A question of CLIL

I find myself increasingly doing training sessions  about how to integrate content with language. It’s partly because of the huge trend towards CLIL in classrooms but also because the course books – more and more – are becoming concerned about including serious and worthy content. So instead of teaching the past simple with a text about Marilyn Monroe they include  texts about the origins of the hump-backed whale.

It’s all a shift away from the airline magazine approach of course books to present something more serious with content that genuinely appeals to thinking adults. It’s possibly a sign of things to come that something resembling EAP lessons will become the norm in many classes.

Anyway, a diagram I have found very useful to spark off debates in training sessions on CLIL is this one taken from the excellent book ‘CLIL’ published by CUP.

The grid shows the trade off between teaching language and teaching content. So if you follow the red line that goes from square 1 to square 4 you’ll see the typical trend when we try to combine content that is cognitively demanding and motivating with an improving level of English.

The grid is good for training sessions because you can ask teachers where they would place some of their current students on this line or they can assess course books and categorise them according to the squares 1 to 4; e.g. a beginner level book usually goes in 1. An advanced level book goes in 3 or 4. You can also see when a book is weak if it ends up in square 4!!

My question for you is one that I grapple with as a course book writer. Can I write classroom material for lower levels which is also cognitively demanding? So instead of starting where the red line does in square 1, can I actually produce something for say – a beginner – that appears in square 2? Do such lessons exist?

In kids lessons they do and with ESP – take your group of technician at beginner level who need English to solve problems. But thinking in terms of your classic adult group who sign up for English classes. Do they even want something cognitively challening? I’ve taken elementary level lessons in other languages and never actually worried too much that the language task the teacher sets me isn’t also cognitively demanding. Just dealing with the language was challenge enough…any views?



Categories: Teacher Training

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3 replies

  1. An interesting point about the ‘worthy’ content-rich approach at lower levels for adult learners. ‘Edutainment’ is what many adult learners are after, in my experience, whatever their level, and may well prefer to be discussing Marilyn Monroe than Humpback whales. Personal culture plays an enormous part in this. Making language memorable so lexis and structures stick is clearly the cognitive goal and whether Marilyn and her ilk are better placed to do this than an article about Stonehenge is probably a moot point for many.

  2. Thanks for your comment Nick. Presumably, we’d expect things to ‘stick’ if the topic is of interest. It’s all about the angle. The topic of Marilyn Monroe can be made boring and Stonehenge could be made very interesting – it’s a bit where the skill of journalist comes into teaching and materials writing – what’s your angle?

  3. Yes, good point. This raises the qustion as to whether the skills of the teacher are paramount in engaging the student, whatever the subject matter and materials used. Woodlice could be made interesting and relevant if a creative and supportive teacher were able to find the right angle.

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