“Teaching with Comprehensible Input in the Early Language Classroom”
from June 7, 2017
On June 7th, language teachers from grades Pk-8 (and beyond) met on Twitter for the biweekly #EarlyLang chat. During this chat, participants discussed how to use comprehensible input (CI) to teach languages to younger learners. Before getting into deeper questions, participants first chatted about the meaning of comprehensible input. For the “input” part of the definition, many reminded that input comes from a variety of sources: stories, songs, poems, photos, videos, posters, recipes, idioms, and even memes. As for the “comprehensible” part, many participants emphasized this means the message of the communication is mostly understood by the students, even if they do not understand each word.
What does comprehensible input look like in the #earlylang classroom?
While the strategies for CI look different in each classroom, many participants noted that it happens in the absence of translation to English. To help make input comprehensible, #earlylang teachers have relied on visual aids such as gestures, pictures, stuffed animals or puppets, and videos. They also rely on formats the students are familiar with: games, storytelling, familiar classroom activities, and predictable routines. Repetition of both keywords and activities was also noted as a key for comprehension; as @spiraledu put it, “Great spiral review: Do, reflect, repeat.” @KarenNemethEdM offered this important word of caution: “I agree w/ repetition but sometimes you have to admit if they don’t get it you might have chosen the wrong topic or words!”
Most importantly, comprehensible input will look different in each class since it must suit the needs of the individual students in that room. When planning for CI teachers should keep in mind the students’ background knowledge, cognitive abilities, and individual preferences. There’s no one right way to make your input comprehensible!
What CI strategies and activities are best for younger learners?
Participants stressed that CI does not happen naturally, it must be planned for systematically. Teachers should account for creating CI in their lesson plans. Some strategies for creating CI mentioned were:
- Total Physical Response (TPR), a strategy combining language and physical movement where, for example, a teacher may give commands to students in the target language, and students respond with whole-body actions.
- Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), a method that emphasizes storytelling to deliver comprehensible input and may use gestures, translation, and questioning to help students make meaning.
- Ample modeling to show students what is acceptable.
- Creating firm and predictable routines the students can rely on.
- Mirroring what the students are learning in their regular education classrooms (@spiraledu explained this saying ”I do theme units so no matter what we are studying: math, science, language arts we are getting repeated exposed to same words”).
@Nathanlutz suggested combining strategies saying “a picture and a gesture together work nicely – or throw in an example and point to word wall!”
Some activities shared were:
- Simon Says
- Singing traditional children’s songs from the target culture
- Brain Breaks
- Students drawing their own interpretation of newly acquired vocabulary
@doriecp said she tries to model her activities after what the students are doing in their general education classrooms saying “The more I borrow from the classroom teacher, the less time I have to use to explain directions/expectations/etc.”
How do we assess whether or not our efforts in creating CI were successful?
Many teachers noted the importance of getting to know your students and being able to “read” their faces to look for signs of confusion. @MundodePepita said “listening to and observing [students] closely really helps me to notice when kids need me to rephrase or change my approach at that moment” with @JL_Delf adding “are they nodding? Are they doing? Are they responding? Or are they deear in the headlights?” @doriecp added “It’s important [for students to understand that the] expectation is NOT to understand every word, but overall message.”
@nathanlutz reminds everyone that “checks for understanding are so important! My [students] have a gesture to discretely indicate confusion and need for clarification.” @KarenNemethEdM suggested that when working with young students, individual conversations to check for understanding are best: “Have a conversation and see what they get.”
Many of the assessment strategies mentioned stressed the importance of allowing students to demonstrate their understanding without producing any language. Students can, for example, answer a question with a thumbs up or down, nodding their head, pointing to a picture, acting out what they want to say, or accurately following a direction or command.
@KarenNemethEdM shared that she will sometimes intentionally give a wrong answer, just to see if students will catch your mistake, “Humor is great accessory!” and @singalingo agreed, “YES, the humor of getting things wrong goes a long way with the younger set.”
How can we teach culture with comprehensible input?
While teaching culture with CI may seem like a daunting task, participants argued that it is possible through traditional children’s songs, realia and authentic resources, hands-on activities, grade-appropriate and proficiency-appropriate cultural readings or stories, and culturally-influenced daily activities like writing the date.
@MundodePepita suggested “keep[ing] the definition of culture broad to include both ‘big’ and ‘small’ culture. @SrtaElizabeth17 commented “showing students that they can find Spanish all over, not just in places where Spanish is traditionally spoken is important too.” @spiraledu mentioned “@SkypeClassroom has some amazing resources! Great to connect with other classes learning the same things!“
Thank you to all who participated in this #EarlyLang chat!. Thank you to our lead moderator, Carolina (@SpanishTogether) for leading the chat and to our co-moderator Julie, (@MundodePepita) for helping keep the conversation going. To read a full transcript of this chat, please visit the June 7 Chat Archive. Would you like to vote on our next topic or suggest a topic for future discussion? Visit our voting page!