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Implementing CLIL Snapshot Series: Teaching Mathematics through CLIL

Implementing CLIL: Teacher snapshots from around the world

The papers in this series are drawn from coursework completed by Deakin students in a unit on CLIL pedagogy in 2019. The students’ diverse views and educational and teaching backgrounds led to vibrant discussion around the practicalities of implementing CLIL in different contexts. The content of the students’ papers was too good to keep to ourselves, so we’d like to share them with you to keep the CLIL discussion going.

CLIL: The 60-second summary

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is derived from the bilingual immersion programs practised in Canada, where students learn about 50 per cent of the curriculum in the target language. In 2004, the EU recognised that CLIL could boost their ‘one plus two’ strategy, which encourages people to be proficient in three languages: their national language plus two other EU languages.

However, immersive teaching focuses on content while learning through the medium of another language, whereas CLIL focuses on learning language and content at the same time. So, for example, a student in Australia might be doing a mathematics class in Italian, with a simultaneous focus on mathematics and Italian.

The key theory behind CLIL is that learning is based on a gradual and active construction of knowledge and skills—and if

new knowledge is constructed through the target language it boosts the acquisition of both language and content, as each reinforces the other. CLIL has four key building blocks, known as the 4Cs:

Content: the subject or domain, e.g. maths, ICT, Spanish.

Communication: the language used to ‘create and communicate meaning about the knowledge, concepts and skills being learned’ (Coyle 2006).

Cognition: the ways we think and make sense of the world around us by remembering, evaluating, understanding, etc.

Culture: the ways that we interact and engage (adapted from Cross, 2014).

While CLIL has become an increasingly popular pedagogy in Australia, especially in the curriculum domain of Languages, much of the thinking and teaching behind it is based on Anglophone CLIL literature. So how does CLIL transfer to different educational settings? How do practitioners in contexts other than Europe implement CLIL programs? How do teachers adjust CLIL pedagogy to suit their own classrooms?

To find out, we are showcasing student reflections on the feasibility and value of CLIL in non-Anglophone contexts. In this instalment, Vesaras Suwanyothin investigates using CLIL methods to teach mathematics in Thailand.

Teaching mathematics through CLIL

by Vesaras Suwanyothin

Context: Using Thai to teach English

The majority of Thai schools still use Thai language in English classes—especially public schools, where Thai is used in English classes about 95 per cent of the time (Global English School, n.d.). Some schools use Thai for teaching English grammar classes, and use English for English comprehension classes (conversation and listening).

Vacharaskunee (2000) found that Thai language tends to be used to teach English grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing for exam preparations—for example, Ordinary National Educational Test (O-NET) and university admission exams—upon which the Thai education system puts great emphasis. Yavuz (2012) agreed with Vacharaskunee’s findings. Such use of the dominant language helps students to comprehend target language content (Lin, 2015). Moreover, Thais rarely have opportunities to communicate with foreigners in English, and this lack of English proficiency is one reason teachers use Thai in English classes (Vacharaskunee, 2000; Thadphoothon, 2017). Also, students’ low English ability levels and the large student numbers in a class force Thai English teachers to conduct English/target language classes in Thai (Vacharaskunee, 2000; Yavuz, 2012).

Using a dominant language in teaching a target language has both drawbacks and benefits. Lin (2015) exposed negative attitudes towards using the dominant language in English classes, as dominant language instruction had often been used as a tool for traditional teaching using the grammar-translation method—and such associations still persist.

However, Lin (2015) also found that the use of the dominant language can help students at beginning and intermediate levels to acquire the target language more easily, provided teachers strike the right balance between their use of dominant and target languages.

The choice of using the dominant language or the target language to teach a language depends on what students need to achieve. The use of Thai for teaching English in Thailand is likely to be significant for teaching target language grammar, because the Thai educational system focuses mostly on grammatical features, such as the O-NET test (OECD & UNESCO, 2016). However, the majority of Thai English teachers think that using English beyond the level required to pass the O-NET test can enrich students’ proficiency in the target language (Vacharaskunee, 2000).

Example of practice: CLIL and Thai bilingual education

The CLIL approach was first implemented in Thailand in 2006 (MacKenzie, cited in Suwannoppharat & Chinokul, 2015), but even though it has been in use for over a decade it is not well known (Suwannoppharat & Chinokul, 2015).

