Tag: classroom practice

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing student skills through project-based learning

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing student skills through project-based learning

Dr Jenny Skipp

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing Student Skills through project-based learning

My dear colleague Jenny has just held  her first ever presentation at an iatefl conference!

It was a very well delivered talk, with a perfect balance of theory and practical ideas teachers can adapt into their own teaching. It’ll probably be of most interest with young adult learners, and also for teachers looking for ways to stretch their advanced learners. Want to know what she talked about? Look no further, here’s a summary:

Jenny presented a CLIL project she ran with a post-grad British cultural studies class at Trier University (Germany). Cultural studies classes in this context are for advanced EFL learners and thus have two aims – language learning and learning about content, in this case a particular British cultural topics. Making them good examples of CLIL.

Based on Coyle et al’s conceptualisation of CLIL as encompassing four Cs, content, cognition, communication, and culture, Jenny and I devised project-based British Cultural Studies classes, which she then took as the basis of an investigation of the opportunities it afforded for developing language and academic skills.

The project was setting up an exhibition on the topic of the course, which would be open to all staff and students at the University. The students in the course are working at a C1-2 language level. How do you test C2 level?? Jenny thinks an exhibition might be one way.

Previous Culture Studies courses had required students to hold an in-class presentation and write a final essay. We hoped this project would prevent them from only seeing their presentations or essay topics as isolated from what their peers were doing, which we believe was limiting to students in their language acquisition and practice, as they worked on making the exhibition as a collective whole.

Over the course of the term, students had round table discussions in lesson time, gave ‘work in progress’ oral reports on their exhibits in pairs to prompt discussion, and collaboratively wrote a concept paper to present the content and flow of the exhibition. They thus used the language of team work and of exhibit design, and were given feedback on it orally. On the exhibition day we also monitored their interaction with visitors, as they were explaining their exhibit topic to non expert peers and staff from various academic departments. After the exhibition, students wrote short individual essays at end of course.

So, what opportunities were really provided for language acquisition and practice?

Here, Jenny assessed this through the lens of the language tryptic described by Coyle et al. She explained, very convincingly, how studentrs developed…

Language Of Learning – general subject language, which is easily learnt or already known, in this case there were some concrete terms that stuck out to surveyed students- “popular vs mass culture” “identity”, “economic/economical”

Language For Learning – in this category, Jenny saw feedback languages used when evaluating others’ work in progress, language for data collection such as creating interview or survey questions, linguistic analyses, and differing register and synonyms and expressions for describing the exhibition to different visitors.

Language Through Learning– figurative and idiomatic language, new words & how to use them naturally, academic register, and colloquial expressions, were all mentioned by students. But not just specific words, it was also evident that students developed new ways of talking about concepts and their topics.

75% of the students, who were surveyed after the end of the course, perceived good opportunities for topic specific language learning during the term-long preparation, and 82% during the exhibition. And in their essays they demonstrated a noticeable improvement in this and general language naturalness.

Jenny was really pleased to see students talking to exhibition visitors about exhibits – they were seen to be paraphrasing for a non-expert audience, lower level undergrads, or using formal register with more informed lecturers — this ability to adapt language to play around, scale up or down their language to explain their understanding of complex topics to different people would seem to be one way to show C2 level language competence!

Academic skills were trained by this project, too – HOTs that fit into the ‘cognition’ C, with students analysing data from many sources, evaluating & synthesising it to make their exhibition. Jenny found she could tick all the boxes, as it were, of Coonan’s taxonomy. Students also noticed these opportunities for criticality.

Overall, then, it seems that both linguistic & conceptual techniques, and communicative competences  were practised and developed by this CLIL project, as well as cognitive abilities and transferable skills such as collaboration, organisation, teamwork, students perceived this, and demonstrated it in both their exhibition and essays. The final C was also addressed in this project, with students demonstrating expanded cultural sensitivity and international perspective.

This research, and Jenny’s compellung pkug for CLIL, shows that a project as a collaborative event facilitates the use, practice & feedback of language, as well as key skills! Try it yourself!

