Designing a CLIL Unit

Marzena E. Pepłowska

Warsaw University


This paper explores the process of creating CLIL unit, all the conditions that teacher should take into consideration and the example of the CLIL unit that was created for first grade of private primary school with English instruction in Warsaw, Poland by a trainee teacher. Five lesson plans are included to present possible application of the CLIL unit.


Keywords: CLIL, unit, lesson plans, English


The process of creating CLIL unit is extremely complex. It requires a lot of considerations of different aspects of the context, where it will be conducted. Using Coyle, Hood and Marsh’s (2010) model, the first step is to focus on Vision – the main goal, reflecting on the ideal classroom, the way of sharing ideas with other teachers interested in CLIL. The second element is Context – where the main focus is on the school – parents, school profile, headmaster, pupil and other factors. The further two stages are: Unit Concept and Lesson Level, where the teacher plans a unit with more specific aims and objectives, and task types. It is very helpful to use 4C’s framework (Coyle, 2005) and Curriculum Choice (Coyle et al., 2010) while constructing unit and lesson plans as it simplifies deep analysis. Especially teachers who start implementing CLIL methodology in their practice would find it very time-saving to use this well-constructed model and the ready-made graphic organizers as a way to successfully plan the unit. This model is also very flexible and can be adjusted to teacher’s needs. The teacher should also remember that CLIL combines language and non-language content and it is also crucial for the lessons to be thought through quite well. The right balance between the two components should be maintained – the more complex the content is, the easier should the language be and the other way round. In some cases, high cognitive demands may be combined with high linguistic demands. However, it is usually subsequent to the less demanding tasks. In designing my CLIL Unit I have based on the Coyle’s model for integration in CLIL and the adapted version of CLIL Matrix adapted from Cummins (Coyle et al., 2010). My experience will be described in detail in the section devoted to this subject.



(Coyle, 2008)


The main aim of the first stage in successful CLIL planning is to focus on “a shared vision for CLIL” (Coyle et al., 2010). A teacher that would like to start implementing CLIL methodology into his/her practice should begin with concentrating on his own context. The person should reflect on the form that CLIL may take, as there are many models of CLIL. The CLIL lessons may be conducted once a week or every day – it is not universally defined. It can be also a result of cooperation of all teachers or just two of them. There is no rule for this either. There are also some other practical aspects that should be taken into consideration, like when those lesson will be conducted and who will do this – the content or the language teacher, or maybe even a CLIL specialist, who is employed by the headmaster to conduct only those lessons. Thus, the pioneer in this school should consider all those aspects before moving to the next step. They may and probably would change with time, but it is also expected, as CLIL is process-oriented and not product-oriented and it is absolutely normal to develop through time according to this methodology.
The beginning might be easier if the teacher uses the questions that stimulate creative thinking, like those listed below:


“What is our ideal classroom and what goes on there?
In an ideal world, what do we want our CLIL learners and teachers to be able to achieve? (…)
what kind of scaffolding will help them? (…)
How can we communicate and share our ideas?
Do we have a shared vision for CLIL? If so, what is it? If not, how shall we construct one?”
¬(Coyle et al., 2010)


The teacher should target his attention on long-term, “global goals” (Coyle et al., 2010). The goals should be described by the teachers from this context, interested in implementing CLIL and explicitly formulated. They will affect all other stages of designing CLIL unit as all of them have to be consistent with each other.


The second stage is meant to combine the vision of the professionals with the current situation and context, where CLIL will be applied. It includes the national and local curriculum, the school profile, the headmaster, the parents, the teachers and the learners – all factors involved and influencing the teaching and learning.
The national and local curriculum describe what the learners should know and be able to do after each stage of education. It all depends also on the curriculum and educational policy as they obviously may or may not support implementing CLIL. They would probably affect teacher’s in-class time so he would have to take into consideration also the time needed for adding CLIL. However, it is also possible to use special extra time with the class teacher that is dedicated for the topics related to integration with other cultures, discovering the world – especially that CLIL has also a cultural aspect. Moreover, if the school philosophy allows or promotes international projects the CLIL model would differ from the one, where such projects are not acknowledged. Analysing more aspects of the context of the person interested in implementing CLIL can only develop the list of context-dependent factors that will prove that there are many CLIL models, and it to be beard in mind that none of them is ideal and universal.
Some possible questions used by the teacher during the deep analysis of the context might be as follows:


