Content and language processing sequence

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №8 - 2016

Author: Pogorelova Olga, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

As Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) requires new kinds of collaboration between subject specialists and language specialists it is important to acknowledge that new kinds of pedagogical practices are also required and that interdisciplinary meanings have to be negotiated for the role of language in knowledge construction and sharing.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has been adopted as an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of content and language-oriented models. Independently of this variation, CLIL teachers themselves are often in charge of translating the CLIL principles into adequate practice by planning and designing the CLIL syllabus as well as the activities or tasks through which CLIL is realized. With some exceptions, the existing literature on CLIL pedagogy focuses on content-oriented models of CLIL. In general, in these models the CLIL teacher does not need to select the CLIL contents since they are already dictated by an official curriculum. However, the implementation of a language-oriented version of CLIL in the foreign language classroom demands from the language teacher some work different from that required in content-oriented versions of CLIL. This kind of work involves a series of tasks prior to materials design, such as content selection, adaptation and sequencing, along with the treatment of the foreign language and its integration into the content sequence (Fernández Fontecha, 2012).

In order to compensate for the absence of CLIL pedagogical tools in all types of CLIL but especially in language-oriented models, scientists put forward the design of a framework that could aid teachers in CLIL syllabus planning and materials design. The framework attempts to give an answer to aspects including the selection of contents or the treatment of the foreign language in a language-oriented version of CLIL.

In the Spanish CLIL, for example, most programs follow a type of sheltered content instruction model, a strong version of CLIL where the instruction is done exclusively by the content specialist (Fernández Fontecha, 2009). In this model, the CLIL teacher is required to have a double qualification both in content and language. However, if we take into account the current situation of teachers in many regions concerning pre and in-service training, in many cases this seems a somewhat unrealistic goal (Fernández Fontecha, 2010a). A more viable alternative to this model nowadays could be the adjunct model, in which a content teacher instructs the students in the Foreign Language (FL) and the language teacher offers support to the content class. Some syllabus adaptation should be required here. This is the option recommended by the Junta de Andalucía (2008) in the Currículo integrado de las lenguas. Apart from these variants of CLIL, Brinton, Snow and Wesche (2004) describe the theme-based language instruction as a third option. This is the weakest version of CLIL, where the FL teacher carries out the instruction.

As Nikula (1997) notes, although the different CLIL models refer to the same phenomena, they differ in the emphasis placed on the language and content. These and other variants represent different points along a content-language oriented continuum (Met, 1998). In content-oriented or strong models of CLIL, the non-linguistic contents dictate the sequence of the language contents. In language-oriented or weak models, the language sequence still depends on the content sequence but it has a larger role than in content-oriented models: the language covertly monitors the content, as the linguistic objectives are the basis of the FL syllabus.

Theme-based language instruction (Brinton et al., 2004), theme-based instruction (Raphan and Moser, 1993 / 1994), thematic teaching (Curtain and Haas, 1995), or content-based thematic units (Irujo, 1990) are some of the terms referring to language-oriented CLIL models. The focus of this approach is primarily on the foreign language. Thus, the target of evaluation will be language skills and functions. The instructional format is a content-oriented L2/FL course. The language teacher is in charge of language and content instruction. At least, following Brinton et al. (2004), in this model there is no need for cooperation between mainstream teachers and language specialists. The curriculum is based on thematic units that cover a wide variety of topics that may integrate the four language skills. Curtain and Haas (1995: 3) explain that “the thematic center may be a curriculum area, such as the Middle Ages; a word like ‘inside’; a theme such as horses; or a story in the target language.”

In this model, it is not easy to find a textbook suitable for the instruction of the units. A possible solution could be that the teachers design their own materials. In this situation, some set of guidelines that inform the process towards materials design would be desirable. In generating a CLIL syllabus, some CLIL guidelines should back the interaction of the linguistic and non-linguistic contents stated in the official curricula. This process would entail the selection, processing, and sequencing of non-linguistic contents together with the treatment of linguistic contents and the relationship between both content and language.

