CLIL Challenge 3 Balance

How do I balance being both a language and a subject teacher?

Another week, another challenge!


I teach mathematics. In English.

Does that make me a language teacher?

Yes it does.

In a CLIL lesson, a teacher should focus on both the language and the subject.

The keyword is ‘should’. Even experienced CLIL teachers sometimes have trouble finding the balance between these two key aspects of a lesson.

Some subjects, like history, are slightly easier to incorporate into a language exercise, but other subjects, maths for example, are more difficult harder. Also, you have to finish the curriculum, so spending precious time on ‘extra’ language exercises takes away from time spend on the subject.

I recognise this. And I still struggle with it every now and then. Allow me to provide a couple of examples that might help you to integrate language in your lesson.

First of all, if you have a teacher-focused lesson, introducing language based activities is a bit more of challenge. However, even in these situations short activities can help to develop both language and subject material.

Activities like “Write down in your own words what I just explained. You have 2 minutes to do so, after which you have to discuss this with your partner and find the similarities and differences in your texts” can be done rather quickly and help the understanding of both aspects. If students are capable of explaining what you just said, they will certainly understand it better.

In case you have a more student-focused lesson, allowing for more student engagement, language activities are easier as students are already working together.

You could ask students to write down words they don’t know while they discuss the exercises, so you can do a recap at the end of the lesson.

There are a lot of activities available, if you want to combine your subject and language. I will explain two of these activities in this CLIL challenge more thoroughly. It is up to you which one you want to implement this week.


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!

Ask students to write down the all the letters of the alphabet in their workbook. Give them a couple of minutes (not more than 2) to come up with as many different words they can come up with. You can ask them to focus on your subject or even a specific chapter. After they complete their lists, you can ask them to explain certain key terms. To make this activity slightly more difficult, you might do a follow-up asking students to write a summary using the key terms discussed. This way they have to think about the content and are actively using language.

Bonus Activity

This activity can be used to see what kind of words your students typically use to describe certain content and will force them to think of alternatives.

In each group ask for one volunteer. The others need to close their eyes as you write down both the taboo word and four descriptive words. The volunteers are not allowed to use these words as they try to explain the taboo word to their group. After the activity is over, ask the other group members how the taboo word was explained. This will help you to realise what level your students are.

For example, I asked my students to explain the word “Cuboid” to their group members without using the words “3-D”, “Shape”, “Four” and “Edges”. The group that raised their hands first won, and told me the volunteer explained it using the words ‘Dice’ and ‘Longer sides’. As this was a first grade, having just finished their first chapter of Mathematics in a second language, I was very proud.


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.

When reflecting on one of your lessons this week, determine what the ratio subject/language was in your lesson. You might find you spend most of your time on the subject, which is not wrong. As long as you spent some time on language as well every now and then.

The activities I just mentioned can be done every now and then, not every lesson. However, asking students to read a text or explain something to others is already a great way of focusing on language as well. You don’t need to think of a lot of activities to make your students engage both topics.

Still having problems? Let me know, I might just be able to help!

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