Thursday, 13 December 2012

new CLIL magazine

Great new CLIL magazine just published! You can read it online here:

It contains a variety of articles covering CLIL, including something I've written on mini whiteboards and something from Rosie on the CLIL beach ball.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mini Whiteboards Revisited

You know we are fans of mini whiteboards. Here is a short video, "How to use mini whiteboards", which includes ideas from teachers: a new angle on jigsaw reading, an idea for vocabulary development, a way to evaluate peers, an information gap drawing activity. Hope it inspires you to dust off the mini whiteboards and get the students active again...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ideas for working with vocabulary

We’ve been rather quiet for a few months with this blog…so we thought that we could kick start our blogging for the new school year with a piece about working with vocabulary.
There are, however, some important guiding principles that underpin these activities:
  • Avoid pre-teaching vocabulary if at all possible, and instead aim to elicit vocabulary and ideas about meaning and use of words from the learners.
  • Use these activities as ways to build on what learners already know, and by encouraging interaction between them enabling learners to share this knowledge with each other.
  • Think of how these activities can lead into new activities that work at a sentence level, getting learners to use new vocabulary within sentences in various ways.

Here, then, are some quick and easy ideas for working with vocabulary:

Before reading a text
Choose five or six words from a text that is going to be read. Write these words on the whiteboard. Ask students, in groups of three or four, to speculate on what the text is going to be about. Give out the text for comparison and discussion.

To do whilst reading a text
Choose ten or so words from the text that is being read and put a list of their translations on the whiteboard. Tell the students that their English equivalents are to be found ‘somewhere in the text’ and ask them to find them.

Matching activities / odd one out activities
There are lots of online activities to use that require students to match words or look for the odd one out. For example, to use with younger learners:

Categorizing tasks
Prepare word cards with names of man-made objects related to your subject (e.g. test tube, bunsen burner for Science; football, rope for Physical Education). Divide the class into small groups and give each student one of these word cards. Ask each student to either write above the word the name of something that went into the making of the object, or beneath the word something that is made from the object. Each student then passes their card on to a neighbour, who then tries to repeat the exercise with their new word. Continue the game to see how many words can be collected.

Dictionary games
Write an English word on the board that can produce a variety of possible translations. Ask students to read through (in their bilingual dictionary) the translations of that word, and choose from those translations a foreign (that is, their mother tongue) word that they translate back into English (using their dictionary again). Get them to repeat the process until they have a chain of at least a dozen words.

Building new words
Use word families to help students to build up vocabulary. Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern - they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound. For example, at, cat, hat, and fat are a family of words with the "at" sound and letter combination in common. The 37 most common word families in English are: ack, ain, ake, ale, all, ame, an, ank, ap, ash, at, ate, aw ay, eat, ell, est, ice, ick, ide, ight, ill, in, ine, ing, ink, ip, it, ock, oke, op, ore, ot, uck ,ug, ump, unk.

Crosswords/word puzzles
There are heaps of online resources for making vocabulary puzzles. For example, try out:

Some of these ideas have been adapted from: Morgan, J. & M. Rinvolucri Vocabulary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). Another good resource is Penny Ur's Vocabulary Activities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Friday, 25 May 2012

Rosie's secrets!

While I was at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow this year, Cambridge University Press interviewed us (Rosie Tanner and Liz Dale) about writing our book CLIL Actvities together. And about our secrets related to teaching. Here we are on YouTube!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Lesson Reflection in CLIL

We can think of a CLIL lesson as a three course meal: an appetizer that energizes the learners at the start; the main course activities that hit all the key learning objectives for the lesson; and a final dessert that reflects on the lesson by consolidating what's been learnt.

It’s essential to plan for reflection at the end of a lesson in order to get feedback on the lesson — have the objectives for the lesson actually been achieved? For CLIL, wrapping up the lesson can be an opportunity to reflect on both the learning of subject content and also of language. It can also be an activity that provides another opportunity for learners to produce spoken output, sharing their ideas and reviewing their learning with each other.

I often get asked by teachers for ideas for lesson reflectors. Here then are ten ideas for lesson reflectors in CLIL.

