Comprehensible input is the key!

Posted by Megan Smith on November 4, 2013 in 1 Planning, Activities/Sports, Culture, Most Popular, Teacher Problems, Teacher Talk

When I first started teaching I remember being told: “Do your best, but know that not EVERY lesson will be great at first. Aim for ONE great lesson a week.”

Now, I’ll be really honest. I have some lessons that still go bad now and then. Not every day is easy and no two classes respond the same way. A lesson in one class may get every student singing and smiling and speaking the language and the same one the next class can be a flop. This teaching thing can be tricky. 🙂

I’m now working on making more of my “good” lessons into “great” ones. I’m a long ways from it, but I’m aiming to become a master teacher one day with a big ole’ bag of tricks and lots of great lessons. I’m realizing more and more that it all comes back to comprehensible input. Not just any input. Many people can speak Spanish (or French or German or Chinese) but it takes effort to stay comprehensible AND keep students attention.

Here are 3 tips for delivering better comprehensible input:

1.)  Tweak the “I can” statement

Instead of making the goal about THEM, make it about the culture. With technology and half a brain, my students can figure out how to say what sports they like WITHOUT me! They have little reason to listen. That’s not the case if they’re learning something new. Language AND culture! Here was a recent goal in my 1A class.

I can tell 3 athletesMM

2.) Let the input come from a variety of sources

Let them hear you talk, let them read appropriate amounts of target language, and find a quick video that supports what you are saying, excites them, and gives you a little more to talk about!

This is a peak at some of input that my students were given.

la foto (3)

This is the video we watched. Note, very few kids like soccer… UNTIL they see it!

3.) Let them practice before producing on their own

We talked, read about, and watched fun videos about Leo Messi, Robinson Cano, and Victor Cruz then I let them work in pairs. First, they read over a list of facts in Spanish about the athletes and had to decide which of them it was describing.

Then, they played Akinator and tried to answer questions to get the genie to guess one of these athletes. Guess what? He did!

messi akinator

Confession time: I didn’t give them an exit slip! I checked their understand as we learned and used their “reading practice” as their measure of learning.

So did they really learn? Yes! However, I wasn’t finished here. This was more than a 1 day objective. That happens sometimes. Not during observations or evaluations, of course, just in real life.

Tomorrow, I’ll share part 2. If you’re interested in the entire UNIT plan (Can do goals, 2 weeks of lessons, authres, homework, project, & assessment) it’s available on our curriculum site here:

What about you? What helps you give good, comprehensible input? How are you making your “good” lessons GREAT?

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31 comments for “Comprehensible input is the key!”

  1. Mary Holmes says:

    awesome…… truly….

    1. Megan says:

      Ha! Thanks! Your comment made me laugh out loud!

  2. Adriana says:

    Talking about Comprehensible input… What do you think about TPRS? Have you tried it? Do you have any colleagues who do? What is their impression?

    1. Megan says:

      I like it! I only do a few TPRS lessons each trimester but it’s only because I don’t have a lot of “stories” or examples. My only critique is that sometimes TPRS lacks the cultural aspect. I love it here and there, but I couldn’t do it everyday. Students need to do/speak more! Not just me! 🙂

      1. Anonymous says:

        Thanks!! I have the same feeling but many of my colleagues in the area loove it and they say it gives them the same results in terms of oral proficiency… I wonder if you know of somebody who can illustrate me more in that scenario because my school is thinking of implementing that method next year…

        1. Megan says:

          I think it depends on personality too! If it works really well for someone and it clicks with the students – why not try it? I experiment with different ideas all the time, but in the end I know my students and our area and I think the culture is the driving force for enjoying/not enjoying class. A lot of conferences have presentations about TPRS and there are a few good bloggers out their too. I would like to see more scripts too! I’m a rookie with this!

      2. Terry Waltz says:

        I think you may be thinking of older incarnations of TPRS if you feel it lacks culture. Remember that TPRS is just comprehensible input plus personalization, which is the piece that gives the high levels of engagement. What the precise content of the input is is up to the teacher and the students. WIth such high ownership of the text (whether written or spoken) in class, the effectiveness is very high. I especially encourage people who say “I couldn’t do it every day” to go to a SECOND workshop with a different presenter. It’s very instructive to see that you DON’T have to be performing to do good TPRS and it doesn’t have to be crazy stories. Many teachers come away with a wrong impression that TPRS is all about doing a show every day after going to their workshops.

