A starting point
It is clear that in CLIL we have to include more strategies to support understanding of both language and content. We need to give them short bits of comprehensible input supported by visuals such as pictures, charts and diagrams displayed around the classroom; overhead projectors and PowerPoint presentations will help as well. There is a clear need to begin any topic by drawing on learners’ previous knowledge. This gives us a starting point familiar to everyone and in doing so we can begin to input key vocabulary and language chunks. The fact that children can see at a glance (through the visual materials) the main expressions they need means they have at hand the language they need to express the knowledge they have.
Language all around
I have also realised that giving them a photocopy with the main expressions to be used in class (How do you say ‘pulmó’ in English?, May I start reading?, First of all, This is because …) helps them a lot, since the only thing they have to do is to open their science folders and check the vocabulary they need. However, as well as giving them the main expressions to build up new language, I also like to display other language. Motivational posters work well and can be referred to at any time, giving pupils a viewpoint of the second language which is different from the conventional one. Great posters and classroom ideas can be found at http://schoolslinks.co.uk/, http://www.sparklebox.co.uk/, http://mrspancake.com/index.php.
Lessons should be planned to support both the language and learning needs. Highlight key vocabulary as pupils’ grasp of a concept will be facilitated by their understanding of these keywords. In activities that require them to read a text, bear in mind that whereas in the traditional language classroom the texts they read have been created as a vehicle to present a particular language point, those they read in the CLIL classroom are driven by the topic itself. Therefore we must make sure we highlight, isolate and concept-check all the vocabulary pupils will need in order to understand the essential content. Providing a chart to fill in is a good way to guide them through the text by helping them focus on the areas with containing the most important information. Getting pupils then to transfer information from one context to another, eg from a text to a table, graph or picture, helps to check they have grasped the key points.
Give pupils a clear framework before any writing activity and include guidelines as to what content to include, how to structure it and the language structures required. Before oral activities, decide which key structures are required to teach pupils to make sure they are able to talk about what they are learning. This language needs to be practised and possibly displayed. Vary activities to include wholeclass, small group, pair and individual work. Check and re-check concepts with regular repetition, consolidation and revision.
In the CLIL classroom, scaffolding needs to encompass broader areas than in the language classroom and the balance between content and language needs to be maintained. Activities should be arranged in such a way that each stage builds upon the last so that the language and concepts can be consolidated before moving on, and study skills such as describing, classifying, evaluating, predicting or testing hypotheses need to be developed. With these things in place, we’ll be helping our learners as best we can to eventually be able to construct their own learning.
Florià Belinchon is a teacher trainer, Secondary school teacher and teaches at Escola Practiques 1, Lleida.