How to Keep High Content Rigor in CLIL

Content and Language Integrated Instruction (CLIL) provides a challenge for teachers–students may be ready for certain content cognitively but not linguistically in English.

One way this is often approached is to lower the standards for content and language.

But is this really necessary? Perhaps not.

Tan Huynh offers a three step approach to addressing this challenge:

  1. Identify the thinking required (Content)
  2. Identify what ELs can do (Language)
  3. Create can-do opportunities (Content and Language Integrated)

“Instead of having ELs do a different task with a simpler content objective, give ELs a task that helps them do the thinking that the task requires.”

Read more about this process with an example here:


Improving Content and Language Integrated Tests

It is really hard to write a great test for students, but those of us who teach language through content have double the trouble.

Our task- balancing the content and language assessment in one test.

For many teachers, their tests probably either lean toward the language side or the content side. For me, I was  guilty of learning heavily toward the content side.

So how can we move toward a more balanced approach?

Johanna Leal may have a solution.

Leal conducted a study in Columbia with third grade science teachers who taught through English. She had the teachers use an assessment grid she created and tracked their test questions over a school year.

The assessment grid has the following categories for test questions:

  1. Quadrant 1: high content / low language
  2. Quadrant 2: high content / high language
  3. Quadrant 3: low content / low language
  4. Quadrant 4: low content / high language

At the beginning of the year, the teachers leaned in favor of content, much like I used to. But at the end of the year, after using the grid, their tests were more balanced.

Interested in learning more about the grid and the test making process? Check out the article here:

Do you have any test making tips? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments section!

[AsiaTEFL 2018] Attitudes Toward EMI in East Asia and the Gulf: A Systematic Review

This presentation is on a systematic review on attitudes toward English-Medium Instruction in East Asia and the Gulf by Keith M. Graham and Zohreh R. Eslami.

Presentation Slides: AsiaTEFL 2018 – EMI Attitudes – Keith Graham

Making Science Easy for ELLs

***This post is a re-post of my article on the ESL Best Practices Blog.***
If I asked you what is the hardest subject to teach to English language learners (ELLs), what would you say?
Most teachers would definitely say science!
But what makes science so difficult for ELLs? Lee and Buxton (2013) have an answer:
“ELLs frequently confront the demands of academic learning through a yet unmastered language without the instructional support they need” (pp. 37-38).
In this post, I will discuss strategies that can help address each of these difficulties.
Continue reading “Making Science Easy for ELLs”

A reminder of how our ELL students feel

This is a clip from a short film about immersion education. It shows a recent immigrant, Moisés, in an American math class.
While short, this video really hits home how our English language learners often feel in content-based classes. It is a reminder for teachers to use strategies that help support ELLs with barriers they may be having with language.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.

AAAS Project 2061

Do you teach science to middle school or high school English language learners?
If so, you probably have to create assessments from time to time.
We all know how hard making good quality assessments can be. And research suggests teachers are really bad at creating reliable tests.
Fortunately, Project 2061 is here to help.
Project 2061 is a long-term research and development initiative focused on improving science education so that all Americans can become literate in science, mathematics, and technology.
Project 2061 has a website where educators have free access to more than 600 assessment items that…

  • Are appropriate for middle and early high school students.
  • Test student understanding in the earth, life, physical sciences, and the nature of science.
  • Test for common misconceptions as well as correct ideas.

Check out their assessment website at

The Mindset Needed to Balance Language and Content

I’ve discussed in previous posts (this one in particular) that balancing language and content is one of the biggest challenges faced by teachers in a content-based language classroom.
But why?
As I read and reflect more on Content-Based Language Teaching (CBLT), I believe a lot of it has to do with mindset.
Specifically, I will share three mindsets in this post that I believe need to be resolved by a teacher before a proper balance between content and language. Continue reading “The Mindset Needed to Balance Language and Content”

What kind of Content-Based Instruction Do You Do?

As I read more and more of the literature on content-based language teaching (CBLT), I am becoming increasingly frustrated.
Why you might ask?
Because the field has done an incredibly poor job of defining what CBLT actually is.
I get it! There are many variations of CBLT around the world, but the fact that after a few decades we continue to fail to be consistent with terminology is just disheartening.
Before my teacher-readers stop reading (maybe you already have), I promise this matters a lot to you. (Really?) Really!
By clearly understanding the variations of CBLT, you can identify whether your program fits you and your students.
In this post, I will discuss three types of CBLT and which are appropriate for students and teachers.
Continue reading “What kind of Content-Based Instruction Do You Do?”

How to Write Great Content and Language Objectives

Far too many teachers ask themselves 5 minutes before class, “What am I going to teach today?”
I believe the vast majority of teachers want to be great and know they should have learning objectives.
But the truth is…writing learning objectives are hard.
Although learning objectives are usually the starting point for course reform, Wieman (2017) discovered that faculty often struggled with writing learning objectives and that beginning with teaching strategies was often an easier place to start.
Given its difficulty, it is no wonder teachers often default to “winging it” rather than writing learning objectives.
This difficulty is compounded for teachers who teach in content-based language teaching (CBLT) settings, which requires both content and language objectives.
In this post, I will demystify the writing of learning objectives step by step, giving you an easy to follow list for creating content and language objectives for your classroom. Continue reading “How to Write Great Content and Language Objectives”

The Connection Between Math and Language

This morning I was reading an article titled “How to make math a key part of your ELL curriculum.” In the article the author writes,

It also helps that numbers are numbers, and working with them is natural to speakers of any language.

It is a common assumption that math will be easier for English language learners. It’s just numbers, right?
While it seems on the surface that math would be transferable between languages because of numbers, it is actually a lot more complicated than that.
In this post, I will discuss some of the research that addresses the issue of language and math.
Continue reading “The Connection Between Math and Language”