  • Select a group of students to give a summary of the lesson as a short presentation in front of the class.

  • Ask a group of students to create a ‘still frame’ of a key idea from the lesson (a still frame is a frozen tableau). The other pupils have to discuss what the still frame shows.

  • Ask students to write an important question to ask the rest of the class to test their understanding of the lesson. Students can share and discuss the questions in groups.

  • Use a speaking/writing frame:

“The best part of the lesson was…”

“The most difficult part of the lesson was…”

“The most interesting part of the lesson was…”

  • Put the questions you are going to want answered at the end of the lesson on the board at the start of a lesson. Draw attention to these questions at relevant moments during the lesson, and then ask pupils to answer them (perhaps through a small group discussion) in the last ten minutes of the lesson.

  • Ask student to write down three facts that they have learnt in a lesson and share these with a partner or in a small group.

  • Ask pupils to complete a list of ten keywords from the lesson with each word put into a sentence to show they understand its meaning. These are shared with a partner or in a small group, everyone adding to their lists.

  • Ask students to design an exercise for the next lesson as a follow up to work done in the lesson.

  • Get students in small groups to design one screen of a Powerpoint presentation (they do this on a large sheet of paper) that uses a heading and bullet points to sum up what they learnt in the lesson.

  • Ask pupils to work in small groups to make a set of word cards drawing on the key vocabulary from the lesson, with definitions on other cards, then use the cards to compose sentences that describe the main ideas from the lesson and/or ways in which ideas in the lesson could connect with other subjects.

Finally, how about getting pupils to complete a feedback form for the teacher: what went well (www) and even better if (ebi)?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Working with resistance to CLIL

When we do training sessions at schools there are some recurring issues about CLIL that come up. Here are three such concerns and the sort of responses that we try to give.

1. “For my students, listening to me speaking English is CLIL enough.” “I just teach the same as I always did in my Dutch lessons: my students like listening to me and my stories”

This idea might be called the ‘immersive’ argument. In other words, exposing students to lots of English in the classroom when they listen to their teacher is enough for the students to then learn through it. The problem with this idea is that the students in Dutch bilingual programmes are coming into these programmes at secondary school level. This means that they are too old to learn a language simply through exposure like this. Do note, though, that rich exposure to the target language from various sources and the teacher always speaking English are both vital ingredients of an effective CLIL lesson.

In order for teenagers to learn a language - and in a CLIL context that also means learning the language of a specific subject as well as more general academic language - they need to have their language learning supported. Students need to be encouraged to experience and experiment with the language by producing output - both spoken and written. This means an effective CLIL teacher can:

Identify the language that students will need for a specific lesson;

Identify which language skills - reading, listening, watching, speaking, writing – students will use in the lesson;

Identify what specific support learners will need to develop those language skills;

Identify what the particular language learning aims for a lesson will be.

2. “CLIL takes too much extra time.”

It’s true that developing new student centred lesson materials can cost more time for a teacher, but here are some points to think about regarding this issue:

Once a teacher has made some materials, they can use them again next year or with another class;

Student-centred or active tasks can often increase the motivation of students in lessons;

Active lessons encourages more positive communication between learners and teacher within the classroom;

It’s possible to design assignments in which the students make materials for lessons themselves. For example, they create their own questions for each other, or build board games focused on learning about a specific topic that can then be played by other students.

Finally, it has to be stressed that there can be ways to “CLIL-up” lessons that do not require extra time for a teacher. Increasing the amount of time of “student talking time” (STT), where students talk with each other, for example, is really just a matter of a teacher shifting focus in their lesson planning so that time is planned for speaking tasks. As a result, there is less “teacher talking time” (TTT). To do this, get students to ask questions to each other, read aloud to each other instead of to the whole class, talk about the lesson topic, an image or intriguing question with each other in pairs or in small groups. Aiming for a higher amount of STT does not need to cost lots of extra preparation time for the teacher.

3. “Becoming a language teacher, on top of being a subject teacher, is a step too far.”

