How to get your students to design their own CLIL activity

April 4, 2016


A couple of years ago Peeter Mehisto (co-author of “Uncovering CLIL”) observed one of my lessons and commented I could think about tasks I could give to students. Tasks I would normally do myself. I even went a little further than that. I tried to get my students to create their own CLIL activity

Ever since I occasionally thought about what possible ways I could get students to participate in my lesson. Not just by doing the tasks I provide or listen to me while I explain something, but getting them involved.

Specific tasks

My quest started by thinking of mundane tasks that could be done by students. Things like handing out papers or writing down things on the blackboard. Although this was sometimes a time-saver, it didn’t really satisfy my need for more student participation. Furthermore, this type of small task allowed only a couple of students to participate, not the entire group.

I had to think of something else.

Students create the CLIL activity

According to Bloom’s taxonomy, creating is the highest level of thinking. As CLIL teachers, I believe we should integrate these thinking skills in our lessons as well. Furthermore, having to come up with ideas for activities was sometimes a little hard as I lacked inspiration for new words or questions to use.

That’s when I decided to come up with ways to get the students to create their own CLIL activities for each other.

Activity 1: Taboo word

The first activity I did was “Taboo Word”. A simple CLIL activity that starts with one word that a person in a group needs to describe and four other taboo words that the person describing is not allowed to use. The first group to guess the word wins.

One of the challenges of this activity has always been to make sure students don’t use the taboo words during the game. Checking all groups at the same time can be troublesome. I solved this by asking the groups how the word was explained, but still it didn’t feel quite right.

After I did this activity with my first graders once, I afterwards asked everyone if they understood how the game worked. I gave them a new task: come up with a new word and four taboo words with your group. After everyone had done this, I randomly selected a group and those students could write down their words on the board and be the referees in class to check if the taboo words were actually used.

By changing this activity from teacher-generated to student-generated I achieve a couple of different goals

  • Students were more engaged because they could think of assignments for other students themselves
  • Students were actively thinking about synonyms and descriptions, trying to come up with the best taboo words
  • After two rounds of this game, I would have a new list of 10 phrases and their taboo words, to be used in another class or lesson.

And best of all: I did not have to do anything! That is student participation at its best!

Activity 2: Odd one out

Again, not the most original CLIL activity. I simply write down four phrases (or in my case calculations) and ask which one is the odd one out. To maximize student participation I ask them to think of the answer on their own and select students randomly afterwards. Sometimes I even have enough inspiration to come up with a series of calculations that does not have only one odd one out. A follow up task for students would be: think of a reason for all of them to be the odd one out.

Like with the taboo word, I did this activity once after which I asked my students to create a list of four calculations for their neighbours with one being the odd one out. I was very surprised by the answers. Some of them came up with very difficult calculations (way higher than the level they were supposed to be) that in the end resulted in the same answer except for one. Other students even integrated prime numbers, something I had not even introduced in this class yet!


By making students create the activities for themselves they are more engaged and still learn a lot. They made me a very proud teacher!

Also, this is a CLIL activity at its best: Students are using the second language both in the preparation and discussion stage of the activity while working on a subject specific task. A perfect balance between subject and language.

Even better: The task didn’t take a lot of time in lesson and no time at all to prepare. Win win!

Have you tried something similar? Let me know!

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