Planning, teaching and assessing for learning

The Primary Language Curriculum helps teachers to support children’s language learning and development through the process of planning, teaching and assessing for learning in English and Irish. Four parts (components) of the Primary Language Curriculum work together to support teachers’ planning, teaching and assessment for language learning: Learning Outcomes, Progression Continua, Examples of children’s learning and development, and Support Material for teachers.

Together, the Learning Outcomes and the Progression Continua provide important reference points for teachers to plan for, and make judgements about, children’s language learning, and to decide on the next steps in teaching and learning to help children progress in English and Irish. The Learning Outcomes and Progression Continua support teachers when reporting the child’s learning progress to colleagues, parents and others during the year, and to other teachers as part of the transfer process within or across primary schools. Figure 4 shows how different parts of the curriculum work together to support progression across the three strands—Oral language, Reading and Writing—in children’s language learning and development.

Figure 4: Planning, teaching and assessing for learning



A first starting point for teachers involves asking, where are children at and where are they going in their learning and development in English and in Irish? Teachers begin to answer this question by looking at the Learning Outcomes for the language, for the relevant stage. The Learning Outcomes describe expectations for children’s language learning and development by the end of a two-year period in primary school, thus giving teachers a sense of the realistic destinations for children’s learning.

Learning Outcomes for each strand in English and in Irish, are broken down into Progression Milestones on a Progression Continuum. Each strand has its own Progression Continuum. The Progression Milestones are represented by the letters a-h and describe, in broad terms, children’s language learning and development in English and in Irish from junior infants to second class while also supporting children in these classes who may be at an earlier or more advanced milestone in their learning journey. The Progression Milestones are further broken-down into Progression Steps. Each Progression Step is presented alongside the relevant Learning Outcome, using a label (abbreviation) for each Learning Outcome, e.g., Choice. This Learning Outcome focuses on children having choice in their language work. The full Learning Outcomes for English and Irish and their numbers and labels are included in Section 6.1. Instead of repeating the full Learning Outcomes in Section 6.2, the relevant Learning Outcome label are listed alongside each Progression Step.

Looking at the Progression Steps (linked to Learning Outcomes), teachers can identify the Progression Milestones that represent children’s current learning and development in English and Irish. The Primary Language Toolkit includes Examples of children’s learning and development which illustrate each Progression Milestone. Using the Examples, teachers can identify the starting point on the Progression Milestones for teaching large groups in their class as well as for individual or small groups of children who may need a very different starting point based on their level of progress. For example, a teacher in senior infants may judge the starting point in English for a large group in his/her class to be ‘Milestone c’ with a small group of learners working at an earlier or later milestone, such as ‘b’ or ‘d’.

Once teachers have identified children’s starting points for learning, the Progression Steps for each milestone provide more detailed information to plan for teaching and learning. Teachers can use the Progression Steps to monitor children’s progress in mastering the relevant Progression Milestone on the continuum and their readiness to progress to the next milestone and its related steps. Both the Learning Outcomes and the Progression Continua are also linked to Support Material for teachers in the online Primary Language Toolkit which provides practical ideas for teaching in the related area.

Assessment in the Primary Language Curriculum builds on the NCCA guidelines, Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum (NCCA, 2007) and guidelines in Aistear, Supporting Learning and Development through Assessment (NCCA, 2009). The Examples of children’s language learning and development, discussed in Section 6.3 and available in the Primary Language Toolkit will support teacher judgement by showing what children’s language learning and development looks like across a range of Progression Milestones and in different classroom contexts. In addition, Support Material on Assessment for Learning will be available in the Primary Language Toolkit. Resources for reporting children's progress and achievement in language and across the curriculum, currently available at, will be part of the Primary Language Toolkit.

Second language learning  

Most children travel along predictable pathways to learning a second language. Irish is no exception, and children learn Irish as a second language in primary school in individual, but predictable ways. Children learning English as an additional language will also follow the same trajectory, but with more opportunities to interact with the language outside the school context. Initially children gradually realise that communication and meaning can be made in other languages and they begin to demonstrate understanding. Once children have acquired some words in the new language they begin to mix and use L2 words in L1 sentences giving mixed utterances. If the new language is acquired in a familiar setting children will learn words and phrases that are regularly used throughout the day. Over time, children acquire common familiar words and phrases in their second language. It is important that children have opportunities to repeat these words and to develop more creative speech. Supports for teachers which outline and illustrate developments and teaching supports for children’s second language learning are published in the Primary Language Toolkit. The points below includes some important considerations for children’s second language learning.

Important considerations for children’s second language learning  

The points below are discussed in detail by Ó Duibhir and Cummins in the NCCA Research Report no. 16 (2012, p. 37-58):

  • Children become more autonomous and motivated language learners through opportunities for enjoyable interaction with others.
  • Children learn key oral vocabulary and phrases through opportunities for imitation through stories, songs, play and daily routines.
  • Children are engaged through opportunities for meaningful communication where they use contextual cues and prior knowledge for a real purpose.
  • Children can avoid reinforcement of errors through explicit teaching of form including certain features of grammar.
  • Children’s initial focus on meaning to develop implicit knowledge of the L2 is later supported by a focus on form.
  • Children are taught through the target language for example: Irish is taught through Irish in English-medium schools.
  • Children’s prior knowledge, stage of development, and interests are important starting points for planning their language learning.
  • Children’s L2 learning will increase and accelerate in line with increased exposure to the L2, e.g., using Irish informally throughout the day.
  • Children’s language learning is increased through opportunities to produce language orally, non-verbally and in writing, in meaningful contexts, throughout the school day.
  • Children’s next steps in language learning are shaped by the extent to which their individual differences are recognised and responded to.
  • Children’s language progression is assessed through independently-produced language as well as teacher-led assessments.



