I don’t know how to start with CLIL!?

April 1, 2019


If you are an expert on CLIL, you can stop reading. This post is not for you, I am sorry. This article is for all of those people who are just starting out with CLIL and have no idea where to start.

Estimated time to read this article: 7 minutes

Why did you start with CLIL?

Let's start with asking for the elephant in the room: did you start with CLIL because you wanted to? Or because someone else told you to use it?

Nothing wrong with that, just saying.

It has influence on your motivation to learn more about CLIL, to a certain degree.

Do you recognise any of these situations?

  • You want to learn more about CLIL because you heard about is somewhere and became interested
  • You wanted to join a group of CLIL teachers already present at your school
  • Your school just started with CLIL education
  • The government told you to start with CLIL, preferably ASAP

Knowing why you want to learn about CLIL greatly helps with identifying your needs and motivation to learn more.

So, which one is it? And how does that influence your motivation?

If you still feel CLIL is something you can learn (and you can!), be sure to read on!

Key Take Away

What is your current motivation to work with CLIL?

Do you want to study it because you want to or because you have to?

First things first, what is CLIL?

Okay, you decided you want to learn more about CLIL.


Next step? Probably: Pick up a book somewhere.

To be fair: quite a few great CLIL books have been published.

And I read them all.

First thing I noticed? 

They do not agree on the definition of CLIL.

Yes, the acronym stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning.

But what does that mean for the classroom situation?

Funny thing that is: We are all expected to work with CLIL in some way, but the experts don't agree on the definition itself.

I already wrote two other blog posts on this topic, so I will not go into detail right now, but the suffice to say: I prefer to work with something practical.

In other words:

If your activity includes these two criteria, it is a CLIL activity (in my opinion)

  1. 1
    Is language involved?
  2. 2
    Are students actively engaged?

Key Take Away

By answering to questions you can determine if an activity is CLIL.

What does this mean for your lesson?

As a CLIL teacher, I try to answer these two questions with "yes" every time I do and activity in class.

Easier said than done? Maybe.

But if you think about it, don't you already do some things in your lesson that involves this?

Do you sometimes ask your students to explain what you did in the previous lesson.

Or ask students to explain the answer to a question in English?

If done correctly, these are already CLIL activities.

Obviously a lot more can be said about a CLIL lesson, but this is the start.

Don't overthink it

Start small: one activity at a time. A fun starter activity, a recap activity, whatever makes you feel more comfortable.

Key Take Away

CLIL can be complex and overwhelming. Just start with one activity at a time and start implementing more when you are ready for it.

Key terms in CLIL

Whenever you start reading about CLIL or start discussing it with colleagues, you might hear a few phrases that are not often used in non-CLIL settings.

Allow me to explain these a bit more thoroughly.


Scaffolding means "providing structure to enable learning" and maybe even more importantly: removing it if it is not needed anymore.

Entire chapters of books have been written on this topic and I am aware I might be over simplifying things.

But you have to start somewhere right?

So, here are a few examples of scaffolding:

  • Providing sentence starters for students who might experience language barriers
  • Providing partially filled out mind maps for students to fill in
  • Providing a gapped text of your instruction

All of these structures are specifically created for specific language situations for specific age groups.

They are primarily used to either lower the language barrier or the learning barrier for students, allowing them to focus on the things you want them to focus on.

Whenever students are explaining something, you want them to think about the content and the way to explain it. Not about the words to use.

Or whenever you ask students to listen to your instruction and take note, you don't want them to worry about structure or the skill of taking notes.


Another CLIL specific phrase you might have heard of before. Or not. All the more reason to read on ;).

BICS stands for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. 

It is the level of language needed to be able to communicate with other people on an acceptable level of understanding.

CALP stands for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.

This is the level of language needed for higher education and university.

Why do you need to know this?

You might notice students who are performing really well whenever you ask them to explain something or communicate with them, but score really low whenever they are tested on the use of English.

This is the type of students who might be great at BICS but not that good at CALP.

In other words: the skills this student currently has are not the same skills needed to succeed at a higher level of education.

Is this a problem? Depending on the ambitions of the student: not really.

But without making the distinction, we would not know how to help this student even if we wanted to.

More information can be found in a more extensive article on BICS & CALP I wrote before.

Key Take Away

Both "scaffolding" and "BICS & CALP" are topics for a CLIL teacher who is already confident in his or her own ability to teach CLIL.

They can however, if implement correctly, be a great asset to the learning process of your students.

Priorities for the CLIL starter

Okay, so what is next?

With so many things to keep an eye on, what do you have to prioritise?

Like I said: baby steps!

It is your job to teach a subject through a second language.

You are NOT a grammar teacher (I would argue you are a language teacher though)

In other words: don't worry about your language being perfect or your lesson stages being well planned all the time.

Start small, celebrate your successes and move on.

Enough 'motivational talk', here are some practical ideas to do just that:

  1. 1
    Choose 1 activity to try in your lesson
  2. 2
    Make sure to integrate language and students are actively engaged
  3. 3
    Evaluate if you like the activity and want to do it again

That is all! 

One step at a time.

And if you are like me, you cannot be 'inspirational' on command.

So feel free to look at the CLIL activities I mentioned in other blog posts for ideas.

Just don't worry about all of the fancy things if you do not feel you can cope with that just yet.

Especially when you are just starting out


The most important take away from this article: do not try to do everything at once.

Too often I hear teachers who want to implement everything in a few weeks, stressing out just thinking about it.

Once you have build a repertoire of activities and feel confident in using them, you can start developing further as a CLIL teacher.

One more thing: I mention creating or implementing an activity in your lesson as if it is something 'extra'. 

And I honestly feel that that is the best way to start, because it gives you a feel of what is expected of CLIL teachers.

However, adjusting these activities to make them part of your lessons and integrating them in your curriculum is the eventual goal.

CLIL is not something extra. CLIL is a way of teaching that involves both language and content.

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