The steps to take in the first CLIL lesson

November 23, 2015


They enter your classroom, looking around. Some might be noisy, most of them are silently waiting for the new experiences that await them at the new school. A select few has already read through the books and think they know what to expect. The students sit down, you start the first CLIL lesson.. English.

At that moment, they realize they have a long way to go.

And so do you.

But they don’t know yet that you will help them along the way. Making sure they will understand you in a couple of weeks and will be able to communicate in a couple of months. English won’t be a challenge for them the entire time you teach them.

Yet, those first few weeks…

The first CLIL lesson

The use of the second language is a threshold for any person, let alone a student who has just started a new school career. In CLIL subjects are taught through a second language, making it quite hard for students to understand anything you say.

Especially the first couple of lessons are crucial. You set the expectations for the rest of the year during this very important first stage of their CLIL learning.

In my experience, clarifying to students it is okay to find things difficult and not understand everything you say might already can already be a great relieve for them.

I always tell them I will occasionally translate things during the first couple of weeks. After about eight weeks, I no longer do this and will only speak English.

And I have never had problems with it.

My experience as as student

When I was in CLIL education myself, I once had a substitute teacher for geography. My own teacher had been teaching in English from the start and I did not even quite know what his voice sounded like in English.

After the substitute teacher finished his explanation, us students got ready to start working. And then it happened …

The substitute teacher started all over, in Dutch, and re did his entire explanation.

I was astonished and a little annoyed. Did this teacher think we could not understand what he explained before?

The fact I still remember(the lesson was in 1998) shows how much influence an explanation as well as clear expectations can do for a student. Our teacher expected us to be able to understand him as soon as possible,

And we did.

Language and content balance

Like I mentioned in the article discussing the CLIL talk by Teresa Ting, you should try to balance content and language. It’s like a balance really. If the content is hard to understand, you have to go easy on the language and vice versa.

In other words, during the first first CLIL lessons you have to be quite easy going on the content. If need arises for the content to become a little more advanced, consider switching back to the first language for a moment.

You do not want to crush the students motivation by making them afraid of the second language, or worse, your subject.

What you can do to make life easier for your students

  • As mentioned before, one of the things you can do is revert back to the first language every now and then.
  • Mentioning the fact they can ask anything they want in the first language is also a great way to keep them in the loop.
  • If you want to check if students really understood what you just explained, you can ask them to summarize it in their own words. This can even be the first language in the beginning. Do mind though, they should quickly learn not to translate anymore.
  • The last ‘trick’ I use in class regularly is asking doing the Alphabet game. This helps students realize how much they have learned in a couple of lessons or even in one lesson, and will boost their confidence.


Many teachers tell me they provide word lists or translate a lot of words for the first CLIL lesson. In their opinion, this is because the students need it. I do not think so, I think students can easily cope with this second language learning. It is important to scaffold their learning and make them aware of the fact they have only just started so are allowed to make mistakes.

Do you agree? Let me know by responding below or send me a mail.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}