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CLIL Pedagogical Guide

CLIL Pedagogical Guide 

This guide is designed to provide you with approaches that you can use to develop CLIL learning sequences. The first part of the guide is a ‘light touch’ approach to some of the theoretical approaches underpinning CLIL teaching. The resources that follow are approaches that help mitigate some of the challenges in delivering lessons that adhere to these theoretical frameworks.


One of the central tenets of CLIL theory is the 4Cs framework.

The 4Cs are: 









CLIL teaching teaches students how to communicate in different ways. CLIL teaching front loads content learning above language learning. CLIL teaching must present activities that are cognitively challenging for students. CLIL teaching is a site of intercultural learning.


Effective CLIL units of learning provide a balance of each of the 4Cs or prioritise one over another dependent on the learning outcomes. 

However, some of the challenges associated with CLIL pedagogy and the delivery of these 4 features are: 

  • The balance between language and cognitive demands when planning for progression 
  • The use of language in the CLIL classroom  
  • Teaching inter-culturally  

These are dealt with below.

Getting the right a balance between content and language is essential for effective CLIL.

How do I…?

Make the language accessible enough for students to understand the content?

Teach content through a foreign language and still make it accessible?

Maintain the level of challenge to keep students engaged?

The most helpful tool in this respect is known as the CLIL Matrix, which describes the typical development of these demands over a CLIL lesson or, equally, over time. 


   Quadrant 1

Any activities at the beginning of lessons, especially where learning is being activated, should be low in terms of linguistic demands and cognitive demands.  

   Quadrant 2

Here, the linguistic demands of learning remain relatively low but cognitive demands should begin to rise  

   Quadrant 3

Finally, both linguistic and cognitive demands should be high. 
*Evidently, this matrix is based on an average student and does not necessarily take differentiation into account from an individual students perspective. For a weaker student, for example, the linguistic demands at the end of a lesson or sequence of lessons might remain reasonably high but the cognitive demands might be lower.  

For CLIL teaching to be effective, both in terms content and language progress, a balance must be sought between the cognitive and linguistic demands of the content and the language being taught. 

Planning for progression in language 

The most comprehensive and easy-to-use tool that has been used in recent years to plan for language progression in CLIL is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).


Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.


Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.


Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.


Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken.  Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.


Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.  Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.


Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Planning for cognitive progression

The most commonly used tool for planning the level of cognitive progression and difficulty in CLIL is by using Bloom’s Taxonomy. Learning tends to begin at the knowledge stage and progresses over the course of a lesson or series of lessons to evaluation. The verbs which appear in the following diagram are often very useful for planning appropriately challenging learning intentions. 

In the CLIL classroom, language has three functions. Understanding these is important for effective planning.

The Language triptych best describes these functions. 

Why a triptych 

A triptych describes how 3 associated items exist as separate entities but are intended to be appreciated together. For example, in music, three pieces may exist separately but to be fully appreciated they must be listened to. The language triptych works in the same way. While language has three roles in the CLIL classroom, and require different approaches, they all form part of a student’s CLIL Linguistic Progression.  



Language of Learning 

Language for Learning 

Language through Learning 

  • this is the content language or the language of the topic or theme that you are studying. 
  • It often takes the form of a list of words and definitions.
  • Also, language related to the subject discipline that transcends many different topics or themes is included. e.g. the term ‘primary evidence’ in History will be used over many different themes
  • This is the language required for students to function in the classroom. e.g. if students are rolling a dice in aactivity, students will need to be taught the language for ‘it’s your turn’, ‘you rolled a six’, ‘is it my turn?’, etc. 
  • This is the incidental language that arises from students’ interactions with the content.
  • If often take the form of opinions and justifications but may also revolve around questions and analysis.  

  • this language is the easiest to plan
  • Often unfamiliar to MFL teacher in the L2.
  • The easiest way to acquire the language as a CLIL practitioner is to look at materials in the target language rather than translating them from the source language.  

  • this is the language that is often taken for granted in the CLIL classroom
  • Very important part of CLIL learning and should also form part of any assessment.
  • The most successful language for learning is also repeated throughout a unit of learning so students are exposed to and have the opportunity to use the same language repeatedly. 

  • This the most challenging to plan because of its spontaneous nature.
  • However, a comprehensive speaking frame with opinion words and sample justifications can be useful to support students in their incidental language 
  • Spontaneity is not necessarily something to expect or demand. If students are asked to give their opinion or to analyze something, they should be given thinking time to form their answer. 


CLIL lessons are obvious contexts in which students will develop their intercultural skills. 

In order to develop students’ intercultural competence (skills, values and attitudes), any unit of learning should: 

1) encourage intercultural attitudes such as openness, curiosity and readiness  

2) allow students to acquire a general knowledge of the society or societies in which the target language is spoken.  

3) encourage students to interpret texts from other cultures to reflect on their own culture  

4) foster skills of discovery and interaction between the source and target cultures  

5) help students to develop critical cultural awareness and recognise that there are other cultures aside from their own.  

Each of these does not need to be covered simultaneously but having an awareness of them as a teacher is important, especially when dealing with texts from other cultures.   

