Print   |   Save

Teaching Science Through English:
Engaging Pupils Cognitively

Sopia Md Yassin
Faculty of Education and Human Development, Sultan Idris Education University (Malaysia)

Ong Eng Tek
Faculty of Education and Human Development, Sultan Idris Education University (Malaysia)

Hashimah Alimon
Faculty of Science and Mathematics, Sultan Idris Education University (Malaysia)

Sadiah Baharom
Faculty of Education and Human Development, Sultan Idris Education University (Malaysia)

Lai Ying Ying
Sri Rahmat National Secondary School (Johore Malaysia)


This paper presents the study of an on-going project on the teaching of Science through English with a focus on teachers. CLIL, which emphasizes the four research-based frameworks were developed on issues related to content, language, cognition and community. So far, pupils’ cognitive engagement have received few research interests, and therefore, there is a need for more research on this dimension within the context of the Malaysian CLIL. Nine Year 4 science lessons were observed, videotaped, transcribed and analyzed for instructional opportunities that teachers offer to engage pupils in the different levels of cognitive processes and knowledge dimensions of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. The findings indicate that questions posed by the teachers were substantially (98.8%) coded at the lower cognitive taxonomic categories (i.e., remember and understand) suggesting that students were engaged at a lower cognitive levels in the teaching of science through English. The analysis of classroom discourse indicates the prevalence of teacher talk and that teacher talk seems to correlate negatively with the number of words in pupils’ response. Implications on teachers’ questioning strategies to promote cognitive engagement in teaching science through English is discussed, in the light of concerns raised on the effectiveness of the Malaysian CLIL.


Keywords: cognitive levels of BRT, oral discourse, Malaysian CLIL, Science, teachers’ questions


This study forms part of a research project investigating the teaching of Science through a second or foreign language which is English. The legislative background for this was provided by the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (TLSME) or more popularly known in the Malay Language as PPSMI (Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam Bahasa Inggeris), hereafter referred to as the Malaysian CLIL policy implemented in 2003 by the Ministry of Education (MOE), Malaysia. It was intended as an initiative to improve English Language proficiency among Malaysian students. Hence, in the 2003 school academic year, the Malaysian CLIL policy was implemented in Year 1 (Age 7), Form 1 (Age 13) and Lower Six (Age 18), and eventually, by 2008, this policy was fully implemented across all levels of primary education (Years 1-6), secondary education (Forms 1-5), and post-secondary education (Lower and Upper Six, Matriculation). Equally, this policy was also implemented across all types of school, be it fully-aided (National Primary and Secondary Schools) or partially-aided (National-Type Tamil Primary Schools and National-Type Chinese Primary Schools). Prior to 2003, Science and Mathematics in the National, National-Type Tamil, and National-Type Chinese Schools were conducted in their respective mother tongues, namely Malay, Tamil, and Chinese which constitute the main languages of the three major communities in Malaysia.

Page 46
Page 47

To facilitate the implementation of the policy in schools across Malaysia, the MOE has provided guidelines and resources which include textbooks, activity books, teaching coursewares, LCD projectors, computer notebooks, English for Teaching Mathematics and Science (ETeMS) courses, buddy support system (English Language Teachers act as buddies to their colleagues who are teaching Science and Mathematics, supporting them in problematic areas with regard to the use of English), and incentives such as special monthly allowance exclusively for English Language, Science and Mathematics teachers.

The implementation of the Malaysian CLIL policy has been heavily criticized by Malay language activists. These activists are worried that the policy will not only hinder the progress of the Malay Language in scientific and mathematical realms, but also jeopardize the status of Malay language as the National and official language. Meanwhile, the Chinese educationists sturdily insisted that their mother tongue is used in the teaching of Science and Mathematics at the National-Type Chinese Primary Schools, believing that it is the most effective language to facilitate learning at the primary level. However, there is no sign of opposition from the Indian community towards the implementation of the Malaysian CLIL policy.

These dissent voices, mainly from the Malay language activists and the Chinese educationists, have compelled the Ministry of Education to hold a number of roundtable discussions, meetings, and dialogues involving various levels of the educational sector, teachers’ unions, non-governmental organisations, media, political parties, parent-teacher associations and interested parties. Finally, on July 8th 2009, after six years of implementation, a decision was reached by the Government: In 2012, the teaching of Science and Mathematics would be reverted in stages to the respective mother tongues at the primary level (Malay Language in National Schools; Mandarin and Tamil Languages in National-Type Chinese and Tamil Schools respectively) and in Malay Language at the secondary level while maintaining English at the post secondary levels namely Form Six, Matriculation and university.

