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CLIL: Implementing a CLIL Approach - A Change of Emphasis

Students at English-medium institutions require ongoing language support, and it makes sense for this support to be given while they are studying their chosen subject rather than separately. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) offers an approach which increases language awareness, learner motivation and language-subject relevance.

Despite the proliferation of debates, projects, organisations and Websites regarding CLIL, there remains a dearth of related teacher training, appropriate materials and accounts of CLIL in practice. Notwithstanding the development of theory, European and national incentives and the benefits of a dual-focused approach, a question mark remains for most language and subject teachers as to what constitutes CLIL classroom practice.

This account of a workshop presentation attempts to integrate theory and practice by taking a CLIL lesson framework and outlining a lesson that conforms to both the framework and the underlying principles of CLIL.

A lesson framework
CLIL lessons do not have to follow a standard procedure. However, lessons should contain elements of content, communication, cognition and culture and look at content and language in appropriate measures. Lessons often follow a four-stage framework.

1. Processing the text. The best texts are those accompanied by illustrations so that learners can visualise what they are reading. When working in a foreign language, structural markers such as headings, sub-headings and diagrams help the learner to navigate the text. Once a 'core knowledge' has been identified, the organisation of the text can be analysed.

2. Identification and organisation of knowledge. Texts can be represented diagrammatically. These structures are known as ideational frameworks and help to develop thinking skills such as categorisation and organisation. Diagram types include tree diagrams for classification, groups, hierarchies, flow diagrams and timelines for sequenced thinking, tabular diagrams describing people and places, and combinations of these. The diagrammatical structure of the text is used to store knowledge and create activities which focus on both language development and core content.

3. Language identification. Learners are expected to be able to work on and produce similar texts. Since learners will need to use both simple and more complex language, there is no grading of language involved, but key language in the text is highlighted and categorised according to type or function. Learners may need the language of comparison and contrast, location or describing a process, but they may also need certain discourse markers, adverb phrases or prepositional phrases. Collocations, semi-fixed expressions and set phrases may also be drawn to their attention as well as subject specific and academic vocabulary.

4. Tasks for students. There is little difference in task-type between a CLIL lesson and a skills-based ELT lesson. A variety of tasks should be provided, taking into account both the learning purpose and learner styles and preferences.

A CLIL lesson
This is a stage-by-stage account of a lesson based on a factual text about Vancouver, aimed at CLIL ‘transition stage’ (CEF level B1/B2) learners. The lesson bears many similarities to an EFL skills lesson, but might be one of a series of geography/general studies lessons from a content-based curriculum.

1. Lead-in and visual support
With reference to a wall-map or slide, the teacher elicits information on the topic area, starting on the national scale (Canada), and moving to the regional (British Columbia) and local (Vancouver). Alternatives might be group or class brainstorming. A general map of Canada and pictures of well-known features would be useful additional stimuli. Final questions check recognition of the arrowed features on the map.

2. Predicting content and text ‘mapping’
Learners predict the content of a reading text about the geography of Vancouver. The teacher provides a tabular diagrammatic framework for organising core knowledge and offers visual alternatives. Learners read the first part of the text and make notes under the relevant headings.

Location and climate
Vancouver is located in the southwest corner of Canada in the province of British Columbia, at about 49° Latitude and 123° Longitude, next to the Pacific Ocean. Vancouver is surrounded by water on three sides and overlooked by the Coast Range Mountains that rise abruptly to more than 1,500m. Its climate is one of the mildest in Canada. Temperatures average 3°C in January and 18°C in July. Vancouver's average annual precipitation is 1.2 m. Most rainfall occurs in winter.
With a population of about 550,000 Vancouver lies in a region of more than 2 million people. Vancouver is the largest city in the province of British Columbia and the third largest in Canada. The Chinese minority makes up 30% of the population.

3. Identifying language
The teacher elicits or pre-teaches key vocabulary for the second part of the text and checks with a matching and gap-fill exercises. Word stress and part of speech are marked, and any potentially problematic lexis is drilled. Learners check the gap-fill in pairs and against a handout, transparency or slide of the complete text.

As the main western terminus of Canada's transcontinental highway and rail _______, Vancouver is the ________ city of western Canada, as well as one of the nation's largest industrial centres. The Port of Vancouver is Canada's largest and most ________ port, trading more than $43 billion in goods with more than 90 trading ________ annually. Port activities _________ 69,200 jobs in total with $4 billion in gross _________ product (GDP) and $8.9 billion in economic ________. Vancouver's central area has 60% of the region's office space and is home to headquarters of forest products and mining companies as well as branches of national and international banks and accounting and law firms. In recent years, Vancouver has __________ as a centre for software development, biotechnology and the film industry. Two of the Port of Vancouver's container docks are ________ in the city. The Fraser River has barge and log traffic serving forestry and other water related industries. Around 1,800 acres of industrial land provide an important _________ of support services, manufacturing and wholesale premises for businesses throughout the city and region.

4. Categorising language
Learners look at the complete text and add language to an organisational chart. Language may be categorised by type (subject specific, academic) or by function (describing location, quantifying). Attention might also be drawn to structures typical of this type of text (present and present perfect passives). Learners look for collocations and expressions as well as individual vocabulary items.

5. Follow-up tasks
Post-lesson follow-up tasks are designed to facilitate further investigation of content, with learners acquiring additional language in the process, and should be achievable through self-study. A variety of tasks is provided, catering for different learning styles, learning environments and both individual and group work. Examples include:

  • Starting with the features from the initial visual, and using atlas and Internet resources, add information to an outline map.

  • Add more notes to the text map.·
  • Add language from the text to the vocabulary chart.
  • Find out more about something mentioned in the text (the port, forestry, the film industry.....).
  • Find out more about the city (history, urban development, minority groups.....).
  • Write a similar paragraph about another city in Canada.
  • Plan a holiday to Vancouver.
  • Work as a group on a project about living and working in Vancouver.
Reflections on the lesson
  • How else might the text be presented?
  • Could content be visually organised in other ways?
  • Could language be categorised differently?
  • Should understanding of content be tested? When?
  • Are there possibilities for other follow-up activities?
Reflections on CLIL
  • Did the lesson include Content, Communication, Cognition & Culture?
  • Was equal consideration given to content and language?
  • What similarities were there to a language lesson?
  • How would the lesson differ at other levels of language competence?
  • Who can teach this kind of lesson?
CLIL in Europe is a product of national and EU incentives towards a multilingual society, while CLIL-style teaching is common practice in North America and elsewhere under guises such as Language Across the Curriculum and Bilingual Education. CLIL is seen as a practical and often economical means of effective instruction.

Foreign language based subject instruction is not new to Turkey. Science and Mathematics have been taught in the English medium at private high schools for many years, while private English-medium universities continue to proliferate. However, the responsibility for language input has, in either case, been that of the language instructors, and success has been limited. CLIL may be an alternative to the intensive language programs which have so far been the norm.

In a CLIL approach, language support is provided by subject instructors trained to exploit texts for language as well as content, the language focus being subject specific, or by language instructors conversant with the subject matter. In English-medium faculties, CLIL shares the responsibility for language support between language and subject teachers. Learner motivation is increased through direct relevance and teacher motivation is increased through teamwork and the acquisition of new skills. CLIL demands a shift of emphasis, not complete retraining, so that both language and subject teachers can be trained to provide the skills necessary for complementary content and language learning.

Finding out about CLIL
CLIL Compendium:
CLIL Axis:

account of a workshop presented at the 10th Annual Bilkent University ELT Conference, Ankara, 28.06.2007.