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Steve Darn - ELT > Book Reviews > Uncovering CLIL / Teaching Other Subjects Through English / Cross-Curricular Resources for Young Learners

Uncovering CLIL / Teaching Other Subjects Through English / Cross-Curricular Resources for Young Learners

Peter Mehisto, David Marsh and Maria Jesus Frigols
Macmillan, 2008  238pp. 
ISBN  978-0-230-02719-0

Sheelagh Deller and Christine Price
Oxford University Press, 2007  151pp. 
ISBN  978-0-19-442578-0


Immacolata Calabrese and Silvana Rampone
Oxford University Press, 2007  194pp. 
ISBN  978-0-19-442588-9

CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is often seen as an umbrella term covering aspects of bilingual education, cross-curricular teaching, content-based teaching and English for Specific Purposes. CLIL, however, requires the teacher both to focus on content and to provide the language support required to fully comprehend the subject within a lesson, and might therefore be better described as a meeting point of content and language. There is sound reasoning behind a dual-focus approach from economical, political, pedagogical and intercultural viewpoints, and the last five years have seen its adoption, in a variety of forms and for a variety of reasons, in many countries, particularly in Europe and South America. CLIL certainly has a future, largely because it has a socio-political rationale as part of education’s response to globalisation and the European Commission’s vision of Europe as a mobile, multicultural and multilingual society. At classroom level, however, CLIL teachers face a number of obstacles including a lack of training, a poorly defined methodology, and a scarcity of materials. Thus, CLIL remains relatively embryonic and its development has been relatively slow.

Each of the three titles considered here addresses one or more of the problematic areas of CLIL, adding to the still limited range of resources, materials and literature accessible to the classroom teacher.

Teaching Other Subjects through English is one of the first books designed specifically to provide resources and materials for CLIL teachers, particularly those working with the 11-18 age group. The bulk of the book consists of more than sixty classroom activities, each using a ‘demo’ subject from the mainstream curriculum, which can be adapted to suit a variety of teaching contexts. The activities are arranged in seven sections, covering the main language skills but also dealing with giving new information, consolidation and revision, using supplementary resources and project work. The detailed introduction sensibly explains how to use the book, the basics of the CLIL approach, and how each activity is organised, but it is likely that teachers unfamiliar with integrating content and language may at first find the book difficult to use in terms of striking a balance between subject and language. However, materials and activities are presented in such a way that they might also be used by teachers of multi-lingual classes, subject teachers, teachers providing language support, and both subject and language teachers needing supplementary material. Both the activities and the materials should appeal to a wide variety of learners. CLIL purists may criticise the book as having specific language aims in most units, since the language focus in CLIL tends to be dictated by the subject matter, and language is not necessarily graded. However, language teachers, to whom the book is directed, will find that the language aims both make the book easier to navigate and facilitate a transition from the conventional language lesson format to more content-based teaching. Teaching Other Subjects through English is a book which will appeal to subject teachers, language teachers, trainers and trainee teachers working in a wide variety of contexts. It represents a step towards providing resources for content and language integration, while being at the very least, a valuable collection of activities and material.

Cross-Curricular Resources for Young Learners is aimed at teachers of English in primary schools, and contains a range of activities designed to supplement a main course book. Although ostensibly a collection of photocopiable materials, and therefore immediately attractive to the classroom teacher, the book does address much deeper issues, such as embedding CLIL across the curriculum and integrating non-linguistic abilities into language learning. At this stage of the development of CLIL, there are relatively few language learners who have been exposed to a dual-focus approach from the outset, and primary teachers are likely to welcome materials such as these in order to provide a solid educational foundation. The materials are suitable for language specialists and ‘class teachers’ who have the opportunity to teach across a fairly limited curriculum, and are thematically organised into four main sections, each dealing with an aspect of the primary learners’ world and sub-divided into topics which introduce elements of history, biology, environmental science, and health sciences relevant to the age group. Each of the four main sections is introduced by a summary of the content area and the language aims, which are sensibly stated in terms of skills development, language functions and functional lexis suitably graded to the level. Each activity involves a worksheet, accompanied by detailed teacher's notes, extension activities and ideas for class projects, while writing exercises consolidate the concepts and vocabulary learnt. The worksheets cover a wide range of curriculum topics and include clear maps, diagrams and appealing illustrations. Most of the activities can be adapted to suit different ages, but all involve material which is visually stimulating and the necessity for active and cooperative learning. Beyond the activities, the book also considers ways of assessing young learners, with ideas and materials for self-assessment and portfolios. This book will appeal to primary language teachers, subject teachers and class teachers alike and offers the opportunity to work towards an immersion-type learning context or even a supplementary programme running parallel to a curriculum which, of necessity, is taught in the mother tongue.