For the Malaysian CLIL teachers, teaching science through English is very difficult. Teachers do not only have to master the content knowledge but also be able to use English which is their second or foreign language, to teach Science. CLIL, which emphasizes the four research-based frameworks/ principles were developed on issues related to content, communication, cognition and community (Mehisto et al.,2008). So far, pupils’ cognitive engagement has received few research interests, and therefore, there is a need for more research on this dimension within the context of the Malaysian CLIL. As pupils are being taught Science through English in the implementation of the Malaysian CLIL, emphasis must be placed upon the developing conceptual framework of understanding that is created. Hence there is a need to examine the discourse created by these teachers to support the learning of Science through English.

Dimensions of CLIL

The Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is an overarching term covering a wide range of educational approaches from immersion, bilingual, multicultural education, language showers, to enriched language programmes. While the notion of CLIL seems to be diverse and having “many faces” (Mehisto et al., 2008, p.12), it has a converging feature of a double-barrel approach in which the content of a non-language subject is fully, largely or partially taught through a second or foreign language. Marsh, Majlers, and Hartiala (2001) contend that CLIL rests on five pillars or dimensions that are related to culture, environment, language, content and learning.

For the cultural dimension, it aims to introduce the wider cultural context in order to build inter-cultural knowledge and understanding, and to develop intercultural communication skills by learning about specific neighbouring countries and/or minority groups. The environmental dimension, on the other hand, aims to prepare schools or institutions for internationalisation, and for the case of EU countries, such internationalisation endeavours to access international certifications and label of international and correspondingly, their school-leavers and graduates are purported to be multi-lingual and having international qualifications.

Page 47
Page 48

Meanwhile, in the language dimension, by introducing the target language (e.g., second or foreign language), the overall target competence should be improved alongside the development of oral communication skills, multi-lingual interests and attitudes. For the content dimension, it provides opportunities to study content through different perspectives, to access subject-specific target language terminology, and to prepare for future studies or working life. Finally, the learning dimension aims to increase learner motivation by practising diverse methods and forms of classrooms practice, offering opportunities for learners to use individual strategies.

On the basis of these dimensions, what then constitute the underlying principles for the quality classroom practice of CLIL? Mehisto et al. (2008) propose a 4C’s framework as an organisation guide for CLIL: the inter-relationship among content (subject matter), communication (language), cognition (thinking and learning) and community (co-existence within a learning group, classroom, and community in local and global context). In essence, this 4C’s framework takes account of integrating learning (content and cognition) and language learning (communication and community) which needs to be transformed into pedagogical practice.

In resonance, the 4C’s Conceptual Framework developed way back in 1999 recommends that:

“ is through progression in knowledge, skills and understanding of the content, engagement in associated cognitive processing, interaction in the communicative context, the development of appropriate language knowledge and skills as well as experiencing a deepening intercultural awareness that effective CLIL takes place.” (Coyle, 2007:550)

In this paper and against the background of Malaysian version of CLIL, the cognition processes are given emphasis because research of this nature is still at the embryonic stage as opposed to the preponderance of research which delves into communication, content and culture (i.e., Airey, 2009; Coonan, 2007; Dalton-Puffer, 2006, Dirba & Mencis, 2009; Järvinen, 2006, Seikkula-Leino, 2007). Furthermore, this research was conducted in a primary school setting among 10-year-old pupils. Hence, a revisit of Bloom’s Taxonomy is deemed appropriate.

Bloom’s Revised Taxanomy

The classification of cognitive objectives, popularly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy and was developed by Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s, orders the cognitive processes hierarchically into knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Note that Bloom labels each category of the cognitive processes with a noun. Bloom argues that a person is not able to comprehend a concept if s/he does not first know or remember it (Bloom, 1956). Similarly, one is not able to apply knowledge and concepts if s/he does not comprehend them. As such, the taxonomy is a continuum from Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).

