If you are seriously committed to using Comprehensible Input every day in your classroom, you already know the basics. Speak the language, make sure students understand most of it, provide level-appropriate reading materials, shelter vocabulary for a more narrow focus, create a language-rich environment. All of that is happening, right? But, are there any places where you could up the ante? Any little moments where you could sneak in a bit more? Are there any little cracks in the wall that you could fill with comprehensible language?
I think we could ALL do more. I am not perfect. When teachers come and observe my class, the number one sense I get from all of them is a feeling of relief. Kristy Placido is just a normal person with normal students. Sometimes when you see a teacher who is really putting herself “out there” publicly, you start to assume that she has it all together all the time. But there are so many days and so many moments within each day when I am far from having it all together, and I am just trying to cope with a thousand distractions and unexpected curveballs just like everyone else. And every day I just try to do my best, just like you.
Part of being better is just being more intentional. Set goals for yourself. Renew your commitment to your goals daily. Write them down and look at them! One of my goals EVERY SINGLE YEAR is to find more places in my day to speak comprehensible Spanish to my students.
I start almost every class with music. Often I also “chit chat” about the song before we listen to it. Who sings this song? What country is that person from? Is this song fast or slow? Do you like songs that are fast or slow? Is this song pop, rock, bachata or reggaeton? Do you know any other bachata songs? Hey, Larry, do you have your song paper? (All of this is comprehensible in Spanish.)
A couple of days a week we do SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). We read for just 5 minutes at a time in the beginning of class. I gradually increase the number of minutes IF I feel they are enjoying and valuing the time. After we read, I often tell about what I am reading and ask students about what they are reading. I try to keep it very conversational and light. “Hey, I’m reading this book ‘La habitación de los reptiles’. It is a Lemony Snicket book. Who has read this? There is a really big snake in this book. I am afraid of snakes. Are you? Have any of you seen the TV show on Netflix?” If this is of interest to the students, we may continue. If it feels forced, we stop.
Discussion is a big part of my classes. Let me clarify what I mean by discussion… I do MOST of the talking, but I try to make my students feel like it is a natural conversation. I alternate between speaking with the whole class and with individuals. I vary the types of questions I ask. I ask comprehension and clarification questions, but I also ask questions to personalize. I ask opinion questions, comparison questions, and hypothetical questions. If a student does not have the language to answer a question, I back up and make it an either/or or yes/no question. Once I find out the answer in this way, I make a statement to the class about that student’s answer and then I mat return to that student or ask another student for some information. Often when we mention class discussion, the assumption is that students are doing a lot of the talking. In a CI classroom, the teacher is actually doing much more of the talking, but the students are providing most of the content that keeps the conversation in flow.
In my classroom, my focus is primarily on teaching novels and content with a thematic approach. Stephen Krashen writes “Subject matter teaching, when it is comprehensible, is language teaching, because it provides comprehensible input.” In teaching content, I find there is a wealth of various resources at my fingertips which provide a rich and variable diet of fodder for my CI discussions. For example in Spanish 3, when I teach the novel Noche de Oro, which is an ecological-themed novel set in Costa Rica, I also spend time teaching about water contamination and sea turtle conservation. One of the lessons the students really enjoy is when I teach about the sea turtles’ favorite treat: jellyfish. I show them how a plastic bag can look like a jellyfish when it is in the water. This facebook page has tons of great information, including some items in Spanish.
Following the presentation of new information, you can then do a CI-friendly activity such as “Four Corners.” Make up some signs (just write on paper with a marker!) that say (in the target language): Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. Place each sign in one corner of the room. Make a statement such as “The ocean is a good place to throw used plastic bags.” Students then go to the corner of the room containing the sign that represents their opinion. Now, a teacher who is less concerned with CI might call that the end of it and go one to another statement. But a teacher who wants to sneak in as much CI as possible will challenge the students on their views. Even students who may AGREE with the generally accepted view can be challenged. If students move to “Strongly Disagree” you can say (in the TL, of course!) “But the ocean is very large. A few plastic bags are not going to be a problem in a giant ocean.” The students can defend themselves briefly, and then you, the teacher, and supply even more language to make their opinion known to the class.
Remember that CI that is compelling is going to lead most quickly to acquisition. Sometimes we have to be a little bit sneaky about it. Kind of like the mom who hides the spinach in the delicious fruit smoothie. By providing interesting contexts and making class feel like conversation, while secretly facilitating more input than output, we can make our class delicious while we sneak in more of the good stuff!
Kristy Placido is the editor of CI Peek. She is the author of several novels for Spanish learners and presents workshops for teachers on teaching with comprehensible input. She has been using TPRS and comprehensible input approaches in her own classroom since 1998. Check out her blog at kplacido.com and follow her on twitter and facebook!