Techniques for Introducing CLIL in Primary Schools


CLIL is an innovative educational approach which allows students to learn how to do things rather than knowing things, focusing both on content and language. ‘This approach involves learning subjects such as history, geography or others, through an additional language. It can be very successful in enhancing the learning of languages and other subjects, and developing in the youngsters a positive ‘can do’ attitude towards themselves as language learners.’ ( Mehisto et al., 2008 ). CLIL entails a new educational approach based on the integrated learning of foreign language and content. The foreign language is acquired through subject-related contents provided in such a way to encourage learning. Special attention is paid to the learning skills, as they are pivotal for an efficient linguistic and communicative learning. For this reason, as Mehisto et al. ( 2008 ) stated, the CLIL approach is strictly linked to good practice in education: ‘CLIL cannot be separated from standard good practice in education. CLIL is a valued-added, as opposed to subtractive, approach that seeks to enrich the learning environment.’ The present paper will look at ways of effectively introducing CLIL in primary schools, presenting the language teaching techniques that were successful for the early learning of a foreign language that can also be used in CLIL activities. Similarly, the good practice in education and the techniques that were effectively used in teaching school subjects can be applied to CLIL and will be presented throughout the paper.

Keywords: CLILcontent and language teachingteaching techniquesprimary education


The present paper is part of the research undergone within the Erasmus+ European project C4C-

CLIL for Children (2015-2018). The C4C – CLIL for Children ( project was

funded by the European Commission under the Erasmus + programme, Key Action 2 – Strategic

Partnerships for a period of 3 years, from 2015 to 2018. The Consortium, represented by organizations

active in research and/or training of teachers and primary schools from Italy, Portugal, Romania and

Poland will develop methodologies and materials to improve the use of Content and Language Integrated

Learning (CLIL) in primary schools by using Open Educational Resources.

Over the past two decades an increasing body of research has demonstrated that CLIL can enhance

multilingualism and provide opportunities for deepening learners’ knowledge and skills, however

effective use of CLIL requires a specific methodology and specific training of teachers. In a preliminary

needs analysis carried out before submitting this project, partners recognized primary school teachers in

partner countries have been so far little involved in training for CLIL that has been instead targeted

mainly to teachers of secondary schools. The aim of this project is to support primary school teachers in

filling this gap by providing them with a comprehensive training program.

A Survey has been carried out within the project on the state of the art about the use of CLIL in

primary schools including good practices and difficulties, as well as a census of OER materials to be used

for CLIL in primary schools. Based on these two preliminary reports, the consortium will develop further:

Guidelines on the development and use of CLIL in primary schools; a set of CLIL materials and lesson

plans for teaching Science, Mathematics and Geography in English in primary schools; a Guide addressed

to teachers on how to use the CLIL methodology in primary schools; an E-course (online course)

addressed to teachers on how to use CLIL methodology in primary schools.

The C4C – CLIL for Children project is addressed to primary school teachers that want to improve

their expertise in CLIL methodology and the quality of their educational offer. It is also addressed to

organizations training teachers and other parties interested in primary schools and L2 learning/teaching:

students and parents, publishers and developers of educational materials, decision makers, researchers.

Descriptions of CLIL Methods with Related Supporting Theory

In Europe, the implementation of CLIL goes back in the 90’s when specialists and the European

Commission started a Europe-wide discussion on how to bring excellence in language learning, found in

some types of schools (mainly bilingual), into public government-funded schools and colleges, driven by

both educational and political motives: ‘The political driver was based on a vision that mobility across

the European Union required higher levels of language competence in designated languages than was

found to be the case at that point in time. The educational driver, influenced by major bilingual initiatives

such as in Canada, was to design and otherwise adapt existing language teaching approaches so as to

provide a wide range of students with higher levels of competence’ Marsh (2012). Nowadays, the CLIL

methodology is spread all around Europe, in different forms.

According to Ioannaou Georgiou and Pavlos Pavlou (2011), CLIL (Content and Language

Integrated Learning) ‘is the most common term used in the European setting to describe the approach to

teaching a curriculum subject through a foreign language, with the dual focus of acquiring more subject

knowledge and improving one’s skills and competences in the foreign language.’ CLIL is ‘the platform

for an innovative methodological approach of far broader scope than language teaching. Accordingly, its

advocates stress how it seeks to develop proficiency in both the non-language subject and the language in

which this is taught, attaching the same importance to each. Furthermore, achieving this twofold aim calls

for the development of a special approach to teaching in that the non-language subject is not taught in a

foreign language but with and through a foreign language. This implies a more integrated approach to

both teaching and learning, requiring that teachers should devote special thought not just to how

languages should be taught, but to the educational process in general’ Eurydice (2006). Students learn the

language necessary for studying while learning the subject and therefore, they are not expected to be

proficient in the language of instruction before they embark on studying under the CLIL approach.

