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))