Key CLIL concepts in evidence in the CLIL lesson

1. Scaffolding and types of scaffolding

  • Scaffolding refers to ways of supporting learners’ learning.
  • Examples of scaffolding are: pair and group work; visual aids; graphic organisers (e.g. charts, graphs, diagrams); underlining/putting key words in bold; including a diagram beside a text to explain it; giving learners a glossary; breaking tasks down into small steps; providing models or language frames; demonstrating tasks; teacher’s use of different kinds of questions (e.g. open v closed).
  • Scaffolding is particularly important in CLIL as learners are trying to come to terms with new ideas and language.
  • We can scaffold all four language skills if necessary. Scaffolding is also used in differentiation: for example, teachers can provide scaffolding for struggling learners but not for managing learners.
  • In our CLIL lesson Step 2 scaffolds learners’ use of vocabulary in Step 3, Step 4 scaffolds learners’ ideas about healthy living, the language frames in Step 12 scaffold the learners’ speaking in the discussion.

2. Anticipating learners’ language needs when planning 

  • We need to know the specific language and skills the learners will need during the lesson.
  • We need to identify the specific language items the learners will be able to understand (through reading and listening) and use actively (through speaking and writing) in the lesson. This will help us grade our own language (in questions and instructions), design and order the tasks at the right level, and decide whether and where to insert language-focus tasks.
  • When planning a lesson, we make assumptions about what level of grammar, vocabulary and language skills learners already have. A very helpful guide to this when planning is: (p55 onwards), but remember that in CLIL what drives the selection of communication aims is the language of the lesson’s content.
  • The teacher in the CLIL lesson above can assume A2 English learners can express food likes and dislikes in simple terms. However, our lesson makes bigger language demands on the learners than this, so the teacher builds in extra language support.
  •  Another example of the teacher anticipating language needs is seen at Step 12 of the CLIL lesson. The teacher wants the class to make statements about quantity and express obligation. They do this by understanding and using the structures lots of/a little/a few, and must/mustn’t and should/shouldn’t. The language needed is challenging for an A2 learner so it is introduced in a clear context and further scaffolded by the use of language frames.
  • Regarding vocabulary, A2 learners would not usually be familiar with a word such as nutrient but they need to understand and use it in this lesson. (A similar word may exist in the learners’ first language and this can be helpful – but beware of ‘false friends’!). A step-by-step approach with plenty of scaffolding means that the learners will have a clear idea of context before they encounter this word. This exposure to language in context will help learners work out its meaning.
  • It will be helpful for subject and language teachers to co-ordinate when you are anticipating your learners’ needs in a CLIL lesson.

3. Moving from ‘word’ level to ‘sentence’ level to ‘text’ level use of language

  • It is generally more challenging to produce sentences than individual words, and even more challenging to produce spoken or written texts.
  • In both speaking and writing learners may need to express themselves at word level before they move on to sentence or text level. Similarly, they may find it easier to understand words before sentences and before texts when listening or reading.
  • Teachers can plan their lessons so learners are required to work at word level before they work at sentence level, and at both these levels before they work at text level. You can see this progression in the CLIL lesson above.
  • Working initially at word level provides scaffolding for later work at sentence level. It builds confidence too. Similarly working at sentence level scaffolds later work at text level.
  • In our CLIL lesson Steps 1 and 2 are at word level and scaffold Step 7; Steps 8 and 9 are at word level and scaffold work at text level in steps 12 and 14.

4. Supporting the 4 skills 

  • In CLIL we should provide opportunities to use and develop the 4 language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Most, though not all, individual lessons will contain these four elements.
  • Learners’ receptive skills (reading and listening) will probably be stronger than their active skills (speaking and writing). We need to think of ways to support each skill.
  • The 4 skills are supported in our CLIL lesson by different types of scaffolding. We’ll take the skills one by one.


In a CLIL lesson scaffolding could include: responding to teacher questions with very short answers (perhaps just one word) or with sentences; communication in pairs or groups; and addressing the whole class and dealing with questions from them.

An important way to scaffold speaking is giving the learners prompts, such as language frames, which they can refer to (as seen in Step 12 of the CLIL lesson).

Other kinds of prompt could be visual, for example picture cards which are used to prompt one-word or whole sentence responses.

