What is CLIL again?

May 8, 2023


I wrote a post on what CLIL is back in 2016, and let’s just say my take on it has also evolved over the years.

So I thought: let’s have another look at that post and update it to make it both practical and actionable!

CLIL is ....

Whenever I introduce CLIL during training sessions, I ask teachers to write down what they think CLIL is.

And the answers are often different.

Which is fine, as I ask this question right at the start of a course. 

But do you, as a reader, already know what CLIL is all about?

If I would ask you to describe it in 15 words or less, what would be included?

The most common answer is what the acronym stands for: Content and Language Integrated Learning.

But that does not necessarily mean you know how to make it work in your lesson.

Personally, I would include two things:

The two elements of CLIL

I like to make things simple and step-by-step. 

I think a good CLIL activity should include two elements:

  1. It should encourage language output
  2. It should make sure all students are engaged with the task

In other words: if all students are actively engaged and language is produced, you are doing CLIL.

Sounds easy enough right?

Well, it might be easier said than done.

Constantly get students to speak up.

One of the things I often hear teachers say when we talk about CLIL is: “but don’t students have to work silently every now and then?”

And I agree entirely. They do.

Promoting language output is not the same as having students speak up every single time.

Language output is also written output, so you can ask students to write things down and take it from there.

This also automatically makes sure all students are engaged because you expect everyone to join in and participate.

If you combine this with randomly selecting students to give answers, you increase engagement a lot.

And because they all are working on the task, there is more learning going on.

So you don’t have to worry about students speaking all the time, running through the classroom and not having a single moment of rest in your lessons.

Giving feedback on the output

So far this is something that works in any lesson. Not just CLIL lessons.

After all, in a regular lesson, you also want students to participate. You also want to encourage learning. You also want students to be active.

But during a CLIL lesson, there is also the element of feedback involvement.

Once students provide language output, some kind of feedback is needed to help them improve.

Again, don’t over complicate this.

You can ask students to share their work with their partners and ask them to give each other feedback.

Or share common mistakes and ask students to correct their work afterwards.

Plenty of ways to do this without you having to personally give feedback to every single student.

Providing structure

With more language present in the lesson, students might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new words.

That is why scaffolding is very relevant for CLIL students.

By both scaffolding learning and language, you make sure students know what to do and how to do it.

It would be a bit much to go into detail on scaffolding itself in this post, I’ll get back on that in another post.

So, what now?

If you just start out with CLIL, simply ask yourself two questions whenever you ask students to do something.

And if you are not new to CLIL, you can use these questions to check if you are still on the right track.

  1. Is language output promoted?
  2. Are all students engaged?

Is the answer to both questions yes?

And that also means you might already be using CLIL activities without realising it.

Oh, and don’t forget, if you indeed just start out with CLIL, don’t overdo it.

Start with 1 activity, 1 small change at a time.

  • What is CLIL again … I still don’t know after reading this article. Usually when you use an acronym in a paragraph you first define the acronym. You didn’t do that in your entire article.

    • Haha fair enough! This is an updated version of an older article and there used to be a link to another article that explained that, but the link got removed in the update. I’ll add it to the article. Although in my experience it does not immediately mean you can implement it in your lessons.

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