There has been no central educational policy for CLIL in a foreign language in primary schools in

Romania so far. CLIL in a foreign language is not implemented at a national level in state schools at

primary education. It is, however, applied in various private schools in some cities (Bucharest, Cluj,

Arad). Some schools (usually private schools) provide CLIL lessons in foreign languages for a definite

period of time, for example during the cycle of a European project implemented in different schools, even

at primary level.Some state schools, however, organize intensive programmes of teaching a foreign

language upon parents/pupils request. In particular, the subjects covered are Geography, History, Culture

and civilization of the country where the foreign language is spoken (Great Britain for English, Germany

for German, France for French, etc.).

Early foreign Language Teaching Principles/Techniques Applied to CLIL

In Romania, as well as in all European countries, the communicative approach to language

teaching has become quite common. It is based on the concept of communication skills and organization

of the linguistic syllabus in terms of communication functions. Current curricula provided by the Ministry

of Education for language teaching also make reference to the communicative approach, which is also

used in the English textbooks in primary schools.

Throughout the present paper, we will have a look at some of the most recent and common

methods that have been used to cater for the needs of the foreign language early teaching and other

pedagogical requirements, such as the different learning styles or development of learner’s autonomy of

the students. In addition, we will examine a few methods and techniques that were successfully used in

teaching school subjects through CLIL.

T.P.R. - Total Physical Response

This method draws on the basic principles of how young children learn their first language and

lays its foundations on humanistic education principles and theories related to the acquisition of the

language. Developed by the American psychologist James Asher (1982), this teaching method involves a

wide range of physical activities, mostly commands, and a lot of listening and comprehension, as well as

an emphasis on learning as fun and stimulating.

The originator of TPR worked from the premise of the similarities between the acquisition process

of the native and of the second language, and emphasized that the language addressed to children is most

of all made of commands. Children respond with whole-body actions, before being able to orally

articulate words. A similar process is triggered when learning a second language, as comprehension

comes first than speaking. In responding to commands students get a lot of comprehensible input, and in

performing physical actions they seem to echo the claims of neuro-linguistic programming that certain

people benefit greatly from kinaestheticactivity.

This method is developed to reduce stress students feel while studying foreign languages. Learners

are allowed to speak when they are ready. Here is a set of techniques used in TPR:

  • Using commands to direct behaviour

  • Role reversal

  • Action sequence following a specific procedure: 1. the teacher shows the actions and tells the

students the commands, while they watch; 2. students listen to the commands and repeat the actions with

the teacher; 3. students listen to the commands and repeat the actions by themselves.

The most commonly used tense to convey the sequence of actions is the imperative. T.P.R. can be

used for different sequences of actions: daily actions, actions related to imaginary or simulated contexts, actions related to specific contents, following a set of principles:

  • The students’ understanding of the target language should be developed before speaking.

  • Students can initially learn one part of the language rapidly by moving their bodies.

  • Feelings of success and low anxiety facilitate learning.

  • Language learning is more effective when it is fun.

Using TPR in CLIL lessons can give students great opportunities for content learning in a foreign

language, such as science-related topics (plants, animals, water cycle, etc.): both linguistic and subject

contents are comprehensible and are learnt through the actions in a positive learning environment, where

children are actively involved. T.P.R. techniques to learn vocabulary can be successfully used to learn

new terminology related to specific subjects. For example, the teacher can place a set of flashcards related

to each lexical item in different parts of the classroom and encourage students to listen and perform the

actions: point to the thunder, point to the raindrops, go near the mountain, etc.

The Total Physical Response method has limitations, however, especially when teaching abstract

language and tasks, but it is widely considered to be effective for beginners and is still the standard

approach for young learners.

VAK - The Multisensory Approach

The multisensory approach is drawn upon the application of Neuro Linguistic Programming

(NLP) principles to the language teaching. According to this study area, the experience that people gain

about the world is acquired through the senses, which allow them to gather information, filter it (also

according to expectations, beliefs, interests), and re-arrange it in internal representations. The visual,

auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK) model was developed by early years specialists and psychologists such

as Keller, Orton, Gillingham, Stillman and Montessori way back in the 1920s. There are three main

systems of representation, or sensory modalities: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, which include both

physical and tactile sensations, both internal and external ones. The sensory systems are differently used

by each individual, because each one has a privileged modality of representation of their own experience,

which can be mainly visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic.

