Building Scientific Knowledge in English: Integrating Content, Cognition and Communication in Secondary School CLIL Biology

Keywords: Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), Cognitive Discourse Function (CDF), secondary school science education, knowledge construction


Background: The focus of this paper is on Dalton-Puffer’s construct of the Cognitive Discourse Function (cdf) (2013), which offers clil teachers a practical framework through which they can more easily understand the complex idea of integrating the content, cognition, and language required for their subject. These functions have mainly been addressed from classroom observations or task prompts, and little is known about their teachability and effectiveness on students’ content knowledge.

Purpose: This paper explores whether the cdf of ‘comparing’ (a subcategory of ‘classify’) can be taught to Spanish seventh-grade clil biology students (N = 37) and examines the effect of teaching it explicitly on their written performance.

Method: An operational framework was developed to define this cdf and an exploratory study was performed in which students were asked to hand in written comparisons. Quantitative and qualitative pre-and post-tests were applied.

Results: Significant results were obtained for the experimental groups, which improved in both content and language learning, scoring higher on inclusion of content points, justification of their scientific claims, concept formation and use of lexico-grammatical forms.

Conclusion: These findings add to our understanding of the importance of integrating cognition and language in teaching and learning natural sciences, within which CDFs can be a useful starting point.


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Author Biography

Pilar Gerns, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain; UNIR, Rioja, Spain

Pilar Gerns is a German and Spanish postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS), an interdisciplinary research centre from the University of Navarra (Spain). She is currently conducting a research stay at the University of Porto (Faculty of Arts and Humanities) investigating the concept of Cognitive Discourse Functions (CDFs) in classroom interactions (with a STSM COST Action CA21114 grant). 

Her research area focuses on CLIL, academic writing and digital literacies. She has participated in several conferences, Erasmus + projects, eTwinning projects, and international stays (in Finland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Portugal) and has given lectures at different universities (European University of Madrid, Complutense University, and the University of Hamburg).

How to Cite
GernsP. (2023). Building Scientific Knowledge in English: Integrating Content, Cognition and Communication in Secondary School CLIL Biology. Journal of Language and Education, 9(3), 52-78.