• Anita Demitroff

Review: "How to Write CLIL Materials," ELT Teacher 2 Writer. Tremendous Insight and a Helping Hand

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

Working in CLIL can be lonely. You might be the only teacher who has a CLIL class at a school and it can be hard to reach out to your counterparts in other centres. Even in the school I work at, CLIL islands can form: with a range of subjects, age groups and approaches, it's nearly impossible to work together. With busy timetables, opportunities to collaborate as teachers on initiatives can be few and far between.

"How to Write CLIL Materials" stands out because it isn't a general introduction, nor is it a resource book with activities that we can dip into. Rather, it's a training course meant to accompany CLIL teachers as they get down to work. It's like having the author, Amanda McLoughlin, a highly respected writer and trainer who also has extensive classroom experience, sitting next to us and walking us through the process of getting ready for class. I for one was keen to see where Amanda stood on certain issues and how she covered tricky areas.

The title of the book may be misleading as it's not just for those producing materials in the publishing world. And teachers new to CLIL, as well as those who have been in the field for a long time, will find it invaluable in making us re-think what we do and how we do it.

Amanda's book is concise and easy to dip into. She's a teacher and her aims are outlined right at the start. If there are any theories explored, such as the Cs of CLIL, or BICS versus CALP, they are presented in a no-nonsense way. A useful glossary is also provided.

Amanda starts by asking us where we lie on the soft to hard CLIL continuum. Funnily enough, this crucial point often gets overlooked when programmes are being developed and it's a question that certainly doesn't get asked half-way through any CLIL programme, when, often, stakeholders are moving in different directions. Amanda addresses other thought-provoking questions, too, such as how we encourage our learners to … ask questions!

Amanda sets us tasks that explore further thinking points, such as how we can exploit an authentic text or provide scaffolding for a task. Readers don't get a slick, asynchronous online course with this resource. In fact, Amanda employs the old-fashioned written course format, and it works: we think about a task and then thumb through the book to find Amanda's view on it.

The inherent plurality of CLIL means that it is hard to pin down good practice in a way that is universally relevant. Amanda presents real material from textbooks she has co-authored, as well as other material. She covers Primary and Secondary and a variety of subjects. Perhaps the area that is least looked at is Early Primary, but then again, CLIL at this learning stage probably merits a book in itself: a major undertaking!

Arguably, assessment is the area of our work we all need help with and perhaps the one we find the most off-putting. Amanda just gets on with it with examples and explanations. Chapter 4 is dedicated to how we can produce assessment tools that allow learners to demonstrate their mastery of content without being limited by their linguistic capacity. She may not provide an extensive array of solutions, but she does encourage us to start finding solutions to common concerns. Just opening the dialogue is a feat in itself!

Amanda asks big questions that need thoughtful answers over time. Even though the course focuses on one side of the coin, the written resources we produce for our CLIL classes, as teachers or textbook writers, she also touches on the broader curricular picture. This would be an excellent text for a CLIL reading group or as the backbone for a longer course.

The question is: where can we go from here? There is an urgent need to consider delivery beyond the pointers and guidance provided by a teacher's book. How do we do practical work more effectively? How do we build competences, not just in communication but also in Science, Art and other subjects? And, as already mentioned, how do we reach Early Primary learners, who are just becoming competent readers in their L1?

One of the most exciting and unexpected outcomes of the synergy produced in CLIL is that practitioners, academics and publishers from different world areas are coming together. This provides us with an excellent opportunity to reconsider how we teach the subjects themselves. We also need to think in cross-curricular terms as the dividing lines between subjects, in the Pre-Primary curriculum certainly and perhaps across the board, should be blurry.

To complement the English Language publisher-based materials dealing with CLIL, we also need a steady diet of subject specialist educational materials and training. In this respect, we really need to turn to the ASE or Exploratorium, to Access Art or the Sally Featherstone Foundation, for courses, chat room debates and downloadable material. And, as Amanda shows, we need good, old-fashioned books to know we are not alone.

Comments from other CLIL professionals about how "How to Write CLIL Materials" can appeal to a wide audience, include:

“Amanda's super-concise book packs a lot of punch in its 83 pages, and despite the potential limits imposed by the title, actually goes far beyond the practicalities of how to write CLIL materials. That is because her no-nonsense approach demonstrates the intimate connection between materials and educational beliefs implicitly, sparing us from the lengthy abstract analysis favoured by some - of why and how CLIL can save your pedagogic life. This book is deliberately aimed at teachers (both subject and language) who simply do not have the time to wade through 300 pages of complex advice. Like the children and circumstances it supports, CLIL can also be difficult, and so Amanda maps out the basics quickly and efficiently - BICS/CALP, scaffolding, input-output, language risk in assessment, how to write a CLIL objective - providing examples and visuals and then concluding by reminding us of the importance of context as a framework for overall decision-making. Excellent stuff, and it's a snip at the price too.” Phil Ball, academic and materials writer.

“… this book offers guidelines for working on CLIL in my class and I am sure I will use it soon.”

Cris Gonzalez, CLIL Master's student (Jaén University) and starting her teaching career.

“… easy to digest and theory only included where clear practical applications are drawn from it … It’s nice to see a generous section on scaffolding … I think she has done a great job getting so many important CLIL factors and issues into such a short space.” Will Varney, teacher trainer and practitioner and member of the You First Education Team.

By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.