CLIL Challenge 5 Introducing a topic

How can I introduce a new topic with limited vocab?

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” 

Benjamin Franklin


Every teacher introduces new concepts on a regular basis. Explaining new words to students is a necessary and important aspect of being a CLIL teacher, as you have to teach both language and content.

In my experience, introducing a new topic, concept or phrase is not very hard. That is, when you teach experienced students who know the drill.

Introducing concepts to students who have just started with bilingual education, or have a limited vocab for your subject: That’s the type of challenge every teacher experiences at least once every few lessons.

Take a moment to think about how you introduce a new topic. Do you just tell your students? Do you translate new words? How do you help them to remember the new phrases?

This week I want to focus on this specific challenge. I know  teachers don’t all experience this at the same level, but I have heard multiple colleagues discuss this topic. They mention that quite often they translate the words, even when the words is not new. As you may know by now, that is not the CLIL way.


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!

When you introduce a new topic, you can use a variety of different methods to help students understand the new ideas. Showing pictures, reading descriptions or even showing movies are all examples of this. However, these methods all require prep time.

Next time you start a new paragraph or chapter, ask students to make a list of all the words from the topic of the unit they do not understand. After they have done this, you can discuss a couple of these words already, asking other students if anyone knows the words. If no one knows it, you leave it open. Keep yourself from providing the answers!

As you progress, ask your students to write down the descriptions of the words they wrote down. When you have finished a chapter, you can refer back to the word list and ask students to complete it.

In my first grade, I used the descriptions my students wrote to create a crossword of the chapter, which the students had to do in class. This way, they revised all the new concepts of the chapter and realise they can contribute to the lesson!

Another quick way to introduce a new topic, or multiple new topics, in the next lesson is by asking your students to do a little research and create their own descriptions of the words before they enter the lesson. Allow them to bring short pieces of texts, pictures, cartoons etc. This way, I started my math class last year. I collected all the materials and placed them on my blackboard, creating a collage of everything related to maths.


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.

Next time you have to introduce a new topic, think about how you are going to introduce it. Questions that might help could be:

  • What words do students already know related to this topic?
  • What might be their prior knowledge related to this topic?
  • What level of English will I use when I explain this topic?
  • Are students capable of figuring out (a part of) the topic themselves?
  • What common mistakes do students make when this topic is discussed?

These questions will help you realise the level of your students and the challenges you might encounter.

Prepare your next topic in a student-focused way. Do not allow yourself to explain anything concerning the topic, so think of ways for the students to figure out things for themselves. You are allowed to scaffold their learning, by showing them how to find information.

This can be challenging and might not always work, but I hope you realise teachers tend to do a lot of work, like explaining a new topic, when you can make your students do most of the work themselves. Students actually remember things a lot better when they have figured it out themselves instead of to you telling them!

Good luck this week!

Sign up to get [amazing benefit]!