CLIL in Corona time: 3 activities you can still do in your online CLIL lesson

June 8, 2020


Just like every teacher around the globe, I was thrown into the 'interesting' world of online CLIL teaching without a lot of time to prepare.  And just like you, I struggled at first and to be honest, I still feel online CLIL teaching is quite different than 'real' teaching, despite some people saying otherwise.

The massive change for both students and teachers was unplanned, unprecentented and unclear. How can you still do CLIL in your lessons effectively in situations like this?

Estimated time to read this article: 9 minutes

What makes online CLIL lessons harder to do?

First things first: Online CLIL teaching is different and probably harder if you have little time to prepare. 

Sure, you can find many resources online, even for free, but it requires time to go through all of those ideas, apps and resources. 

Time you simply do not have because of the huge task in front of you: preparing an effective CLIL lesson.


Or partially online, like the situation I am personally experiencing right now.

When I started this way of teaching 3 months ago (we still assumed it would only be a couple of weeks back then...) I was lucky enough to already have some kind of online setup (more on that later).

But the drastic change of teaching certainly challenged me.

What could I still do? What things were more difficult?

And most importantly, was CLIL teaching still possible?

In my humble opinion the answer is yes, but to be sure we are on the same page here, we have to agree on what CLIL is first.

To check if what I did really was CLIL I simply asked myself two questions:

  1. 1
    Are the students engaged with the content?
  2. 2
    Are students engaged with language?

Is the answer "yes" to both questions? 

Good, I am applying CLIL!

But the second part is tricky...

Because motivating students to speak during an online class is harder.

(I was amazed by the amount of microphones that "did not work" all of a sudden...)

And how do you check if students are actually listening actively?

These kind of things absolutely pose challenges!

Key Take Away

You can check if you are applying CLIL by answering two simple questions.

What cán you still do?

Does that mean online CLIL teaching is impossible?

I do not think so.

Yes, it will be different

Yes, you might have to lower your standards (I know I had to..)

Yes, the results might vary from student to student

But in the end, the goal is to make students aware of the language they are using in combination with learning new content

And that is still possible!

Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Ask open ended questions instead of multiple choice ones
  • Ask students to share ideas on a certain topic
  • Ask students to explain their answers and ideas (in a chat or by speaking)
  • Ask students to summarize the explanation in their own words

Nothing new right?

Indeed, despite these type of questions maybe being rather obvious, you have to look for the correct tools to do this online.

For example Kahoot, a popular quiz-based education tool, is not a good tool for this purpose because it lacks open ended questions.

The type of question you definitely need in order to ask students for their opinion.

Also brainstorming is something that might normally be done by raising hands and creating a mind map, now you have to find online tools to do this for you.

All of this is possible.

With my setup I could ask all of these types of questions (and more)

Key Take Away

With the right kind of questions and tasks it is possible to apply CLIL to your online lesson.

The online tools that allowed my lessons to shine!

When offline lessons started again last week, students congratulated me on a job well done teaching them online.

Always nice to hear, but that was mostly due to the fact I used a variety of tools already before the schools were closed.

Even now that I teach with half a class online and half a class offline, I keep using these tools to make sure everyone is involved and give (partially) online CLIL lessons.

1. Microsoft Onenote

This software allowed me to use not just a whiteboard-like setting to write and draw, but essentially to organise all of my lessons. 

Onenote in an online CLIL lesson

Onenote in an online CLIL lesson

Both the chapters and the lessons are organised in a way I can go back to every lesson I taught throughout the schoolyear.

And so could the students.

Even now that I have to teach with half of the class at home, I can draw on the Smartboard at school and the students at home see exactly what I do, because it syncs immediately.

Works like a charm!

2. Lessonup

This can be replaced with any other online quiz-tool of your choice, but I like Lessonup because of the different types of questions you can ask.

  1. 1
    Open ended questions: this allows for input from students instead of an "estimated guess" for a multiple choice question.
  2. 2
    Brainstorm questions: students share whatever they know about a topic. Allows for interesting points of view.
  3. 3
    Drag questions: students place materials in a certain order or drag the answers to the correct question. Great for checking if they actually know what they are doing.
lessonup drag question

Lessonup drag question

3. Classdojo

If you have been following me for a while, you know I really like this tool.

Originally created for primary school students, I started using it a couple of years ago. Students really like it and it allowed me to give instant and useful feedback I could later use to assess students, without micro-managing anything.

The way I use it is simple: I randomly select a student to explain something and reward points for correct explanations. Students can type answers in the chat or answer by talking into a microphone.

I also use this to check homework. Students have to hand in things on a regular basis or share pictures of their homework. 

Classdojo in an online CLIL lesson

Classdojo in an online CLIL lesson


Do you need to use these tools?

Absolutely not!

They are simply a means to an end: getting students to be actively engaged with the lesson and the language involve.

Key Take Away

You don't need to use a lot of different online resources, just a simple quiz-based tool is enough to do a lot of interesting CLIL activities.

Three activities that work in an online CLIL lesson

Now that we discussed how you can make CLIL work in an online setting and what tools you might use to do this, let's talk activities!

All of these activities can be done with any tool you would like. 

I will show you how I use them, but feel free to adapt them to your own situation!

1. Problem of the day

This is still one of my favorites, which is also the reason I wrote an blog post on "the problem of the day" before.

The quick description: a starter activity with a certain structure to allow for differentiation in both level and way of learning.

I (almost) always start my lessons with these type of activities and they provide me with a lot of information like:

  • Do the students know the prior knowledge to use?
  • Did the students understand the homework?
  • Are there any students who are already ready to already go on on their own?
  • Ask students to summarize the explanation in their own words

I use Lessonup for this, as mentioned before, but this can be done with many different online quiz tools.

It is important to keep in mind you want open ended questions to motivate written language output and maximize the potential of this activity in your online CLIL lesson.

2. Mind the gap

A common challenge for many teachers is to keep the information stage interesting.

This might be even more of a challenge when teaching online, because the possible distractions for students at home are even more present.

To scaffold the learning of students, I provide them with a partially filled in step by step plan.

Students copy the sentences and after they have done so, I start my instruction.

(No longer than 10 minutes, which is even more important online as well).

During the instruction, students will fill in the blanks and afterwards we discuss the correct answers.

Mind the gap activity

Mind the gap activity

This activity works for a couple of reasons:

  1. 1
    Students have to pay attention: they will miss important information if they don't
  2. 2
    The information is scaffolded: students don't have to worry about structure
  3. 3
    Everyone has the same information: the notes of the students will all be the same (and you can fall back on this during a followup lesson)
  4. 4
    You have to have a structure too: it helps you as a teacher to structure your instruction

3. Explain in your own words

The last activity I want to discuss is the 'explain in own words' activity.

Which basically is what it is: a question to students to explain something in their own words.

This is an interesting question to ask, not just to active prior knowledge, but also to motivate written output.

You can see from the language used by students how confident they are in describing things in their own words.

And for the record: 'own words' is not 'from the book'. Nor translations by the way.

Explain in your own words
Explain in your own words

Some example questions I ask in my classes


With the tools and activity ideas in this post I hope you have found some new inspiration for your online CLIL lessons.

And remember: baby steps. Don't try to change everything at once. One step at a time :).

Have some ideas yourself? Share below!

  • This is fascinating & really useful, thanks 🙂

    I would love to hear more about the complexities, challenges, and opportunities of teaching with half the class in the classroom and half the class remote.

    Do you have any more posts that a deal more specifically with that situation or know where I could look to find out more from others in that situation?

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