Current Research Projects

Current Research Projects are those jointly conceived and conducted by Working CLIL Members and Collaborators under the auspices of Working CLIL. These include post-doctoral and doctoral projects. They may also be joint projects with colleagues from other institutions of higher education, associations and organisations.


Training For CLIL SPOC In Higher Education

Steering group: Working CLIL members Maria Ellison (FLUP), Margarida Morgado (IP Castelo Branco), Margarida Coelho (IP Portalegre), Teresa Coelho (IP Portalegre),  Ana Píriz (U. Extremadura), Rafael Alejo (U. Extremadura) and Victor Pavón (U. Córdoba).

Collaborators: CETAPS-Working CLIL members;.

Context: The SPOC is based on previous face-to-face and blended editions of the CLIL Training Course for Higher Education lecturers that has been running in several Higher Education Institutions through the association.


1. Refine previous course materials and adapt them to the SPOC Environment;

2. Involve language specialists and subject content specialists who have attended previous CLIL training courses to design content and give feedback on methodological options.


July 2020 – full design outline;

September – December 2020 – Development of content;

November – December , 2021 – Piloting

October 2021 – January 2022 – Finalising and launch

Technical support: IP Castelo Branco

The SPOC has been operationalised in distance (IP Castelo Branco; UP. Porto and blended formats IP Portalegre) the results of which form a study into its use and benefits (initial results presented at CIEB 2023 – see our news).

CLIL Across School Levels in Portugal: State-of-the-art Survey.

Researchers: Working CLIL members (FLUP; FCSH; U. Algarve; IP Castelo Branco; IP Guarda; IP Portalegre).

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) under its many guises is growing within and across educational levels in Portugal through school-led grassroots projects in both the state and private sector, and national initiatives such as the Bilingual Schools Programme (Ministry of Education and British Council).  As a recent phenomenon, it is important to understand why and how it is being implemented. This is of interest to researchers and all other stakeholders within and beyond educational communities in Portugal and abroad, and is a central goal of the Working CLIL Research Strand.


  1. to determine the extent to which CLIL is being implemented in Portugal (This includes types of CLIL/bilingual models; subjects; % of curricular time; teacher and learner profiles; school coordination; stakeholder perspectives);
  1. to determine institutional/stakeholder needs with a view to providing recommendations on implementation, teacher education, and teaching materials;
  1. to produce a State–of-the-Art Report on CLIL across School Levels in Portugal.

Methods: Mixed quantitative and qualitative data-collection.

Online survey to schools and teachers; focus groups of stakeholders; individual semi-structured interviews with teachers and school directors.

Timeline: 2019 – 2022

Teacher Perspectives on CLIL/EMI in Higher Education In Portugal: an Inter-institutional Study.

Researchers: Working CLIL members (FLUP; FCSH; U. Algarve; IP Castelo Branco; IP Guarda; IP Portalegre).

The use of English as an academic lingua franca for teaching in institutions of higher education (HEIs) in Portugal is outpacing that in any other level of education in the country. This is fuelled by the need of HEIs to ‘internationalize’ which includes attracting foreign students for study purposes (Arau Ribeiro and Coelho, 2019). However, the extent to which academic staff are prepared for this endeavour is debatable and under-researched in this country. What is certain, is that CLIL/EMI in higher education in Portugal is set to rise in coming years. Drawing on findings from Working CLIL member studies (Arau Ribeiro & Coelho, 2019; Ellison et al, 2017; Morgado et al, 2015) this research project seeks to capture the most recent perspectives of academic teaching staff in six HEIs across the country.


1. To determine the attitudes and perspectives of teachers involved in CLIL/EMI in Working CLIL member institutions;

2. To determine the degree of similarity and difference between attitudes and perspectives across institutions;

3. To identify the type of support provided;

4. To provide recommendations for continual professional development for teaching staff.

Methods: Mixed quantitative and qualitative data-collection.

Online survey to academic teaching staff involved in CLIL/EMI;

focus groups of teachers; individual semi-structured interviews with teachers.

Timeline: June 2019 – 2023


Arau Ribeiro, M.C., Coelho, M. (2019). Transference and transformation for internationalisation in higher education. A case study of Portugal. European Journal of Language Policy (EJLP), 11.1 (pp.71-94). Liverpool University Press. ISSN 1757-6822 (print) 1757-6830 (online).

