Download resource

Please enter your details to download this resource
Login

What does ‘cross-curricular teaching’ mean?

Beckmann (2009) defines the term ‘cross-curricular teaching’ as ‘instruction within a field in which subject boundaries are crossed and other subjects are integrated into the teaching (how and for whatever purpose or objective)’.

Inadvertently, many teachers apply cross-curricular teaching in their classrooms as part of their practice. However, if we put our knowledge, intent and planning into it, cross-curricular teaching becomes a wonderful and very powerful tool in the classroom. Due to the fact that it promotes a holistic understanding of the subjects taught, fosters crucial critical thinking skills and prepares learners for success beyond the classroom, it provides a much-desired dynamic environment and engaging approach in the classroom.

According to Cummins (2000), “cross-curricular teaching enhances language acquisition by providing meaningful contexts for language use and promoting the integration of language and content knowledge.” This is extremely relevant and important for those learning EAL (English as an Additional Language) in English-medium schools. EAL learners have a hard job to learn English (and to learn in and through English). Cross-curricular teaching allows them to integrate content and skills from multiple subject areas into one holistic educational experience. That way, EAL learners have the opportunity to see the connections between different subjects in the curriculum and the everyday language they need to be able to socialise in and out of school. In addition, they can develop a deeper understanding of certain concepts. Lucas and Villegas (2013) agree that “cross-curricular approaches support EAL learners in making connections between different subject areas, fostering holistic understanding and critical thinking skills.” 

Here are some key aspects of cross-curricular teaching

  1. Integration of subjects –  Cross-curricular teaching involves intertwining of content and learning objectives from two or more subject areas, e.g. maths, science, history, English etc.
  2. Links between subjects – It highlights the links across different subjects, e.g. a science lesson on ecosystems might incorporate concepts from maths (e.g. data analysis), English (e.g. writing a report) and Social Studies (e.g. understanding human impact on the environment).
  3. Learner engagement – Cross-curricular teaching makes learning more meaningful and relevant by fostering curiosity and deeper knowledge.
  4. Development of essential and transferable skills – These might be critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration and creativity.
  5. Differentiation – It caters for different learning styles, interests and abilities. 
  6. Application in the real world – This helps learners understand how concepts and skills are used in everyday life and in a more academic context.
  7. Beyond the classroom – It encourages learners to apply their learning in a wider context.
  8. Holistic learning – By bringing different subject areas together, cross-curricular teaching encourages holistic learning experiences.

In their research, Calderon and Sanchez (2011) support this by saying that “integrating language instruction with content learning helps EAL students develop a deeper understanding of academic concepts while simultaneously advancing their language proficiency.” 

Here are some examples of cross-curricular teaching

The examples listed below demonstrate how cross-curricular teaching can enrich learners’ experiences by integrating content, skills and knowledge from different subjects in meaningful and engaging ways. Genesee, Lindhold-Leary, Saunders and Christian highlight that “collaborative learning opportunities embedded in cross-curricular instruction provide EAL learners with valuable language practice and promote social interaction, leading to enhanced language development.” 

  1. Science and maths –  Learners learn about the concept of volume by designing a model of a fish tank. They use mathematical formulas to calculate the volume of water needed to fill the fish tank and consider scientific principles about the impact on the relevant ecosystem. EAL learners are provided with flashcards to support their understanding of key vocabulary about the topic from maths and science. They are put in a group with proficient users of English who act as language models.
  2. Music and history –  Learners study the different music genres throughout history. They analyse song lyrics from a historical period in their home country and compose their own songs inspired by a historical event in their country of origin. EAL learners are encouraged to find song lyrics in their home language. They are allowed to make marginal notes in their home language and use a dictionary to help them analyse the lyrics. They are grouped with the same language speakers to promote partner groups.
  3. STEM and environmental science – Learners design and build a sustainable habitat for an endangered species from their own home country. They use their skills and knowledge from engineering, biology and environmental science to meet the needs of the species while minimising ecological impact. Teachers can support their EAL learners by providing substitution tables with images and words/language structures so that EAL learners can create different sentences about habitats and endangered species.
  4. Geography and art – Learners work on an art project inspired by different geographical regions or a chosen region from their own home country. They study the landscape and the climate. They use artistic techniques such as painting, collage or sculpture to represent the location. EAL learners might be supported with video clips of a chosen location in their home language and subtitles in their home language or English. They can then be provided with a matching activity of words and definitions of those geographical terms.
  5. English and Social Studies – Learners read historical fiction novels set in different time periods or regions. They analyse the historical context described in those novels and research the facts about that particular historical event. They then write a creative story that reflects their understanding of the historical period. EAL learners might read a historical fiction novel in their own home language. They can be provided with timelines of the historical event, translated key vocabulary lists and writing frames with sentence starters in English to support their creative writing.

Best practice

Incorporating some cross-curricular strategies when teaching EAL learners can be highly beneficial, as it helps them not only improve their English language skills but also understand other subjects better. According to Short and Fitzsimmons (2007), “by integrating language learning with content instruction, cross-curricular teaching creates authentic language use situations that support EAL students in developing both academic language skills and content knowledge.” 

