CLIL - Content and Language Integrated Learning          CLIL          CLIL - Content and Language Integrated Learning


Gymnasium CLIL Content teachers' ongoing professional development course

Zurich University

November, 4th, 2011

Eveline Reichel and I have known each other now, we estimate, for ten years and our connection has always had something to do with CLIL, though her kind invitations to stay at her home in Zurich and her friendship play no insignificant part in my pleasure in returning again and again to Switzerland to work (thanks Eveline! x).
On this occasion, I have to say, Eveline had me a little worried. She had asked me to work with her latest cohort of practising content teachers undergoing CLIL training, all is well thus far, but Eveline also asked me to prepare an immersion content lesson through the medium of Bulgarian. This has to be the most nerve-wracking thing I've prepared in recent years. 'CLIL doesn't add anything to my classes,
I just do it in English'
  We began with a debate of sorts, because during her introduction, Eveline engaged in discussion with colleagues about CLIL in general, and what it actually brings for them in their work through the medium of English. Yes, the same question we'd heard from Holland!
I collected thoughts from the teachers by way of getting to know their names and opinions varied from Maths teacher Guenther suggesting that CLIL doesn't add anything to his classes which are simply a switch from German to English, through Stephan, a Geographer, adding that the CLIL elements in his classes tend to be 'too easy' for the students. Mike, a Biology teacher, currently reading 'CLIL' was looking for ideas for 'strengthening student understanding of his subject' and 'to get them to use the language' of the subject. I think he hits the nail on the head, here we have a definition for CLIL, thanks Mike! The sports teachers (Ines) were less happy, since their subject does not lend itself to such explicit input processing and output support (they're lucky!).
A couple of basic questions:
- Can students successfully listen to and read the language of your subject? - Can they write and speak your subject in the foreign language?
The first part of our work focused on General Academic Language (the slideshow is available for download here), and I tried to refer to the discussion we'd just had as I went through my slides. For me (excuse me if I sound repetitive) CLIL is a) about the language of a content subject, knowing what it is, and b) knowing what to do with it in the classroom, how to help students process - read and listen - and produce - write and speak - the language.
 I actually am beginning to believe that those content teachers who teach through English, who are saying that CLIL doesn't offer them anything, are in a fog which has been built around CLIL as an umbrella term for all manner of approaches, when if you talk to them about language and task, the fog clears and they begin to talk about CLIL as something which contributes to their work rather than something vague and which makes their work much harder to do.
This slide outlines a collection of science and thinking skills.

This slide gives several 'descriptors' for the skills listed above.
Content teachers are well aware of these 'skills' and 'descriptors' for they find them frequently in their own curriculum documents for their subject. What you don't tend to find in the curriculum guidelines for teachers are examples of the kind of language students need to deal with and produce when functioning in these skill areas.
This slide gives an example of the language teachers produce and students produce when classifying things, one of the skills given above. This is precisely the language I've been auditing for Geography, Physics, Biology and Chemistry in Macmillan's Your CLIL two-monthly publication on There you will find lists of contextualised phrases for such functions, thinking skills for these subjects. My point, and my belief (even in Holland, and in Switzerland) the students by and large struggle to produce this general academic language because it is NOT made explicit to them. Am sure this debate will continue, it's a symptom of the literature on the market which does not clearly lay out an approach for teachers, that teachers feel they don't know where they're supposed to be heading with CLIL.
Language of thinking, Clegg (unpublished)
I think I was a little over-eager when I said 'yes, of course'. It began to dawn on me that preparing a micro-lesson through Bulgarian was not going to be as easy as I'd initially considered it to be. I didn't even think about the problem the teachers would have with the Cyrillic alphabet and how this would affect their comprehension of text they would have to read.
I prepared a copy of this transliteration of the Bulgarian alphabet for the teachers to work with, hardly state of the art technology for working through a foreign language, but as it turned out a useful instrument for coping with my Bulgarian lesson in maths.

Slides for presenting numbers 1 to 20 with 'sounds' embedded.
Once I'd got over my apprehension, and let the ideas mull over in my impatient mind, I began to explore what I could do to prepare a class for Swiss content teaching adults in Bulgarian which would be fun, accessible, and not to demoralising given the language barrier!

I chose to do two lessons, one in maths, basic maths, counting numbers 1 to 100, using numbers 1 to 20 in addition and subtraction, and the second in Geography on the process of how acid rain is formed.

Initially, with maths we did a lot of repetition of the numbers, 1 to 20, with visuals and the English sounds of the number words presented in the slides.

It's simply astonishing how well the teachers did with the lesson! Eveline made a short film of the teachers speaking but I promised them I wouldn't publish it, so you'll have to take my word for it that they were excellent!

simple sums with errors
The geography was much tougher, of course. Nevertheless, the colleagues worked steadfastly through my tasks which outlined the process of acid rain formation in Bulgarian. Luckily for them, they didn't suffer too long as we all had to go on to an immersion meeting in Wettingen.

Imagine going to school in a former convent

The abbey at Wettingen

Sky view of the school and surrounding area
It was an exhausting day, yet invigorating too, lots of memories. Don't think I should consider becoming a Bulgarian-medium primary maths teacher though!