Last week I gave a workshop at the national CLIL conference on mini whiteboards. Mini whiteboards are a great addition to the CLIL toolbox. When they’re used in a classroom, each learner has one so when the teacher asks, for example, a question, every learner is expected to give an answer (by holding their whiteboard up).
As well as getting the workshop participants to experience specific activities that use the whiteboards, and that can be applied to every subject, as part of the workshop I also tried to identify the elements of CLIL underpinning these activities. I came up with ten. Here they are, with some indication of the rationale behind each element.
- WARMING UP
Warmers are important in a CLIL lesson to help learners make the transition from a regular lesson to a CLIL lesson, or from one subject to another. There are lots of ways that mini whiteboards can be used for quick and easy-to-setup warming up activities.
- ENGAGE EVERYONE
Using mini whiteboards, everyone is engaged and everyone is expected to come up with a response or answer to a task. When learners show their boards, the focus is on the answer and not on the individual learner.
- PROMOTE INTERACTION
Mini whiteboards can be used to guide a discussion and to encourage learners to interact with each other. Interaction is important in order to get learners to use and experiment with language – getting learners to speak English is one of the big challenges in a CLIL classroom.
- ACTIVATE PRIOR KNOWLEDGE
Mini whiteboards allow the teacher to see everyone’s answers, giving feedback on what the learners already know, and then allowing the teacher to choose which responses they want to focus on in order to connect to the content of the lesson. Building on prior knowledge is an important factor for both learning a language and for learning specific subject content.
- INCLUDE LANGUAGE AIMS
Mini whiteboards help the teacher to include some form of written output in a lesson and also to activate spoken output. Subject teachers have to become language teachers in a CLIL context – this is one of their biggest challenges!
- GIVE WAIT TIME
Mini whiteboards can be used to give “wait time” to learners. This is important in a CLIL context in order for learners to think about and to process language and content.
- PROVIDE LANGUAGE REHEARSAL
Mini whiteboards can be used to provide learners with language rehearsal. For example, by firstly writing down an answer the learner is able to think about on their own the language they need to use. Next, they can practise using this language with a partner. Only after this do they then get to give an answer in front of the entire class. This takes the pressure off the learner in terms of being able to supply an immediate answer verbally. Second language acquisition theory shows that learners learn a language best when their anxiety levels are lowest.
- ACTIVATE HOTS
Giving learners open and stimulating questions to think about and discuss can also help to develop their language skills. Also, once learners have provided answers by showing their whiteboards, questions to learners at this stage about their answers on their boards can be used to further stimulate HOTS (higher order thinking skills).
- USE (FREQUENTLY) FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT METHODS
Formative assessment is important in a CLIL context because assessment for learning is a key issue for CLIL teachers since they are always working with both language and content, and they need to use regular formative assessment methods to check on the learning of their students. Mini whiteboards are an effective means for doing this because the teacher is able to see very quickly if there are any problems.
Whiteboards can also be used as a great way for reflection at the end of a lesson. For example, get learners to write down on their boards what was the most important thing they learnt in the lesson. This can help to consolidate their learning and also enables the teacher to check what learning has taken place. This is important for CLIL teachers because of the dual focus on content and language, and which therefore makes for a twofold demand on the learner.