How to kick start your lesson in a CLIL way

March 11, 2019


The opening of a lesson is just one of many lesson stages, but if not done well can be a problem for the rest of your lesson. A lot of things need to happen at the start: set expectations, activate prior knowledge, engagement so everyone is involved etc.

I try to achieve all of these goals with one activity: The Problem of the Day

Estimated time to read this article: 7 minutes

Introduction to "The Problem of the Day"

Honestly, I always have to refrain myself from saying mean things like "David is the problem of the day today" whenever a student enters the room, knowing full well what the name of the first activity of the lesson is going to be.

And yes, I am that mean a teacher sometimes ;). But only when a student deserves it.

However, the name is not at all that important.

You can call it 'Starter problem', 'Questions for today' or 'Do you remember - questions' for all I care.

The important thing is: you ask your students a couple of questions at the beginning of the lesson.

In my case, often three.

For a reason.

More on that in a minute.

With 'The Problem of the Day' (or problems, if you want to be picky) I

  • check for understanding of the previous lesson
  • activate prior knowledge
  • involve language right at the beginning
  • get students in learning-mode
  • make sure everyone is engaged
  • even allow for some differentiation later on in the lesson

Let's have a look at what this activity looks like!

Key Take Away

This activity for the opening of your lesson involves a lot of CLIL related topics and is very subject focused.

The setup of the activity

After I discussed the lesson goals and gave the new homework, I start with this activity.

It takes about 10-15 minutes, depending on the amount of time you take to discuss the questions.

The three questions are shown and students have to figure them out on their own.

They are allowed to have a look in their previous notes, their book or homework.

However, they cannot discuss it with their partners. 


After a certain amount of time has passed, student can discuss the problems.

They have two different tasks, depending on how well they understand:

  • If they did not know all of the answers, they have to ask for help and discuss it together.
  • If they did know all of the answers, they have to check if the answers are the same as their partner's.

Again, after a few minutes I will ask someone random to explain the answers.

This implies all students have to participate.

They can all be asked to explain the problem.

Because students had time to discuss, or ask me questions, I do not allow "I don't understand" as an answer.

To motivate correct explanations, I reward them with Classdojo points.

That is all!

A lot of things are involved in this activity though.

Let's discuss the type of questions to ask first.

Key Take Away

The problem of the day consists of a couple of stages from "Think, Pair, Share":

1. Individual work

2. Work together

3. Plenary discussion

The questions in detail

The three questions (or problems in my case) are structured in a certain way:

1: Knowledge question

You might recognize Bloom's taxonomy here, on a basic level.

I ask for knowledge reproduction.

The lowest level of Bloom as well as a great moment to involve language.

Students have to explain something in their own words, something that was discussed the lesson before.

Example questions:

  • "Explain in your own words..." 
  • "Write down the steps to do..."
  • "Copy and complete this sentence"

2: Apply question

The second questions is always an 'apply' question.

Again, Bloom, but a higher level now.

This question is often something students have done in the homework or in the previous lesson.

Because they are allowed to have a look at their homework, you would expect them to be able to do this with ease.

All I can say is: Don't be too disappointed 😉

It is okay though, because this makes students realize they do not fully understand yet.

Example questions:

  • "Solve"
  • "What is..?"
  • "Answer" 

3: Just a bit further..

The third question is a bit "above and beyond"

It might be a question related to the knowledge they have, but in a new situation.

Or a question that relies heavily on text, making it more difficult

Or even something that has to do with the current topic of the lesson.

This question allows for a bit of a challenge for the students who already understand the basic stuff.

Key Take Away

The three questions are in a specific order:

1. Knowledge

2. Simple application

3. Difficult application/Text

How prior knowledge is activated

A bit of a no brainer really.

By making sure you ask things about the previous lesson, you activate prior knowledge.

But this might be a bit of a challenge for some students.

Especially if your previous lesson was quite some time ago.

That is why you can implement a bit of scaffolding by allowing the book, homework or notes.

It is important students are aware of this prior knowledge before they start learning something new.

Otherwise, connecting this new knowledge to something before is going to be hard.

Students might not be aware of connections to topics discussed in previous lessons.

Or other subjects or chapters.

The role of 'silence' in this activity

Language is an important element of this activity.

But so is silence.

Allowing some time for students to think on their own is not a bad thing.

Active learning can happen even if students are not talking all the time.

And this moment of silence also has two other results:

  1. 1
    Students' energy level changes to a more focused one
  2. 2
    I have some time to do administrative work, like checking homework or absentees.

Key Take Away

By asking students to first work on their own, they activate their own prior knowledge and become more focused.

Language in the first activity of the lesson

Language is involved in a couple of different ways.

Input (reading): During question 1 and possibly question 3.

Output (speaking: Discussion after silence-time is over and explanation when chosen.

Output (writing): At the answer of question 1

In other words: a lot of language!

And this is just the start of your CLIL lesson!

Follow-up with differentiation

Just an idea I sometimes apply that helps to differentiate in your lesson:

If you make question 3 about something new, something you are going to discuss this lesson.

You can check how many people actually already solved this.

The people who understood, can already start working.

And skip your explanation.

Works very well in my lesson, but you know your students best.

Key Take Away

Language output and the possibility to differentiate can also be integrated by asking the right questions.


This "Problem of the day" activity is a CLIL activity because students are engaged with language and actively participating.

Language is involved in various ways and scaffolding can even be implement.

You might wonder: how long does it take to prepare an activity like this?

Seriously? It takes me two minutes.

If you have done this a couple of times, and know what the lesson is about, you can easily prepare this activity in a very short time.

That is the type of CLIL activity I like!

Ow, and do not be too fixated on "three activities"

This can obviously be changed to 2 or 4 or whatever suits your needs.

I do this all the time myself.

Good luck, and let me know below if you think you can apply this to your lesson!

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