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Implementing CLIL Snapshot Series: Using CLIL to Teach Chinese and Humanities

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 2021. 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, Pui Ka CHAN, Angela investigates using CLIL methods to teach Chinese and Humanities at a school in suburban Melbourne, Australia.

Setting the scene

In my last year as a pre-service secondary teacher, I was assigned to Magpie Secondary College (MSC) in suburban Melbourne for a teaching placement. My teaching methods are Chinese (Mandarin) and Humanities. At MSC, I had the opportunity to teach Chinese to Year 8 and Year 9 students. In my class, one-third of the students had a language background other than English. MSC did not offer a CLIL program for foreign language teaching, but my mentor allowed me to use the CLIL approach to teach Chinese in class.

MSC uses traditional methods to teach foreign languages, focusing on the clear and systematic teaching of discrete aspects of languages, including sounds, grammar, vocabulary and formulaic discourse, and teaches Chinese as a separate subject in the school (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016, p. 56).

Examples of practice

The first step in planning a CLIL course is to determine which curriculum areas are most likely to be tailored to the dynamics of a particular school (Cross 2016, p. 10). As my teaching methods are Chinese and Humanities, I have a natural connection to the CLIL strategy in my teaching. So I worked with teachers of other subjects to design a teaching plan that would use CLIL strategies.

The second step is adjusting the teaching content according to students' language learning needs, classroom evaluation data and feedback about the effectiveness of the instructional materials (Cross 2016, p. 11; Genesee & Hamayan, 2016, p. 46).

The third step is promoting a higher level of intercultural sensitivity and competence among learners, such as adopting a more positive attitude towards other cultures (Cross, 2016, p. 12; Department of Education and Training Victoria, 2021). Thus the most successful use of CLIL methods in an Australian educational environment needs to be a whole-school approach, with a variety of flexible teaching focused on both content and language (Cross, 2016; Turner, 2012).

Challenges of introducing a CLIL approach

At MSC, language studies are mandatory. Many students were disengaged from Chinese language learning. So I needed to carefully design attractive learning activities to interest students and suit their learning style and goals (Genesee & Hamayan 2016, p. 38). In doing so, I needed to know my students and how they learn (AITSL 2018). However, during the placement, I did not have enough time to do class observations, nor to fully understand students’ learning styles. On top of that, my Chinese class time every week was limited.

Collaboration between teachers is a key factor for the successful implementation of a CLIL program (Fielding & Harbon, 2014, p. 17). However, CLIL runs the risk of overworking teachers, who need to invest a substantial amount of time in planning effective lessons and units (Fielding & Harbon, 2014, p. 19).

Although some teachers at MSC were happy to help me use CLIL to teach Chinese, it required extra preparation time and created an extra workload for them. I needed to allocate more time during school hours to meet with other subject teachers and plan our lessons. In addition, some teachers at MSC preferred to work independently, and refused to teach in groups, so I did not have the opportunity to cooperate with them using the CLIL pedagogy.

Strategies for planning CLIL units

Planning a CLIL unit requires unravelling the Australian Curriculum in a completely new way (Streeter, 2016, p. 238). The key principle is to use, in my case, English and Chinese in conjunction with ‘multimodalities’ (Lin, 2015, p. 86). For example:

  • using artefacts and drama to provide multiple ways to engage learners

  • using a logical and sequential development sequence to strengthen learning

  • introducing some contradictions to promote discussion and make the learning experience more memorable (Lin, 2015, p. 87).

I also needed to use scaffolding and visual strategies to encourage students to use Chinese as a tool to learn their subject in a supportive environment, so they built up their confidence to communicate in Chinese without resorting to English (Streeter, 2016, p. 251). So when I was planning the CLIL unit, I would systematically plan the functional use of both English and Chinese in my lessons.

As a Chinese language teacher, I had to pay particular attention to my content teaching, as that is the area in which I have less discipline-specific knowledge and expertise.

I engaged a student-centred approach, and followed a task-based approach in my Chinese class. These teaching strategies allowed students to practise and use Chinese in context, and also emphasised that the humanities teaching content was as important as the Chinese language used to deliver it.

I also needed to negotiate with the Humanities coordinator to plan the CLIL unit so that the teaching content was relevant to other areas of the Humanities curriculum (Cross, 2016, p. 400). To achieve a stronger integration of ‘doing language’ and ‘learning content’, I needed to provide scaffolds for both language and content learning in class (Cross, 2016, p. 402). These included:

  • allowing students to use English at the beginning of the unit

  • providing students with rules about the language structure of Chinese

  • guiding students to identify the Humanities knowledge needed to undertake the task

  • designing assessment tasks that demonstrated proficiency in both content and language.

In teaching, I also needed to assume that my students were following the content being discussed in Chinese, and check whether they understood the content.

After my CLIL placement

After I finished my placement at MSC, I found that there are some definite challenges in using CLIL, which I will now outline.

• Students’ learning ability: In my class, there was a student with a hearing and vision disability. Also, two students were on the autism spectrum. This meant that me and the other teachers needed to provide further learning support during teaching, and we needed to discuss a lot during lesson preparation.

Students’ learning background: Two of my students had a Chinese language background, so they usually were able to progress faster than the others. So, I needed to prepare some extra work for students who were Chinese heritage speakers of the language.

Remote learning: The first two weeks of teaching were remote learning because of COVID-19. It was hard to check students’ understanding via Zoom, as some of them could not open their camera, or use their mic. Also, it was harder for me to observe all their group discussion activities, as I couldn’t join their discussion and answer their questions. But once we went back to on-site learning, these challenges were easier to manage, and I could see the students had made a big improvement.

• School support: Some of my students were supported in their learning by individual teacher aides. However, these teacher aides were not Chinese-language teacher aides. So, sometimes the aides found it hard to repeat what I taught and had difficulty helping the student complete the learning task. This brought home to me that CLIL was about more than introducing new content in the target language; it is really about the complexity of teaching and interacting bilingually.

I hope my teaching experiences give you some more insight into CLIL!


AITSL. (2018). Australian professional standards for teachers. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

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

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

Cross, R. (2016). Language and content ‘integration’: The affordances of additional languages as a tool within a single curriculum space. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 48(3), 388–408. 10.1080/00220272.2015.1125528

Department of Education and Training Victoria. (2021). School operations: Language education. Department of Education and Training Victoria.

Fielding, R., & Harbon, L . (2014). Implementing a content and language integrated learning program in New South Wales primary schools: Teachers’ perceptions of the challenges and opportunities. Babel, 49(2), 16–27.

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

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

Streeter, J. (2016). Code-switching and translanguaging in CLIL: Are we challenging our learners sufficiently? In K. Papaja & A. Świątek (Eds.), Modernizing educational practice: Perspectives in content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Cambridge Scholars.

Turner, M. (2012). CLIL in Australia: The importance of context. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 16(4), 395–410.

About the author

Pui Ka CHAN, Angela was born in Hong Kong. She is a multilingual speaker of Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Angela graduated with a Bachelor of Arts/ Master of Teaching (Secondary) from Deakin University in 2021. Her teaching specialisations are Languages (Chinese) and SOSE (Humanities).

Angela recognises the value of CLIL, and is keen to engage a CLIL approach to teach Chinese at secondary school. She enjoys discussions with other Languages teachers about how to innovate languages teaching and learning. She is also happy to share teaching resources with peers!