When we talk about a subject teacher becoming a language teacher, we do not mean that they become a language expert. Clearly, that role is for a language teacher – in the case of TTO in The Netherlands, the role of the English teacher is to provide the kind of detailed focus on, for example, grammar or language skills that students need. However, being a language teacher as well as a subject teacher in a CLIL context does require a teacher asking themselves, sometimes, some basic questions such as these:

What are the language aims for my lesson?

How can I select varied input to expose my students to different ways of talking about the lesson topic?

How can I sometimes involve the students talking and/or writing about lesson topics?

How will students use language in the lesson?

What specific kinds of scaffolding (or support) do they require?

We don’t expect, for example, a history teacher to start teaching in detail about the different past tenses in English in their lessons or a science teacher to teach the different forms of conditional sentences when talking about scientific hypotheses. However, we ARE suggesting that a history teacher needs to be aware that students need to use the past tense in speaking and writing about their subject. Similarly, a science teacher needs to know that there are a lot of conditional forms used in science. Moreover, teachers need to be aware that students will need support to do this. This might be support from the English teachers or, if they feel confident enough, from tasks that the subject teacher creates.

Becoming aware of the various ways of supporting language learning is the challenge here for subject teachers. And it’s not just a matter of giving a list of vocabulary. Teachers can be aware of language at three levels:

How to activate vocabulary at a word level;

How to scaffold at a sentence level using activities such as substitution tables or gap fillers;

How to work with speaking and writing frames and tasks to guide students’ output at a text level.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Getting Learners Speaking in English

Getting learners to speak English regularly in lessons is one of the challenges for TTO teachers. In order to use speaking activities for a CLIL classroom it’s important to focus on the mechanisms underpinning different types of speaking task, so that teachers can then create their own versions of these activities. Here then are three types of speaking activity with some suggestions for variations of them in practice – however, the important point is to appreciate the underlying mechanism motivating communication.

Communication regulators

Communication regulators provide a structure to a discussion amongst students. They are useful in a CLIL lesson in order to equalize communication amongst the members of a group and to give everyone an opportunity to speak. It is also a good idea to give learners time before the discussion to think about what they want to say.

Learners are motivated to speak because the rules for the task require their active involvement and also provide a framework for their contributions. Scaffolding (or support) for the task might be needed, such as a speaking frame which models possible sentences or phrases that could be used. Here are some variations of communication regulators:

Talking Chips
Place students in small groups. Each student is given a chip (for example, they can use a pen). If someone wants to talk, they must place their chip in the center of the table. You cannot then talk again until everyone has placed his or her chip on the table. When everyone has used their chip they can be retrieved and anyone can talk again by placing the chip on the table.

Response Mode Chips
Students are given a number of different chips that each refer to a specific type of response that they can then make in a discussion (for example, asking a question, giving an idea, giving praise, responding to an idea etc.). If a student wishes to speak they must place the appropriate chip on the table, representing their response mode.

Timed Turns
No one can talk for more than a minute and there is a timekeeper on each turn.

Hot Seat
One person is placed in the hot seat and must answer questions on a given topic by the other members of the group. They can only listen and ask questions. Students take it in turns to be in the hot seat.

Information gaps
An information gap is based on creating a situation in which learners need to communicate with each other in order to get some specific information from each other, and therefore to close the gap! The gap might be based on finding out something that someone else already knows (so activating prior knowledge), or the activity might be based on the teacher setting up the gap by giving certain information to a learner that another learner needs to get.

Some ideas for information gap activities in CLIL lessons:

Find Someone Who…
Students are given a list that might be a list of: personal information, facts relating to a topic, opinions about a given topic. They then need to walk around the classroom asking each other questions to find a person that can answer a specific item on the list.

Picture Pairwork
Two students each have a picture of the same scene or image, but each picture has several (small) differences. The students need to communicate to each other in order to discover these differences. Good for learning and testing out new vocabulary and for practising question sentences. The pictures can be related to specific subject content - for example, landscapes in Geography.

