Integrated Grammar in CLIL

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“Teacher, I don’t think we are going to improve our English level because we are not learning grammar, and I think that grammar is essential”. I often hear this comment in my classes, specially in the 2nd year of the Teacher Training Degree, and I have been thinking over this for a good while. Even if CLIL provision offers many advantages in comparison with monolingual content learning, there is still an open debate around the need of offering language focus session to students. Is teaching content through a second/foreign language enough to help students develop their communicative proficiency in it or should we be providing them with language focus moments?

In my opinion, language focus moments are those in which the teacher has to explain how a linguistic structure works so that students can use that language function to complete a task which mainly focused on content. For example, if I give my students a list of True/False sentences, language associated with ‘negotiating meaning’ and ‘expressing agreement and disagreement’ will appear. I can just let my students use the language they already know to do that OR I can show students a number of stem sentences or key phrases they can use to extend their linguistic repertoire. I don’t need to stop the lesson and say ‘Hey, let’s see some grammar’, but I will point out that these expressions are related to language functions needed to complete the task successfully. They can use ‘basic’ expression or be a little bit more daring and start using the ones I’m proposing.

Priestley Grammar
What’s the role of language provision in CLIL?

I guess that many of my students have been learning English with grammar books, grammar activities, grammar teachers…, and probably their parents too. Their vision of language is reduced to ‘learning grammar’ and not to ‘acquiring a good communicative competence’. This ‘mental frameworks’ students have will hopefully change while they experiment CLIL lessons and develop a better communicative competence thanks to an integrated grammar. And if the loop input theory is not wrong, we will then be helping infant and primary children to enjoy more effective CLIL lessons in their schools.

What’s your opinion about language provision in CLIL? Which are your language-focus moments? Should content teachers be reponsible for this or just language specialists? Which are your students’ mental frameworks? I’d love to read your views on this. Thanks in advance.

Image taken from Wikipedia.

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7 thoughts on “Integrated Grammar in CLIL

    Ana Otto said:
    October 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Very interesting post, Raquel! There’s a lively debate on whether content teachers should devote part of their time to language related facts but I guess that, what content teachers usually lack is wider knowledge about text types and genres related to their subject. That would be probably the best way to integrate content and language without stopping the lesson for grammar-based activities. Besides, I don’t think students like to focus on grammar but to integrate subect knowledge through task-based activities.

      teachingtoteach responded:
      October 22, 2013 at 7:55 pm

      @Ana Otto. Thanks, Ana! I consider that content teachers should be trained to have some ‘literacy basics’ which can help them spot language functions. This is really interesting because there are areas which are clearly linked to specific discourse and language functions. For example, Social Sciences demand for descriptions more than others; Natural Sciences rely on hypothesizing, etc. If teachers are aware of this language features of their areas, it is easier for them to give students the ‘toolbox’ they will need to develop content and cognition. I’d say that we’re using ‘grammar in action’! 🙂

    begoi said:
    October 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    CLIL should be always a joint work within the Content and the language teacher, at least in secondary levels. I don’t think it’s difficult at all to plan units together, foresee tha language needs and let the language teacher take care of the written / spoken assignments.

      teachingtoteach responded:
      October 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      @Begoi Thanks for your comment! Yes, CLIL is a good opportunity to establish cooperation among the teaching staff, and also to learn how to coordinate teaching and learning in class. I also consider that language assistants have a key role in supporting language input and output in class. Also, I see how content teachers can be in charge of some bits of language work when they feel confident enough to do it.

    Marta Braylan said:
    October 15, 2013 at 5:35 am

    I agree with you in that language focus moments are definitively needed. As a matter of fact, when you “show your students a number of stem sentences or key phrases they can use to extend their linguistic repertoire” you are actually offering scaffolds so they can communicate better. I think that we have to make a point of providing the language they NEED to express opinions, to write purposefully, to share points of view, to define, to make reports, and so forth. We must support learners always focusing on meaning.
    Scaffolding by providing language as the NEED arises should be, in my opinion, a strong point in CLIL teaching.

      teachingtoteach responded:
      October 22, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      @Marta. Absolutely! If there is a difference between CLIL and what we have been doing with English before is that English is truly communicative in the classroom. We’re not ‘forcing’ language into the class, we’re using it. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Gema said:
    March 11, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    You’re 100% right Raquel! It’s ok if you wanna have a ‘grammar moment’ in class with ur children to clear up some ideas or to focus specially on sth but not in teaching training. You cannot break a class up just for grammar as it should have been studied long time before. A uni teacher is there to teach u how to do so not to teach u grammar. absolutely right!

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