However, this classification was revised in the 1990's by Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom in collaboration with David Krathwohl, Bloom’s partner in the original work on cognition, and this was subsequently published as Bloom's Revised Taxonomy (BRT) (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). The first key difference between the original and revised taxonomy is on terminology changes, such as the use of verbs/gerund (e.g., remember/remembering) rather than nouns (e.g., knowledge) for each of the categories and the rearrangement of the sequence within the taxonomy (e.g., a swap between the categories of synthesis and evaluation, with synthesis category elevated to the highest level in the revised version and was renamed as creating). Yet another reason for such revision is to add relevance for 21st century students and teachers since it is a "more authentic tool for curriculum planning, instructional delivery and assessment" (oz-TeacherNet, 2001).

Given that this particular portion of a wider study focuses on the way in which science teachers engage pupils cognitively, Bloom’s revised taxonomic elements are given emphasis. As shown in Appendix I, there are six elements in the BRT; each is briefly explained and accompanied by a number of verbs associated with it.

Page 48
Page 49


The quality of classroom discourse depends largely on the teacher. This can be done by providing feedback or reward, posing questions, giving explanation and assigning suitable tasks to the pupils. These activities can range from a transmissive to an interactive dialogue in facilitating the construction of knowledge (Newton, 2000). These form the reasons to the potential of examining oral discourse in ensuring pupils’ cognitive engagement.

This study examines the oral discourse in a classroom interaction in order to provide insight into questions teachers ask to promote cognitive engagement. The significance of this study lies in the provision of insights into the use of questions during the teaching and learning of Science through English in a typical primary science classroom. In particular, this study enhances our understanding of the role of questions in the learning of science concepts among lessons observed in this study. Overall, the findings of this study support other attempts at enhancing the learning and teaching of both content and language.

Although questions posed by teachers have been widely researched upon, studies on teacher questions in the Malaysian CLIL have not been done before. This highlights the need to examine more closely pupils’ cognitive engagement in whole class settings, whether current practice is supportive of pupils’ learning through English and how issues related to cognition is further investigated. The findings from this study offer a more detailed picture which may help to take practice further. Assessing the oral discourse in a classroom interaction can assist teachers design more effective questions to engage them in the learning, monitor and evaluate their progress in learning the content and language.

The main questions guiding this aspect of the study are:

  • What levels of cognitive processes were pupils engaged with, in a typical science lesson conducted through English?
  • What is the distribution of classroom discourse and quality of pupils responses in the lessons observed?

Data Collection

This study was conducted by a team of researchers using nine Year 4 Science classrooms, coded as C1 to C9. One science lesson from each class was observed, video recorded and transcribed. The communication between teachers and pupils for the purpose of cognitive development was observed and examined through the lens of BRT. Respondents in this study were Science teachers from 8 different schools randomly selected to represent four different zones of Peninsula Malaysia. The nine teachers, identified as T1 to T9, possessed teaching experiences ranging from 6 to 22 years. Their involvement specifically in primary science teaching and Malaysian CLIL is reported in Table 1. All pupils from different zones of Peninsula Malaysia are enrolled in the national primary schools and followed the same content of the Primary Science Integrated Curriculum specified by the Curriculum Development Division.

Table 1: Distribution and Number of Teachers and Pupils Involved in the Corpus Analyzed

Teacher Teaching Experience (Years) Class Title of Lessons Observed No. of Pupils
Malaysian CLIL Primary Science
T1 6 9 C1 Our Solar System 41
T2 3 12 C2 Humans’ Limitations 46
T3 3 8 C3 Development of Technology 32
T4 1 4 C4 Our Solar System 42
T5 4 10 C5 Natural and Man-Made Materials 36
T6 1 10 C6 Rusting 36
T7 6 3 C7 Rusting 35
T8 5 12 C8 Basic Needs of Animals 44
T9 6 12 C9 Development of Technology 26
Page 49
Page 50

In this study, pupils’ language background was indentified based on the language proficiency and achievement tests, namely School Based Oral Assessment (SBOA) and School Based Assessment (SBA), as reported in Sopia et al. (2009). Among the 338 pupils involved in this study, 87.3% of them were found to be proficient in both Malay and English languages, given that they achieved an above-average level in SBOA and above 40th percentile in SBA for both languages. The remaining 12.7% needed assistance with the English language during instruction in view of their below-average level in SBOA for English language. In general, the majority of pupils involved in this study were considered to have sufficient language proficiency in both Malay and English languages to learn Science.

Analysis of Data

This research was designed to elucidate the questioning strategies employed by teachers as they attempt to teach science through English. To answer the research questions, the verbal discourse of the nine videotaped lessons was transcribed. After the transcription, all the teacher’s questions from each lesson were identified and categorized according to the cognitive levels in BRT. Such qualitative categorization allows an evaluation of the extent to which pupils are engaged cognitively.

To ensure the reliability of the analysis, three researchers independently categorized the teachers’ questions for the nine videotaped lessons according to the BRT version of Krathwohl (2002) taxonomy of cognitive levels of questions. Questions posed and tasks performed during instruction were analyzed and categorized according to the cognitive processing dimensions of the BRT. Subsequently, the independent classifications of teachers’ questions were then compared. Differences in classification were reviewed and their classroom contexts revisited so as to arrive at a consensual agreement in classification. Repeated viewing of the data allowed for more accurate and consistent coding and categorizing of teachers’ questions according to the taxonomic cognitive levels of BRT. Descriptive statistics using frequencies and percentages were accounted for to illustrate the distribution of questions according to the cognitive levels of BRT. The distributions of classroom discourse among teacher, pupil and voice over from the use of teaching courseware were determined by running a series of word count on the relevant sections in the transcriptions and these were presented in percentages.

Results and Discussions

Questions posed by teachers form an integral part of classroom engagement. In view of the criticisms against the Malaysian CLIL, this research examines the classroom discourse among science teachers who are teaching the subject through English to determine the extent in which teachers’ questions engages pupils cognitively. It reports on the levels of cognitive processes pupils were engaged with, the distribution of classroom discourse and quality of pupils responses in the nine lessons observed.

Cognitive Processes Based on BRT

As shown in Table 2, the results indicated that while the questions posed by the teachers are generally at the lower cognitive levels, with 74.8%, 24% and 0.6% at remember, understand and application levels respectively, only 0.6% of the total questions posed are at the analyze level – a level that is considered as a higher cognitive level. Nevertheless, analyse seems to be the highest level of BRT achieved by the teachers in engaging the pupils cognitively. None of the teachers posed any questions at evaluate and create levels.

Page 50
Page 51

Table 2: Distribution of Questions During Classroom Discourse Based on BRT

Cognitive Processing Dimension
Teacher Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create Total
T1 64 (78.0%) 17 (20.7%) 1 (1.2%) 0 0 0 82
T2 38 (84.4%) 7 (15.6%) 0 0 0 0 45
T3 9 (100.0%) 0 0 0 0 0 9
T4 113 (95.0%) 6 (5.0%) 0 0 0 0 119
T5 36 (90.0%) 4 (10.0%) 0 0 0 0 40
T6 30 (48.4%) 32 (51.6%) 0 0 0 0 62
T7 27 (38.0%) 44 (62.0%) 0 0 0 0 71
T8 5 (38.5%) 5 (38.5%) 0 3 (23.1%) 0 0 13
T9 62 (86.1%) 8 (11.1%) 2 (2.8%) 0 0 0 72
Total 384 (74.8%) 123 (24.0%) 3 (0.6%) 3 (0.6%) 0 0 513

The attainment of the lowest cognitive level namely remember, differs from one teacher to another. While 38% of T7’s questions were at this level, 100% of T3’s questions were categorized as such. This shows that the teachers generally did not encourage students to think critically from the questions they posed. Instead, teachers seem to pose convergent, fact-recalling questions that solicit short answers or responses from the pupils. As shown in the following excerpts, these fact-recalling questions, which usually begin with ‘what’ was favoured and preferred among the teachers observed:

Excerpt from C1
T: What do you have in solar system?
P: Planet.
T: Ok, what is the name of this planet?
P: Saturn.

Excerpt from C8
T: ...insulator. What material is it made of?
P: Wood!
T: Ok, for rusty object, what is this?
P: Pencil box.

Excerpt from C9
T: Before the latest construction using all the concrete, the cements here.
      What did we use during the older days?
P: Wood.

Questions that aim to retrieve, recognise, and recall relevant knowledge from short and/or long-term memory seem to dominate teachers’ questions. Equally dominant are questions following a statement and these questions usually require pupils to give a “yes” or “no” response as shown in the following extracts.

Excerpt from C4
T: You can see the moon during the day?
P: No!

Excerpt from C7
T: Rusting can be prevented by painting. Is it correct?
P: Yes!

