We got in touch with our CLIL ‘Agony Aunts’ Jane Cadwallader and Alison Blair, who are experts in CLIL and ELT and have plenty of teaching experience, to offer advice on how you can make the most of the time spent with your students. 

I would like to carry out the projects and group work proposals in class, but have 25 students per group on average. Beyond this, it’s a varied group, both in terms of ability (mixed levels of English) and personality (some very loud, some very shy). How can I encourage productive group work?

AA Ali: There are many ways you can encourage children to work at appropriate volumes in class. One that I have found to be particularly effective is making a “Noisometer” to put up in the classroom. This is a tool for measuring the correct noise level for different activities, and is a great way to start training children to use appropriate levels from day one.

When trying to cater to groups of mixed abilities, it is best to keep groups small and try to equalise participation by assigning everyone a role. For example, there could be a group leader who invites people to speak, one or two secretaries and one or two spokespeople.

Another way of ensuring all students participate is to divide up the work. For example, when carrying out the activity on weather forecasts with Year 4 in Social Sciences, you could arrange the group as follows: one child cuts out, sticks the map on card and labels the cities, one or two children use the Internet or a newspaper to complete the template with the day’s forecasted weather and one or two children design weather symbols. Half the group then copy the symbols onto the map, while the others prepare the presentation.

I like the idea of incorporating stories into my students’ learning, but I’m not sure how to do so. What is the best way to use the story that is included with the class book? In class? At home?

AA Jane: Stories are great in the bilingual science class because they can provide a motivating way into a topic or scientific concept, but sometimes, perhaps because they are part of a science topic rather than in a general ELT course unit, we can be unsure of the right approach. I suggest you do what you always do: ask yourself “What can I do before, during and after the children read the story?”

To show you how you can do this in your class, here is an example with the Think Do Learn Year 1 story about a mouse, Coco, who wants to catch a star.

Look at the first two pages of the story with the children in class to pre-teach some vocabulary (star, catch) and set up the story.

Ask the children to read the story at home and draw the different things Coco uses to try to catch a star. To extend the activity, you could ask them to invent other ideas, too.

In the next class go over the students’ ideas and then look at the last page of the story. Follow this up and link it to the topic of the unit by asking the students what else they can see in the sky.

I would really like to do some
experiments with my students, but I don’t feel confident about carrying them out in class, and I don’t have enough time to do all of the experiments provided in my textbook. How can I successfully incorporate them into my lessons?  

AA Ali: Having a whole class doing an experiment in groups can be quite daunting, especially if it involves equipment and materials. One way of carrying out an experiment whilst still keeping control of the class is to do the experiment as a demonstration. In order for this to be effective however, it is important to seat the children so that they are all near enough to see what you are doing. The benefits of this approach are that you only need one of each thing, and you can ensure that the experiment is done properly so that the students are clear about the procedure and the outcome.

Another possibility with Think Do Learn is to watch the video of Matthew our very own, and very popular, junior scientist doing the experiments in a lively way. As most of the experiments use materials easily found in a home, children can be encouraged to do them themselves later – with the approval of their parents, of course!

When doing work in pairs in class I can’t get my students to speak continuously in English to each other. Do you have any suggestions for how to encourage them to do the activity entirely (or mostly) in English?  

AA Ali: In order to encourage students to carry out a task in English, it is very important that we first make sure that they know the terminology they will need to do the activity before they begin. To do this, teachers must help them to anticipate what the students are going to say in the activity. A good way of reinforcing the words they will need, and checking that they have understood and internalised them, is to practise it together as a class before putting the children into pairs to begin the activity.

For lower levels, it is best to stick to activities in pairs that follow a repeated pattern and reserve freer activities in pairs for older children who are more fluent.

“Odd One Out” activities are good to get students thinking, and can be easily tailored to different subjects and abilities, but students need to be familiar with the pattern before they begin. Here is an example of this kind of activity, and the steps that will help you to carry it out successfully in class:

  1. Begin by writing on the board to focus the students’ attention (see below).
  2. Do a few examples on the board together as a class:
    g. Cheese is the odd one out because it isn’t a vegetable.
  3. Teach some useful phrases such as You start, It’s my turn, I think…, What do you think?. To offer additional support, you could write these phrases on the board.
  4. Set the children working in pairs on the activity on the board.

Another good way of encouraging consistent use of English in lesson time is by responding positively to children who use English. Name and congratulate children who complete tasks in English and perhaps even award them a special privilege. Remember, the whole class will notice the positive feedback!

Many of my students get very nervous and anxious about exams. How can I help prepare them for end-of-term or end-of-year exams?

AA Jane: Above all I think we need to change children’s attitudes to exams. They often become anxious because they see the results as a confirmation that are “good at” or “not good at” a subject. We need to help them rethink this so they believe that their ability is not fixed but dependent on persistence and determination. In other words, they are “in between” where they were and where they want to be. A child’s response to a good result should be “I need to challenge myself more” and to a bad result “I’m not there yet, but I will make it if I put in enough hard work”.

Evaluation through the year should be as much, if not more, about effort as about results. Activities that require students to think about something or do something are the activities that will help you assess how much effort they are putting into learning. An example of this type of activity could be to ask your students to make a list of the machines in the classroom, and then decide whether they are simple or complex.

In order to reinforce this mentality, it is important that we as teachers shift the focus of our praise from “Good! You got it right!” to “Good! You really tried hard.” or “Well done, I can see you used good strategies!” If we do this, students will internalise the importance of effort and become less anxious about exams, and we will be preparing them in a deeper way for exams and for learning itself.

We also took the opportunity to ask our in-house experts: How do you make a new version of a project that people love and that has been very successful? “Simple,” they said, “You ask the teachers what they would like …”

“At the beginning of every unit I like to talk about what we are going to study, to check what my students already know and get them interested in the topic. Can you help me do that?”

New Think Do Learn has a colourful open double page that shows the students the objectives for the unit, what the experiment is and includes some interesting images to stimulate curiosity and check their prior knowledge.

“I know we need to do the experiments, but I need more help!”

The experiments in New Think Do Learn contain more step-by-step instructions to help everyone.

“I would love to help my students learn to look for information, but I skip a lot of the Find Out activities because we have no access to the resources we would need to do this in class.”

We have introduced a double page of magazine-like information presented in various formats, with all the information the students need to complete the unit’s Find Out activities.

“I use OUP materials to teach English. I would like to see some sort of connection to them in my content books.”

New Think Do Learn has reinforced the link between the type of activities done in the English class and the Science classroom. This is reflected by the common activity icons.

“Since the projects and experiments are always at the end of the unit, sometimes I run out of time and have to skip them.”

We have now integrated experiments and stories into the related content, so these activities can be done when the specific content is taught. The Groupwork is an option for teachers to use whenever they can.

We hope our experts have helped you to resolve any problems you have in class. If you want to know more about the world of Think Do Learn, visit our brand new website: www.oxfordclil.es.