Teaching and Learning Methodologies and Approaches for CLIL Classrooms

The structure and ideas for these resources have been developed from Dale and Tanner’s CLIL Activities: A resource for subject and language teachers (Cambridge University Press, 2012) developed for the EFL classroom. The resources have been adapted for the MFL classroom in the Irish educational context and expanded to adhere to current educational policy.

Select which category you would like to view. 



Activating Learning

This section includes ideas for activities or tasks that you would do at the beginning of a lesson or the start of a unit of learning. Their purpose is to help students gather not only their knowledge (content) about a topic but also the language associated with it. If you use one of these activities early on in the learning process, it is likely that students will make lots of linguistic (and perhaps content) mistakes. These can be corrected later as it is communication that takes precedence.

Learning outcome Thinking Skills

(Cognitive Demand)

Language Skills (CEFR)   Time

(preparation time)

Nature of Task
Complete the sentence:

To activate prior knowledge by completing sentences in the target language that begin with a key word

Recalling (Low-Medium level of demand) Written or Oral Production (A2-C2 depending on complexity of sentence) 10-15 mins + 5 mins prep Individual, Pair or Group Work
Structuring Previous Learning (Graphic Organisers):

To activate prior knowledge by using graphic organisers

Remembering, understanding (Low-Medium level of demand) Written production (A1-C2 depending on complexity/familiarity of topic) 10-15 mins + 5 mins prep Pair or Group work

To activate prior knowledge by using ‘news’ headlines as a stimulus

Identifying, classifying, categorizing, evaluating (Medium level of demand) Reception and oral/written production (A1-C2 depending on subsequent activities 15-20 mins + 10-15 mins prep Group work
Red and green (and amber) circles:

to activate prior learning by deciding whether statements about a new topic are true or false or both.

Remembering, evaluating, reasoning (Medium-High) Use of different time frames



Guiding Understanding

Approaches and methodologies that guide understanding help students to access authentic, content-based texts. They help students to carefully breakdown the content into manageable chunks to understand its narrative. The text might outline a process, a sequence of events, a number of factors affecting something, descriptions of characters, etc. Remember, activities that guide understanding are predominantly content focused. The language element of a text may be dealt with simultaneously but activities to help you achieve this are suggested in the ‘Focus on Language’ section.


Learning outcome Thinking Skills (Cognitive Demand) Language Skills (CEFR)   Time (preparation time) Nature of Task
What’s the gist?:

to evaluate whether gist statements relating to a text are true or false.

Understanding, analyzing and evaluating (Medium-High) Oral and written reception (A2 and above) 15-20 mins + 15 mins prep Pair work
Graphic Organisers:

To use a graphic organizer to order and classify understanding of a text in a visual, logical way.

Ordering, classifying, understanding, analyzing (Low-Medium)  Reception and Production (A1 and above) Dependent on length of text + 10 mins prep Individual, pair or group
Order the narrative: to order summary statements of audio(visual) material to understand the narrative of a text Ordering, understanding, evaluating Reception (A2 and above) 15-20 mins + 15 mins prep Pair work
Cloze Text – Mind the Gap: to complete a text containing gaps with key vocabulary/structures for the topic. Reasoning, understanding, evaluating Reception (A2 and above) 10-15 mins + 5 mins prep Individual work



Focus on Language

One essential element of CLIL teaching (see 4Cs) is the substantial focus on language. This focus is not necessarily present in other subject lessons due to the fact that they are using their L1 as the medium of communication. However, in the CLIL classroom, because the L2 is the primary medium of communication, language must be scaffolded appropriately to ensure that learners can use it to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter.

At the sentence-level, areas of difficulty encountered by students that will have to be scaffolded often include:

  • Tenses
  • Word order
  • Asking questions
  • Using direct and indirect speech
  • Making comparisons
  • Using pronouns
  • Using functional language that transcends all topics such as connectives and opinions


At the word-level, learners often have difficulty with:

  • Processing lots of new vocabulary
  • Using technological or subject-specific vocabulary
  • Words which have different meanings in different subjects
  • Using figurative language such as metaphors and similes
  • Acronyms and abbreviations
  • Moving from everyday language to academic language.


Learning outcome Thinking Skills (Cognitive Demand) Language Skills (CEFR)   Time (preparation time) Nature of Task
Academic Synonyms:

to improve an academic text with academic synonyms to replace everyday language.

Remembering, reasoning, understanding  (Medium) Written reception (B1 and above) 15-20 mins + 10 mins prep Individual
Hot seat:

To create definitions using everyday or academic language of key terms learnt in content

Creative thinking, evaluating Aural reception and spoken production (A2 and above) 10 mins + 10 mins prep Group or whole class
Noticing: to notice the features in one text and to apply them to another gapped text. Classifying, applying, analyzing, evaluating Reception (A2 and above) 20 mins + 15 mins prep Individual or Pair Work
Ranking: to put words or phrases in an order Ordering, classifying and comparing Reception (A1 and above) 10 mins + 10 mins prep Pair or Group Work



Focus on speaking

Getting students to speak as well as to write in the CLIL classroom is essential to not only build their confidence but to also encourage them to acquire and practice using newly acquired knowledge in a multitude of ways.