Talking Into Drawing
An activity for pairs. One student has a picture and must describe that picture to their partner who then makes a drawing of what they are being told. This activity can be used to practice the use of connectives (first, then, next) and adjectives. This activity can be connected to subject content – for example, describing a diagram or illustration in a science lesson.

Pyramid discussions
Sometimes referred to as ‘think/pair/share’, this type of speaking task is structured in three phases, beginning with the learner thinking on their own, moving to a phase in which they discuss ideas with a partner, to a final phase in which ideas are shared as a class.

The first two stages are important for CLIL because they offer safe wait time to think through ideas and an opportunity to rehearse the language they need before a whole class plenary. CLIL teachers may also need to identify the specific scaffolds (support) that students need for the task. For example, they may need a list of words relevant to the topic or model sentences that can be used in their discussion.
As a variation, think, pair, square puts students into groups of four to share their ideas rather than a whole class plenary. This might be a good way to help prepare students for whole class discussions. It also gives the teacher more opportunities to monitor and observe language use in the different pairs and groups.

Another variation of this uses a ‘placemat’ for the first two stages, a large piece of paper on which learners write down their ideas in response to a question or problem. The placemat can then be rotated so that everyone can read each other’s ideas. A new question is then needed to synthesize the learners’ ideas at the small group stage in some way before going into a whole class plenary discussion.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

CLIL Activities

CLIL Activities, the new book by Liz Dale and Rosie Tanner and published by Cambridge University Press just last week, will be presented this week at the IATEFL conference 2012 in Glasgow. IATEFL is the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. You can also follow the conference online. The online conference will include guest interviews (one with Liz and Rosie on Wednesday), reports and the plenary sessions as they happen during the conference. Roving reporters will tell you about what's happening on the spot.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Getting More Out of PIFs

Some TTO schools work with PIFs (personal idiom files), particularly with first year classes. PIFs are a kind of glossary that a pupil keeps adding to - often in the form of a notebook or computer file - containing key terms for each subject and other important vocabulary that a pupil comes across. It is a list of words which learners need to learn and use actively.

Learners are helped if the entries in their PIF indicate more than a given definition from the teacher or textbook. It helps if learners write down, for example, the word, the meaning and the way the word is typically used in English; this will help them to retain the words better.

PIFs can be a great tool for learning vocabulary, but they do need to be worked with regularly in order to encourage learners to recall and recycle words, and to encourage them to work actively with the meaning of particular words. So here are some suggestions for how to get more out of PIFs.

Each student receives ten small cards, five in one colour (say, blue) and five in another (say, red). They write five words from their PIFs on the blue cards and their definitions on red ones. They swap sets with another learner and try to match the cards. This activity can also be done with the learners working intially in pairs or small groups and using more words.

Students work in groups of 8-10. They each write ONE word from their PIF on a card – a totally random word, or a word related to a topic. The first learner starts a story, using the word on his/her card. The next learner continues the story using his/her word. They continue until everyone has contributed a sentence to the story. The final sentence should conclude the story.

Students shout out words from their PIFs; the teacher writes them on the board. The students then have the task to make categories out of all the words on the board and to give each category a heading.

Students shout out words from their PIFs; the teacher writes them on the board. The teacher writes two headings on the board: Nice words and Nasty words. The students then make a list of the words under the two headings in their notebooks. They then have to explain to their neighbour why words are nice or nasty.

The teacher writes the headings nice words and nasty words on the board. Students think individually, using their PIFs, about which word they want to put under the heading. The teacher invites students to write words from their PIFs under the headings: one under each heading, and to explain why they find the words nice or nasty.

Students draw a plan of their bedrooms. They put 20 words from their PIFs on to their plan: they must have a reason to put the words in the chosen place. They then explain to their neighbour why they put the words where they did.

Students pick out 20 words that they feel they need to review. They put each word on a slip of paper, and on each slip they also write the name of the person they would like to give the word to. They have to write 20 different names and have a reason for their word gift. They then mill around in the classroom and give their words away. If the receiver doesn’t understand it, the giver should explain the meaning and the reason for the gift.

The teacher borrows a PIF from a student and dictates 10 words to the class, for spelling practice.

Students swap PIFs and dictate ten words to each other, for spelling practice.

