EAL Science and CLILing it

I’m supporting in some really interesting classes this term, especially Science. The subject knowledge of those Science teachers is pretty impressive, especially once you get to KS4.

The need for language support in our class tends to be high. The way we’ve been teaching this year has in my view been pretty much CLIL. Roll vignette…

It’s co-teaching/team teaching – the subject teacher does the main input, we cover key vocab together on first input, we work together to clarify concepts. During either an input phase or during a task, I help learners access the content, and raise awareness (to both subject teacher and learners) of process language needs/gaps/etc. There’s a lot of collaboration between all parties, translanguaging on occasions too, as you might expect.

There’s some active language upgrading/upskilling between teachers and learners, learners together (a bit) AND teacher-to-teacher in the moment too. Some content questions will inevitably come up that I can’t answer. In that case, we come back from our breakout rooms to get input from the subject teacher (who teaches ALL of us!), I process what’s been said, perhaps think on the spot how I might need to grade the explanation, then we might go back to breakouts with some learners for a bit of clarification.

Given our EAL learners are from varied backgrounds with different learning experiences, levels and so on it can be hard to predict what support they’ll need. Sometimes, it’s a case of…

*Blerdunk* (That’s someone entering my Google Meets)

Learner: Mr Pete, I don’t understand.

Mr Pete: Okay, which bit?

Learner: All of it – relative formula mass, moles, I’m just… I’m confused

Mr Pete: Don’t worry, I had no idea what they were until a few weeks ago – let’s go over it.

Or it could be a…

Learner: Mr Pete what’s the difference between atomic number and mass number?

Mr Pete: You remember that in a nucleus there are protons and…

Learner: AAAAAH wait I remember! Atomic number is the proton number?

Mr Pete: Tell me more. What do you mean by ‘proton number’?

Learner: The number of protons

Mr Pete: In the…

Learner: [Goes off on one to prove they get it]

Or sometimes you get a whole group come to you after input (KS3 this time) and you’re like:

Mr Pete: Okay, you’re all scratching your heads…!

Learners: …

Mr Pete: Let me draw you a crap diagram on Paint and we can talk it through again:


(This might end up being quickly pasted into Jamboard for them to label stuff or to write a description or something)

Time spent as a whole class, while ultimately led by the subject teacher, is a shared venture. There might be micro-teaches on the language front, such as clearing up misconceptions or whole-class input on some useful language that came up in a breakout room. There’s occasionally a kinda ‘novice-expert’ dialogue between me and subject teacher which acts as a way to help content questions arise without some lower-level language learners feeling anxious about asking.

During subject teacher talking time, provided I’m familiar with the content being taught and don’t have to listen (i.e. it was planned not emergent) I’m busy playing catchup on all the other emergent language that’s come up. I’m making a Quizlet, maybe a quick Wordwall, something that effectively becomes a plenary/review if we can get it done in time (or it’s one for Google Classroom after). Post-lesson, me and the subject teacher (along with a LS specialist who has been doing much the same as me but perhaps more on the concepts front) have a brief natter. We highlight gaps, talk about what we should go over again, etc, the usual. That, coupled with feedback from some useful post-task like a Socrative task, shape our planning.

Planning-wise, yes it’s important that planning is shared. More important though, to us, are the on-the-run decisions during the lesson and the kinda responsive teaching side of things, as the needs are immediate and evident in that space.

I guess this sounds familiar/standard to most teachers in bilingual ed contexts, or indeed other international schools with high EAL needs (crap Paint squiggles aside, haha!). However, I’ve learnt a lot from this context that I think has really moved my definition of CLIL on a bit, or honed it a tad. In my more general ELT context and as writer I feel like this term ‘CLIL’ can be misunderstood, maybe misused, maybe simplified. By me included – sometimes consciously…

 ‘CLIL resources’

I’ve come across resources from publishers that are described as CLIL, but in reality they are basically:

A reading lesson on a text that happens to be about Science. It has no direct relation any core curriculum input, is quite general, and is also graded to such an extent that potential higher tier language that may be cross-curricular is lost. So that’s not really CLIL.

I’ve written stuff like that too – the ELT teacher is (maybe/likely/probably) a non-specialist so I guess I compensate for their lack of expertise! Haha.

The shared venture of CLIL

A non-specialist content wise (like me) can’t teach CLIL alone. A subject specialist (without language teaching experience) would also have difficulty applying a CLIL approach alone. Collaboration, upskilling and teacher co-development is integral to the approach. Down the line, I think the subject teachers I work with could fly the flag themselves, but I can be a catalyst for that by developing their understanding of effective language teaching and how best to integrate EAL support. However, in general ELT I’ve come across so many articles and resources and webinars and blah blah that actually gloss over, ignore or perhaps just forget at times that CLIL is for the most part a co-teaching venture.

Anyway, random reflection there. Any thoughts on CLIL? Similar/Different experiences or takes on it?

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

Categories: General, reflections

Tags: , , , , ,

4 replies


  1. Some regular EAL activities – ELT Planning
  2. Year in review – ELT Planning
  3. Reflections on my EAL role – ELT Planning
  4. Primary Science Resources – ELT Planning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: