I was able to see pieces of two of my FAVORITE teacher authors, Kristy Placido and Carrie Toth. Each session had elements of Content Based CI that I would love to share. I find that my intermediate students truly enjoy these types of units. Kristy and Carrie seem to have the perfect approach to blending fun stories with serious themes, creating a balance that engages all students.

Kristy started by telling us that the goal of her language classes is dictated from what we learn from Krashen. Our role as a teacher is to navigate students to a point where they can begin to understand at least some “authentic” (real-world) input. When they reach this point, they can continue to improve on their own. Our job is to give our students the tools they need to begin functioning in the real world.

Krashen says that “subject matter teaching IS language teaching and it is ideal for intermediates.” It is important to note that we should focus on the subject matter with our students and NOT the language. If the content is interesting enough students will be engaged. More CI means more acquisition.

Kristy suggested taking any subject, current event, story, legend or anything that you enjoy and making it comprehensible for your students. As long as you are using High Frequency vocabulary, students are being exposed to great language that can be transferred over to other topics. Kristy has the wonderful ability to make legends and biographies compelling AND comprehensible as we can see in many of her Fluency Matters novels such as Frida Kahlo, Leyendas Impactantes and Vidas Impactantes.

Kristy and Carrie stressed the importance of differentiation in upper level classes. The range of intermediates that you get can be anywhere from low to high. This is a vast variety. In an upper level class you will have students in a variety of ranges. Therefore it is important to make sure that you are checking in with lower intermediates to make sure that what you are teaching is comprehensible but at the same time making sure you are also challenging those students who are hitting the top of the intermediate range. Kristy says that as our students’ teachers we are their perfect resource because we know where each student is on their path to proficiency. Kristy suggests using personalization with your students in order to find the perfect content-based units that will spark curiosity and engagement.

A signature piece of Carrie’s units is that she leaves a lasting ripple effect. I can honestly say that EVERY one of her materials that I have used has hit a homerun in my classroom and leaves a lasting effect. She is a master at creating compelling content-based units. You must check out her latest unit on #mardeplastico. You can find her blog post about it here. I have done this with my Spanish 3H class and it created a serious sense of awareness about the damage of plastic on our environment. A hook that Carrie used for this unit was bringing a bag of her own trash to school. She had things like a sock, a shoe, fruit, fruit peel, tin can and aluminum can. Then she dumped it all on floor. Students had to decide (JUDGE on Bloom’s Taxonomy) if the garbage was biodegradable or not biodegradable at all. It was eye opening for many to see how long each piece of garbage can take to degrade. The majority of the items took 1-3 years.

Another great part of Carrie’s unit is that she purchases stainless steel straws for her students. The homework is for students to tweet while using their straws. The larger school community began to see the tweets and become very interested in the many negative effects that plastic leaves on our ocean. These tweets were the beginning of a social media awareness campaign that had a lasting effect on many!

Carrie also mentioned how her journey of becoming @NatGeo certified helped inform her unit. Here is a link to how you can become NatGeo certified too! If you are interested in creating your own content based unit, these are some tips Carrie shared to point you in the right direction.

Her tips are:

  1. Find the resource you are interested you are in. (art, literature, historical, etc.)
  2. Plan: What do I want my students to do at the end of the unit?
  3. Select: What pieces can I use to help scaffold for students to perform well on the final assessment?
  4. Imagine: How can I create a ripple effect?

If you do not want to create your own content-based CI units, check out Carrie’s and Kristy’s amazing scope and sequence here full of wonderful ideas!

Arianne Dowd has been a Spanish Teacher at South Brunswick High School for the past 18 years. She is committed to lifelong learning. She holds dual BAs in Spanish and Psychology with a minor in International Studies from Montclair State University. She has two Master’s degrees, an MA in Spanish Literature from Montclair State University and a MAT in Italian from Rutgers University. She is passionate about delivering Comprehensible Input in order to engage and interact with all learners. Arianne enjoys collaborating with colleagues through social media to create compelling and comprehensible units comprised of cultural knowledge. She has begun documenting these activities on her blog.
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