We all know that CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is one of the pillars of updated English Language Teaching Methodology. It goes alongside 21st Century Skills and the pursuance of clear, attainable, age-appropriate benchmarks.
When it comes to teaching preschoolers, CLIL constitutes a safeguard for any curricular purposes that a school might have. We basically have to prepare students for two possible pathways: many will continue in an EFL academic environment and some of them will participate in bilingual curricula. The right CLIL strand serves them both and, most importantly, keeps very young learners engaged.
What exactly is CLIL?
For young learners, CLIL is the teaching of content at par with the curriculum they are following at school in their native language.
Math, science, social studies, art, and so on, form part of the young learner curriculum. Through CLIL, these subjects are also be integrated into their ELT classes, albeit more straightforward way and with a stronger language focus.
Some teachers believe this makes their teaching matter more difficult, but actually, it doesn’t. As long as CLIL is included in a paced way, it makes the teaching process livelier and much more significant. One of the big issues in teaching a language is making it about real things – and nothing is more real and engaging than teaching with authentic content.
What kind of content is appropriate for a preschool-age student?
There is no limitation concerning subject matter, as long as it supports what is being taught at that level.
We teach numbers, we practice simple science experiments for discovery and amazement, we engage children in small art projects, we cover civics through the presentation and practice of values, and we try to give them a sense of being part of a greater social group with rights and responsibilities. The latter also allows for a more harmonious coexistence based on awareness and respect for other cultures. In other words, we teach Academic and Cultural CLIL.
Although it may seem that some topics are taught for academic purposes and others for cultural reasons, that is not precisely the case. Each of the subjects can be included with both foci.
We can teach science content with an academic focus. For example by presenting fruits and the health benefits they provide us by including them in our daily diet. We can also teach their cultural side, by showing which fruits are grown in which parts of the world and the connections they may have to local lifestyles and cultures. We can teach our learners how to quantify certain things, while we can also teach them the value of having less or more of them.
Students will still be learning about fruits and/or about counting objects, but the insights derived from the resulting learning situations will affect different parts of the overall curriculum. CLIL contributes directly and indirectly to the holistic formation of young learners. It’s a win-win intervention.
So how should we teach it?
Although CLIL lesson plans have common steps, such as focusing on content vocabulary, reading texts and discussing the answers to key comprehension questions, there are some specific recommendations for each subject matter.
The process is simple. Because young learners require attention to levels of difficulty and prior knowledge, Academic CLIL is mostly progressive, and well-thought-out programs will have that covered.
The author will present rote counting in a progressive order. Then, in each unit will introduce the meaning of higher numbers, mostly by tens, asking students to count, trace and quantify. A good program will take students up to number 100 by the time they reach age 6.
In this Math-CLIL lesson, students are asked to count by sets of ten, up to 30. They then count up to nine extra units, to reach number 39, as the threshold for 40. The use of the mascot (as seen in the example below) helps students engage in counting in a playful way.
This is a follow-up lesson where students will show visual feedback of their new knowledge and apply it in a practical way. They then demonstrate their new ability: “I can count objects up to 39.”
We should teach science at a very early age to help students understand what surrounds them, so they become aware of their immediate world and venture into it.
We must always encourage them to experiment and present the scientific principle being taught. The idea is to have children learn science by discovery, so they can enjoy it more.
In this lesson, students identify spiders and their webs and become more observant of details, such as what they eat and how they trap their food. To make it more engaging, they will cut out pictures of the kinds of insects spiders capture in their webs, and glue them exactly there. This allows for lots of thinking, speaking and doing… a must for an engaging process!
Teachers always comment on the importance of including simple, everyday values that students should practice. It’s essential that such values are not only presented as concepts, but also in situations that facilitate their incorporation to their everyday behavior. To achieve this, it’s key that those values are modeled and/or presented in use. The following story shows preschoolers how to be polite when ordering food at a restaurant, which teachers model in a shared-reading setting (Big-Book reading).
Nothing engages young learners more than developing a project with drawing, cutting, and glueing. And it is especially engaging when showing what was done, is central to the challenge.
This project is a follow up of the spider topic presented in the Science lesson above. The task is to make a cute spider out of simple wired string and then hang it from the classroom ceiling. Spooky indeed!
5. Academic and Cultural CLIL combined
Quite often we can combine both types of CLIL. The following lesson is actually a Big-Book story that I wrote for the new edition of my series Big Fun (New Big Fun, 2019). Notice that it combines Academic CLIL (Science) when presenting the different kinds of climate, with Cultural CLIL (Social Studies) by showing how people from certain places dress and behave in response to different temperature and weather characteristics.
CLIL is something we can be sure will support the teaching of English to young learners in an engaging, reliable way. Some ELT series for preschool openly include CLIL lessons, but if we teach with a program that isn’t that up-to-date, we must stay alert for any opportunity we might have to give the topic we are teaching some academic and cultural highlights.
The younger our students face these real and natural situations, the better they will be able to engage with English and find its use more natural. I have always included CLIL lessons in my programs for young learners ages 3-14. Through experience, I have learned that it’s the best way to make learning easier, faster and having more fun!