In school, students have different approaches and act differently when asked to perform a task or

to learn content. By applying this model, visual learners will learn by seeing and observing things,

feeling more confident with information given in charts, mind-maps, diagrams, demonstrations, pictures,

and handouts. Frequently these types of learners don’t like reading out loud and are more likely to use

higher reading strategies such as skimming and scanning. Auditory learners learn through hearing as they

prefer discussion, and learn through music, jokes and rhymes. They can easily remember contents if they

listen, repeat and discuss them with classmates. They often talk out loud to themselves and have trouble

with reading and writing tasks. Kinaesthetic learners learn by touching and doing things, and they prefer

activities which involve physical experiences –feeling, holding and ‘hands on’ techniques. They get

easily involved if they can use manipulative materials, play games, act or participate in activities that

entail actions and emotions.

The multisensory approach was introduced in the language teaching area in order to offer students

the possibility to learn a foreign language according to their systems of representation, and to strengthen

the other senses. When teaching various subjects in a foreign language, through the CLIL methodology, it

is of utmost importance to make sure all contents are adequate to all learning styles, as students are

requested a tremendous cognitive and linguistic effort.

TBL – The Task-Based Approach

Teachers started using tasks many years ago. The main feature of applying all these tasks is that

rather than concentrating on a particular language structure, vocabulary group or function, they make use

of a wider range of language, connected to specific content. On many occasions, students may also be

using a range of diverse communicative language skills.

Teachers have traditionally used tasks as a follow-up to a series of structure/function or vocabulary

based lessons. Tasks have been used as ‘extension’ activities, being part of a graded and structured

course. The tasks are central to the learning activity, in task-based learning lessons. Initially developed by

N. Prabhu (1987) in Bangladore, southern India, TBL is based on the belief that students may learn more

effectively when their minds are focused on the task, rather than on the language they are using.

In the model of task-based learning described by Jane Willis (1996) the traditional PPP

(presentation, practice, production) lesson is reversed. The starting point is the task that students have to

accomplish throughout the lesson. After completing the task, the teacher draws students’ attention to the

language used, making corrections and adjustments to the their performance. In “ A Framework for Task-Based Learning” , Jane Willis defines a three stage process:

  • Pre-task - Introduction to the topic and task.

  • Task cycle - Task planning and report

  • Language focus - Analysis and practice

The task-based methodology was often implemented in the teaching of a foreign language, also

thanks to the recommendations of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The

Framework suggests planning task-based curricula, so that students can use both their linguistic and

cognitive abilities. Further studies showed the importance of introducing the task-centred methodology in

CLIL activities, as its characteristics are perfectly adequate to promote the strengthening of the linguistic

skills. Willis articulated different types of tasks: problem-solving; listing; ordering, sorting, classifying;

comparing; sharing opinions, personal experiences; creative tasks or projects (Willis, 1998, pg.3), which

can also be used during the integrated learning of language and content.

Scaffolding Strategies

One of the most common strategies, which is essential to the CLIL approach, that teachers use to

facilitate comprehension and learning is scaffolding. It is a tutoring activity in which students are given

specific support by a teacher or a peer to help them perform the task or solve a problem that they cannot

perform alone (Bruner, 1986). Scaffolding refers to the temporary interactional support that is given to

students while their language system is ‘under construction’ and thus helping them to build competences.

How to make sure students have sufficient language resources to match the complexity of the

concepts they’re learning is one of the biggest challenges of learning a content area through a foreign

language and that is why careful scaffolding proves to be especially useful when teaching through CLIL.

There is a wide range of scaffolding strategies that a teacher may use in the CLIL classroom, depending

on the materials, students’ needs, knowledge and understanding. Walqui (2006) proposes two frameworks

of general scaffolding techniques used by CLIL teachers:

  • Modelling: offering examples that students can imitate or clearly demonstrate what they have to do.

  • Bridging: connecting new input with students’ previous knowledge, for example activating knowledge they already have from personal experience.

  • Contextualizing: enhancing learning to make input more comprehensible through visuals aids such as pictures, graphs or verbally, through metaphors or analogies.

  • Schema building: helping students organize their thinking or knowledge by creating schemas that are mutually connected.

  • Re-presenting text: changing a text into another written or visual form, for instance: a story can be turned into a dialogue.

  • Developing meta-cognition: students learn how to evaluate themselves and are taught strategies of thinking.

Among the scaffolding strategies used, the technique of brainstorming is considered a way of `negotiating field knowledge` and it is very significant in language pedagogy as it contributes to the co-construction of knowledge. Teachers should consider the peer to peer learning as a target in CLIL approach to provide students a deeper awareness of their learning process and increase their confidence. In fact, one of the principles of scaffolding consists in adapting the activity to the learners so that each one can progress and accomplish the task no matter what their initial level is.

