Cafe CLIL Discussion 11: The language of content - Chemistry Topic (Acid rain)

Discussion 11: The language of content - Chemistry Topic (Acid rain)

Reporting back on conferences and meetings; discussion on the language of the chemistry topic acid rain, demands on learners, strategies and techniques for dealing with this language in the CLIL classroom.

18.05.10 (17.00-18.00 Central EU time)

You can listen to a recording of this discussion at this YouTube link.

Profiles of newcomers to Cafe CLIL are given here.

Profile of Steve Watts ( :
My name is Steve Watts and I have been teaching English for around 8 years in a variety of locations. In 2005 I established a language school (Wattsenglish Ltd.) which specialises in the teaching of English to young children in the Czech Republic.  I have worked with a number of national institutions to identify and promote good practice where possible and have assisted in the continual training of Czech teachers. CLIL is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the Czech Republic.  And I hope to assist in successfully implementing this approach to the education system if possible.

Profile for Andreas Bärnthaler ( Institutions: HTBLA (Höhere Technische Bundeslehranstalt) Leonding in Leonding/Austria; CEBS (Center für berufsbezogene Sprachen). I'm a teacher; CLIL Coach, Practitioner and Consultant and I started my teaching career as a language trainer in adult education, mainly for employees in the chemical industries and the transport business. I have been teaching for 20 years: English, History & Civics Education and Public Communications, i.e. communications in electronic networks, at upper secondary technical and vocational colleges for automotive engineering, electronics and informatics. I am in charge of the CLIL department of CEBS. CEBS is a think tank within the vocational sector of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture. I work as a CLIL coach for teachers of Science and Engineering and support colleges on their way from initial planning to actual implementation of CLIL policies.

Participants in Café CLIL 11:KK - Keith Kelly (Host, Bulgaria)
LS1 - Lida Schoen (Holland)
SW - Steve Watts (Czech Republic)
EW - Egbert Weisheit (Germany)
AB - Andreas Baernthaler (Austria)
LS2 - Luis Strasser (Austria)

Discussion notes

There were apologies from KK for PC problems, still unresolved which caused a delay in Cafe CLIL discussions. Temporary measures are in place which mean we can continue.

Newcomers - There was a warm welcome to newcomers Adreas Baernthaeler and Stephen Watts who introduced themselves to the group.

Native or non native - Luis made the first comment asking where the materials came from and if they were written by native speakers. This is clearly important given the different culture which goes hand in hand with mother tongue written learning materials and those written for children working through a foreign language. As it is, the materials come from Science Across the World ( and all of the resources are written centrally in English by a team which includes many non native speakers and which are then translated into other languages.Lida suggested that another discussion might take another Science Across topic which has more of a language focus.

Visual content presentation - Egbert pointed out that the visual nature of the content is attractive and highlights the principle of using diagrams for content language learning.Andreas suggested that all of the diagrams in the materials lend themselves to presenting 'linking phrases' and gives the example of a task where students are given a table with two columns mixed and they have to match the two halves of sentences around a linking phrase.

New terminology - Luis suggested that the material is potentially heavy in new terminology for learners and so a task such as 'odd one out' which has learners identify the wrong word among others which appear in the material is a good idea.

Identify specific language needs - Keith suggests that we might look at evaluating the language of the materials in terms of the linguistic functions we can identify there:1) we can see stages and degrees of acidification in the table on students' page 1;2) there is the function of 'cause and effect' in the reading text;3) in the diagram of 'how acid rain is formed' on students' page 2 there are sequences and potentially sequencing phrases in the process of acid rain formation;4) there is the language needed for expressing chemical formulae in full.There was then a short discussion about whether or not chemistry teachers ask learners to express formulae in full and Lida and Egbert, both Chemistry teachers, disagreed on this point.

Other subjects - The discussion goes on to suggest other areas of possible use and interest for a similar investigation and discussion. Mathematics is suggested and colleagues were invited to bring maths teachers to the group to join us next time.

Original and latest Science Across the World materials are available here at the Acid Rain topic page on the site.
- Hayes Jacobs, H (2006) Active Literacy Across the Curriculum, Eye on Education


The group were provided with the following materials and notes for the discussion:

The topic which seems most popular is 'The Language of Content'
I've copied the relevant pages from the Science Across the World topic on Acid Rain and made a link to the entire topic file. I don't want to describe too much what my own thoughts are about this chemistry and language as that may influence your thoughts. I'd like to leave that to the discussion itself!
What I suggest we do is look at the curriculum descriptors and the resources and i) describe the language we find there (the language of the chemistry content) ii) talk about the demands this language may place on learners and iii) make suggestions about how we might deal with the language, make it accessible to learners in a CLIL approach.
This is quite a lot, and it may be that we just stick to the first target and talk about our analysis of the discourse in the chemistry. That's fine, let's see how we get on.
I have easy access to curriculum standards for Qatar and the UK so I refer to those, though the UK standard I used is already out of date.
1) Qatar science standards | Grade 9 | Page 174 (14 year olds) © Education Institute 2005
Describe the processes that lead to acid rainfall and list the consequences of it.
- Make a study of the consequences of acid rainfall in some other parts of the world (e.g.northern Europe).
2) UK National Curriculum, Science, 1999, Key Stage 3 (11 to 14 year olds)
Chemical Reactions
i) about possible effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment [for example, production of acid rain, carbon dioxide and solid particles] and how these effects can be minimised.
3) Science Across the World ( (13 to 16 year olds)
Acid Rain (1999)
Students Pages 1 to 3; 5 to 8, maps 1 and 2
Working through this topic will help you to:
  • understand the acid rain as an issue in science and technology and its effects on our society and our environment;
  • appreciate the impact of acid rain locally, nationally and globally;
  • distinguish between matters of principle and matters of fact;
  • become more aware of the perspectives of people from different countries;
  • grow in confidence in using a variety of languages and in the use of ICT.