Expect the unexpected in CLIL classroom situations

September 15, 2021


Preparing a lesson is important. I think we can agree on that. But unexpected classroom situations can be triggered by something as small as a fly flying around the classroom. And your lesson might not always go according to plan despite taking a lot of time preparing your lesson. How do you deal with that?

Estimated time to read this article: 6 minutes

During the summer holiday I was walking back to our holiday cabin with my oldest son. For some reason he all of a sudden decided he did not want to walk any further. He was clearly on the brink of crying because of the fact I was expecting him to do something he did not want to do.

I had two options:

  1. 1
    Agree with him and carry him to the cottage 
  2. 2
    Disagree with him and force him to go

Naturally both options did not seem that appealing. Carrying him was surely going to give me a few back issues in a day time and forcing a kid is not quite my style.

So I went with option 3: improvise.

Instead of focusing on the fact he did not want to walk, I pointed out I could already see the cabin and I was sure I could get there faster than him. I actually started accelerating a little bit already.

Although at first he was a bit reluctant, his enthusiasm to join the competition quickly took over and he ran past me, all the while shouting he was faster than me.

The result: by the time we had reached the cabin he had all but forgotten he did not want to walk anymore and started playing with his toys.

Key Take Away

Sometimes coming up with an alternative response can be more productive than the first response that comes to mind.

Dealing with reluctant students

Now why am I sharing this story with you?

Because I think this situation is quite similar to unexpected classroom situations

You planned something to do and students are reluctant to start for some reason.

You can either agree with them that it is hard and lower your expectations.

Maybe by saying things like: 

  • “I know it is hard, just remember it is only 5 minutes of work”
  • “Just try it for now, if you don’t understand I will help you out”
  • Etc.

Or you can force them to start working, with all kinds of arguments based on authority.

For example using phrases like:

  • “I expect you to start working now. If I see you not working, you can stay after school”
  • “If you do not understand, you did not pay attention”
  • Etc.

Or... you can adapt.

In my case, I use humour a lot. For me that works, but it might be quite different for you.

Changing the focus of the students, turning it into something they can do, can be quite liberating.

For both students and you as a teacher.

Key Take Away

Lowering expectations or enforcing through authority often have a negative impact in the long term.

"But I don't understand"

I have had students who said “I don’t understand”.

My reply could have been: “Okay, please come over here so I can help you out”

By saying that, I not only confirmed that apparently the student did not understand.

I even gave them a way out.

In other words: I was training this student to become dependent on my.

Instead, my reply often was: “What don’t you understand?”

To which the common reply was: “Everything”

I am sure you recognise this.

I would continue to ask questions about things we did before, but first start with asking the student’s name.

Awkwardly they would respond. And I would conclude: “See, you do know something! Now let’s figure out what exactly you don’t understand together”

Not because I wanted to sound smart, but because I did not want to give this student an out.

Key Take Away

Training students to become critical thinkers and solve problems on their own requires a different approach.

The unexpected in CLIL classroom situations

Okay, back to lesson planning.

Whenever unexpected classroom situations happen during your lesson you did not plan, improvising is key.

And that is easier said than done.

If it starts snowing outside, you might as well stop teaching, no matter how well prepared you are.

And that is not a bad thing!

Just like with my son’s race to the cabin, sometimes a situation asks for a slightly different approach.

With CLIL students who face the additional challenge of having to phrase words and sentences in a second language, this might even be more troublesome.

One way to help them out is by scaffolding their language, for example by providing sentence starters.

But even if you spend hours on preparing a lesson, there will always be things that deviate from your plan.

All the more reason not to spend too much time on lesson planning and focus on the most important elements of a lesson.

Key Take Away

In a CLIL lesson, students might experience reluctance because of the second language involved. In it important to be aware of that and plan for it.

What about you?

What situations did you experience that you successfully got back on track after a potential derailment?

Curious to hear your thoughts!

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