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Making connections: Connecting disciplines: multidisciplinary projects in the English class

September 30, 2022 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy | 1 comments

When we thought about the past year, both on this blog and in our daily lives, one thing stood out as being especially important - the connections we forge and keep. So this year, we have decided to delve deeper into the theme of CONNECTIONS, looking at it from twelve different perspectives. Each month, we will explore the connections in stories, learning, relationships, and many other aspects of our lives, and we will show you how to develop them with your students. We will do this through language-based activities and stories so that you find plenty of opportunities to develop your students’ English language skills while guiding them in establishing connections and supporting their own learning. 

When we think of connections, E.M. Forster’s famous line ‘Only connect…’ comes to mind. What exactly does this line from the 1910 novel, Howards End, mean? The full quote goes like this: ‘Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.’ Reading these words in the context of the novel, we realize that the real value, and often difficulty in life, is making healthy personal relationships. This basic human need to feel connected gains special significance today. The more time we spend in digital environments, the more we need to make connections, and the more we realize that they come in many shapes. 

In January, we focused on connections in stories and the literary concept of intertextuality. In February, we looked at connectedness in reading, thinking, and wellbeing. In March, we focused on connections between different types of knowledge: abstract ideas/concepts and experiences. In April, we have a special interview about environmental education with ELT materials writer and trainer Harry Waters. In May, we focused on connecting people through sharing ideas. In June, we recommended 30 ways of connecting school and holiday learning. In July, we talked about connecting places through reading. In August, we showed you how stories build communities. In this post, we focus on connecting disciplines and recommend multidisciplinary projects for language lessons.

Language lessons and other subjects

Let’s see what role language has in making connections between disciplines. When students learn new subjects, they also learn the specialized language of them. Having good language skills means that students can meet the challenges of learning new content knowledge more easily. However, each discipline has its own specific language, and when students learn geography, history, physics, arts, music or maths, they will need to become familiar with the specialized vocabulary and language use (e.g., narratives in history, factual reports or descriptions in physics, biology) in both languages. What’s more, the approaching language and subject knowledge together contributes to a more holistic way of learning. The idea of content-based language learning (CLIL) is based on these principles. So when students explore a new topic in English, it is a good idea to give them the opportunity to learn about it from different disciplinary perspectives. This is how they can develop their English language skills and build knowledge in different fields. 

Why connect a multidisciplinary approach and reading?

An easy way of approaching multidisciplinary explorations is through engaging in stories. This can be either through oral storytelling or reading fiction/non-fiction. Stories give context and provide examples of language use, and they also open up possibilities for exciting expansion projects. Stories lay the groundwork for multidisciplinary projects and thinking in a natural way. Being able to make connections between history, geography, biology, the arts, philosophy through a story leads students to build advanced literacy skills, and they are on the way to become more creative and critical thinkers.

How to set up a multidisciplinary project?

If you’d like to set up a multidisciplinary project based on a book, help students realize that there is at least one aspect of every story they might be interested in. We recommend these steps to get started: 

1 Choose the story in class together. Pre-select 5-6 titles, and let the students pick one.

2 Become familiar with the story in class. Share some background knowledge about the author, the setting and the plot.

3 Read a chapter in one lesson and set the rest for home reading, following up with discussions in class. Alternatively, read the whole book together over a period of lessons.

4 With higher level or more experienced readers, ask students to find topics they would like to explore more. With lower level or less experienced readers, share a list of topics to be explored in connection with the book.

5 Give students enough time to do some research and prepare either a report, a presentation, or an info sheet. It is important that they find unique perspectives and interesting topics to explore in connection with the same story. Think in terms of a wide range of subjects: physics, biology, geography, chemistry, philosophy, history, ethics, the visual arts, music.

6 Finally, dedicate a lesson to discussing the story from all the different perspectives presented by the students.


Topic suggestions

Here are three stories at three different reading levels to help you get started.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Helbling Readers Classics, Level 1/ CEFR A1

  • Literature: The story of Sherlock Holmes an Dr Watson
  • History: London at the time of Sherlock Holmes / the turn of the century
  • Geography: Devon (that’s where Sherlock travels)
  • Biology: Different types of dogs - giant dog breeds
  • Chemistry: Phosphorus
  • History/Culture: Mythical animals


Mowgli’s Brothers by Rudyard Kipling

Helbling Readers Classics, Level 2/ CEFR A1/A2

  • History: Children who grew up in the wild / The history of fire
  • Geography: The jungles of India / Wildfires today
  • Biology: The animals of the jungle
  • Science: How to survive in the jungle


The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

Helbling Readers Classics, Level 4, CEFR A2/B1

  • History: London at the end of the 19th century
  • History: The real event behind the story
  • Culture: Greenwich Park and the Greenwich Royal Observatory
  • History: Famous secret agents
  • Social studies: government
  • Science: explosives


For more book-based project ideas, check out these posts:

Have you experimented with project-based reading before? Which books have you worked with? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Blog Comments

Submitted by Nicolas Patric… (not verified) on Fri, 10/14/2022 - 12:05
Multidisciplinary projects
Thanks for sharing this information. I’m teaching English in the southern part of Veracruz at a rural school with junior high students.
We’re working on a multidisciplinary project realsted to seven countries in Africa. I wonder if you can suggest me online books or online sites related to culture, religion, environment of the following countries:
Rwanda, Senegal, Kenya, Sao Tomé y Principe, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Ethiopia.
Thanks a lot.
Have a nice weekend

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