In this post, Henning Rossa and Karoline Wirbatz follow up on some of the questions that participants asked during their recent webinar, What about creating CLIL materials? You can watch a recording of their webinar here. In their answers, Henning and Karoline discuss the focus of CLIL assessment in Germany, adapting authentic materials using the ‘4S’ approach, and the teaching strategies that are most relevant for the CLIL classroom.
Do you think CLIL is more effective for L2 development than teaching ‘only’ language?
The empirical evidence is inconclusive: learners in CLIL streams outperform learners in traditional language education on a number of measures of language ability, e.g. those relating to receptive language skills, but a ‘creaming’ effect can be observed, which means that more academically oriented learners are selected at the beginning of CLIL instruction (Rumlich, 2017). Theoretically, CLIL can, with some validity, be conceptualised as an optimised version of communicative language teaching. If the ‘integrated’ aspect of CLIL can be operationalised successfully, it is feasible that CLIL can overcome the shortcomings of both traditional, i.e. grammar-oriented, syllabi and immersive approaches to bilingual education.
Are CLIL context students in Germany assessed on their English language in their subject classes? Or are they just assessed on their knowledge of the subject? How is this assessment choice justified?
In the German version of CLIL, content subjects are typically taught in/through an L2, but learning objectives are defined by the curricula for the respective content subject. This explains why assessment focuses mainly on content-related knowledge and competencies. Currently a significant number of (local and state-wide) German CLIL programmes are being adapted towards a stronger integration of content and language learning as proposed by the European concept of CLIL, which, I assume, will eventually also show in changing assessment practices.
What are good sources of ‘authentic’ texts to adapt for CLIL – school coursebooks used in that subject in UK/USA, for example?
You can use any text for CLIL including ‘authentic’ texts such as American or British school coursebooks. However, you might want to adapt them for your students by using the ‘4S’ approach proposed by Tanner (2013). The question of the extent to which school coursebooks can be considered authentic is debatable, though.
What ‘strategies’ are particularly thought of as being important for teaching/learning (cf. Brophy 2000)? Are these different in CLIL contexts and in ‘normal’ EFL/ESL teaching?
Different strategies may be more relevant for either CLIL or traditional EFL/ESL teaching, depending on the extent to which the programme is designed to focus on meaningful content. Typically, learners in CLIL classrooms will experience the linguistic dimension of their content learning as challenging, so strategies as described in the following extract from Brophy (2000: p. 25) would be helpful:
‘[…] readers, for example, can be taught reading comprehension strategies such as keeping the purpose of an assignment in mind when reading; activating relevant background knowledge; identifying major points in attending to the outline and flow of content; monitoring understanding by generating and trying to answer questions about the content; or drawing and testing inferences by making interpretations, predictions and conclusions. Instruction should include not only demonstrations of and opportunities to apply the skill itself but also explanations of the purpose of the skill (what it does for the learner) and the occasions on which it would be used.”
Can you summarise the 4Ss of CLIL again for readers and explain the origins of the term?
Shorten – Simplify – Supplement – Shape
- shorten the text, i.e. remove the information that the learners do not need in order to understand the main ideas
- one idea per paragraph and one piece of information per sentence
- use simple and commonly used verb tenses, i.e. present, past simple and future simple
- the text should not contain more than 15 new words per page, i.e. roughly 90% of the words should already been known by the learners
- use multimodal input, i.e. pictures, charts, graphs, and videos
- provide examples
- provide pre-reading, while-reading, and post-reading tasks
- if necessary, pre-teach language and/or provide a glossary
- use a clear layout
Brophy, J. (2000). Teaching. UNESCO/IBE, available online:
Rumlich, D. (2017). CLIL theory and empirical reality – Two sides of the same coin? Journal of immersion and content-based language education, 5(1), 110–134.
Tanner, R. (2013). The 4Ss of CLIL. CLIL Magazine. Fall 2013, 6–7.Prof. Dr Henning Rossa
Prof. Dr Henning Rossa is currently professor of foreign language education (TEFL) at the University of Trier and has previously taught at the University of Paderborn and TU Dortmund University, where he coordinated a study programme which prepared teachers of content subjects for CLIL instruction. His research interests include language assessment, L2 classroom research and teacher cognition research.
Dr Karoline Wirbatz joined the English department of the University of Trier in April 2017 and has previously taught at the universities of Dortmund, Paderborn and Western Sydney. She has studied at the University of Western Sydney, where she obtained her PhD in 2014. Her PhD thesis investigated the developmental path of German first language children focusing on the order of elements in speech and what is signaled by the ordering of constituents. Her main research interests are first, second & third language acquisition, bilingual education, and classroom SLA.