple step by step plan.

So, if you take anything from this blog post, let it be this: Write down the steps you follow to solve an assignment. Write them down explicitly and ask them back from your students.

This is pretty much the same as stating an algorithm, and isn’t that something that we do on a very regular basis in mathematics?
This activity will not only be a great language exercise (as the steps have to be general steps, so numbers are not involved) but is also of great help to students who simply aren’t that good at deducting general steps from a few examples.

3. Recapping a lesson.

The last thing I want to mention is recapping a lesson. Obviously, this is something that can be done easily if you stated the lesson goals in “know” and “can” statements.

In my example from before, I would ask students to write down the steps to calculate the area, write down the general formula as well as give them some triangles to calculate the area of.

This assignments can easily be found in any textbook, but feel free to create them yourself. I just don’t like the extra work of creating all kinds of assignments.

With that said, this would also be a perfect moment to provide them with a slightly more difficult assignment to make them aware of something you might discuss next lesson.

This activity provides output in 2 ways:

  1. Written output: all students have to answer the questions in their notebooks
  2. Spoken output: you ask students for their answers afterwards, making sure they use complete sentences.


There are many more ways to integrate language in a maths lesson, but I hope these three activities will already help you to combine CLIL and mathematics.

I will write a few more blog posts about this in the future, so be sure to check back regularly.

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