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Learning History through English using ICT

Charo Requejo

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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

own language.

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.

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