Slides and materials available from:


Read more: Jenny Skipp & Clare Maas, Content & Integrated Learning: In Theory and In Practice, Modern English Teacher, April 2017.



5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices

Reading this, I was promoted to think about my teacher beliefs about what exactly it is that makes teaching effective; what is it that I’m aiming for, that I hold as best practice? Expressing this in one sentence has actually been a quite inspiring moment for me; motivating me and giving me new energy to approach my planning for next term.
Anyway, here’s my spontaneously-constructed sentence (which I also posted in the comments section on the blog post):

**Teachers have to be passionate about teaching and about what they’re teaching, and they need to know their students and how to motivate them to get active.**

So now I’m interested in your thoughts: What is it that makes teaching most effective?
I’m not looking (necessarily) for Hattie-style lists, but try to summarise your teacher beliefs into one sentence, about what is at the heart of good teaching, for you.

Please post them in the comments below! I’m really excited about hearing from you!!


Earlier this year, a piece from the Edutopia website was doing the rounds under the title “5 highly effective teaching practices”.  I automatically question pieces like this as I doubt somewhat whether the purpose of the piece is actually to raise standards in the profession and develop teachers – or whether it is simply to get a bit more traffic to the website.  But perhaps I am being unnecessarily cynical?

To be fair, the practices the article suggests are generally quite effective:

  1. State the goals of the lesson and model tasks, so that students know what they are going to do and how to do it.
  2. Allow classroom discussion to encourage peer teaching
  3. Provide a variety of feedback, both on an individual and a group basis.  Allow students to feedback to the teacher.
  4. Use formative assessments (tests the students can learn from) as well as summative assessments (tests that evaluate…

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Action Research – What and how?

Action Research – What and how?

Many schemes of professional development for teachers, as well as advanced teaching certificates, include an element of ‘Action Research’ (AR). In my work as a team leader of EFL tutors, I’ve come to see just how important AR is for teachers to continue to develop and professionalise their teaching practices. And I’m so enthusiastic about teachers doing research that I want to share some introductory thoughts with a wider audience – with you, my dear blog readers! I hope I can inspire you to start your own AR projects, and would love to hear what you get up to!

So what is ‘Action Research’ for teachers? Basically,  AR is any small scale research conducted by a practising teacher which looks at any aspect of how a class is run, and is particularly aimed at answering a question or addressing a difficult or controversial issue. The results of the research can then be used by the teacher (and colleagues if the results are shared) to inform future practice and to suggest solutions to any problems or puzzles caused by the controversial issues/questions.

With this definition, ‘action research’ can be broken down into the following concrete phases: 

  1. formulation of research question, 
  2. background reading (optional), 
  3. developing (and maybe piloting, or evaluating with colleagues) a method of data collection, 
  4. data collection,
  5. collating & analysing data, 
  6. reflection & drawing conclusions. 

Once conclusions have been drawn, these can lead to the formulation of a consequent action plan or changes in teaching practice, and/or the dissemination of the research findings.

These phases may make AR sound like a very time-consuming and serious experimental endeavour, but it really isn’t!! An AR project can be as large and time-consuming, or as quick and small, as the teacher wants it to be. Most of the time, you can ‘research’ whilst teaching. You start with something you’d like to find out, change something minor in your teaching, and reflect on the outcome. The research question could focus on a local issue connected to one specific class or school, such as getting shy learners to speak more, dealing with unruly behaviour, encouraging more engagement with homework tasks, or trialling things like project-based learning, peer-review etc. You could trial a new technique to investigate possible & necessary adaptations for particular teaching contexts. You might also want to try combining ideas from published sources and developing a new technique which could then be shared with others. Often, I’ve found informal staffroom chats highlight potential AR topics, so just keep your ears open!

The ‘how’ question can seem a big deal, especially if calling it ‘data collection’ reminds you of big scientific investigations! But in AR, you can choose any way to gather information that is relevant to your research question. It could be as straightforward as keeping a journal of your lessons and your reflections on them, or maybe asking to sit in on a colleague’s lesson to see how they approach a certain issue, or even asking your students to give you their opinions on certain aspects of the classroom/lesson setup. The key thing is reflecting on what you find out and how you can apply it to your teaching!

