When I first came across the acronym CLIL it didn’t mean much to me. I thought here’s another one of the many acronyms that the education sector seems to be full of. I decided to look up what it stood for and what I discovered was that CLIL is quite an exciting teaching proposition.

What is CLIL?

CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. The idea is for subjects, such as maths, to be taught through a medium of a foreign language, such as English. Such an approach enables learners to study two diverse but connected subjects at the same time. The subject-content drives language learning. Although the term CLIL was only coined in 1994 by Professor David Marsh, the idea behind it is not new. Bilingual teaching and learning dates to ancient times and offers many benefits for both the students and the teachers.

Why use CLIL and teach English through maths?

Teaching English through Maths or another subject can help your students stay motivated when learning the language. The benefits of each lesson can effectively be doubled, as two subjects are being learnt simultaneously. The learners interested in maths will be keener to acquire the language necessary to gain a further understanding of the subject.

The CLIL approach takes away the need for teachers to artificially generate lesson topics, and gives students a context and real-life reason for learning English. There are many resources online for almost any topic in maths you can think of and many established maths curricula you can base your lessons on.

In a world where English is becoming the lingua franca of business and higher education, CLIL teaching is likely to gain increased popularity. People looking to gain access to employment and education across the world will want to be able to learn new skills in English. The CLIL approach in a classroom can help your students to develop these necessary and sought-after skills.

What to think about before using CLIL to teach English through maths?

Many of the teaching skills developed during a CELTA course are transferable and relevant to the CLIL context and equip you well for this type of teaching. There are however differences worth thinking about before embarking on teaching English through maths.

The first thing to consider when planning a CLIL lesson is that you will need to have both subject-content and English-language learning objectives for your students. What language skill do you want your students to learn and what mathematical skill or topic would you like them to acquire?

You will need to be confident in the mathematical topic you will teach. Prepare well, read around the topic you will be teaching and practice your maths skills by doing several exercises yourself. Expect to be asked questions about the subject topic, not just about the language you will use.

Maths uses English in its own specific way. A tip from David, my Maths-teacher husband, is to pay extra attention to words, such as enlarge, expand, or stretch, which in mathematical context have important differences in meaning, despite having similar meanings in general English. Other terms, such as evaluate, have a totally different meaning to when they are used in common English. Ensure you introduce your students to the functional language, the subject-specific vocabulary, they will need to understand the mathematical topic before proceeding further.

The abilities of your students in English and maths will not necessarily correlate. Remember about this when preparing for the lesson. Use differentiated tasks, so that all your students, regardless their mathematical abilities, are engaged in the classroom. If you are preparing worksheets for your students to answer, then consider how you can break down the maths tasks into smaller steps without adding too much extra complexity in the English used. Mathematical problems which are broad and have a wide variety of approaches will both allow students of all mathematical abilities to access the work and, also importantly, promote discussion about the maths (in English of course).

Remember that at the heart of it CLIL promotes links between subjects. If the mathematical topic you are teaching relates to other topics make these links obvious to your students. Maths lends itself particularly to the science subjects and geography, but you can also include other subjects in creative ways.

If you would like to learn more about teaching Maths using the CLIL approach, check out this Cambridge English publication.

Moving forward with CLIL

The beauty of integrated learning is that it offers a huge scope to combine topics to suit the needs of you and your students. CLIL does not need to be limited to combining English with academic subjects such as Maths, Geography, or Science. You can teach English through diverse topics such cricket, cooking or a popular TV show, or whatever you are knowledgeable about and you think your students will find interesting. Moreover, you do not need to commit to teaching an entire subject curriculum to use CLIL teaching in your classroom. Why not start with one lesson and see how it goes?

If this article spiked your interest in CLIL, then you might be interested in the monthly, electronic CLIL Teacher Magazine. You can check it out here.

As always, we are very keen to know what you have to say on this topic, so please share your comments with us on our Facebook page.

About the Author

Aleks Kaye has completed a part-time CELTA course while working full-time at a university in the UK. Her husband David is a Secondary School Maths teacher. They are currently travelling across Canada and blogging about it at daleksabroad.travel.blog

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