The biggest mistake when designing a CLIL activity

April 6, 2021


Designing a CLIL activity can be a challenge as you want to make sure that is both simple enough to be completed successfully and challenging enough for students to learn something new. And in my opinion, we sometimes focus more on the latter than on the first.

Estimated time to read this article: 5 minutes

A simple task to complete

Last week I was playing around with my 2 year old son. Playing hide-and-seek in the most simple form: hiding behind a table. He was overjoyed when he found me and laughed out loud.

This specific element of the game could not have been any simpler. Yet, it was successful. So much even that he laughed out loud for minutes just because he felt so good at finding me.

Why? Because it fit the needs of a 2 year old. He would not have been able to find me if I had hidden very far away or behind something he could not see at first.

He might even have given up on the game if he had not caught sight of me after a couple of minutes.

In other words:

a simple task like this generated both motivation to keep going and a positive learning experience because he was able to complete it successfully.

Something to keep in mind when designing a CLIL activity I would say.

Obviously balancing these kind of tasks with more challenging ones is important too.

In my case, the next activity I did with my son was a puzzle that was quite tricky for him.

But because of his feeling of success before, he went into this challenge with a lot of energy!

Key Take Away

Easy-to-complete tasks can go a long way to increase motivation of your students.

The biggest mistake when designing a CLIL activity

If you have read some posts before, you might have some idea already where I am going with this.

As creating a simple task that fits the need of students works the same way.

Often CLIL activities are designed to fit the needs of the smart students in class, or the ones with either a very high or a very low proficiency in language.

I know it can be hard to developed good CLIL activities that appeal to every single one of your students.

Frankly I think it is impossible to reach 100% of your students with every single task.

(A lesson that was very hard for me, knowing I am be a perfectionist by nature..)

But one thing you can keep in mind is: do not try to make it too complicated.

Whenever I observe teachers in CLIL classes, this is a mistake I often see:

Teachers who prepared great CLIL activities, only to find out the students barely respond to it because they don’t understand what to do.

Recognise this?

Despite the effort that went into designing a CLIL activity, a complicated set of instructions can wreck the best intentions.

Key Take Away

When designing a CLIL activity, be wary of overcomplicating tasks and instructions.

What you can do to avoid this mistake

Remember the story of playing hide-and-seek in the most simple way as possible.

Small, easy wins are also fine in a classroom.

Not every CLIL activity needs to be complicated.

To make even better: preparing small tasks also take less time!

Here are some ideas for quick wins for your students

  • Ask students to write down the most difficult word related to the topic at hand
  • Ask students to choose an activity from a choice board
  • Ask students to rate their own level of understanding on a scale of 1-10
  • Ask students to write down what they learned during your lesson
  • Do the Alphabet activity with them
  • Ask students to think of a first step to solving a problem (instead of trying to tackle the entire thing)

Providing moments of ‘quick wins’ in your lesson can be very motivating for students.

And if implemented correctly, can provide you with valuable information on their learning process.

Key Take Away

With easy-to-complete CLIL activities that take no time to prepare you create a win-win situation for both students and teachers.

What will you do to make your next CLIL activity more simple?

I always share a quote whenever I give a workshop on the basics of CLIL:

“It is easy to make things difficult, it is difficult to make things easy” 

Jos de Blok

This applies to many things in life, including designing CLIL activities.

Next time you are designing a CLIL activity, try to think of ways to make the task even simpler for students.

And be surprised by the result!

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