  1. Use visual aids – Diagrams, charts, timelines, graphic organisers and flashcards support understanding effectively and support comprehension. 
  2. Provide scaffolded support – Prepare vocabulary lists, writing frames, sentence starters, substitution tables etc., that are relevant to the subject and support understanding.
  3. Develop language skills –  Opportunities to practise listening, speaking, reading and writing skills need to be incorporated into all subject lessons.
  4. Integrate language learning and content learning – For example, vocabulary and grammar can be taught within the context of science experiments, history events or maths problems.
  5. Encourage collaboration – EAL learners are encouraged to work in groups with proficient speakers of English to foster a supportive environment and a more natural social interaction.
  6. Use authentic materials – Authentic materials, such as newspapers, stories, websites and documentaries expose EAL learners to real-world language usage and diverse topics.
  7. Use a multimodal approach – Audio recordings, videos, real-life scenarios, interactive presentations and hands-on activities cater to different learning styles and reinforce language learning across subjects.
  8. Assess language and content knowledge – Assess both language proficiency and content understanding through a variety of assessment methods, such as presentations, projects, written assignments and oral assessments.

By integrating cross-curricular content into English language teaching and learning, EAL learners can develop language skills whilst simultaneously gaining knowledge in other curricular subjects. This inevitably leads to a more comprehensive and engaging learning experience as well as promoting academic success.

Here is an example of how you can plan for both content and language:

Medium-Term Cross-Curricular Planner for Learning Content and Language

Subject:

 

History

Content learning objective 

English language learning objective

Cross-curricular links

Notes

Term 1

Identify key contributions of ancient civilisations to areas such as architecture and literature.

Past Simple tense (regular and irregular forms) –  e.g. The oracle predicted a flood. The pharaoh built a pyramid. 

Use of ‘used to’ – e.g. This country used to be a republic.

Passive Voice – e.g. The country was ruled by a dynasty.

Descriptive adjectives – e.g. The warrior was brave and courageous.

Geography – link to climate, materials, topography, cultural factors

English – Exploring ancient texts, adapted poems or religious texts and doing comparative analysis using translations; link to values, culture and history; comparing characters; etymology and link to Latin and Ancient Greek

 

Lesson plan for EAL learners with a lower level of proficiency in English

Topic – Ancient Civilisations

Content learning objective: To describe basic key features typical for ancient civilizations

English language learning objective: To apply key vocabulary in own sentences using regular verbs in Past Simple tense and adjectives for descriptions.

Key vocabulary

pharaoh pyramids hieroglyphics democracy acropolis republic empire dynasty aqueduct warrior oracle

Activities

  • Understanding, listening and speaking – Look, listen, say

Instructions:

  • Teacher presents the flashcards one at a time and says the word. Learners are asked to repeat three times so they remember the vocabulary
  • Teacher puts the flashcards face down and turns one at a time. Learners look and say the word as a group and individually

history flashcards

  • Reading – Match the word to its definition and example

Instructions:

  • Teacher cuts out the words and puts them in three piles – words, definitions and examples
  • With support, learners read and match words to definitions to examples

May Acg 2May Acg 3

  • Writing sentences

Learners write their own examples using the key vocabulary and a substitution table.

May Acg 4

For EAL learners who are at a higher English language proficiency level, this substitution table might be used:

May Acg 5

Extension: Learners research the writing system of an ancient civilization of their choice, e.g. Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Maya, the Inca. What links can they find between words from that civilization and English? 

For example, Latin prefixes in English, such as ‘pre-, re-, post-’.

References

Beckmann, A. (2009). A Conceptual Framework for Cross-Curricular Teaching. The Mathematics Enthusiast: Vol. 6: No. 4, Article 1.

Calderón, M., Slavin, R., & Sánchez, M. (2011). Effective Instruction for English Learners.

Cummins, J. (2000). Language, Power, and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire.

Genesee, F., Lindholm-Leary, K., Saunders, W. M., & Christian, D. (2006). Educating English Language Learners: A Synthesis of Research Evidence.

Lucas, T., & Villegas, A. M. (2013). A Framework for Preparing Linguistically Responsive Teachers.

Short, D. J., & Fitzsimmons, S. (2007). Double the Work: Challenges and Solutions to Acquiring Language and Academic Literacy for Adolescent English Language Learners

Further learning - Blog

Created: Wed 11th May 2016

In the last edition, we considered the importance of not using a Whole Language approach in isolation as a primary method of literacy instruction, but rather ensuring that a systematic, skills-based approach is used to guarantee reading and writing progression for second language learners. This begs the question, which systematic approach should we use? The two systematic methods adopted by most practitioners for first language learners are the Analytical or Analytic Phonics approach or the Synthetic Phonics approach.

teacher holding up flashcard
Created: Wed 26th Apr 2023

What should we teach?

Many of us have been in a situation where we want to communicate with someone who does not speak the same language. We resort to wild gestures, attempts to say unfamiliar words, grammar seems insignificant and feelings of frustration soar. Some basic vocabulary becomes our lifeline.

Created: Fri 7th Feb 2014

Cross Cultural Understanding for New to English Students – The First Steps (Part 2)