The communicative approach  

As with the 1999 curriculum, the communicative approach is the recommended approach to teaching a second language. This approach is learner-centred; the main emphasis is on the learner fulfilling a communicative need. The approach focuses on the communication of meaning and messages, with the teacher modelling and reusing the target language throughout the day. The emphasis is on enjoyable, interactive and purposeful communication, with the target language used as early and as often as possible in the language lesson. There are three phases in a lesson using a communicative approach:

  • Pre-communicative phase: oral vocabulary, language functions or structures needed for the language task are taught and practised using a range of scaffolds and activities.
  • Communicative phase: learners use the new oral vocabulary, language function or structure to complete a communicative task. These tasks are learner-centred and might involve play, dramas, debates, interviews and so on. With increased use, learners show a growing level of independence in using the new language and the teacher identifies errors. This informs the teacher’s subsequent planning and provision for learning.
  • Post-communicative phase: supported by the teacher, learners consolidate their learning and transfer it to other activities. The teacher looks ahead to the next stage and plans for future language input and teaching.   

The learning experience with each task is discussed by the teacher and children as part of their review of the three phases. Supported by the teacher, children are encouraged to identify any aspects of the language that may have been required and were not at their disposal. For the teacher, information gathered through the review may inform the initial phase of a subsequent lesson, or planning to teach new material informally, e.g., grammar. A lesson may start with any of the three phases of the communicative approach because these are cyclical and continuous. The overriding goal for the teacher is to support the learner to talk and to communicate in the second language as early and as often as possible.

Functions of language  

The functions of language are central to second language learning. A person’s use of language to achieve some communication goal is called a ‘language function’. In order for children who are learning a second language to function in their new language and communicate effectively, it is important that they have mastery of a number of functions of language. Functions of language enable children, for example, to introduce themselves to others, greet, ask questions, express, request and to structure their responses to others. A person is fulfulling language functions when this communication is taking place. The child can fulfill the language functions not only in real situations but also in imaginary situations such as role play and socio-dramatic drama. The examples of the language functions cannot be used in a vacuum and so, in order to attend to the interests and language needs of the children, it is recommended to teach the language in the context of themes which relate to the children's lives. The themes will create realistic contexts for using and teaching examples in the Irish lesson. Support for teachers for the language functions is available in the Primary Language Toolkit. Further information on the functions of oral language is provided in Appendix 2.

Language and cultural awareness  

Language awareness draws children’s attention to different modes and languages people use to communicate. Nurturing children’s awareness of, and interest in, other modes of communication and languages encourages them to actively engage with the new languages they encounter. Where possible children should be encouraged to explore different modes of communication and language and recognise similarities and differences between their home language and other languages. An awareness of the culture and heritage associated with a new language engages children and gives them an appreciation of cultures and customs different to their own. When children can actively engage to some degree in the culture associated with a language, their level of interest in the language intensifies. It is important that children have opportunities to build their awareness of Irish culture. For children who are speakers of a language different to the majority of children in a class, or native speakers of a target language, it is important for the teacher to affirm their language skills and to provide opportunities to share the culture and customs of the country/heritage of their language. The home language of these children is thus affirmed and they see that their home language is important.


Immersion occurs where language learners are immersed in a language that is different from their home or native language. In an immersion environment, the child acquires the language of the immersion environment in addition to their home language. Following a period of immersion in the new language, children should be encouraged to transfer the skills they have learned in the new language to other languages and vice versa.


Children from non-Irish speaking families who attend a Gaelscoil or Gaeltacht school are in an immersion setting. To facilitate the practice of immersion education in Irish-medium schools, for learners of Irish, and to support continuity in the development of native speakers' competence in the language, these schools will have the option of implementing a period of total early immersion up to the end of senior infants, subject to the approval of the school's board of management and following cosultation with the patron, teachers, and parents' association. The teaching of English and formal litearcy skills in the school's L2 will not begin until after the period of total early immersion decided by the school. Children for whom English is an additional language (EAL) are immersed in the language of the school. For children immersed in a language of the community, where this differs from the language of the home, parents and the school can play a key role in celebrating and maintaining the child’s home language.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)  

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is an effective way to increase children’s exposure to Irish by creating authentic contexts for children to use the language. CLIL affords children the opportunity to learn concepts, dispositions and skills in a particular curriculum area through Irish, and to develop their confidence by using their new language skills in real contexts outside of the discrete language lesson. For teachers, it provides opportunities for integrating Irish across the curriculum in an active and meaningful way. Teachers begin their planning by choosing a subject that lends itself to CLIL and offers opportunities for discussion and active engagement by children in groups. Subjects can be taught using CLIL with teachers having introduced the necessary new language related to the subject in advance. Support Material on using CLIL is available in the Primary Language Toolkit.