Uncovering CLIL is the book that CLIL enthusiasts have been waiting for, and is the first realistic attempt to link CLIL theory to classroom practice and to describe a CLIL methodology for both language and subject teachers. The title is apt in that there is a conscious effort to de-mystify CLIL by devoting the first chapter of the book to the underlying theory, development and many facets of CLIL as well as sensibly summarising the obstacles to its development. The greater part of the book is devoted to CLIL methodology, beginning by describing some practical models and dealing with the core methodological features before moving on to descriptions of classroom practice relating to primary, secondary and vocational levels. There are useful summaries of the content-communication-cognition-community elements which make up CLIL lessons, and practical suggestions for language and subject teachers required to provide subject and language support respectively. The practising teacher will be grateful for the simple descriptions of what the teacher does and what the students do in the classroom. The book goes on to describe how CLIL empowers both teachers and learners in the education process, and how connections are made between the learner, learning and the real world. The fundamental message is one of integration rather that separation, not only of language and content but also of education and vocation.
In the introduction, it is claimed that the readers of this book may be not only teachers working in primary, secondary and vocational school contexts, but also parents, administrators and researchers wishing to understand and implement the educational advantages of CLIL. However, Uncovering CLIL is written by those at the cutting edge of CLIL, and, subtitled ‘Content and Language Integrated Learning in Bilingual and Multilingual Education’, assumes a basic understanding of the way that bilingual and cross-curricular education functions. The book is based on an underlying belief that CLIL must and will work, a product of the forces of globalisation and Europeanisation and the psychology of the new generation of learner which sees language as a means to an immediate and practical end. This is a book by CLIL enthusiasts for CLIL enthusiasts, leaving many classroom teachers grappling with not only the concepts, but also the radical shifts in methodology and possible re-training required for an effective dual-focus approach. Similarly, school administrators may struggle with the implications of CLIL for programming, testing and even marketing. What is clear is that a dual-focus approach involves change throughout an institution, and unless that change is properly managed, the institution is open to criticism from opponents of bilingual education in that students may suffer in terms of both linguistic competence and comprehension of their subjects. The development of CLIL therefore relies on responses to socio-political influence, the demands of the consumer and openness and readiness in the face of change.

While contributing to the body of CLIL resources and contributing to the solution of some problematic areas, each of these books also raises broader issues. Resource books such as Teaching Other Subjects through English, which is cross-curricular in its content, reveal the need for materials which are based on the curriculum for a specific subject. With resource books such as this, there is also the question of the language level of non-native subject teachers, which, in turn, points to the need for translation, or better still, training programmes for subject teachers in how to exploit the language within their specific subject. Cross-Curricular Resources is an excellent example of a collection of materials which is entirely manageable at primary level, where both content and language are of limited complexity. However, in establishing a cross-curricular foundation, ongoing development demands a similar balance of language and content at English-medium high-schools and universities, where it is likely that the onus will be on subject specialists to provide language support, which, at present, they are ill-prepared to do. Cross-Curricular Resources is also typical of primary materials in that it inevitably emphasises the receptive language skills and thus introduces the dilemma of whether or not to allow translation, translanguaging (the practice of alternating input and output in two languages) or the use of both languages by both teacher and student in the classroom. Questions then arise as to the similarities and differences between CLIL, cross-curricular teaching, and bilingual education. Uncovering CLIL, notwithstanding its excellence, remains somewhat removed from the daily routine of the classroom teacher, and while succeeding in dealing with both theory and practice, leaves the teacher to take on board the concept and adapt the methodology to a specific teaching and learning context. Training and retraining is implied here, even a new generation of CLIL teachers.

All three books point to a revised notion of the place of languages in the curriculum and their relationship with other subjects, together with a change in the way that they are taught that will certainly affect the nature of the language classroom in future. In the literature, including the three books reviewed here, the emphasis on language teaching in a dual-focus approach points to another fundamental issue in terms of how content should be taught. One wonders when the subject specialists will have an equal say in CLIL, and how the language specialists will respond.

Web References

Those interested in the development of CLIL might investigate these informative Websites.
For descriptions of current projects and CLIL in action: FACTWorld (Forum for Across the Curriculum Teaching),
For CLIL theory and its implications for curriculum design, vocational education and team teaching: CLIL Axis,
For CLIL in action in primary classrooms: Primary languages,
For an active CLIL network: CLIL Cascade Network,

ELTJ. 2009. 63 257-277