What is CLIL again?

June 6, 2016


Wait, I already wrote a post on the definition of CLIL before right? Yes I did, however, I feel I should write something regarding the use of CLIL again, as still many different ways of working with CLIL still exist.

The problem with CLIL is that it is a methodology (or way of teaching) that has never been clearly defined. Many authors use different definitions and to make things worse, CLIL teaching differs per country.

So how can we all talk about CLIL and assume we mean the same thing?

I don’t think we can.

Miscommunication might happen and this will keep happening, but that is fine. As long as the people who write about CLIL, in this case: me, make it obvious what their opinion is.

“Activerende didactiek”

In The Netherlands we have a phrase called: “Activerende Didactiek”. This can be loosely translated to “Activating Teaching Methods”. In other words, this way of teaching involves activating students and engage them with interactive teaching elements.

For example, activating prior knowledge has been around for quite some time in this form of teaching, without the language component CLIL introduces.

In my opinion, that’s exactly what CLIL is: A teaching method that activates students and integrates language. Now I know not everyone will agree with me. There might actually be research that proves otherwise. However, like I said: I am more of a “how do I apply it to my lesson” type of person, compared to “what research has been done”.

This school year was the first in over 5 years I had to teach some classes in Dutch again. Apart from the fact I stumbled upon some words I did know in English but not in Dutch (shame on me), I also noticed I could apply a lot of the activities I previously thought to be specifically for my CLIL classes.

What’s more, the language aspect of these activities actually helped out students. It even seemed to make Mathematics easier for the people who were not that number-orientated!

Rick de Graaff mentioned in the latest CLIL Magazine (Spring 2016) that he thinks CLIL helps to motivate students and as such should be applied to more lessons. I agree, but not only because it motivates students, but because I think it’s simply good teaching.

Part of CLIL or not?

Many things that are supposed to be integrated with CLIL can and should be applied to ‘regular’ lessons as well. Examples of these are Bloom’s taxonomy, activating prior knowledge and scaffolding instructions,Why deprive these students of the effects of CLIL?

Does this mean we have been using CLIL the wrong way? Absolutely not. I think CLIL is a very effective way of teaching, and there certainly are elements that work better in a bilingual setting than in a ‘regular’ lesson. A lot of published materials work very well and will indeed be more suited for a second-language based learning environment every now and then. An example of this is scaffolding a high level language text to make sure students understand the content.

However, I do want to point out that a good CLIL lesson might very well be a good lesson in and of itself, no matter whether the students who are participating are being taught in their first or second language.


To summarize: When I teach CLIL, I sequence tasks, provide language support and activate learning with my students. Most of these elements can be introduced in a regular lesson without a lot of trouble, and I have been successfully doing so over the last school year.

A good CLIL teacher is a good teacher, and good CLIL strategies are effective learning strategies that work with every student, maybe with a small alteration, whether they are  taught in their first language or not.

I guess a lot of people won’t agree with me on this, I just wanted to point out what works for me. Please feel free to respond, I am no way all-knowing and am interested in other opinions.


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