What level CLIL teacher are you?

February 25, 2019


Inspired by the enthusiasm during the Crash Course, I thought about how different teachers (worldwide!) work with CLIL. In my opinion, this has everything to do with your current knowledge, experience and skills concerning CLIL. In other words: your level. In this article I explore the different levels I defined, but feel free to comment or provide feedback.

Here we go!

Estimated time to read this article: 7 minutes

Why bother with levels?

The reason I try to identify the different levels of a CLIL teacher is simple: CLIL is constantly evolving, applications within contexts change worldwide and the way CLIL is used differs per country. 

A lot.

In other words, there is no 'one size fits all' solution

If you asked me for help with CLIL, I would have to ask you at least five questions before I would have any idea where to start.

Questions like:

  1. 1
    Do you teach in primary, secondary or higher education?
  2. 2
    Is English the second language or another one?
  3. 3
    How long have you been teaching in the second language?
  4. 4
    Why are you currently using CLIL?
  5. 5
    In what country do you live?

This is great of course.

There are not many educational approaches that have practical applications like CLIL and are used in various ways throughout the world.

Yet, helping each other is still a challenge.

Because we are not sure of each others' level knowledge or experience.

That is why I propose this draft for different "CLIL levels'.

I hope it will help you identify where you stand

Or the colleague you work together with

Or the teacher you need to coach

And so on

Key Take Away

I define CLIL teacher levels to help identify the needs and challenges of CLIL teachers. Worldwide

The levels

Below you can find the different levels I defined. 

Each of them will be explained in more detail later on.

For now, let's just give you a quick overview of my ideas

  1. 1
    Level 1: Beginner
  2. 2
    Level 2: Explorer
  3. 3
    Level 3: Engineer
  4. 4
    Level 4: Above and beyond
  5. 5
    Level 5: Expert

Whenever you define stages, levels or phases, in reality the lines are blurred.

In other words: you might recognize elements from both level 1 and level 2.

That is fine.

I am not trying to put you in a certain 'box'.

I just want to see if we can agree on a certain approach to identifying the challenges and needs of different teachers.

For the same reason I identified 5 stages.

I *think* these 5 stages are enough to show the differences and make sure everyone recognizes something. 

But this is not a defined truth. 

One more thing I want to mention before I start explaining the levels:

Whenever I introduce CLIL to teachers who just start out, I mention they do not have to 'change the entire lesson immediately'.

I still think that is the case, but I think CLIL more than just 'doing a few activities".

Also, certain lessons might be better suited to implement CLIL than others. 

So one lesson might be a 'level 2 lesson', with only a few activities.

Yet your own level might be 'level 4', because you are already exploring ways to work together with other colleauges.

That is all fine!

Key Take Away

The CLIL levels state where you are in your own learning. Lessons might be at different levels throughout a period of time.

Level 1: Beginner

"What if I say it wrong?"

Number 1 challenge: Own language level

Whenever teachers start with teaching CLIL, their number one focus is in my experience the target language.

In The Netherlands, teachers are required to achieve the level of C2 in order to be allowed to teach in English.

That is how important this first step is.

Does that matter? Not really.

However, make sure you do not forget you are a CLIL teacher.

That is not the same as 'translating your lesson'.

As such, observing fellow teachers is a quick and easy way to be inspired to take that next step.

Teachers who are in this level are often insecure about their own level of English

Level 2: Explorer

"I need a CLIL activity for my lesson"

Number 1 challenge: Finding CLIL activities

Once you find yourself in level 2, you are confident enough to stop searching for words every two sentences.

Yet, CLIL seems to be something tricky.

You find inspiration for activities in books, from colleagues or on the internet

And do 1 or 2 CLIL activities in your lesson.

Integrating CLIL in your entire lesson is not part of your plan.

Just make sure you do 'something' with CLIL is okay for now.

Level 3: Engineer

"How can I make sure all students are engaged?"

Number 1 challenge: Integrating CLIL in the entire lesson

You have some experience with CLIL, you have a repertoire of activities that work and are confident enough to improvise those activities in your lesson.

You might even have done some activities that last over multiple lessons, implement a variety of CLIL related issues.

The next step is to 'link' the activities.

Your lesson should not be made up of various loose activities.

There should be one thought, one idea for each lesson. 

CLIL activities fit this idea and support it.

Or even better: it is not quite clear if an activity is CLIL or not. It is simply part of your routine.

Text books play an important role at this level as well.

If your text books are just translations without any CLIL, you end up with having to artificially implement those.

That is okay, as long as they support the things you want to do.

Level 4: Above and beyond

"What do my colleagues actually do?"

Number 1 challenge: Doing cross-curricular projects and learn from colleagues

By now you have confidence in your own ability to do effective CLIL teaching.

You know what CLIL is about, you integrate this in your lesson and you have plenty of ideas for new activities.

It is still a one-man show though.

You figure out a lot yourself and don't share that much with colleagues.

Or you do share, but colleagues do not share with you.

An interesting next step might be see what you can do to make CLIL be more than just your subject or your activity.

Exploring options for projects, allowing for observations by and for other teachers, is a great way to go above and beyond.

Both your own CLIL level as well as your own ideas on teaching.

Level 5: Expert

"I can do this better than the source material does"

Number 1 challenge: Creating engaging CLIL materials

Having figured out what your colleagues do and achieving an expert status of sorts, you have another look at your source materials.

Do they live up to your standards? Do you think you can do this better?

The answer to the second questions is probably yes.

And the answer to the first question: nah..

You want to do better.

For your own professional status, but also for your students.

By now you are sure you can improve students' learning using CLIL.

And know that, maybe even together with other colleague, you want to develop materials that suit your students' need best.

And your own..

No difference between type of education

One of the things I did not mention was the difference between primary, secondary and higher education.

The reason is simple: I don't think it matters.

At least not to define what you are currently working on.

It does matter how you apply the activities.

Obviously, learning the names of the colors is quite different than working with science students on the names of the periodic system.

I will explore these applications in blog posts in the future.


The purpose of this post was to trigger your self reflection.

Do you recognize yourself in these levels? If so, what level are you in?

Maybe you recognize others?

Or maybe you don't agree with them?

Feel free to share your thoughts below! 

I would really like to know your thoughts on this categorization of sorts

  • Good stuff, as ever Patrick. Sometimes this sort of concise stuff is more useful than an exhaustive list of competences, which just scare teachers off.

    My only slight doubt is the ‘expert’ word, although I agree with its content. But that’s just me – I don’t believe that experts exist, and if they do, as you imply, they need to keep on learning. Maybe ‘Socrates’ would be good for the final level 5, or ‘Socratic’? You know – the Socrates paradox – where he arrives at what he assumes to be the peak of his knowledge, only to realise that he doesn’t know anything at all. That’s when the ‘experts’ sit down and use their experience, as you say, to develop things further.

    • Thanks for your comment! I was indeed curious to know what you thought about this :).

      Interesting thought on the word ‘expert’. Indeed, it suggest someone has reached a stage where you can stop learning. I completely agree this is not true. Will think about rephrasing this word in future context.

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