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In 1977, linguist Stephen Krashen formed the so-called input hypothesis. This hypothesis puts emphasis on comprehensible input as a key factor when learning a foreign language.
According to Krashen, comprehensible input for ELL students is a part of SIOP, which stands for Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol. This protocol is used to measure a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom by using the following activities:
- Lesson plans
- Comprehensible input
- Lesson delivery
- Review and assessment
What is comprehensible input?
Input is what the students receive from you as a teacher. Basically, it is what they hear, see, and perceive as you teach. Comprehensible input is a teacher’s input that the students can easily understand due to its high quality and relevance. And this is particularly important for ELL students because comprehensive input helps them use information that they already know to understand and interpret new linguistic concepts.
In other words, the teacher’s input should be both understandable and a bit challenging for the students.
In this article, we are going to discuss the comprehensible input strategies and activities that will help you create a comprehensible classroom style to efficiently teach your students a new language.
4 Comprehensible Input Strategies
Comprehensible input strategies were developed by Krashen in 1981 and can be described as follows:
1. Direct Instruction
Teachers can use this strategy with beginners, or entering ELLs, who do not understand the language. It consists of instructing the students on what they should do. According to such instructional input, students watch the teacher do something and then they can model it.
2. Joint Construction
This strategy can be used with the students who already have some basic language knowledge, or developing ELLs. Such students can already follow the instructions themselves but still need some guidance from the teacher.
3. Coached Construction
Teachers can use this strategy with intermediate students, or expanding ELLs. Now, the teacher observes the students applying strategies on their own and offers suggestions only as needed.
This comprehensible input strategy is suitable for advanced students, or Bridging ELLs. At this stage, they require a minimum guidance from the teacher and are capable of following the instructions without constant supervision.
10 Comprehensible Input Activities
How can you practice the comprehensible input in the classroom? Here are some options:
1. Use different sources of input
Make sure that your students master the language at all levels – speaking, listening, reading and writing. Give your students enough room to experiment with the language.
2. Tell stories
Storytelling is one of the most successful comprehensible input activities, because an exciting story can arouse interest in improving the language skills in order to understand the plot better. However, make sure that your stories include at least 80 percent words and expressions that your students can understand. The stories should also contain realistic examples that may help the students exercise their language skills in real life. Another good idea is to write a story frame and let the students fill in the details.
One of the comprehensible input examples is to use drawings, images, doodles or objects in order to illustrate the complex or abstract concepts that you are explaining.
4. Sing songs
Songs and rhymes help the students understand and memorize the words that sound similarly or even equally, but have different meanings, for example, “write – right”.
5. Play games
There is a wide range of conversational games, such as “I’m going on a trip,” “Bingo” or “Important Numbers”, which can also be used as comprehensible input techniques.
6. Specialized reading
Read with students the texts that focus only on one narrow topic, and study new vocabulary that is related to this topic. The students can also choose their own topics of interest.
7. Watch news or movies
Dedicate the entire lesson to watching news and movies, and then discussing what you watched in a group. Such an approach will improve both the listening comprehension and speaking skills as part of comprehensible input.
8. Correction of mistakes
Give the students texts that contain grammar or spelling mistakes and encourage them to find and correct those mistakes.
9. Listen and draw
Describe a picture to the students, and then have them draw the picture based on your instructions. Students can also work in pairs and describe the pictures to each other.
10. Adapt your speech
Use less complex vocabulary whenever possible and limit the use of idioms.
We hope that our comprehensive input definition and tips have motivated you to practice this approach in your classroom. Of course, it is up to you to decide what comprehensible input activities will work best for you and your students, but we recommend that you try all of them.
This Teaching Essentials Blog Series looks at some tools-of-the-trade for online ESL instruction. In it, we explore a few key concepts and dive into what makes them indispensable to our teachers.