CLIL Geography Lessons: Student Presentations for Language Skills Integration
Teaching through projects
Projects constitute an essential component for both Geography and English when they are taught separately. In every modern English course book teachers will find suggestions for project topics to increase the motivation and engagement of the learners, as well as to practise writing skills, such as describing a selected holiday destination or presenting an idol profile (Hayton, 2005). Some projects integrate all the language skills and may easily be used by Geography teachers to guide their students in conducting a street interview on a specific topic or creating a string and pin display about tourist destinations within a town (Fried-Booth, 1997).
If well prepared methodologically, projects in Geography teaching give students an opportunity to experience a change from their typical lessons. Such projects can be short activities solely devoted to a selected geographical topic. However, they may also take a longer period of time and can integrate Geography with other disciplines (Bailey, 1991; Gołębniak, 2002; Zaparucha, 2006). In either case, projects in Geography enable the students to have a hands-on experience witha given topic and have a novel learning experience in one or several subjects.
It is clear, thus, that a project is a great way to combine both the requirements of the English and Geography curricula (Zaparucha 2007a; Zaparucha 2007b; Zaparucha 2008). A well designed CLIL lesson, including a project-based teaching initiative, should contain four elements: content (e.g. Geography), communication (e.g. English language skills), cognition (i.e. thinking skills) and culture (i.e. the elements which help the learner define otherness). Moreover, it is important to include all the language skills into the project, i.e. speaking, listening, reading and writing (Oxford, 2001).
The project on the Biomes of the Earth described below was undertaken by a Junior High bilingual class of 13-15 year-olds at Secondary School Complex number 10 in Toruń, Poland, during the school year 2006/2007. As the project was implemented for a second time the teacher incorporated some minor changes.
Student projects and CLIL objectives
According to the European Union’s position on Content and Language Integrated Learning (European Union Positions on CLIL, undated), as well as other authors (Dalton-Puffer, undated; Peachey, undated), a well designed CLIL lesson, including projects, should contain the four ‘Cs”. Most of all, they include content, in this case the study of the biomes of the Earth, and the communication element, in this case the English language necessary to conduct the projects. Ideally, besides vocabulary, all language skills should be practised. Moreover, cognition, i.e. learning processes, and culture, such as cooperation and other social skills, should also be well-represented.
The Biomes of the Earth project and its content-specific outcomes include the following:
While designing the tasks for students, a teacher needs to consider that all the language skills are practised, i.e. the productive ones (writing and speaking) and the receptive ones (reading and listening). Moreover, vocabulary items should be carefully selected so as not to overwhelm the students with the amount of new words. Thus, in terms of the language-specific outcomes, the realisation of the project will fulfil the following lexical items:
Moreover, both receptive and productive language skills will be practised:
The cognitive aspects of the project will include various content- and language-specific outcomes, as well as those stemming from combining both, especially the following:
As the project on the Biomes of the Earth deals with diverse aspects of world nature, one of the areas where the development is expected to take place is connected with making comparisons with living conditions in Poland. As well, students are expected to further develop some of their social skills:
In doing such a project, it is very important to balance both the content and the language. If the language used by the students gets too complicated (vocabulary, grammar structures), the acquisition of the content by the listeners might be hindered. On the other hand, if the level of the contents is too high, even using simple language might not be enough to ensure the students’ understanding of the core content. It is the role of the teacher to assist students in their preparation stage and serve as a counsellor. In terms of this very project, the role of the teacher is as follows:
A guideline to the project on the Biomes of the Earth
The stages of preparation, realization and evaluation of the Biomes of the Earth project were based on the Field Studies Council publication for GCSE students Projects without panic! (Projects without panic!, 1989). The steps given below can be used for any other project, be it based on the fieldwork, class survey or individual research done by students.
Step 1. Choosing a project idea
Presentation of the main biomes of the Earth poses an important section in Geography teaching. However, the Junior High textbook includes information on biomes within different sections (Dobosik et al, 2004). Chapter 4, Section I, deals with the insolation zones resulting from the various positions of the Earth in relation to the Sun during its yearly rotation (pp. 25-31). Next, Chapter 5, Section II (The Atmosphere), discusses the pressure zones (pp. 69-70), followed by the distribution of precipitation (pp. 73) and climatic zones (pp. 74-77). Chapter 6, Section II, deals with the areas of water surplus and water deficit (p. 81), while Chapter 7 describes the diversity of vegetation formations (pp. 87-92) and soil zones (pp. 92-93). Finally, the whole system of climatic, soil and vegetation zones is summarized in one table in Chapter 8 (p. 94).