Ellison, M., Araújo, S., Correia, M. & Vieira, F. (2017). Teachers’ Perceptions of Need in EAP and ICLHE Contexts. In J.Valcke & R. Wilkinson (eds.). Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education: Perspectives on Professional Practice (pp. 59-76). Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

Morgado, M., Coelho, M., Arau Ribeiro, M. C., Albuquerque, A., Silva, M., Chorão, G. & Chumbo, I. (2015). CLIL training guide. Creating a CLIL learning community in higher education. Santo Tirso, Portugal: De Facto Editores. ISBN: 978-989-8557-50-6).

Implementing a Whole School Approach to Language Awareness Across the Curriculum

Researcher: Maria Ellison (FLUP)

Collaborator: Alvaro Almeida Santos (Escola Secundária Dr Joaquim Gomes Ferreira Alves).

Successful schooling depends on an ability to use academic language effectively, both to communicate and create knowledge (Beacco et al, 2016). However, so-called ‘non-language’ teachers frequently do not consider themselves teachers of language, yet it is they who are responsible for the development of their students’ subject-specific literacy. Building on practical knowledge and understanding of the role of language in CLIL within the GoCLIL project implemented across various subjects and year levels since 2013, the researcher and collaborator of this project at Escola Secundária Dr Joaquim Gomes Ferreira Aves intend to implement and monitor a ‘whole school approach’ in which it is hoped that teachers of all subjects become more conscious of the language of their subject when teaching it in the mother tongue. This, in turn, should help support the language needs and output of their students.


1. To determine the extent of teachers’ disciplinary language awareness;

2. To raise teachers’ awareness of the role of language within their disciplines by drawing their attention to disciplinary genres, academic language and cognitive discourse functions through professional development exercises;

3. To encourage teachers to support students’ learning of disciplinary language through scaffolding strategies which support this in their lesson materials and lesson delivery

4. To develop school guidelines on language awareness across the curriculum.


  • Online surveys to teaching staff (pre- and post-course)
  • Focus groups of teachers; individual semi-structured interviews with teachers (pre-interim, post-course)
  • Observation of lessons

Timeline: Sept 2018 – Sept 2021

Reference: Beacco, J. C., Fleming, M., Goullier, F., Thurman, E. and Vollmer, H. (2016) A Handbook for Curriculum Development and Teacher Training: The Language Dimension in all Subjects. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

COST action CLILnetLE

COST Action: CA21114 – CLIL Network for Languages in Education: Towards bi- and multilingual disciplinary literacies. Working CLIL members: Maria Ellison and Margarida Morgado are members of this action. Maria Ellison is a member of the Management Committee for Portugal

Call for collaboration: if you are a Higher Education Content-specialist or ESP teacher in first year, teaching any topic in the areas of History, Maths or Science, or know any such teachers that would be willing to collaborate in this data collection, please contact Margarida Morgado at



Post-Doctoral Projects

Cognitive discourse functions (CDFs) and disciplinary literacy

Researcher: Pilar Gerns is a German and Spanish postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS), a centre for interdisciplinary research at the University of Navarra, Spain. As a research member of the group Public Discourse, she is investigating different topics related to language and discourse analysis. She holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Navarra, a BA in English Studies from the UNED, a MA with honours in Teaching Social Science and Foreign Languages in Secondary School from the University of Santiago de Compostela and a PhD cum laude from the Univ. of Navarra.

Currently, she is carrying out a postdoctoral research stay under the supervision of Prof. Maria Ellison at the University of Porto and forms part of the CETAPS group. As part of it, she has offered two accredited courses on bilingual education (CLIL) to secondary school teachers and she is conducting a field project with different bilingual schools, co-financed by the European COST agency (CA21114 CLILNetLE), is a European research and innovation network through which different experts examine some of the current challenges related to the issue of disciplinary literacy in bilingual/CLIL education.


  1. Activities

CLIL in secondary education and teacher formation

Pilar Gerns has developed her thesis on the concept of cognitive discourse functions (CDFs) (Dalton-Puffer, 2013) in secondary science writing, the results of which were presented in different conferences and publications. Currently, she is working as a member of the group Public Discourse at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) at the University of Navarra, investigating different topics related to language and discourse analysis. She is also a lecturer at the master’s degree in teaching social science and foreign languages in secondary education.

Postdoctoral research study in Porto  

Since January 2023, Pilar Gerns is carrying out a postdoctoral research study under the supervision of Professor Maria Ellison.

