Optimise your teaching competences, a book review

January 18, 2016


CLIL Magazine Spring Edition won’t be published for another three months, but I do want to share with you a resource I think is worth sharing. Therefore, you can already read the book review for the next issue of CLIL Magazine below.

Have fun reading!


Optimise your teaching competences: new teaching methodologies and CLIL applications in foreign languages by Eugenia Papaioannou

Long title

I think this is the first book I ever read of which the title does not fit on the width of a page. This rather ambitious title sets the premise for a book that covers a wide area of topics and ideas. Set in the international practice of teaching foreign languages., the author explains her ideas on lesson planning, instructing, group work and many more topics.

Overall look and feel

The book itself is a-4 sized, unlike most other books published. This makes it stand out, but also has the side effect of showing a lot of text on one page. Despite the use of paragraphs and illustrations, quite a few pages are just long pieces of text and with this chosen size, it sometimes feels a bit overwhelming.

If there is one thing I appreciate a lot in a book it is a good structure. That just happens to be something this book excels in. Not only are the different chapters clearly defined, the goal of each chapter is also quite well explained and you always know what to expect when you start reading.

Interesting content

On to the content, being the most important part of any book.

Many ideas are shared and although not all of them are new, the applications of the activities in class are well described. For example, the use of music in a lesson is something I would not do a lot, but after reading how Eugenia does this, I might just try it out.

Another interesting theme Eugenia introduces is the term ‘monolingualism’. We tend to speak in terms on ‘bilingualism’ because we teach in a system of two languages (assuming you teach using the CLIL methodology). Eugenia argues that, in order for the development of the target language to be as good as possible, the target language should be the only language used.

I completely agree.

8 Stages of active learning

A key concept introduced in one of the first chapters of the book is the ‘8 stages of active learning’, to which is referred back quite a lot during the rest of the book. In a way, these stages describe what an effective activity should look like.

1) Warm-up

2) Presentation of new vocabulary and/or concepts

3) Elicitation of the meaning from the students

4) Writing the new vocabulary

5) Comprehension (Questions and answers)

6) Reinforcement of comprehension (Reading new texts aloud)

7) Recognition outside the text

8) Free usage of the new vocabulary
The author uses examples to explain the different stages and shows how they are applied in her lessons.

Because of the scope of this review, I will not discuss all of these stages in great detail. I do however want to discuss a couple of them.

Elicitation of the meaning new vocabulary and/or concepts

In this stage, students are motivated to figure out what words actually mean. This can be done by underlining them and doing some research, discussing them in groups or ask the teacher (who should not provide the answer immediately). I personally think this is a stage that is skipped quite too often in lessons, as teachers just tell students what certain words mean and do not really give them time to use their own experiences and knowledge to come up with descriptions on their own.

Writing of the new vocabulary

Writing down the new words is specifically stated in the book. Students have to write down both the definitions as well as sentences in their books. This again is something that is not always done correctly, teachers sometimes either give translations or no word explanations at all.

Reinforcement of comprehension

At this stage, students receive a gapped text that helps them to use the language learned in sentences that have to do with the content. This is an important stage, as quite often activities are labelled to be ‘language only’ and disregarded as a waste of time. By implementing this technique, both language and content are supported.

And much more!

As this book contains so many ideas and concepts, I cannot discuss all of them. I do want to mention other parts of the book that I thought are worth mentioning

  • the different ways to create groups in a classroom
  • the use of pre-questions before starting a listening exercise
  • the motivation of student participation
  • an extensive appendix with activities


This book is not only an interesting read for many EFL and CLIL teachers, it also shows an interesting insight in the bilingual approach of many non-standard subjects like law and literature. Although the example lessons don’t always work for the Dutch system (we don’t teach law and literature in the lower years) the description of the activities with examples are a great help.

If you are not easily overwhelmed with a lot of text, but are curious to find out more interesting lesson ideas and CLIL activities, this is a good read for you.

The book can also be used as guide to train other teachers in using a variety of didactic approaches in their lessons or as a manual to improve effective learning.

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