Because of the increase in demand for English proficiency in Thailand, there has been growth in bilingual education in Thailand (Prasongporn, 2009). Bilingual programs give the Thai language and the English language equal status, which is one of the key principles of CLIL (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016). Classrooms in Thai bilingual programs are conducted in English roughly between 40 and 100 per cent of the time, depending on the school, but students are exposed to English about 20 per cent of the time beginning in Year 1 (Global English School, n.d.).

Thai bilingual programs contain three successful characteristics of CLIL programs in Europe, as identified by Naves (cited in Turner, 2013), as they:

• maintain and respect first language and culture

• use CLIL for an extended period of time

• are taught by qualified bilingual teachers.

However, despite this success, there are some characteristics of successful CLIL programs that Thai bilingual education lacks, including:

• CLIL learning materials

• CLIL experts who are able to properly implement the method

• native English speakers

• sufficient parental support (Suwannoppharat & Chinokul, 2015).

In conclusion, Thai bilingual programs are not ready to adopt CLIL programs, and it may take a long time before CLIL is suited to a Thai context.

Critique: Failure of the CLIL ‘experiment’

The Thai labour market has a high demand for English ability. In 2006, the Thai Ministry of Education made a great effort to develop Thai students’ English skills, and worked with the British Council to implement the first CLIL project (MacKenzie, cited in Suwannoppharat & Chinokul, 2015). That project showed that CLIL helped students to improve their English skills and to have positive perspectives towards learning English (Suwannoppharat & Chinokul, 2015; Chansri & Wasanasomsithi, 2016).

However, the project also found disadvantages with the CLIL method. Among the research that I found regarding CLIL implementation in Thailand, there is little mention of attention paid to content. It is possible that CLIL educators had misconceptions about CLIL because it was used only for improving English skills, while the content was overlooked. This hypothesis is supported by the study of Kewara and Prabjandee (2018). According to Suwannoppharat and Chinokul (2015), there are only a few CLIL experts in Thailand, and CLIL seminars are seldom held. This is an issue that needs to be addressed before CLIL can be applied in classrooms. I strongly suggest that CLIL teachers should be educated on the processes of using CLIL properly before actually attempting to use it.

Teaching content in English is tough work for native Thai-speaking teachers. Teaching is a low-salaried career in Thailand, so Thais who have high English competence are more likely to have higher-salaried jobs than being teachers (Suwannoppharat & Chinokul, 2015). This means that the use of CLIL is quite challenging for Thai teachers, as they need to be professional in the fields of both content and English language—even though they rarely have opportunities to use English in their daily lives.

To conclude, teachers are the most essential factor affecting success with CLIL. In Thailand, CLIL could only be effective if the Thai educational system were better prepared to deal with its implementation.

Outlook: Using a CLIL approach to teach mathematics

English is considered as a first foreign language and also the medium of instruction (MOI) in bilingual schools in Thailand (Phongploenpis, 2016), which means that in the future when I teach mathematics, I will be teaching in English.

Mathematics is often viewed as a subject that relates to numbers only, so many people think that CLIL methods would be difficult to apply because they focus on both content and language. Actually, math is not only about numbers. Hom (2013) stated that ‘mathematics is the science that deals with the logic of shape, quantity and arrangement’. Mathematics requires logical thinking for solving diverse problems.

In my opinion, logical thinking and thinking processes are the features that make mathematics a good fit for CLIL. Mathematics exercises learners’ thinking processes, as an answer can often come from a variety of methods.

The 4Cs of CLIL can be easily integrated into mathematics lessons, especially cognition (Coyle et al., 2010). For example:

• Content: the mathematics topic to be taught, e.g. length, measurement, fractions, probability.

• Communication: the mathematical terms to be used, e.g. plus, minus, multiplied by, divided by, etc. My sample lesson uses the language of comparison (longer, shorter); suitability of measuring tool (can/cannot); and selection of appropriate measuring tool (should/should not)

• Cognition: identifying and reasoning.

• Culture: different ways of thinking or performing that result from learners’ culture (Cambridge ESOL, 2010), e.g. thinking in different ways; using hand gestures to represent numbers; using symbols differently (Cambridge ESOL, 2010).

CLIL in practice

To provide a concrete example of how CLIL could work in Thailand, this is how I would structure a mathematics lesson for Year 2 students. This mathematics lesson explores measuring length, and could be taught using CLIL methods. This lesson will teach students about choosing appropriate measuring instruments, such as rulers, tape rules, tape measures, and so on.

I would group students in small groups, then give assorted measuring instruments to each group. Students will use these measuring instruments to measure the height and length of various objects in the class, such as the height of a desk, the waist of a friend, the length of a notebook, etc.

