Does the image of students listening without getting involved at all throughout an entire science or history lesson sound familiar to you? Do you also believe that teaching can be different and you know there is a methodology which actively engages and involves students and, additionally, combines learning of content and of a foreign language?
If you are reading this post then you are very likely to start implementing CLIL in your classroom – or wishing to do it – but you are a little concerned that this might not be as enjoyable as it often sounds. Well, here are some survival tips for a successful start to a great experience!
Believe in what you do …
… and do it voluntarily! This is undoubtedly the first condition for CLIL-ing well. You need to trust the methodology and believe in its outcomes, otherwise the students will easily think that the way they learned in the past was much better. But you want them to believe this new method is just the best for them in spite of your concerns, don’t you?
Keep what you say short and simple
You are a subject teacher and you are concerned about your level of competence in the L2 you are about to teach? Don’t forget that if you are using CLIL, you have chosen a learner-centred approach. So, reduce your talking time by eliciting more from the students while supporting them with the relevant language structures and, when it comes to solve tasks, give them clear and concise instructions, which you will well have prepared in advance. This is essential to achieve one of the central aims of your lesson, which is encouraging learners’ autonomy. What’s more, it helps save your voice and, maybe not less importantly for you, reduces exposure to mistakes in the L2!
Plan and adapt your resources
I know, at the beginning of your teaching experience you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of time you need for preparation and all the school commitments and you will probably wonder how you will find more time to adapt or design your own materials – or even why you should do it, given that publishers are increasingly producing CLIL resources ready to use. Well, I used to think the same before attending the CELTA teacher training course, a crucial stage in my teaching career. However, every single student and every classroom have different needs and teachers also want the focus of every lesson to be different. For this reason, adjusting what you find in coursebooks to learners needs, tailoring activities – sometimes just changing the order they are presented – can really make each lesson simply the right one for your students who will incredibly benefit from this and will make it really worth the effort.
Integrate technology in the classroom
If adapting materials means adjusting them to the needs of your students, another way to meet their needs is, undoubtedly, promoting learning through the use of technological devices. It goes without saying that students nowadays have an extremely high exposure to technology and, in general, they interact easily with digital tools. Using technological devices during your lessons – if the school provides you with the right equipment – can thus have an amazing impact on the learners and if this is true for any level of learning, it is particularly true for a CLIL lesson where the learner is expected to be more active in the learning process. And if you are concerned because your students are definitely more digitally competent than you … then let them help you, this will boost their self-confidence and their engagement even more!
Cooperate with other teachers
CLIL teachers can be subject teachers or language teachers. The challenge is considerable on both sides: if you are a subject teacher you are likely to feel less confident in your language competence, whereas if you are a language teacher you surely need to learn more about the subject content. It sounds like mutual help could be the key to address these issues. And if supporting each other is not quite common in your working environment, then be the first to promote a collaborative way of working, ask for help and offer your support. Don’t you want your students to do the same during your CLIL lessons because of its proven effectiveness in terms of learning outcomes? So, operating in a collaborative way with your colleagues – talking to them, sharing experiences, asking for feedback and support – can have a great impact on your CLIL teaching experience and, in general, on your professional development.
Keep yourself up-to-date
Bilingual education is not a recent phenomenon but the form taken through CLIL dates back in the 90’s and was then implemented all over Europe with remarkable speed in some countries and more gradually in others. What is the situation in your country? What’s the progress so far? What can you learn from this and how can that contribute to your professional development? Keeping constantly up-to-date is the key to get inspired. You can do it by joining a teacher’s association or subscribing a teaching magazine, attending conferences, in person or online or logging into webinars any time you like. The web has a massive amount of resources and, what’s more, most of them are free! You’ll also find plenty of colleagues who share their experiences through blog posts like the one you are reading.
Well, good luck with your CLIL experience! Maybe you’ll soon have something interesting to share too?