Page 51
Page 52

Although the pupils from the observed classes were proficient in the English language, teachers did not pose questions according to the students’ proficiency levels. Meanwhile, teacher T3 posed only nine lowest cognitive level questions throughout a sixty minutes lesson during her class. Teacher T3 was found to conduct his class using teaching coursewares provided by the Ministry of Education and repeated the questions from it. That explains the nine questions posed by the teacher. Nevertheless teacher T3 took the initiative to carry out an activity in which the pupils were required to make folios on different forms of technology.

On the other hand, other teachers posed between 5-62% of the second lower cognitive level, understand, during the classroom discourse. Teacher T7 posed the most questions (62%) in this level while teaching the lesson on ‘Rusting’, followed by teachers T6 (51.6%) and T8 (38.5%). The questions posed include predicting the conditions needed for objects to rust, classifying objects, comparing, explaining and describing effects of rusting, and discussing the topics. Examples of this type of questions are:

T7: What are the advantages that we can get in preventing rusting?
T7: Which object will get hot very quickly?
T7: All of these, we call it as …? Pencil, straw, plastic spoon, ah, characteristic dia apa?
T7: Do you think iron can rust faster in a wet or dry area?
T1: Do you know the sequence of the planets in the solar system?
         Which planet is the closest to the sun? Which planet is the farthest from the sun?
T6: Why steel will become, become rusting? There is some element that can make the
         object rusting. What is the factor, element that can cause rusting?

Unfortunately only 0.6% of the total questions generated by the nine teachers were categorized at the application level. An example of a question posed by teacher T9 was:

T9: Now, between a canoe and a raft, which is older?

Two teachers (T1 and T9) conducted activities such as arranging pictures in sequence (T9), and building a model of the solar system (T1), which enabled them to engage pupils at the higher cognitive level of questioning.

More reprehensibly, only one teacher (T8) pitched his questions at the higher cognitive level, analyze. He encouraged students’ thinking skills by posing questions such as:

T8: So this experiment, what conclusion can you make? What can you conclude from this
         experiment, apa kesimpulan yang boleh kamu buat?
T8: Ok class, cuba tengok soalan 3d. What can you conclude from the …

Creating good well-planned questions promotes good thinking process. It is the hardest task of a teacher in a classroom. Higher order questions make pupils active, and independent compared to lower order questions, which promotes passiveness among the pupils and mute thought (Brualdi, 1998). Questions posed by teachers, undeniably, do play an important role in developing and inculcating higher order thinking among the school children. Nevertheless, none of the teachers observed poses any questions at levels beyond analyse.

Page 52
Page 53

In the Malaysian CLIL context, teaching and learning of science in English language does encourage the use of multilingual education among school children. Teachers have been trained and advised on strategies and practices in teaching and learning these subjects in English language through professional development courses such as ETeMS and buddy support system. However, in this research none of the teachers seemed to practise or implement the strategies they have learned.

Teachers should implement questioning strategies that develop interaction patterns with students and that facilitate more informative and productive responses. There is a body of research that underscores the importance of good questioning strategies. For example, Vogler (2005) contends that good questions help students make connections to prior knowledge and stimulate cognitive growth, and that verbal questioning is a skill which needs to be practiced before it is mastered. Meanwhile, Wilen (2001) reckons that asking questions can stimulate students to think about the content being studied.

Classroom Discourse

This section refers to the classroom discourses made in the nine classes observed. Reference is made to each classroom teachers’ talk, pupils’ talk and voice over from the teaching courseware. Classes are coded as C1 through C9 which correspond to classes taught by Teachers 1 through 9.

Table 3: Distribution of Classroom Discourse

Class Teachers' Talk (%) Pupils' Talk (%) Teaching courseware
Voice Over (%)
C1 83.8 2.0 14.2
C2 87.6 12.4 0.0
C3 45.7 3.0 51.3
C4 91.2 8.8 0.0
C5 63.9 4.5 31.6
C6 90.1 9.9 0.0
C7 94.7 5.3 0.0
C8 97.3 2.7 0.0
C9 71.2 4.6 24.3
Mean 80.6 5.9 13.5

Data analysed for classroom discourse is shown in Table 3. The results clearly show that teacher talk dominates the teaching and learning of science in all the classrooms observed. The average percentage distribution of classroom discourse for teacher talk stands at 80.6%. The highest percentage of teacher talk was 97.3% (C8) while the lowest stood at 45.7% (C3). All classes (C2, C4, C6, C7, C8), which were not aided by the science courseware CD, witnessed an average of 92.8% of teacher talk while classes aided by the science teaching courseware CD (C1, C3, C5, C9) scored 66.2%.