The CLIL teacher also provides spoken examples of the language required of the learners as a model for their own speaking work.

If the task requires pair work, the teacher can take the part of a learner, working with one of the class, to provide a model for how to carry out the task.


In a CLIL lesson, every lesson naturally presents listening challenges – learners need to be able to understand teacher questions and instructions, for example. The teacher can support listening by careful choice of language in questions and by breaking down instructions into a series of smaller steps.

In learner-focused listening activities, such as information gap pair work, we give the learners a real reason to listen carefully to each other.

These tasks can be scaffolded by providing a graphic organiser such as a table, text or diagram with two versions, A and B. ‘A’ and ‘B’ learners ask questions to find out from each other the details missing from their own version.

Of course, the formation of the learners’ questions may need to be scaffolded by language frames or other prompts and the teacher can model the language required by taking the role of an ‘A’ or ‘B’ learner and working with a more confident class member to give one or two example questions and answers.

With extended listening activities, the teacher scaffolds the skill by setting tasks with a very clear focus. In setting up the task at Step 3 of our CLIL lesson, for example, the teacher simply asks the learners to pick out 4 words from the cartoon in order to answer to her/his question.

Prediction activities and gradual build-up to the task itself are other ways we scaffold listening, as well as written gap fill or table-completion tasks, to be completed while listening. (See Step 10 of the CLIL lesson, where some of the input is in video form).

We should not forget the everyday speaking and listening which takes place in the classroom situation, such as greetings and goodbyes, and language needed to ask the teacher or other learners for clarification, such as, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand’ or ‘How do you spell that word?’

Picture flashcards (see below for ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand’) or posters on the classroom wall can be used to remind the learners to use these expressions. The language is fairly simple and the context is clear, (see the section on Cummins’ quadrant below) but these are all opportunities which should be exploited.


As we’ve seen, reading activities could focus on individual words or sentences as well as connected pieces of text. Our CLIL lesson makes use of visual prompts in the word-picture matching exercise at Step 2 to focus on individual words.

However, we do also need to support our learners in dealing with extended pieces of written text. Again, the lesson activities should build up gradually towards the reading task itself, and the use of prediction activities (based on short extracts from the text such as headings or illustrations to prompt discussion on what the text might be about) are a good way to make the whole reading task more manageable and attractive.

Other examples of scaffolding techniques for reading are: including visual clues to support the meaning of the text, e.g. giving the learners graphic organisers; highlighting key words in the text; and providing a glossary of new or difficult terms.

We need to give our learners a clear reason for reading and focus the tasks on what we want them to achieve – it might simply be a case of extracting dates from a text, for example, so close, detailed reading of the whole text is not required and a simple graphic organiser in the form of a timeline would be appropriate.


As we’ve already seen, writing tasks can also be at word, sentence and text level and work at each level can build learners’ confidence in dealing with the next.

Scaffolding for word level writing can include giving the learners matching tasks, where they have a gapped worksheet and write the words which match the visual prompts provided.

As part of a reading and writing activity, we can also provide a gapped text for the learners to complete with key words and phrases. This will help us to check their understanding of the new language in context.

To reduce the language load at sentence level, we can give the class the beginnings of sentences and ask them to complete them. This works very well for scaffolding speaking, too.

At text level, we can support our learners with models of the texts we want them to produce, as well as writing frames which show the structure of the text required and perhaps include some of the first few words of each sentence (for shorter texts) or each paragraph (in the case of longer texts, such as reports or narratives).

5. Cummins’ quadrant 

 In CLIL, people often refer to Cummins’ quadrant. Here it is:

Taken from: Cummins, Jim (2000). Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire (Bilingual Education & Bilingualism). Multilingual Matters.