Since the 1980s, a large number of tools have been devised that cover different steps of language and content integration. These tools are useful sets of instructions about how to manage different parts of the CLIL implementation process, e.g. content and language assessment, use of visuals, identification of knowledge structures, inclusion of thinking skills – Fernández Fontecha (2008a), reviews of each of these tools. Yet, a couple of issues should be noted here: first, most of these tools address adjunct or sheltered instruction CLIL models; few focus on the problems of the language teacher as a CLIL teacher in a theme-based model. And second, none of the above-mentioned tools include a regular use of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in CLIL provision. CLIL materials design could well benefit from the combination of ICT and CLIL. The use of the ICT component may help develop the different postulates of CLIL. Thus, it could provide quantity and quality of exposure to the foreign/second language, motivation, and rich visual support to content and language learning; it could trigger cooperative forms of learning and learning by doing; and it could help develop language learning skills and higher-order thinking skills. CLIL may indirectly help create favorable conditions for ICT integration, an aspect forgotten in many respects in current foreign/second language teaching, as noted by different authors (e.g. Gillespie and McKee, 1999; McCarthy, 1999; Bax, 2003; Richards, 2005). Among the different possible ways of attaining ICT integration, Chambers and Bax (2006) point to the systematic inclusion of the new technologies in syllabus design.

The Content and Language Processing Sequence (CLPS), a tool that could inform aspects such as the selection and processing non-linguistic contents, language treatment, and materials design in a language-oriented version of CLIL developed by the FL teacher in the FL classroom. The product developed by means of the CLPS is the CLILQuest, an ICT-based task that becomes the unit of learning in this model.

The type of CLIL syllabus intended through this tool is based on a sequence of three distinct graded categories: Topic, Module, and CLILQuest. This sequence receives the name of Content and Language Processing Sequence (CLPS). It seeks to systematize the teacher’s task of integrating content and language before instruction delivery.

The following features define the tool or framework:

- Systematic guidance

- Promotion of language-oriented versions of CLIL

- Immediate classroom application

- Teacher-managed

- Learner-centred

- ICT integration through systematic use

For Kidd and Marquardson (1993), the first step in CLIL syllabus design is topic selection. In general, a topic can be defined as what is being talked about. When a topic does not correspond to a subject, i.e. it is not determined by a national curriculum, its selection should follow a set of criteria. Two core criteria are that the topic should motivate learners and it should have some social interest. Apart from that, the teachers should think whether the conceptual load and the difficulty that the subject has, along with its instruction in a language different from the mother tongue, would make things extremely complex for learners. Moreover, the linguistic part of a topic should be controlled whenever possible. This idea should be a must in CLIL scenarios where learners are assessed on language. Each topic has linguistic potential inasmuch as its concepts and meanings are transmitted by no other means than language. However, based on aspects such as the moment at which the instruction of the topic takes place, or the relationship of the topic with the previous and subsequent teaching of other topics, it is the teacher’s decision to find the linguistic part of a topic adequate or not.

Topics could be divided into subtopics, immediate smaller categories of content. The topic-subtopic relationship resembles the traditional relation of subject and units. A crucial feature in selecting a subtopic is that it should render the essential information of the topic.

Each topic or subtopic is developed through a series of modules. Drawn on Martin’s (1990) notion of thematic module, i.e. basic units of study in a content-based language course midway between the lesson and the course, the module corresponds to distinct categories of knowledge behind the topic. Based on Anderson and Krathwohl’s (2001) dimension of knowledge within their adaptation of Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy of educational objectives, a sequence of at least four categories of modules arranged into two axes: the Background Knowledge Axis and the Practical Knowledge Axis can be distinguished. These are the four types of modules profiled:

Background Knowledge Axis

1. Introductory Module: the purpose of this category of modules is to introduce the main concepts and ideas of the topic. Modules of this kind must be especially motivating in this initial phase in order to draw students' attention towards the topic presented. A critical characteristic of Introductory Modules is that they should activate learners’ background information on the topic.