(Ideas adapted from: Morgan, J. & Rinvolucri, M., Vocabulary (Oxford: Oxford University Press))

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Websites for CLIL

Another great resource for CLIL, this time from Cambridge ESOL.

They have produced a series of booklets (that are free to download) aimed at subject teachers: Maths, Science, History, and Geography. Each booklet provides a clear overview of CLIL in relation to the specific subject, and, best of all, offers a model lesson with resources.

Cambridge ESOL CLIL materials

Scroll to the bottom of the page for the free materials.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Assuaging doubts about CLIL

A few blogs ago, we discussed Chaz Pugliese's article in which he doubted the benefits of CLIL. We couldn't resist responding, and our article has just been published in the newsletter of IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language), Voices, 225. Here is a shortened version of our response; if you would like to read the complete article, contact us. We don't doubt CLIL!

Many of Chaz’s doubts are based on issues to do with the implementation of CLIL, and not with the fundamental concept of CLIL. In the Netherlands, research and experience has shown that CLIL works: CLIL students reach high proficiency levels of English, and their proficiency in Dutch as well as the content knowledge of their subjects taught in English are not negatively affected.

In our context, CLIL is not only about language learning, but also about developing cognition as well as intercultural and international understanding. As members of a CLIL inspection team visiting bilingual schools, we encounter students with high level thinking skills who consider themselves to be global citizens.

Chaz says that English will in the long run threaten some weaker European languages. This is a misconception, since CLIL is concerned with supporting bilingualism: that is the development of two languages, as well as content knowledge.

The European Platform and the Network of Dutch bilingual schools have formulated a quality standard and inspection system for bilingual education. This states that results for Dutch should not be lower than the national average, a standard that has been maintained: so it is possible to manage a bilingual education system whilst still promoting the national language of education. Furthermore, there is actually no evidence to show that children learning content through a foreign language will develop less or deficient content knowledge.

A third doubt mentioned by Chaz is that “The kids do not master their adopted language.” Our experience is that CLIL students achieve a much higher level in their adopted language (English) than their peers in regular education. Students from bilingual schools have a distinct advantage when entering higher education because of their excellent language proficiency.

Chaz is rightly concerned about the language level of the teachers working in CLIL. We acknowledge this concern in the Netherlands, since teachers are required to improve and maintain their level of English.

As Chaz states, Ministries do fail to support teachers if they fail to provide requisite training. CLIL methodology skills are as important as language skills. Two-week crash courses in English (or biology or history!) are not enough for a teacher to become an effective CLIL teacher. We would plead for “train the CLIL trainer” courses to be put into place across Europe.

“CLIL seems to rely on the fact that languages are acquired, rather than learned” writes Chaz. We have to disagree with this. There is not an assumption in CLIL that students will effectively acquire English if they are exclusively exposed to the target language without any deliberate focus on learning. CLIL is concerned with the ways subject and language teachers have to support and give specific attention to the language needs of their learners.

Chaz asks two more questions: What is meant by ‘learning’ in CLIL terms? Can students function comfortably in social as well as academic situations? Here, he is misinterpreting the aims of CLIL, which are to develop BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) and, at a later stage, CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency). Since there is an emphasis in CLIL on students producing output (speaking, writing), we find that they are able to develop language skills for a range of situations, from the social to the academic.

CLIL should definitely not be seen as a replacement for English classes. However, we do believe that the role of the English teacher in a CLIL stream is to develop learners’ English skills (for example, general academic language across all subjects) as well as collaborating with his or her subject colleagues in supporting language development (for example, in cross-curricular projects) in the other subjects.

Chaz finally mentions that CLIL is hailed as alternative to traditional language programmes. However, in many countries CLIL is more often hailed as an alternative to traditional secondary teaching: subject teachers are becoming language teachers, rather than English teachers teaching content. In addition, bilingual education is being developed successfully in other sections of our educational system, such as higher and vocational education institutions.

Rosie Tanner, Rick de Graaff, Gerrit Jan Koopman, Annemieke Meijer and Jason Skeet, Liz Dale