CLIL Challenge 1 Speaking

How do I get my students to speak English?

The CLIL Challenge has started! This is the first of eight mails you will receive over the course of the next weeks with challenges for you try in class.

Good luck with the first challenge!


You probably know all about it. When a student asks you a question he speaks (or tries to speak) English and when you are standing next to a group of students they speak English like they don’t know any better.

Until you walk away.

I know from firsthand experience it’s quite awkward to speak English to your friends, knowing you all speak another language (in my case Dutch). I knew, just like your students know, that I was supposed to be speaking English, and it was supposed to be good for my own development.

I just thought it was awkward.

Guess what made the feeling of awkwardness go away? Apart from exams I mean.


Speaking with friends all the time really helped. However, the necessity appeared when I experienced situations where speaking Dutch was out of the question. When students from other countries where visiting us, or when we were making conversation while being abroad ourselves . We had to speak English. Every day. All day.

This ‘immersion’ of students is the goal of the bilingual system and every CLIL teacher tries to recreate these moments in class. (Beware of the difference between emerging and CLIL though). It is by far the most challenging but also the most rewarding aspect of being a CLIL teacher.

Recently, I listened to a few senior students presenting in English. Not only did they use English fluently, they were actually developing accents which made their English even more authentic.

I was very proud!


The activities in this course can be done without a lot of preparation and require little experience with CLIL. If you have any questions however, don’t hesitate to ask me!

Obviously, the first activity of this Challenge is going to a be speaking activity. This activity can be used to introduce a new topic or revise a topic you have discussed previously.

Form groups and provide one of the members of the groups with a gapped text. The complete text is somewhere else in the room, and another person will need to find the missing words and report those to the person with the gapped text, so the missing words can be filled in.

Create a gapped text from either a new topic or one you already discussed.  You can use many websites to easily generate a gapped text. I like to use this gap generator  as it allows for some customization.

Note that you can create a more competitive activity by putting emphasis on the time it takes to finish the text. However, students will start running, so make sure they have room to do so.

Please try this activity in your class this week.

Bonus activity

For this once, let me share one more idea to make your students more aware of their use of Dutch. Provide all of your students with a piece of paper, or ask them to find a blank page in their notebooks. Tell them to write down every Dutch word they say. And I mean Every Single Word.

If your students are just starting out you could tell them to raise their hands when they want to say something and don’t know the English word, but most students will know how to say things in English.

You will be surprised of their motivation to keep talking English, especially when you promise them something if all pages are still blank at the end of the lesson.


These challenges are supposed to make you think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Also, depending on your experience and skill, the challenges can result in different solutions.

You will probably experience students talking in their native language again in the near future. Think about what you are going to say to them to motivate them to speak English. Of course, just saying: “Speak English” is not enough. What can you do to make students more motivated to talk English in your class?

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