The average percentage distribution of classroom discourse for pupils’ talk was a mere 5.9%. The highest being 12.4% (C2) and the lowest at 2.7% (C8). Classes (C1, C3, C5, C9) aided by the science teaching courseware noted only an average of 3.53%, whilst classes (C2, C4, C6, C7, C8) unaided by the science teaching courseware CD scored 7.82%.

Page 53
Page 54

The findings of this research indicate that teachers in Malaysian schools adopted a very didactic approach towards teaching. In all of the lessons observed, the teachers did most of the talking and the students in most instances, talked only when they were expected to respond to the teachers’ questions or instructions. This mode of communication could be taken as a reflection of the teachers’ preferred teaching style and in most cases, were influenced by the nature of the subject matter taught. The lay understanding that science is a collection of facts and the use of a second language as a medium of instruction could possibly explain the pervasive use of control or classroom management (in face of the amount of content that teachers have to cover in a given time).

What is evident in the classroom observations were that teachers’ use of direct closed questions that involves providing the right answers. The focus of the class is centered on providing a predetermined response and involved giving the ‘correct answers’ rather than a discussion of a process or reasoning. The following excerpts illustrate the situation.

Excerpt from C8

T: Ok, class, what is the basic need of animal?
P: Air, water,
T: what is the basic need of animal? Pertama, animal needs
P: Air! (teacher wrote on the board ‘air’)
T: Ok, kedua, animal needs…?
P: Water! Food! (teacher wrote ‘food’)
T: ketiga, animal needs …?
P: Water! Shelter! (teacher wrote ‘water’, then ‘shelter’)

Excerpt from C2

T: Ok, for rusty object, is, what is this?
P: Pencil box.
T: Write down in your exercise book. This?
P: Metal spoon.
T: This?
P: Paper clip.
T: This?
P: Hanger.
T: This?
P: Nail.
T: Ok, non-rusty objects, plastic.
P: Pencil. Paper.
P: Pen.

The excerpts point towards a pattern that focuses on the presentation of scientific answers that adheres to teachers’ or textbook ideas of the answer. Another clear practice of the teachers is the recitation or rehearsal of information. This practice translates to students that scientific knowledge transpires through the passing of information and the ability to learn science is dependent upon recall of information on demand. In many cases observed, students were asked to listen to questions or explanation. Teachers’ role more often than not consisted of asking questions and providing feedback on students’ responses. This suggests that teachers take upon themselves the responsibility of confirming the scientific knowledge and he/she becomes the authority of scientific knowledge for his/her classroom teaching. Not much room is given to students to challenge or explore situations in constructing their own scientific understanding.

Page 54
Page 55

Pupils’ Responses

Figure 1: Mean Number of Words in Pupils’ Response

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the mean number of words in pupils’ responses. The mean number of words in pupils’ responses is only 1.8 words. The highest mean number of words came from Class 6 with a value of 3.2 while the lowest is from Class 1 with a mean value of 1.3. This finding is not surprising considering the type of questions being asked in the classroom. If students were given closed-ended recall questions, there would be little opportunity for elaborate responses from the students. In the classrooms observed, feedback warranted by the teachers is geared towards eliciting factual information from the textbooks or from the teacher’s input. The following excerpts illustrate students’ responses to teacher’s questioning in the classroom.

Excerpt from C6

T: Ok, try, one more time. The rusting will happen. Louder, I can’t hear you.
      Ok, Amani, louder.
T: Ok, good, say, after two weeks…
P: After two weeks, the iron nail will rust.
T: How about the test tube b?
      The iron nail will, will not rusting. Ok, louder, I can’t hear you. Will not rust, ok, class,
      test tube B…
P: After two weeks, the iron nail in test tube B is not rusting.
T: Ok, what about test tube c? Your answer is correct, louder, be more confident.
T: What happen to iron nail in test tube c after two weeks?
      Ok, class, What happen to iron nail in test tube c?
P: After two weeks, iron nail in test tube C will get rusting.

