Why formative assessment is crucial in a CLIL context

July 6, 2022


I know, the title is rather a bold statement. But that does not make it any less true. Allow me to share the reason I think formative assessment is crucial for CLIL and how you can do this. In as little extra time as possible.

Estimated time to read this article: 6 minutes

Formative assessment in short

Before we can talk about how formative assessment is actually implemented, we need to be on the same page on what it actually is.

Unfortunately, this is not always clear.

If you google it, you will find many different explanations. (The same with CLIL by the way…)

That is the reason I will use one of the more recent descriptions of formative assessment, from the book “Formatief Handelen”, a free, Dutch publication on the topic.

In this book, Formative assessment is being described as:

  1. 1
    A didactic process and not an end result.
  2. 2
    An addition to the way a teacher teaches, not a replacement.
  3. 3
    Part of a lesson series or curriculum, not a singular lesson choice.

The book actually shows quite a few examples and a great graphic to help grasp this concept even better, but I’d rather talk about its application in a CLIL context than translating a book right now 😉.

Something worthy to mention though is a list of things formative assessment is not:

  • Test without grading
  • The obligation to give a lot of personal feedback
  • An activity with a formative element, without any follow-up

Key Take Away

Formative assessment is not just an activity, but a process

Formative assessment in a CLIL context

So far so good, but what does this have to do with CLIL?

Obviously, the book has not been written with the CLIL concept in mind. It is a book for any educational context.

In my opinion however, this does not mean the ideas from this book (and formative assessment as a whole) cannot be applied to CLIL.

It is actually the other way around.

Because CLIL is all about making sure students are actively engaged with a second language, providing effective feedback is very important.

After all, how can students learn the content and the language, if they do not receive any feedback?

Mind you, I do not imply students should get more tests.

It simply means you provide feedback based on the information you gather from students and give feedback on this.

Not in a personal way per sé, but rather as a group.

And this is something you probably already do a lot.

This can be done using the six different types of feedback like recasting and reflecting, but also with various other tools like Kahoot and Padlet.

In other words: you can provide feedback on both language and content.

And all of the above examples work for both.

So, applying formative assessment is important to improve learning if you are only talking about content, but is even more important in a CLIL context as language is also involved.

And you obviously do not have the time to implement summative assessment for all of that (neither should you!)

I feel like I can almost hear you think: Sure, Patrick, this is all nice and such, but…

…how can you implement this, with taking too much extra time?

Key Take Away

Because CLIL requires assessment of both language and content, formative assessment plays an important role

Steps you can take to implement this

With all the references to theoretical ideas, I am sure you are ready for some practical lesson ideas now.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about those!

Here we go: three ways to implement formative assessment in your CLIL lesson.

The opening question

I have talked about this activity before, the simple setup is: you ask a question at the beginning of the lesson to check if students already understand the homework or the work they have to do next. Based on their answers, you determine whether they need more explanation or can get to work.

Alternatively, this can also be a question at the end of the informing stage, to check if some students might need additional explanation, or an exit ticket at the end of the lesson to determine the priorities for the next lesson.

Find the mistake

Instead of providing feedback on the answers of a (diagnostic) test for every student individually, you compile a list of ‘common mistakes’ and share these with the students. (I would refrain from publishing the names with the mistakes…).

The students analyse the questions and answers and need to come up with the correct answer.

To make it slightly trickier, you can even include one correct answer students have to identify.

You could also keep this list of ‘common mistakes’ and use this in another class to prepare students for a summative test.

Fast track

Some students can go through the materials faster, or at their own pace. Allowing these students to do this within clear parameters not only allows for differentiation, but also can be great way to implement formative assessment.

Asking students to work backwards, starting with a diagnostic test, and then asking them what they feel they should work on to master the topic asks students to reflect upon their own work.

And you as a teacher can facilitate that without it taking up too much extra time, as long as you are okay with some students working at their own pace and communicating what they have learned.

In my experience, this increase both motivation and understanding.


Is formative assessment in any type of education? Yes

Is it even more important in a CLIL context? In my opinion, yes

And as such, I think it is a worthy topic to discuss in more detail in the future.

Curious to hear what you think about this!

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