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Deep Learning, Health & CLIL

5 months ago

by Steve Jugovic

As ELT facilitators, do we consciously consider the effectiveness of our teaching practices regarding the transfer of information from working memory to being stored in and retrieved from long-term memory? Research claims that greater likelihood of transfer success is aided by deeper processing with higher-order thinking skills, understanding, and problem solving. According to Sousa, (2011) and Tokuhama- Espinosa (2010), critical factors include whether the information makes sense, based on past experiences and schemata, and has meaning to the learner in regard to life relevance. Additionally, information that contains survival value, and generates emotional elements, takes priority over other new learning (Sousa, 2011).

In light of these facts, various ELT classroom scenarios that students engage in can be presented to them as relating to elements of survival. For example, attaining excellent listening skills for the purpose of understanding directions could prevent you from ending up off the beaten path or worse, lost in a dangerous neighborhood. Recent health-related catchphrases such as “Sitting is the New Smoking,” in relation to early death and the harmful effects of prolonged sitting and sedentary lifestyles, may prompt more immediate learner attention and urgency. I like to think of similar thought-provoking, health-oriented content, which might improve students’ present and future lives, as “Survival Lite.”

CLIL in a Nutshell

My previous Think Tank article on Exercise briefly alluded to applying health-related CLIL methodology. Integrating content and language learning (CLIL) is regarded as a holistic approach in terms of the 4C’s framework, based on Content, Communication, Cognition and Culture (Coyle, Hood, & Marsh, 2010). Although there is no single CLIL pedagogy, important factors to consider are the interplay of content difficulty with suitably demanding and thought-provoking questions in light of students’ linguistic ability. For example, if the focus emphasizes content but the student’s level is low, then simpler questions and discussions should be put in the syllabus.

 Content and Context Considerations

Have you ever had a suffering student say “I have a stomach-ache,” You probably thought it was because of stress, or something the student ate, and never considered another common reason: dehydration.  Sleep, exercise, intermittent movement, nutrition and hydration are biological body and brain factors that strongly influence learning. As creatures of habit, our ability to alter persistently negative lifestyle patterns can often begin with a new awareness prior to active change, such as implementing effective time management to specifically schedule sleep hours. Including Survival Lite content in your context can be highly rewarding, especially when students recognize and appreciate the relevance to their health and studies. For instance, the elective, health-oriented CLIL English course I teach also serves the purpose of filling content gaps from the sport students’ Health course.

Some of the following body and brain Survival Lite suggestions can be used in language classes, specific CLIL-based courses or simply as homework. By using mind maps, habit surveys, role plays, short articles and videos, discussions and physical activity, students can consider health problems in society — fast food, food culture, cancer, etc., the likelihood of becoming a couch potato, employment scenarios associated with long hours, stress, neglect of sleep and nutrition, inadequate time for exercise, etc. (also see, U.S. Top Ten Physical Activity Guideline points). Students then engage in sharing opinions, discussion and giving advice and can also include communicating their knowledge to family and friends. After all, to teach is to learn, by consolidating memory. In my elective CLIL course, I include yoga peer-teaching practice and various yoga-type presentations with poses. Assessment includes a content-oriented report based on what students deemed important, useful, and interesting, which simultaneously provides me with course feedback.

By identifying and working within various ELT course constraints, it may be possible to integrate often-lacking but beneficial health education. The shift towards improving students’ health and subsequently  their learning, is being acted upon in various ways and places, such as the introduction of a compulsory course based on Lifetime Fitness for Health at Oregon State University. Also, in 2016, 100 Chinese universities began to combat depression and stress stemming from the rigors of student life, with the campaign, “Say No to Depression with Yoga.”

Lastly, for those of you interested, the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines

for Americans has been updated with new inclusions regarding brain health, sleep, sedentary behavior and  physical activity. As language teachers, we are not bound to any particular content area, which gives us the unique opportunity to promote a Survival Lite revolution.


Steve Jugovic is an Associate Professor at  Biwako Seikei Sport College, Japan. His research interests include materials design, integrating classroom movement, student motivation, CLIL, health, exercise, intermittent movement, attention and memory.



The article was first published to the Bulletin of the  JALT Brain and Education SIG, Volume 5, Issue 1, ISSN 2434-1002, January 2019

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