        1. Kara says:

          I saw Martina Bex’s ACTFL presentation about authentic resources and TRPS. I can say that it is drastically different from the TPRS that I learned from Blaine Ray back in the day. I still feel like the story part does not focus on culture (but I guess I could make it), but I understand how it leads/preps them to understand the authentic resources. I will definitely learn more about it now. Thanks for sharing Terry! Do you have any specific place I can see the culture and story part combined?

          1. Adriana says:

            Yes Terry. I would be very interested on finding out what Kara is asking about the culture and the story part combined… Thanks!

          2. Dana (French Teacher) says:

            See if you can get examples of Carol Gaab’s TPRS books and curriculum. Overall I think that she makes an effort to include culture within her follow-up mini-readings and novels. You will find short articles that talk about cultural concepts as well.

            TPRS has led me to the wonderful world of Comprehensible Input. I’m beginning to realize it is one effective tool that helps me to use the target language at least 90% of the time. As for TPRS being the ONLY method I use… I’m not quite sold yet. I’ll be attending a conference/ workshop on TPRS and I will try to remember to report back on any new ideas about culture and storytelling.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You always have great stuff. Keeps me motivated. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Allison says:

    Perfect for today’s lesson on deportes y la Copa Mundial! Thanks for the video and inspiration as always!

  5. Melba says:

    I love this post because it give me a lot of ideas that I can apply in the future. Thank you

  6. Elena Boshier says:

    I am showing this clip today!! Giving them 5 preguntas en español to guide the viewing. Thanks for the great ideas!!

    1. Amy says:

      What questions did you ask them? Do you teach first year?

  7. Lindsey says:

    can you give the URL to the video? It isn’t showing up for me. 🙂

    1. Megan says:

      YouTube search “Juega como Messi” – it’s the one with over 2 million views!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Your posts are always insightful and inspiring. Thank you!

  9. Lauren says:

    I’m just curious how you would tie a lesson like this into a Unit or bigger concept? I try to follow the framework of my textbook, and I would love to do something like this but I find it challenging to keep it consistent with the Units in the textbook. Do you use a textbook, as well? Thanks and love your site, by the way!

    1. Megan says:

      Once I learned about language proficiency it changed my goals a little. Before I taught “I like” and “he/she likes” and most kids could tell me a few activities for these. Now this is a part of a unit about likes/dislikes but instead of being able to communicate in phrases and short sentences, they can go more into detail on a few things. Plus, now they know more about other sports and famous athletes!
      I’m very fortunate in that I’m not tied to the book. We have units to cover but we can teach them any way we want. It’s about the kids! What (and how) do they want to learn?

  10. Jaqui says:

    I am thankful for your blog. This is my 17th year teaching… But my first year in middle school =). I am excited to be teaching spanish, it has been my dream. I teach an intro class and a spanish 1 accelerated class. The intro class is fun and I am not tied to a book. The other class is a bit stressful because they students are working towards skipping spanish one in HS, so I have to have them prepared. Somedays the lessons are great others they flop… Your blog is inspiring and helps me brush off a not so great day with a fresh start the next day. Thank you.

    1. Megan says:

      So glad it’s a help to you!

  11. Hello,

    I’ve been following your blogs for months and I love it.
    Thanks for taking the time to post.

    I have a question about the tweets that you find. How do you get them into a word document?
    Do you use a screen shot and cut and paste?

    Any help would be appreciated!

    Steven L

  12. Terry Waltz says:

    One thing that is worth emphasizing is that the “practice” you mention is INPUT — not OUTPUT. The kids are not doing pairwork with each other or asking and answering questions (and getting most of them wrong, if they haven’t yet acquired that language!) Instead, they are playing a game that requires them to use Spanish to win the game, yet doesn’t require them to output before they have had enough input. When students are ready to output, the language will be very natural to them — before that, they’re not ready and need more input. As you say, it doesn’t happen in one day, as much as the current checklists and evaluation schemes would like to believe it does.

  13. Cecile says:

    I am a big fan of CI and was very inspired by your post, especially making the “I Can” more cultural. @sgojsic had her students write fan mail to celebrities. So between the two of you, I have now a fantastic vision of CI on celebs (student choice / interpretive and interpersonal activities) followed by writing to them as (presentational). Thanks to both of you!

  14. Francesca M Regalado says:

    Visit @GrantBoulangier on Twitter or online…His CI/TPRS is very mellow.

  15. Lori Smith says:

    I clicked the link to get the unit and it says it’s no longer in stock. Will it be coming back at all?

    1. Megan Smith says:

      It’s on our curriculum site now – vistit to check it out! Sign up for our monthly membership and you’ll have immediate access to ALL units, ALL lessons, and ALL resources.

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