Top 10 tips for cross curricular links in English lessons

Mark Beales

Showing students that their learning isn’t done in isolation can be hugely rewarding – for students as well as teachers. So why not try out integrated learning in your classroom? Mark Beales highlights some simple and effective cross curricular teaching strategies, for introducing elements from other subjects into your English lessons.

1) See the big picture

Look at the overall curriculum and identify possibilities. What opportunities are there for you to incorporate integrated learning? A geography unit on coastal erosion may fit well with an English unit on descriptive writing. If Music are doing a unit on rhythm, wouldn’t that be the perfect time to start talking iambs?

2) Key dates

Think about which major events could be recognised across departments. We tend to use Remembrance Day. Students read ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ then, with history hats on, research what real-life events influenced Wilfred Owen. Through a scientific lens, they then research the effects of a gas attack and write an empathic response, as a victim.

3) Get arty

For creative English lessons, after reading a poem, ask students to draw their interpretation. This may be an especially useful tool for ESL students, who may establish a perfectly valid but different meaning based on their mother tongue and cultural contexts.

4) Be creative

Content integration in education doesn’t just restrict you to school grounds. Visit your community to use a range of cross-curricular skills. A trip to our local market is always ripe with options: use maths to work out the price of a dozen apples and 10 eggs. Then, use at least four senses to describe the scene. You could easily incorporate Business Studies here too.

5) Multimedia

In a media unit, introduce elements of design and technology by considering why certain fonts and layouts are used in tabloid or broadsheet papers/websites. Does it affect how a reader creates meaning? Include integrated learning in your lesson plan by adding a touch of IT,  and show your class how to design a front page using Publisher.

6) Take English on tour

On World Poetry Day, visit other lessons and recite poems about science (Rossetti’s ‘Who Has Seen the Wind?’ is ideal for discussing the unknown) or maths (read a sonnet then ask students to write a mathematical formula explaining its structure). Just make sure you let other subject teachers know ahead of their lessons.

7) Team teach

Working with other subject teachers is one of the most rewarding ways of bringing about content integration in education. It also reminds students that their learning is not done in isolation. It can be challenging to get everyone on board though, so plan carefully and have clear objectives.

8) Embrace other languages

Research suggests that ESL students should be encouraged to use their first language when planning and even discussing ideas. This is where integrated learning comes into its own. During personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) or form time slots, go a step further and ask students to explain customs, festivals or beliefs in their mother tongue, then English. Be aware of any cultural sensitivities before trying this.

9) Collaborate and listen

Most of the above requires horizontal planning and a willingness to work together. None of this should impact upon, or drive, the overall curriculum and learning outcomes. You’re simply taking what students would learn elsewhere and seeing if it fits in with your own curriculum.

10) Don’t force it

When thinking about cross curricular links in English, some ideas are obvious and straightforward. Others may seem like forcing round pegs into stubbornly square holes. Introducing cross curricular teaching strategies should be a relatively natural, logical and, ultimately, rewarding process.

What has worked for you? Let us know how you got on with our top tips on cross curricular links in English by emailing us at educationmarketing@cambridge.org.

About the author:

Mark Beales is an award-winning journalist from England who turned to teaching after moving to Thailand in 2004. He is currently IB Diploma Coordinator at Garden International School on Thailand’s Eastern seaboard. Mark is also a travel writer with Lonely Planet.