If you are approaching AR for the first time, you might like to talk through your ideas with a colleague who’s done some AR before, or collaborate with another colleague to emphasise the reflective nature of AR. I would also love to hear about your AR projects and can mentor you through the process, if you wish – just comment below or send me a message on Twitter, I’m @Clare2ELT.

What I really love about AR is that it can open up dialogue among teachers! That’s why I’d love for you to get in touch, and would also encourage any teacher who has conduced AR to share their findings publicly, e.g. on a blog or in a teaching magazine or newsletter.

Here are some other links and blog posts that are worth a look, if you’re interesting in finding out more about AR:

British Council: Exploring our own classroom practice.

Nellie Mueller: Action Research Projects

Are Detailed Objectives Really Necessary in Lesson Plans?

Lesson planning is usually a key component on English Language teacher training courses.  However, practising teachers rarely draw up such detailed plans as they are taught to on training courses. Thus questions arise as to whether it is really necessary to describe course, lesson and activity aims in such detail and what the benefits of this practice might be. 

The background literature is full of statements aboout how beneficial detailed lesson planning is, and mostly regard it as a vital part of teaching. Here are some of the most pertinent comments:

Bailey (1996, p.18): “Lessons are intended to help students accomplish the objectives of the course and program.”

Woodward (2001, p.2): characteristics of a ‘good’ lesson/course include that Ss and T are aware of what there is to learn and of why they are doing the chosen activities

Williams & Burden (1997, p. 82):“teachers first need to be clear why they select [an] activity and then help their learners to see the value for them.”

In order to provide some answer to the question which forms the title of this post, beyond theoretical perspectives found in the literature, I undertook a small-scale action research study and would like to present a summary of my findings, to provoke further consideration and discussion of this topic.

My study was based on teaching EFL to advanced learners on English Studies degree programmes at Trier University (Germany). I kept a developmental record including detailed tabular lesson plans for language lessons, my post-teaching reflections on these lessons and the success of the activities, plus student comments from post-lesson feedback.

From my collection of reflections in this record, the findings can be summarised as follows:

Why include aims in lesson planning?

  • it helps teachers organise their thoughts
  • it increases teachers’ self-confidence
  • it provides a yardstick to help evaluate materials
  • the teacher can evaluate tasks’ effectiveness/contribution to aims
  • the long-term value of skills and language taught is concretely considered
  • it helps to highlight the links between the lessons of a course
  • it thus prevents the course/lesson from being an end in itself

Why not?

  •  it is time consuming
  •  it may be a waste of time if need to change course goal
  •  it may lead to inflexibility


Generally, what I’m saying is that considering and contemplating the overarching aims of a course, lesson, or activity, and the relationship between these, IS NECESSARY, and is more important than the actual form the lesson planning takes or when it is done.

I don’t wish to advocate that we, as teachers, should always formulate the aims using staid old statements e.g. “by the end of the lesson, learners will be able to…”, as these are often quite unrealistic when you think about them. I mean, in just one lesson, they’ll be able to ‘do’ something or ‘know’ a language point? Maybe your lesson is just an introduction to the language point, or a bit of practice or repetition, but to truly ‘learn’ and ‘know’ something and be able to do it, we would all need more than 1 lesson!

So what I’m saying is, a ‘plan’ doesn’t have to be a long, typed up document for scrutiny by someone else. Indeed, ‘planning’ can be everything – scrappy post-its, discussions over coffee with a colleague, or typing up a scheme of work schedule. But I do believe that writing down can be very useful, in any form, especially at beginning of your teaching career.

Indeed, what my little action research study has really found, is that trainees’ books such as that by Harmer  are definitely pointing new teachers in the right direction when they say that “[t]he actual form a plan takes is less important than the thought that has gone into it; the overriding principle is that we should have an idea of what we hope our students will achieve in the class, and that this should guide our decisions about how to bring it about” (2001, p.311).

This post is a very brief summary of the following article, due for publication shortly:

Fielder, C., ‘Are detailed objectives really necessary in lesson planning?’ TTT Journal (expected Dec 2013)