Human activity in different climatic zones is dealt with in Sections III, IV and V of the book (pp. 95-151). Throughout all the sections on human activity there are numerous references to the natural conditions connected with climate, soils and vegetation world. Collecting all the information on biomes in the form of projects enables students to make a clear summary of the material dispersed in the text book. Moreover, such a way of dealing with the school material lets the students understand better various interrelations between the following elements of nature: (1) movements of the Earth → (2) insolation of the globe → (3) high and low air pressure zones → (4) precipitation zones → (5) soil types → (6) vegetation zones → (7) animal world → (8) human activity.
Step 2. Stating a problem, hypothesis or investigation
The discussion before the selection of the topics for presentations included the revision of the movements of the Earth (element 1) and their consequences, i.e. climate type, flora and fauna. It was stressed that the biomes should be presented in a logical way, i.e. starting from the equator and moving to the north and south of it.
Step 3. Planning the projects
As the class was divided into two groups for CLIL, each had 15-17 students. As a result, one project was done by two to three students. The way the students organised themselves into teams was left to the students to decide. The teacher prepared strips of paper with the topics to be covered. A draw was held to choose a topic. Students who were unhappy with their topic, were able to exchange it with someone else.
Step 4: Preparing the project
The students had to search for information (books, atlases, encyclopaedias, the Internet, etc.) and gather the necessary information, i.e. location of their biome, climatic conditions (annual distribution of rainfall and range of temperatures), flora and fauna. As Kelly points out (Kelly, 2005), all CLIL initiatives require the use of visuals. Thus, it was the task of the students to find appropriate photos, posters, maps, drawings, etc. Moreover, as the presentations were not meant to be mere lectures, another task of the students was to prepare exercises for the rest of the class. They ranged from crosswords to true/false statements, open questions, word squares and texts with gaps.
Step 5. Presenting the projects
The projects were presented in front of the class. Each was designed to last one 45 minute lesson. Any extra visuals or attractions were welcome, such as food (e.g., tropical fruit salad for the presentation on tropical rainforests), souvenirs (e.g., masks of indigenous people from Costa Rica), and clothes the students presented or were actually wearing (e.g. summer clothes for the Mediterranean biome or winter clothes for the tundra presentation). Ideally, the presentation should not be read. However, for some of the students this proved to be really challenging.
An important part of the students’ lessons was to give the listeners enough clues to enable the fellow students to complete the extra written tasks. Such tasks, together with the handouts prepared by the presenting team, made good material for individual revision at home.
A sample plan of a 45-minute lesson unit looks as follows:
Step 6. Gathering the information from the projects and conclusions
Once all the projects were delivered, all the students were asked to once again bring their notes to class. Students from two groups joined for one lesson to discuss and select the most important pieces of information. The students were asked to choose the most important locations of their biome, limited information on temperature and precipitation, as well as maximum 5 animal and 5 plant species. This required a lot of talking/listening and writing/reading. As a result, the entire material from the presentations was simplified and gathered in a form of a poster, later on to be transformed into a table (Table 1). This compilation made an easy tool for students’ individual preparation for a final test.
Step 7. Feedback
The best feedback was received during the presentations, as it was easily observable the students enjoyed their presentations. They proved to be very exciting, especially as the first team delivered an exceptionally good presentation. This encouraged the others to outdo them and thus increased the level of the following presentations.
A careful design of the whole series of students’ projects enabled the teacher to activate the four ‘Cs’ of CLIL, while developing the four language skills in English. The lessons created by the students proved to be exciting and surprising, as those presenting a given biome always tried to keep their presentation secret.
However, some parents expressed concern about the students’ workload, the very idea of making them stand in front of their peers, and, last but not least, the fact that the textbook was not studied chapter by chapter. One of the key elements to success in combining language and content is to make sure all parties involved, including the parents of the students undertaking such courses, are aware of the challenges and the necessity to find new, innovative ways of having students learning curriculum content.
The Biomes of the Earth project presented in this paper was, in fact, based on a previous project carried out a year earlier. This enabled the teacher to make minor changes to the original project, such as including a pre-project introductory lesson, and ensuring that the first group had ample time to prepare. Despite unavoidable mistakes, however, it must be stressed that doing CLIL classes through student projects makes the teaching and learning processes highly efficient in terms of both the content and the language.
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