CLIL for Language Teaching – what if the content is Language?

As a language teacher rather than a content teacher, I have always been aware of CLIL and thought that its methodology and principles seemed excellent and valid. However, at the same time I never thought that I could adopt a CLIL approach to my teaching, since my teaching is language – therefore the C in my CLIL would be an L, and there is no such thing as Language and Language Integrated Learning! However, in my classes I did find myself constantly moving towards, what in my mind, was a Content Driven approach. I would embark on large scale projects with my classes which involved them creating a presentation about a famous person’s biography or an explanation of how solar power worked. Some classes even featured students writing letters to the Prime Minister or leaving the class on excursions to interview people on the streets in English. We made videos and posted things on web-pages, all of which I found to be much more motivating and engaging for the students (and for me) than simply using the PPP approach that I had been trained to use on my teaching certificate. Of course, each of these classes had a language focus, but the language was not isolated or compartmentalised – it was integrated into the work we were doing in class with the projects. Then I realised that I was in-fact using a CLIL approach, only perhaps the Language part is what gave birth to the Content rather than the other way around.
If language teachers are interested in CLIL there are many ways for them to adopt the approach. In Coyle, Hood & Marsh (2010) chapter 2 deals with Curricular Variation of CLIL and explains a number of models which support a CLIL approach in different contexts and settings. Of particular relevance to language teachers were the models for Adjunct CLIL, Language Embedded Content Courses and Language Based Projects. I will deal briefly with each on in turn.

Adjunct CLIL
In this model, language teaching “runs parallel with content teaching with specific focus on developing the knowledge and skills to use the language so as to achieve higher-order thinking” (Coyle, Hood & Marsh, 2010: 25). Therefore language teachers would work with content teachers to jointly deliver a class. The language would be specific to the field being taught and the two teachers would jointly support one another in their areas of expertise. The main downside of this approach would be that it requires two teachers at once, although in theory it would be possible to have a bigger class and it might alleviate any classroom scheduling problems that many schools face. Once the teachers got used to the ‘team-teaching’ approach, it could be very rewarding, although it does seem an unlikely scenario to have two simultaneous teachers in areas where staff resources are lower.

Language-embedded content courses
In this model, the content courses are designed with language teaching in mind – so they are originally language courses which have had a content focus added to them in order to give it a strong topic around which to design the lessons. Potentially, teachers would need familiarity with both the topic and language teaching. This is often possible as many teachers have taken (or could take) additional professional development courses to broaden their teaching spectrum. Content such as Environmental Issues or Social Responsibility topics lend themselves well to these type of course, namely areas that everyone needs to know about.

Language-based projects
This is particularly interesting for me as a formally trained language teacher, because here it is the language teacher that takes main responsibility for the course. The key word here is authenticity, the students tackle authentic content and are supported by the language teacher. Also worth noting is that assessment is usually based on the language aspects of the course, rather than the content knowledge. In a way, this could be thought of as weak or satellite CLIL.

When I learned about these various models I was amazed to see that CLIL courses started appearing all around me – lots of people were teaching CLIL in one form or another, albeit unknown to them and in a weaker form. This was very pleasing, because as a language teacher my biggest question was always “what should I teach?”. A science teacher will teach science, but they communicate the content knowledge of science through words in the class or text on a page or interactions between students – in other words we use our language to pass on knowledge in other subjects. For language teachers, the subject being taught is also the medium through which it is taught, which means that you need to know it in order to learn it. This is perhaps one of the things which makes language teaching different from other subjects, and potentially more challenging. With a CLIL approach, we can remove this seeming paradox from the equation. Even if Language is the Content you are teaching, you can still use a CLIL approach.

Some good topics for such language-primary CLIL courses might be things which concern us all, especially younger generations. IT, the Environment, Sociology courses or Personal and Professional Development seem to offer good ways into teaching CLIL. Also, courses which study literature in the target language, or global issues would also be suited to these kinds of courses. Whatever you decide to adopt in your class, I am sure that having a CLIL approach will enrich the language teaching element of your courses.

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