LEARNING HISTORY THORUGH ENGLISH USING ICT
I’d like to situate my contribution to this project within the reference of the immersion
programme being carried out at Parque de Lisboa Secondary School, more specifically
on the side of English language teaching / learning, supporting the History contents
with language activities.This type of experience in immersion programmes is quite new
in the Comunidad de Madrid and I’m aware that there’s much to be done in the field of
research as well as in the designing of activities and materials.
Children who started the immersion programme in primary school have just begun their
Secondary education, as is the case of 12 year old students at Parque de Lisboa
Secondary School, where the programme includes Science, Geography and History
being taught in English. It is within this framework that I’ve focused my work and the
designing of activities. I’ve worked on two different aspects:
First, adapting texts from textbooks or other sources Juan Carlos sent me so that they
could be on the website. That meant a lot of messages been sent to and fro since I
worked on the linguistic aspect while he took care of “historical accuracy”.
Secondly, designing different language activities to support this content learning so that
the students will acquire English structures and vocabulary without English being the
objective of the task but historical contents.
What we are really talking about is Content and Language Integrated Learning, as
teaching History in English in a Spanish environment is. As David Marsh says, rather
than teaching History in English it is teaching History “through “ English.
We all know that language learning and linguistic diversity is an important goal for the
European Council. There is a will to promote not only bilingualism but multilingualism
and that means that the little time given in schools to the learning of foreing languages
needs to be increased in some way. Using the target language as a means of teaching
other subjects can help achieve this objective.
The immersion project being developed at Parque de Lisboa as any Clil
project implies a double aim: content is learned at the same time as language is
acquired. By this I mean that the objective is not learning the language, but learning
content, History in this case. But since the language used is English, students acquire it
in a more natural way than in a formal English class where they are taught a language
that they may or may not use some time later. Here, the situation is similar to their
mother tongue learning: students acquire spoken language from their classmates, their
teacher and the language they use while interacting and written language from the texts
and the different taks they have to accomplish. The language they acquire is not only
related to history, but to the real situation in the classroom.
In their History class where English is the vehicular language they learn language as
they use it. And not only language, content too. The texts the students work with, the
vocabulary they become familiar with, the situation in the classroom itself seem more
real than those in an English class where texts or vocabulary are not part of a real
communicative situation, so they cannot see its immediate relevance or be motivated.
Also, it complements what has been learned in the English class using it in real
Back to E-HELP, when adapting the texts I realised that there is great difficulty for
students: the transfer from primary to secondary education, the very different approach
to the teaching of History and the specific vocabulary used in the History class which is
difficult for them even in their mother tongue. Although the paragraphs and sentences
used on the website and in many textbooks are short it doesn’t mean easy to understand
by non-native speakers. As I said before, they may not know that vocabulary in their
Therefore, some of the activities I thought of for the website are focused on vocabulary
as a way to complement that aspect. They learn the language while working with it and
performing the different tasks.
I’ve made a point of working on the past structures and revising the simple past, regular
and irregular forms and their pronunciation. Including pronunciation or listening
tasks is not easy though and it will require more thought on my part for future
Students learn both language and content by identifying vocabulary and by classifying it
and by practising what they have learnt on the text about the Neolithic by describing
different aspects. Children develop their language skills at the same time as language is
used as a tool for learning History.
I’ve focused on language rather than on grammar, mainly on language related to the
historical aspect being studied. I consider that they already have enough grammar input
in their English language lessons. By practicing, using the target language becomes
more automatical and less conscious.
By repeating structures such as: “could + infinitive”,”.... used...something....to....”or by
working on sentence word order these structures are produced mechanically
without conscious language learning on the students’ part. Since I’m working with the
History programme used at Parque de Lisboa I hope these exercises will help the
students to understand and learn content more easily while being motivated. As we
are talking about exercises on a website, reading skills become essential. Students
notice vocabulary while reading and their reading skills improve. For example, after
reading question 3 on the web page, students are asked to enumerate the
characteristics of the Neolithic revolution. To do this, they use the passive simple past
but what could be an ”unnatural”, out of context exercise in an English class, a task to
perform because they’ve been asked to do so, is a meaningful post-reading exercise
suitable for both subject and language learning.
Other activities I’m working on now are matching exercises, reading comprehension,
synonym finding or sequencing. All of them activities that will be useful for
students in immersion courses in the Comunidad de Madrid as well as for students
working independently with an e-learning programme.