“Who is involved in the teaching and the learning? Subject teachers? Language teachers? General teachers? Assistants? All of these?
What are the implications of the above for constructing our own CLIL model? (e.g. Which subjects, themes, topics and languages? Which learners, classes?)”
(Coyle et al., 2010)
The teachers should reckon with the differentiation of learning in order to challenge more advanced learners and to support the less capable ones. Providing proper instructional strategies like building background, using learning phases, scaffolding or integrating modalities may facilitate learning, but the teacher should be aware of the individual learners’ profiles in order to be able to prepare the best possible support.
Taking into consideration the factors mentioned above, the teacher should not forget about other ones like parents’ fears and expectations. They should be informed about the changes and all its advantages as well as practical details. They might demonstrate uncertainty about the method. However, it is likely that after few well-conducted CLIL lessons their fears will be diminished.
Combining all the factors will involve a lot of reflective tasks. However, this it the effort that would guarantee successfully planned and learner-adjusted CLIL unit.
Unit concept
Following deeply analysed vision for CLIL, the context of the educator, and the combination of the two, the professional should continue on personal reflection by planning the unit in detail. It is advisable to use the Tool Kit presented by Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010). This conceptual framework consists of four components, i.e. content, communication, culture and cognition. Content refers to the subject matter and non-language skills. The content might be viewed as integrated in themes and not only as segregated into subjects. Another 4Cs’ component – communication correspond with language as a tool, while culture is perceived as understanding other cultures and the feeling of being so-called global citizen. The last element in the conceptual framework is cognition, standing for the necessary thinking processes.
Although they are described as separate concepts, they create one framework, where none of them can be omitted, for example cognitively demanding tasks need the content as a background and not extremely challenging language items for the task to succeed. Nonetheless, I would consider content as the most important element. It is so because the content area develops usually faster than the language domain. The content should determine the overall outline of the unit as low linguistic level should not limit the content and therefore the general development of the learner. Content and language learning are integrated at cognitive and cultural levels appropriate to the learners which results in a new type of learning scenarios so distant from what the students already know and thus, motivating and interesting them.
The level of detailed planning in this stage facilitates the design of the particular lessons in the following one. It is recommended to use “a mind map or similar visual organizer to create a unit of work” (Coyle et al., 2010), such as this one provided in the same book (figure 1).



Constructing the mind map, a person should focus on one area at a time and then proceed to the next one, linking it to the analysed one. The whole planning might start with choosing the most appropriate content (if the choice can be made), basing on a curriculum and/or a syllabus that is used in this context. Next, a proper selection of the new knowledge is to be made – what the student will be able to do and whether or how they will progress. Subsequently, a person should connect the chosen content with the proper cognitive level. The best way to begin with is to use Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) or its renewed version by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001).
The content conditions the most appropriate cognitive levels to develop – the choice between “the use of higher-order thinking (HOTS) such as hypothesizing and problem solving as well as lower-order thinking (LOTS) such as remembering, understanding and applying new knowledge” (Coyle et al., 2010). In this step it is also required to consider what types of task and activities would be useful for developing the aimed cognitive levels in the chosen content, as well as the questions that would support this process – however, not in great detail as the next stage will consist on detailed lesson and tasks planning. It is also good time for reflecting on the assessment tasks that would fit the whole construct and the teacher’s goals. After this part, a teacher should link the two C’s that are already thought through in detail with the language learning. The linguistic area might be analysed “using the Language Triptych (…) language of, for, and through learning” (Coyle, 2010). The correct understanding is necessary for being able to distinguish and analyse the concepts.
Language of learning covers the key vocabulary and phrases, forms and tenses needed and the type of language, e.g. language of descriptions. The other part of the Triptych, language for learning includes language that is needed to communicate in the classroom, to complete the task. One of the possible questions a teacher could ask while thinking about language for learning is: “What are the possible language demands of typical tasks and classroom activities? (e.g. how to work in groups, organize research)” (Coyle et al., 2010). Next, the teacher can reflect on the way the language skills will be learnt or developed and reassure that the language for instructions and assessing is understandable for the specified group. The last of those linked parts is language through learning which encompasses skills and language that may occur during the tasks and activities.
Culture is the last step in considering a unit concept. It tends to be understood as an additional element added to the other three components when talking about customs for instance. However, it should not be viewed in this way. According to Coyle et al. (2010), it should be perceived as “a ‘lived-through’ experience: for example throught the ethos of the classroom, through curriculum linking with other classes, through the content of the unit or through connections made with the wider world.” It is possible to start the reflection on the possible ways of integrating culture with considering the potential of the content and the ways we could familiarize our students with those topics. Here, none of the cultures should not be omitted – neither low, nor high. It is also to be thought over whether and what possibilities there are to connect with other people, classes, schools – even from the other country – in order to mutually the cultural agenda of this content area.
Lesson level
The third stage equip the teacher with the mind map that should be the point of reference at the fourth stage which consists of preparing detailed lesson plans with all the materials needed. Due to the context-dependance of the CLIL methodology, there is still a great need for the materials (Meyer, 2010). Thus, the lesson level is time-consuming, because the teacher has to design and prepare his own materials. However, more and more teacher communities are sharing materials nowadays. Therefore, the designing and preparation of the materials should be preceeded with the web quest – it is possible that someone has done some similar topics and it is possible to use it or to base on it – obviously if the author allows copying.
Although there are not many ready-made CLIL materials we can use, they still do exist. Hence, there should also be a proper research done in terms of not only those accessed via the Internet, but also those included in the resources packs and books available on the market.
If no or little ready-made materials were found, a person should create is own, basing on his/her planning practice in the non-CLIL setting and following the typical lesson planning rules, such as for instance proper cohesion or adequate activities. One of the possible ways of facilitating understanding the more demanding content is to use graphic organizers and senses stimulating materials.