Page 55
Page 56

Excerpt from C9

T: Yes, transportation. And there are three groups in transportation, What are they?
      Three categories. First? Put up your hands, come on.
P: Land.
T: Land transportation. Another two? Yes, Sarah.
P: Air transportation.
T: Air transportation, the third one, Tasha?
P: Water transportation.

These excerpts clearly demonstrate that pupils’ responses are word answers and are not constructed in meaningful sentences.

Figure 2: Percentage of Single Word Responses

Figure 2

Figure 2 shows an average of 73.6% of pupils’ responses are single word responses. The highest single word response is from C1 while the lowest is C8. It is interesting to note that the teacher from C1 has a high percentage of teachers’ talk (83.8%) and a very low percentage of pupil talk (2.2%). The situation is even more apparent in C8 where teachers’ talk is the highest (97.3%) and pupils’ talk stands at only 2.7%. From the data it seems obvious that the classrooms observed are being dominated by a high percentage of teachers’ talk and pupils’ single word responses. It is evident from the data that the single word responses are in the form of students’ acknowledgement of teachers’ instructions (agreeing, confirming, abiding) or single word answers to questions being asked on the subject matter taught. The following excerpts are evidence of the classroom findings.

Excerpt from C1

T: What is the first planet?
P: Mercury.
T: Ok, you can use your textbook. Ok, what is the first one?
P: Mercury.
T: Second?
P: Venus.
T: Next?
P: Earth.
T: This is the forth one. Label now, please label now. Ok, the fifth planet?
P: Mars.
T: Mars. Ok. Sixth planet?
P: Jupiter!

Page 56
Page 57

Excerpt from C4

T: Which the planet closest to the sun?
P: Mercury!
T: Put up your hand. Amirul, please. What the planet?
P: Mercury.
T: Mercury, is it right class?
P: Yes.
T: Give a clap. Mercury is the nearest from the sun. Which the planet the furthest from
      the sun? Ok, Umi? What your answer?
P: Venus.
T: Venus. Is it right class?
P: No!
T: No… anyone wants to try?
P: Pluto
T: Pluto, is it right?
P: Yes!

Analysing the whole classroom situation, it is apparent that teachers were anxious to finish what they had planned for the day’s lesson and achieve the learning outcomes. Teachers were anxious to cover curriculum objectives and so their priority was towards covering curriculum content over developing pupils’ understanding. The effect of this would be a disregard to students’ difficulties in acquiring knowledge or comprehending subject matter in a second language. The classroom observation also revealed that students were not encouraged to ask questions or give their own opinion on content learnt. This deprives them of any opportunity to construct elaborate responses during learning and limits their use of the language of instruction.

Conclusion and Discussion

The oral discourse from the nine lessons that were transcribed in this research provided cases rich in information. As the issues surrounding the teaching of science through English looks at pedagogical approaches, it is the first study that investigates closely teachers questioning strategies to promote cognitive engagement. The use of the BRT in analyzing for instructional opportunities that teachers offer to engage pupils in the different levels of cognitive processes of the BRT has provided insights into the classroom discourse in implementing the Malaysian CLIL.

Research findings suggest that students were engaged at lower cognitive levels in the teaching of science through English as evidenced in the questions posed by the teachers, which were substantially (98.8%) categorised at the lower cognitive taxonomic elements (i.e., remember and understand) of BRT. Teachers’ questions were found to be more focused on knowledge reproduction with the drive being towards an end that had been previously determined by the teachers. The analysis of classroom discourse also indicates the prevalence of teacher talk and that teacher talk seems to correlate negatively with the number of words in pupils’ response

The findings of this research where teacher talk prevails in the classroom, if unaddressed, could have severe consequences on students’ learning and understanding of science concepts since it offers little opportunity for students to express ideas or ask questions. According to Brown (2000), teacher talk should not occupy the major proportion of a class hour. Otherwise teachers are probably not giving students enough opportunity to talk. To address the prevalence of teacher talk in the classroom so as to increase student talk, material writers play a crucial role here. For example, if the suggested activities in the curriculum materials were to provide opportunities for students to discuss in pairs or in small cooperative learning groups and subsequently to share with the class, then student discourse will increase. Besides, the use of a second language calls for more student-teacher interactivity since it plays a crucial role in discussing, constructing and transmitting scientific knowledge. Wells (2001) proposes that “…students’ opportunities for learning and knowing are crucially dependent on the nature of activities in which they engage and on the functions that language performs in these activities” (p.52).