2. Core-Knowledge Module: these modules contain the essential information for understanding the topic.

Practical Knowledge Axis

3. Case Module: they develop the topic through concrete examples. Their main purpose is to depict the reality behind the background knowledge of each topic.

4. Awareness Module: these modules attempt to develop the same procedural knowledge as Case Modules. Learners apply the knowledge acquired in the Background Knowledge Axis to problems related to their lives. They aim to raise students’ awareness towards topic-specific problems. Awareness Modules are particularly important for the teaching of moral contents.

It is very important that the teacher should keep the established order of the sequence of modules as a means of controlling the occurrence of both theoretical and practical knowledge to the maximum. In this sense, it is recommended to use a complete modular sequence for each topic. However, there is no limit in using more than one sequence as long as each category of module is introduced. In addition, one sequence can be adapted to the particularities of each teaching situation. This means that for some specific purposes we can devise sets of more than one module of each category for a given topic.

The last category of the CLPS is the CLILQuest (Fernández Fontecha, 2010b). It receives the name after Dodge (2001) and March’s (2000, 2003) idea of WebQuest. Like the WebQuest, the CLILQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity that draws on the resources of the Internet and promotes the development of learners’ higher-order thinking skills. Like language-specific WebQuests (e.g. Pérez Torres, 2006; Koenraad and Westhoff, 2003), CLILQuests’ main function is to help learners use the foreign language with a purpose by means of authentic Web information. Yet, the CLILQuest differs from the language-specific WebQuests in that (1) it is specifically embedded in a CLIL syllabus, (2) it approaches the four language skills from a holistic perspective, and (3) it belongs to a sequence and it is embedded within a superior component. This latter factor enables the actual integration of ICT into the CLIL syllabus as CLILQuests depend on the requirements of the topics and modules.

It is strongly motivated by Jonassen’s (1994) Constructivist Learning Environments and the constructivist learning designs noted by Oliver (2001), i.e. problem-based learning, case-based learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and role-playing. It is also influenced by the Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) methodological principles developed by Doughty and Long (2003). For example, following these authors, the CLILQuest allows for a meaningful integration of some Focus on Form (FonF) techniques.

There are four types of CLILQuests, which coincide with each of the four types of modules profiled above, i.e. Introductory, Core-Knowledge, Case, and Awareness CLILQuest. Each CLILQuest consists of the following sections: guide, test, development, general and a scaffold/web resources section. In the guide, the task type and the participants’ roles are specified. Influenced by Long (1998) task types, they are more abstract categories that serve to agglutinate specific tasks. Each task type may correspond to one or several of the constructivist learning designs pointed out by Oliver (2001). The test section seeks (1) to activate learners’ background knowledge on a given subtopic, and (2) enable the connection of foreign language vocabulary and structures to those of the first language by means of FonF techniques. In the development section, each of the quests, or specific tasks that develop the task type of each CLILQuest, are described. The quest section includes the participants’ teams, the quest’s main goals and intended outcomes, and the list of web resources and additional documentation.

In sum, although this framework may suit the requirements of the content or language teacher, one of its main aims is that the foreign language teacher has an active role in CLIL implementation by taking advantage of some core aspects of CLIL.


1. Fernández Fontecha, A. CLIL in the Foreign Language Classroom: Proposal ontent and of a Framework for ICT Materials Designing Language-Oriented Versions of Content and Language Integrated Learning. Alicante Journal of English Studies 25(2012): 317-334.

2. Fernández Fontecha, A. (2010a): “First steps of CLIL in a Spanish Monolingual Community: The Case of La Rioja.” In Y. Ruiz de Zarobe and D. Lasagabaster, eds. CLIL in Spain: Implementation, Results and Teacher Training. Newcastle, UK: Cabridge Scholars Publishers, 79-94.

3. Anderson, L. W. and D. R. Krathwohl (eds.) (2001): A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: a Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

4. Fernández Fontecha, A. (2010b): “The CLILQuest: a Type of Language WebQuest for Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).” CORELL: Computer Resources for Language Learning 3 (2009-2010): 45-64. Ton Koenraad (ed.) Monograph: Language Quests in Language Education.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №8 - 2016

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