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Tips for Instructional Design for CLIL in the EFL Classroom

Robert Mcbain
This article relates to integrating content and language in particular EFL instructional design of lessons and materials.

Content Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is the idea of teaching a content subject, for example, science or social studies, in a foreign language—mainly English: that is a challenging task for any teacher. To do this effectively teachers need to plan lessons carefully to integrate the second language with the content. And at the same time use the various components and structure of (in our case) English, namely phonemes, morphemes, lexemes, context and syntax. Along with these is the integration of vocabulary, grammar, semantics, and pragmatics. It is clear that content and language are inseparable parts of the same lesson. Because if the content subject is taught without sufficient language support, content lessons often unfold into a situation where the language and content advance in parallel and rarely meet, creating cognitive overload where students get lost in a sea of words and become distracted.

CLIL instructional design

To aid learning may require teachers to organize their instructions so that essential vocabulary and parts of speech are pre-taught to students before any reading or writing is studied; but this vocabulary and parts of speech are used continuously and reviewed throughout the periods of instruction.

In more detail, students need to know which word forms and tenses to use in a particular answer so that communication is accurate. Additionally, new vocabulary also needs to be integrated with good reading comprehension questions, of which there are many different kinds, and to be used effectively. So it seems that instruction in basic content literacy, as an aid to learning content, should be an integral part of the materials design.

CLIL materials design

EFL content unit designers may want to consider integrating study units employing the idea most often used in questioning: funnelling. Funnelling begins with a broad subject and gradually becomes detailed and more specific. For example, Biology units designed by funnelling could be thus:

Unit 1: The cardiovascular system

Unit 2: The heart

Unit 3: Blood cells

An essential point here is how academic exercises are designed and presented to students within each of these units. Each unit would begin with a vocabulary study from that particular unit text, integrating the parts of speech used for specific word forms. For the next part, students could complete reading comprehension questions where the answers require students to recycle the new words in different forms. Further integration could be achieved by incorporating the vocabulary from previously completed units to reuse them in various forms.

Esoteric vocabulary instruction

The term esoteric vocabulary relates to a collection of words used in a specific subject. For example, words like imports and exports are usually only used by people who study economics, and are not often used outside of that subject. The same goes for blood cells in biology and gravitational force in physics.

However, learning the meaning of these specialist words is not a difficult task. The difficulty comes when students have to use the various word forms specifically in writing and speaking, which is one of the most complicated subjects that EFL students have to deal with. For example, when writing about cells, students need to know which form should be used to be grammatically correct. Should it be the singular word cell or the plural, cells? But, things get more complex when the choice of word forms increases. The root word import, for example, can be used as noun, adjective and verb producing a number of different forms and spelling.

Teaching vocabulary

When students see a new word, they often study it in short steps; and often in quick succession. Teaching these steps directly to students may also form part of a lesson. First, they look the word up in a dictionary and then learn its pronunciation and whether it’s a noun, verb or adjective and then transfer it into their native language for safe keeping. The next step is when they study its various synonyms and antonyms. Finally, they must learn its various forms. But to do this, they need to understand any prefixes and suffixes used for changing the meaning. After that, the word should be used frequently in class in different forms and becomes an established part of their everyday vocabulary.

Blocked and random practice

Blocked practice entails a single repetitive skill, the variance of which is minimized, which, for some students, can be an advantage when learning new words combined with specific parts of speech as it offers low levels of cognitive interference. They can see patterns forming when using various word forms.


__________ (car) are exported every week.

__________ (bike) are exported every week.

__________ (computer) are exported every week.

By contrast, random practice exercises characterize higher levels of cognitive interference. In this activity, learners have to recall several different writing skills. To this end, it sets up challenges to students’ thinking processes to deal with the interference of each task that helps keep them on their toes and allows for higher skill transfer because of the various tenses and contexts.


The __________ (export) goods were sold.

These were __________ (export) last month.

France __________ (export) wine to Canada every month.

Written by Robert Mcbain for EnglishClub
Dr Robert Mcbain is a secondary headteacher. He also teaches EFL social studies and also designs instructional materials for Content Language Integrated Learning. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD).

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