Page 57
Page 58

Pertaining to pupils’ responses, observations made in the classrooms were not very encouraging. There seemed to be little meaningful and extended communication between teachers and pupils dominated by a high percentage of pupils’ single word responses. The classroom discourse indicated a pressing need for teachers to develop and implement a more efficient strategy centred on meaningful construction of science concepts apart from addressing the challenges of the teaching of science in a second language in this country. Through research such as this and future investigations that continue to explore the classroom discourse, science teachers can begin to better understand their role in promoting or inhibiting the cognitive dimension of the Malaysian CLIL.


Airey, J.: 2009, Estimating undergraduate bilingual scientific literacy in Sweden, International CLIL Research Journal, 1(2), 26-35.

Anderson, L. W. and Krathwohl, D. R. (ed.): 2001, A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA.

Bloom B.S.L 1956, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Brown, H.: 2000, Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (4th ed.). Longman, White Plains, NY.

Brualdi, A., and ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, W.: 1998, Classroom Questions. ERIC/AE Digest.

Coonan, C. M.: 2007, Insider views of the CLIL class through teacher self-observation-Introspection, The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualisim, 10(5), 625-646.

Coyle, D.: 2007, Content and Language Integrated Learning: Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies. International Journal of Bilingual Education & Bilingualism, 10(5), 543-562.

Dalton-Puffer, C.: 2006,. Academic language functions in a CLIL environment, in Marsh, D. and Wolff, D. (eds.), Conference Proceedings Diverse Contexts – Converging Goals: CLIL in Europe, 201-209.

Dirba, M. and Mencis, J.: 2009, CLIL for teachers of Mathematics, Pegadogika, (93), 85-90.

Järvinen, H-M,: 2006, Language in content and language integrated learning (CLIL), in Marsh, D. and Wolff, D. (eds.), Conference Proceedings Diverse Contexts – Converging Goals: CLIL in Europe, 253-260.

Krathwohl, D. R.: 2002, A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy: An overview, Theory Into Practice, 41 (4), 212-218.

Marsh, D., Maljiers, A., and Hartiala, A. K.: 2001, Profiling European CLIL classrooms: Language open doors. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from

Mehisto, P., Marsh, D., and Frigols, M. J.: 2008, Uncovering CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning in Bilingual and Multilingual Education. McMillan, Oxford.

Page 58
Page 59

Newton, D. P.: 2000, Teaching for Understanding: what it is and how to do it.Routledge, London.

oz-TeacherNet.: 2001, oz-TeacherNet: Teachers helping teachers: Revised Bloom's Taxonomy. Retrieved July 24, 2009 from

Seikkula-Leino, J.: 2007, CLIL learning: achievement levels and affective factors, Language and Education, 21(4), 328-341.

Sopia, M. Y., David, M., Ong, E. T. and Lai, Y. Y.: 2009, Learners’ perceptions towards the teaching of Science through English in Malaysia: a quantitative analysis, International CLIL Research Journal, 1(2), 54-69.

Vogler, K. E.: 2005, Improve Your Verbal Questioning, The Clearing House, 79(2), 98-103. Retrieved October 23, 2009, from Academic Research Library. (Document ID: 977221771).

Wells, G.:2001. Action, Talk & Text. Teacher’s College Press, New York.

Wilen, W. W. 2001.: Exploring myths about teacher questioning in the social studies classroom, Social Studies, 92(1), 26-32.

Appendix I

  1. Remembering: This entails recalling of previously learnt and gleaned information.
  • Recognising, listing, describing, identifying, retrieving, naming, locating, finding
  1. Understanding: This requires explaining of ideas or concepts.
  • Interpreting, summarising, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying
  1. Applying: This involves using information in another familiar situation.
  • Implementing, carrying out, using, executing
  1. Analysing: This demands breaking of information into parts to explore understandings and relationships.
  • Comparing, organising, deconstructing, Attributing, outlining, finding, structuring, integrating
  1. Evaluating: This involves justifying a decision or course of action.
  • Checking, hypothesising, critiquing, experimenting, judging, testing, detecting, Monitoring
  1. Creating: This entails generating new ideas, products, or ways of viewing things.
  • designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making