This hands-on learning promotes a student-centred approach and allows students to build knowledge by themselves. Students will find out which measuring instruments are appropriate for measuring the length or height of which objects, and learn how to use each measuring instrument. All students will interact with the teacher and their classmates. In this way, students will receive English-language communication in a real situation and, while they are involved in a practical activity, they will be acquiring new language skills without even being aware of it.

Another important aspect of CLIL is giving explicit corrective feedback, which is an effective approach for students at beginner level in the target language (Albalawi, 2018).

I will give two examples of effective corrective feedback that could be used in a mathematics lesson on shapes, taught in English using CLIL methodology. The first is a recast, which is an implicit correction when a teacher reforms a student’s words. For example, if a student says, ‘It is a triangel’, the teacher re-forms the student’s sentence to ‘It is a triangle’.

The second example is a clarification request, which draws attention to using appropriate words. For instance, if a student says, ‘A rectangle has three angles’, the teacher makes a clarification request: ‘Rectangle or triangle?’ This strategy leads the student to notice a mistake and prompts them to give an alternative answer: ‘A triangle has three angles.’ There are several ways to correct language mistakes effectively depending on which corrective feedback method is chosen.

To summarise, the thinking skills and processes involved in learning mathematics are important guiding principles for lesson planning using the CLIL approach, as mathematics and CLIL make an obvious pairing to me.


Albalawi, A. (2018). The effectiveness of corrective feedback. WEASOL, 36–40. 2018_Albalawi-Effectiveness-of-Corrective-Feedback.pdf

Cambridge ESOL. (2010). Teaching maths through English: A CLIL approach [PDF]. University of Cambridge. allegatiparagrafo/21-01-2014/teaching_maths_through_clil.pdf

Chansri, C., & Wasanasomsithi, P. (2016). Implementing CLIL in higher education in Thailand: The extent to which CLIL improves agricultural students’ writing ability, agricultural content, and cultural knowledge. PASAA: Journal of Language Teaching and Learning, 51, 15–38. EJ1112239.pdf

Coyle, D. (2006). Content and language integrated learning. Motivating learners and teachers. Scottish Language Review, 13, 1–18.

Coyle, D., Hood, P., & Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL: Content and language integrated learning. Cambridge University Press.

Cross, R. (2014). Defining content and language integrated learning for language education in Australia. Babel, 49(2), 4–15.

Genesee, F., & Hamayan, E. V. (2016). CLIL in context: Practical guidance for educators. Cambridge University Press.

Global English School. (n.d.). What’s included in a bilingual education curriculum in Bangkok, Thailand. schools/

Hom, E. J. (2013, 16 August). What is mathematics? Live Science.

Kewara, P., & Prabjandee, D. (2018). CLIL teacher professional development for content teachers in Thailand. Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research,6(1), 93–108.

Lin, A. M. Y. (2015). Conceptualising the potential role of L1 in CLIL. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 28(1), 74–89.

OECD & UNESCO. (2016). Education in Thailand: An OECD-UNESCO perspective. Reviews of national policies for education. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Phongploenpis, S. (2016). The education of bilingual teachers: Preparation of Thai pre- service teachers of English to teach in Thai-English bilingual schools. Doctoral thesis. eccb369378a6a76e6a.pdf

Prasongporn, P. (2009). CLIL in Thailand: Challenges and possibilities [PDF].

Suwannoppharat, K., & Chinokul, S. (2015). Applying CLIL to English language teaching in Thailand: Issues and challenges. Latin American Journal of Content and Language Integrated Learning, 8(2), 237–254.

Suwannoppharat, K., & Chinokul, S. (2015). English communication ability development through the CLIL course. NIDA Journal Language and Communication,20(25), 63–97.

Thadphoothon, J. (2017). English language competence of Thai school teachers. Economics and Management Innovations [ICEMI], 1(1), 154–156.

Turner, M. (2013). CLIL in Australia: The importance of context. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,16(4), 395–410. 691086

Vacharaskunee, S. (2000). Target language avoidance by Thai teachers of English: Thai teachers’ beliefs. Doctoral thesis. article=2522&context=theses

Yavuz, F. (2012). The attitudes of English teachers about the use of L1 in the teaching of L2. Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 4339–4344. 2012.06.251

About the author

Vesaras Suwanyothin is an experienced English and Mathematics teacher in Thailand who gained her Master of TESOL from Deakin University in 2020. Her pedagogical interests are the design and implementation of language, and content-integrated approaches and programs such as CLIL. She is passionate about linguistic diversity in education, and in fostering her students’ plurilingualism in their learning across all curriculum disciplines.


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