The help provided through scaffolding is only temporary. It is removed gradually as the students gain the necessary knowledge and experience to be autonomous, just as scaffolding is removed once the building is complete. Students are given support for learning of both content and language as new learning is built on what is already known. Even though scaffolding is often provided by a teacher, it can also be provided by a more proficient peer, or group of peers. Once the students are confident of how to say what they want in a situation, they will be able to use their linguistic knowledge in other situations, without scaffolding. Once the knowledge, skill or understanding needed will have been internalised, they can be used further, without external support.

Scaffolding is a dynamic component in the process of teaching and learning and it takes many forms. For instance, when scaffolding the skill of listening, teachers might help students grasp meaning by focussing their attention on the form of a particular tense used. Also, during a reading activity, the questions the teacher asks about a particular text can guide the reader to a clear understanding. Writing skills can be developed through template texts, or the use of graphic organisers to help sort out ideas. Tools such as tables and grids, mind maps and flow charts enable data processing, and develop thinking

skills such as comparing and contrasting, sequencing, recognising relationships and classifying. In time,

with scaffolding, students internalize what they are learning, and help is decreased.

Methodology Based on Constructivism and Cooperative Learning

The methodology based on constructivism underlines the active role of the student in the learning

process. It also stresses the importance of the classmates, who are seen as a group allowing learning to

take place with the others and from the others, through the negotiation of knowledge. Therefore, the

group serves a dual purpose: it allows the development of social skills through cooperation with others; it

supports cognitive development, and encourages and reinforces learning. The role of the teacher is not

passing on knowledge, but creating a learning environment where students get oriented rather than


Learning environments offer the opportunity to gain experience, to think critically, use materials

and resources to complete a task. Active teaching (it is an umbrella term which can include problem-

solving activities, discovery learning, case-studies, role play, peer tutoring ) can be used in building

learning environments.

Regarding the mechanism of learning, studies and research focused on the individual differences

and the different modalities people use when learning. The theory of multiple intelligences, the Neuro-

linguistic Programming and the studies on the cognitive styles has strongly hit the pedagogical and

teaching studies. It is essential to bear this in mind when building learning environments. The

constructivist learning environments are based on cooperative learning. The class is considered as a

context made up of small work teams, that have to perform a task while acting responsibly and

developing social practices.

Cooperative learning has been often used in CLIL experimentations, due to its education-related

potential. Cooperative learning is an educational approach aimed at unlocking the socio-emotional and

cognitive potential of the classroom, seen as a group, and of each student.

Teachers play a vital role as they have to provide tasks that require collaboration and inter-

dependence among the members of each group. Interdependence of roles is a key concept. As Polito

emphasized (2008), it is essential to distinguish among different roles before assigning them to students:

organizational roles (who organizes material, who takes care of deadlines, who takes care of the delivery,

etc.); cognitive roles (who asks questions, who deals with summaries, who links the content with previous

tasks); emotional roles (who encourages new ideas, who encourages others to engage in the


With regard to CLIL activities, particularly in primary schools, the organizational roles were the

most used, while the cognitive ones were the least used. Although they entail a more difficult re-

arrangement, cognitive roles can be provided to children as well. If a group has to create a poster, some

members of the group can deal with the drawings, others with the captions, with highlighting key words,

or with spell checking by using a dictionary. When assigning roles, it may also be useful to distribute

different texts and materials, so that each member of the group has information that others have not (two-

way task). As a result, only when all the information is gathered will it be possible to accomplish the task.

Constructivist and cooperative learning environments, rather than fostering a knowledge based on

instruction, encourage shared knowledgeas it requires cognitive skills, openness towards the others, their

ideas, their world, and their culture. Thus, the purposes of such learning environments can contribute to

complete the CLIL key elements: Content, Communication, Cognition, Culture/Community.


Even if CLIL involves a new approach and a certain degree of change, it can easily fit into the

parameters established by the national or regional curriculum. Furthermore, CLIL cannot be separated

from standard good practice in education (Mehisto, Marsh and Frigols, 2008, p. 27). The advantage of

any CLIL course is that a teacher can decide what themes will be studied and how much time will be

devoted to this area. The CLIL methodological approach is still new and its degree of implementation

varies broadly among European Union countries. In most European countries, the choice of subjects

taught in CLIL varies among schools and regions. The most common situation is that schools are able to

choose one or more subjects in the curriculum based on the institutional needs and on available resources

(eg, qualification of teachers).


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