CLIL Challenge 4 Activating

How can I activate my students while keeping focus on the subject?


When asked for their biggest challenges, most teachers do not mention activating students. Apparently, this is somehow considered to be an ‘easy to do’ part of a lesson. And maybe it is.

However, when those same teachers are asked what made their lessons CLIL, they mention they actually wanted to do more activities that energize their students.

I think the reason teachers avoid the challenge of activating students is because they are afraid the majority of the precious time in a lesson will be used for activities that are ‘fun’ instead of ‘useful’.

I disagree.

Yes, some activities focus primarily on being a fun way of working with language.

Yes, some activities are better used at moments when you need to fill time and want to do something fun.

No, not all activities fall in these two categories.

With this in mind, I would like to share two activities I frequently use that serve both purposes: activating my students and teaching subject matter.

The term ‘activating’ can be used in a lot of different ways. Activating prior knowledge is a common example, as well as energizing kids and making them move around as a way to focus their energy. I will provide an example of both of these activities.

Activity 1: Stand-up game

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!

I use this activity at the start of a lesson, but it can also  be used at the end of a lesson or even somewhere in the middle. The reason I start with this activity is because it helps the students focus on the subject and get into the right mind set

When I introduce this game to my students, I tell them the rules:

  • Everyone must stand up.
  • Copy the assignment from the blackboard and write down your answer in your notebook.
  • I will ask someone for the answer. Even if you are seated, you can still be asked for the answer so you still have to compete.
  • If your answer is wrong, you sit down. If you are right, you keep standing up.

This activity works best with short activities that have rather straight forward answers. In my case, as a Math teacher, simple equations or calculations are very useful. If you teach a (foreign) language, you could use the vocabulary the pupils had to study as part of their homework.

This activity works in all of my classes and students regularly ask if they can do the stand-up game. Whenever I start a lesson by saying “Please stand up” they immediately find a paper and pen to get ready for the game as they know what’s going to happen.

It could have something to do with the fact that the winner earns candy, who knows…

Activity 2: What questions can be asked?

This activity asks for a little bit more creativity from the student, but also requires a little but more prep time for the teacher. It’s worth it though.

When I want to check for understanding or want to see which students are capable of higher level assignments, I give them part of an assignment (a picture, an equation, some numbers) and ask students to think of questions that can be asked using this information. In my case, I recently provided my 15-year-old students with a right angled triangle and asked for possible questions. The answers provided included Pythagoras’ Theorem; calculate the gradient and calculations with tangent.

This can also be applied to subjects like history. Provide source material and ask students to think of questions that can be applied to this piece of information.

As a follow-up, I ask students to create assignments themselves and ask their partners to solve these questions. To be able to check the answers, students will have to answer their own question as well (making sure students don’t create impossible assignments as a joke).

Another way to motivate students to create assignments like this is ask for them to create assignments about a particular part of the chapter and mention you will ask one of these questions at the test.


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.

I provided two activities that activate prior knowledge. What other activities can you think of to check prior knowledge and get your students to engage your subject? To add to this challenge: how do you make sure you both activate prior knowledge related to your subject and make sure your students are engaged with the target language?

Good luck this week!

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