When speaking, some of the challenges that learners often face include:

  • Speaking spontaneously – all speaking activities need to be scaffolded from the beginning of a unit of learning. As students progress, less support may be required.
  • Organizing and using information systematically and logically – learners always need time to plan their speaking
  • Producing appropriate language for style and audience– learners will often use less-academic or inappropriate language to express themselves as they only have their limited linguistic repertoire on which to rely. Practice and correction strategies are paramount.
Learning outcome Thinking Skills (Cognitive Demand) Language Skills (CEFR)   Time (preparation time) Nature of Task
Statement graphs:

To place statements on a graph and to orally justify your opinion

Justifying, reasoning, explaining (High) Reception and production (B1 and above) 20 mins + 15 mins prep Pair work
Role play: to take part in a role play to practise content knowledge Creative thinking, evaluating, responding  (Medium) Production (A2 and above) 40 mins + 10 mins prep Pair work
Speaking Frames: to use language frames to take part in speaking activities Remembering (Low-medium) Production (A1 and above) 10 mins + 40 mins prep Pair work
Prove it: to ask questions to work out whether a list of statements is true or false Reasoning, evaluating (Medium) Production (A2 and above) 10 mins + 15 mins prep Group or whole class work



Focus on writing

Writing in the CLIL classroom is an essential part of assessment learning but also providing students with the space to construct their ideas in a logical and systematic way. However, there should always be a balance between speaking and writing.

When speaking, some of the challenges that learners often face include:

  • Writing spontaneously without any support such as success criteria
  • Organizing their ideas without robust planning
  • Using academic language inappropriately or not using it at all
  • Writing simplistically
Learning outcome Thinking Skills (Cognitive Demand) Language Skills (CEFR)   Time (preparation time) Nature of Task
Brainstorming: to brainstorm ideas to include in a piece of writing as a group Remembering, ordering, classifying, thinking creatively


Written production (A2 and above) 15 mins + 5 mins prep Group work
Writing frames: to use a writing frame to gather ideas and create a logical structure Organizing, ordering, reasoning, evaluating


Written production (A1 and above) 20 mins + 10 mins prep Individual work
I am a…: to write a story in the first person to explain a process learnt within the content of the subject Organizing, relating, reasoning, creative thinking, evaluating


Written production (A2 ad above) 40 mins + 10 mins prep Individual work


Lost in conversation: to write a text, to create a graphic organizer and to compare the two Remembering, evaluating


Written production (A2 or above) 40 mins + 5 mins prep Group work



CLIL Assessment

As with any learning, assessment is a key part of CLIL classroom practice to not only understand the process the students are making, but to also help students understand where there are gaps in their own knowledge.

In the CLIL classroom, learners can be assessed in a number of different ways. Assessment can focus on all or some of the following:

  • Communication – language of learning, learning for learning and/or language through learning (or a mixture of all)
  • Content – fact-based knowledge
  • Cognition – learners ability to manipulate and reapply knowledge
  • Culture – to reflect on the interlinguistic aspects of their learning

Best practice in CLIL reminds us that assessing fewer elements of the 4Cs is more beneficial to the students so long as each of the elements are assessment separately and conjointly in the medium to long term.


Learning outcome Thinking Skills (Cognitive Demand) Language Skills (CEFR)   Time (preparation time) Nature of Task
Jigsaw Rubrics (summative and formative) : to peer assess the work of other learners as a group Evaluating, reasoning (Medium-high) Reception (A1 and above) Dependent on length of presentation + 5 mins prep Group work
Assessment questions (summative and formative) : to create a list of questions that students can use to evaluate their own outcomes Analysing and evaluating (Medium-high) Reception and production (A2 and above) 30 mins + 10 mins prep Group or whole class work


Correction cards (formative): to correct common content mistakes orally Identifying (Low-medium) Production (A1 ad above) 15 mins + 15 mins prep Pair or group work
Language feedback (formative): to correct the language mistakes of peers Analysing (Medium) Production (A1 and above) 5-10 mins + 5 mins prep) Individual work



Games in the CLIL Classroom

All games that are used in the CLIL classroom must be purposeful in that they development the content, communication, cognitive or cultural competencies of the learners.

The following games are adapted by ‘Playing CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning Inspired by Drama Pedagogy’


Learning outcome Thinking Skills (Cognitive Demand) Language Skills (CEFR)   Time (preparation time) Nature of Task
Alphabet Islands: to respond to restricted open questions whilst moving around the classroom Remembering, understanding Reception and Production (A1 and above) 5-10 mins + 15 mins prep Whole class work
Freeze – What am I?: to adopt a pose symbolizing an element of content and to explain who or what you are Remembering, creativity Production (A1 and above) 5-10 mins Whole class
Two truths and a lie: To give two facts drawn from content and one lie Remembering, creativity, manipulating Production (A1 and above) 5-10 mins Group work
Environment building: to create a scene that depicts something learnt from content Remembering, creativity Production (A1 and above) 5-10 mins Whole class work