  • Jim Cummins, a Canadian academic, classifies classroom tasks and texts on a cline as cognitively demanding-cognitively undemanding, linguistically demanding- linguistically undemanding.
  • This means tasks can be cognitively and linguistically undemanding, cognitively and linguistically demanding, cognitively undemanding and linguistically demanding, or cognitively demanding and linguistically undemanding. Language is likely to be less demanding if it is ‘context embedded’ i.e. the context in which it appears supports and illustrates its meaning through, for example, gestures, visuals, voice emphasis. Language is more demanding when it is ‘context reduced’ i.e. abstract.
  • The quadrant helps us see how academic language may be challenging and can be made more accessible by being used in less demanding cognitive texts or tasks. Academic language is often used in CLIL, especially in reading and writing.
  • To make content or language more accessible, teachers can use Cummins’ classification of tasks to ‘grade’ the input they give learners and the output they expect from them. It is another way of scaffolding CLIL learners. For example, we can learn complex ideas through simple or complex language, we can learn simple ideas through complex or simple language. The teacher can decide at each stage of a lesson what is best for their learners.
  • Cognitive skills are often divided into Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) and Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS). HOTS are more cognitively demanding than LOTS and as CLIL is usually academic and abstract in nature, classroom tasks require considerable focus on HOTS. See further at  and
  • In our CLIL lesson, Step 4 could be cognitively demanding and linguistically undemanding, Step 12 is likely to be both linguistically and cognitively demanding, Step 2 is probably linguistically and cognitively undemanding, Step 10 may be linguistically demanding but cognitively undemanding.        

6. The 4 Cs

For whatever subject, a CLIL curriculum is usually based on the 4 Cs (Content, Cognition, Communication and Citizenship/Culture).


  • Content is what decides all of the other aims of a CLIL lesson, and content aims will mirror subject aims: this is always CLIL’s starting point.
  • Our challenge is to convey the content in such a way that it is fully understood and that our learners can demonstrate and apply their new knowledge.
  • Although we support the learners closely in this process, when we plan the lesson content we can’t compromise by ‘simplifying’ the topic in hand. The teacher needs to maintain the subject’s concepts and language.


  • We saw in the CLIL pre-plan that we need to consider the role of Higher Order and Lower Order Thinking Skills (HOTS and LOTS).
  • CLIL focuses on developing cognitive skills, especially HOTS, as a stepping stone to higher-level critical thinking.
  • Our cognition aims should be based on our subject aims and focus on developing the cognitive skills required by the subject and individual tasks.
  • In our CLIL lesson, we can see LOTS in use in Step 1, where learners have to identify food items and in Steps 2 and 7, where there are matching and classifying activities.
  • At Step 14 we can see an example of the use of HOTS: the learners apply their new-found knowledge, creating a day’s eating plan and evaluating each other’s ideas.


  • This refers to using language and skills to communicate with others. This takes place not only with speaking and listening but also with reading and writing.
  • When we read, the writer communicates with the reader. The reader can then share this communication with others. An example is an information gap reading activity, with A and B versions of the texts and where spoken communication is essential to complete the reading task, e.g. Step 11, where the learners work together and share their findings.
  • Of course, we also very often write to communicate, and this applies to a CLIL lesson, too. In the extension activity at Step 14, the learners are expressing their ideas in written form for others to read and evaluate.
  • Communication also covers language input; we need to enable communication by choosing the key language the learners will need to understand and use, then using scaffolding strategies to help them succeed in understanding and using it.
  • In CLIL, as in other kinds of teaching, we foster a variety of ‘soft skills’, such as listening closely, checking understanding and feeding back, skills which are vital to effective communication in any setting.
  • As technology offers increasing possibilities for the classroom, such as co-teaching/learning via video link, a CLIL teacher will have more tools for promoting communication in a way to which the learners can easily relate.


  • Essential to CLIL is the idea that we are all connected to one another in a variety of ways and have responsibilities as well as rights in every setting.
  • We can imagine our learners and ourselves at the centre of a series of ever-expanding circles. Starting with the individual learner at the centre, we can deal with topics such as health and well-being, both mental and physical.
  • The next circle represents relationships with others at home or in the wider family.
  • Continuing with this idea we can consider class, school, neighbourhood, town and so on - all the way to an individual’s relationship with the planet.
  • CLIL lessons will incorporate some aspect of citizenship/culture through a task or use of resources.
  • Our CLIL lesson aims to maximise the opportunities to raise awareness of the food choices and habits of different cultures of learners in the class, as well as in the wider world.

We wish to acknowledge Giulia Portuese-Williams, Director and founder of La Dante in Cambridge European Cultural Centre, for giving us the idea of producing a CLIL blog post and putting us in touch with Patrick at CLIL Media.