During the first months, she got permission to visit different secondary schools and analyse how bilingual teaching (CLIL) is being carried out at the classroom level and to examine CLIL teachers’ use of CDFs in classroom interaction. To do so, she relied on classroom observations, recordings, and interviews with teachers.

After several months of analysing the situation of bilingualism in Porto, it was agreed to create a course to train teachers in bilingual education. In view of the need, the rector of the University of Porto authorized the creation of an official CLIL course on this matter. This initiative was supported by the Recovery and Resilience Plan/ Plano de recuperação e Resiliência português (RRP) of Portugal and by a Short-Term Scientific Mission (STSM) from the European network CA21114 COST ACTION. The objective was to carry out a small exploratory study focused on the concept of cognitive functions of discourse (CDF) (Dalton-Puffer, 2013), which presents a good starting point to address language and ways of thinking specific to each discipline (their disciplinary literacies).

This research action has consisted of providing different teachers in Porto with training on CLIL, theC. The fundamental pillars of CLIL teaching were explained to them and they were familiarized with the CDF framework by showing them concrete examples. Afterwards, they had to develop a teaching unit for CLIL, which included the CDFs.

In October 2023, Pilar Gerns will analyse the impact that the training course has had on the teachers’ teaching practice. This will be evaluated through post-course interviews and classroom observations.

This action aimed, on the one hand, to support the implementation of CLIL in Portugal, which, compared to other countries, is still in its infancy and requires more guidance. On the other hand, it is hoped that by raising teachers’ awareness of the concepts of CDF and disciplinary literacy by analysing them together, they could begin to understand and use them in their CLIL teaching and provide valuable knowledge when defining and exploring the linguistic characteristics of their disciplines.


Pilar Gerns also formed part of the Organizing Committee of the third international WORKING CLIL colloquium (Moving CLIL forward: Towards sustainable educational practices), which was held at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Porto on July 13 and 14, 20

Approaches to Translanguaging in Primary Bilingual Classrooms

Researcher: Nayalin Pinho Feller (FLUP)

The role of teachers in the bilingual and biliterate development of children has been object of many studies over the years. In Europe and elsewhere, various bilingual programs and teaching pedagogies have been employed to make sure that children leave school as proficient in more than one language. More specifically, in Portugal, since 2010, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has been employed in public schools throughout the country by the means of the bilingual project (PEBI) run by the Ministry of Education (ME) and the British Council. In addition, many private schools have adopted CLIL and other bilingual teaching pedagogies in their classrooms. However, little research has been done with regards to the language practices of teachers and children within such classrooms. By systematically observing two primary bilingual classrooms (a private and a state school), this study aims at investigating the teachers’ and children’s use of the Portuguese and English languages. The private school implements its own Bilingual Program. The state school uses the PEBI program. The decision to observe two different schools stems from the fact that the two schools are operating different CLIL/ Bilingual Programs. Thus, instead of doing a comparison, this study will look at the points of convergence in approaches to translanguaging and languages use.


  • To understand how planned and/ or spontaneous translanguaging practices happen in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)/ Bilingual classrooms.
  • To develop the teachers’ understanding of translanguaging practices and their use of teaching strategies in order to aid the children’s bilingual development


Research Questions

The study is designed as an analysis of the ways in which two languages coexist and are used by teachers and children in the bilingual classrooms. In this context, this study is geared to providing answers to the following overarching questions:

  • When do teachers and children use their L1 and L2 within the classroom?
  • For which purposes / functions do teachers and children use their L1 and L2?

Data-gathering and analysis

Data collection will be done through ethnographic methods (Heath, 1982a; Watson-Gegeo, 1988; Hammersley, 1993a; Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007), applying a case study design (Yin, 1994). Data analysis will be performed qualitatively, through content analysis (Bardin, 1977). The data from both classrooms will be analyzed to determine the use of strategies employed for language learning and the benefits that purposeful or natural language choices bring into the bilingual development of the children.

Timeline: December 2018 – December 2019


Feller, N. P. & Vaughan, J. (2018). Language practices of Guarani children in a community-based bilingual school. In Wigglesworth, G., Simpson, J. & Vaughan, J. (Eds.), From Home to School: Language Practices of Indigenous and Minority Children. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

García, O. (2012). Theorizing translanguaging for educators. In Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB Guide for Educators (C. Celic & K. Seltzer), 1–6. New York: CUNY-NYSIEB.

Doctoral Projects

Working CLIL