My experience
I began preparing my CLIL Unit by reflecting on the vision of my mentor teacher and mine, trying to combine them in order to create the most suitable unit that would also answer the learners’ needs and the requirements from the curriculum. Therefore I have started this path by analysing the CLIL context. The fist step wa to become acquainted with International Baccalaureate Organization programme that implies that learner in Primary Years Programme (PYP) should have daily contact with English language as well as “support (…) in learning world and finding his place (…) through openness on the environment” (, presented in detail in the documents in PYP Curriculum ( Later on, I had to consider the school’s curriculum and fit into the theme that the mentor teacher planned for this time – “Cooperation”. The class consisted of 15 learners – 2 native speakers, 3 very fluent English speakers and 3 easily distracted students. They had problems with working together, socialising and group-work activities. As my goal I have chosen to present the importance and emphasize the role of cooperation among people. Next, I have focused on the Unit Concept and I have reflected on possible unit topics that would fit my goals. I decided to choose human organ system, especially that the mentor teacher has chosen robots as her topic that would illustrate cooperation. I have observed the class for few weeks before planning my unit. They were doing perfectly well with their previous project on the Earth’s rotation and the Earth’s orbit. Due to the observations I assumed that the cognitive level of this topic would not be too difficult for this particular group. Afterwards, I have created my 4 C’s framework (figure 2) and deeply analysed the content I would like to use (figure 3).



(figure 2. Pepłowska, 2015)



(figure 3. Pepłowska, 2015)
Following the Coyle et al.’s model (2010), I have continued on constructing my CLIL unit by creating the Language Tryptych (figure 4).



(figure 4. Pepłowska, 2015)
After deciding on the topic of my CLIL unit I had to reflect on the objectives for my learners. Being aware of the cognitive demands of this specific topic, I have decided that students will be able to understand the importance of cooperation, to explain that proper functioning of the human body depends on many little parts and notice the correlations with cooperation among people, and to understand and remember the functions of human organ systems. I wanted them to be able to test, compare, hypothesize and justify their opinion. For the reason that students are used to portfolio assessment which is also consistent with my view on assessing young learners, I have also decided that children will create a portfolio with their works, done throughout the unit and we will call it “The Book of Human Body”.
Next, I have started planning in detail the lessons and materials. Here, I have also done a webquest (figure 5) and looked for other ready-made materials that would fit my needs (figure 6).


(figure 5. Pepłowska, 2015)



(figure 6. Pepłowska, 2015)


As the last step, I have designed and created the materials I didn’t find – e.g. blank body contour or a body contour with the names of parts of the body. I have also planned my lesson in detail, making sure that they would be interesting and motivating for my learners. I also cared so that they were differentiated and stimulating different senses and adequate for different learners’ profiles.


Planning and constructing a CLIL unit is time-consuming and demanding tast. However it is also worth all the effort needed. My students appreciated the new form of the lessons. They were involved, engaged, and positively reacting to the new challenges. They managed to work in groups, which surprised me the most. I suspect that many of the ‘discipline problems’ might be dealt by differentiating the instruction and the lesson form. Moreover, CLIL activates students’ creativity and thinking. It is crucial for the teachers not to forget that their learners can be challenged, but skillfully – with the proper support from the teacher.


Coyle, D. (2005). Developing CLIL: Towards a Theory of Practice, APAC Monograph 6, APAC: Barcelona
Coyle, D. (2008). Kunst CLIL [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from
Coyle, D., Hood, P. and Marsh, D. (2010). Content and Landuage Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Meyer, O. (2010). Towards quality CLIL: successful planning and teaching strategies. Puls, 11-29
Pepłowska, M. (2015). My CLIL Unit [Prezi presentation]. Retrieved from


Published: 2015-06-22