Jane Willis: award winning writer, speaker and consultant on English language teaching
  • CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) and TBL


    What is the relationship between CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) and TBL?  I want to teach English through literature and attach a draft plan for a series of task-based lessons.


    Let me say first of all that your series of lessons seems to be very carefully thought out and well planned. Of course there will inevitably be adjustments to your plan once it starts rolling, but clearly you have decided that the main focus is to be on content, on learning about the play and the author with any language work as incidental.

    So your lessons are certainly in the area of CLIL because you are primarily concerned with teaching literature, but it might also be described as TBL because there is a primary focus on meaning. It is very difficult to answer your question about the relationship between the two because there are differing views on what constitutes CLIL and what constitutes TBL.

    One version of CLIL would be that learners acquire a language simply through studying through the medium of that language. So Spanish learners studying history or geography through the medium of English would acquire English as a by- product. There would, of course be some focus on language form because the teacher would have to make sure that learners were understanding what they were studying and most learners would require some help with their writing . But the explanation of language would be directed towards the understanding and expression of the historical or geographical concepts in the lesson. There would be no pattern practice or gap fill or anything like that, and there would be no supplementary work on grammar. But certainly some CLIL teachers do include a more formal focus on language – the kind of thing that might be found in an EFL class. This is what you seem to be proposing in your session 4.

    One of the pioneers of TBL, N S Prabhu (see Prabhu 1987 Second Language Pedagogy OUP) believed that there should be no language teaching as such in a task-based lesson. His lessons were entirely built round tasks involving mathematics or geography, and there was no focus on grammar at all, even though the aim of the enterprise was for the students to learn English. Prabhu did however generally recast learners’ errors in spoken language and he always corrected mistakes in their written work.  Most recent approaches to TBL, however, suggest an explicit focus on language, exploring features of the texts used. So in most TBL sequences there will be a formal focus on language after the task;  it is important that this should not precede or get in the way of meaningful language use, so the focus on language normally comes towards the end of a teaching sequence, as it does in your planned series of lessons.

    The thing all TBL users have in common is that learners are primarily concerned with meaning, with understanding and processing the content of the lesson, though that content may not be part of the normal school curriculum. The kind of things they read about or discuss might range way beyond the normal curriculum to include planning holidays, discussing personal problems and so on. See, for example the lesson on How strict were your parents? on our website. But TBL might also include tasks which are very like the kind of thing that happens in school lessons. A good example would be Which is colder the North pole or the South Pole? also on our website (see http://www.willis-elt.co.uk/taskbased.html )

    One thing we might say is that, in terms of methodology, TBL includes CLIL. Both rest on the belief that the best way to learn a language is to use it to do something meaningful. So the lesson on the Poles is designed as TBL, but would work well in a CLIL setting. And most CLIL teachers use tasks of some kind as a vehicule for teaching content.

    In order to establish a difference we need to take the work in a wider context. In a CLIL setting there is a double focus. Learners are studying a school subject and need to learn the content. So learners who are studying literature (or history or geography or whatever) will need to remember and apply what they have learnt in their literature/history/geography lesson. They will also be learning English – an equally important goal – but this is a by-product. In a TBL setting the subject matter is simply a means to an end. So the aim of the Poles lesson is to engage learners in the use of English in the hope and the belief that this will help them to learn English. They may also learn something about geography and physics, but that is incidental. At the end of their course their success will be judged simply on how much their English has improved.

    I could summarise by saying that TBL defines a methodology which puts a premium on meaningful use of language in the classroom. Tasks are simply a means to an end – the acquisition of English. This is the methodology adopted in CLIL, but CLIL operates in an educational context where the learning of the target subject is of real importance with the acquisition of English as a by product.