How to transition to using more comprehensible input

How to transition to using more CI

This week, I used the great TCI locator to meet up with a local teacher who is interested in switching to using CI.  It was extremely beneficial for me, and it was also great to hear concerns of teachers who want to use CI.  One thing that we both noted is how overwhelming it can be!  When I transitioned to using more CI, there was only so much materials and blogs out there.  (Facebook groups weren’t even a thing!)  This was good and bad.  I pretty much had to go to conferences to learn more, but I could start picking things up one by one.  Now, there is information overload- which can be difficult to figure out where to start.

First, I wanted to start by explaining how I made space in my curriculum to use more CI.  If you have been teaching for any amount of time, you know that NO student ever remembers that WHOLE list of vocabulary (over 40 words for each unit!!) that you teach each year.  Also, if you are a non-native speaker like me, there will be a word or two in the vocabulary list that you didn’t know because you never needed to use it during your whole life of speaking Spanish.  (Camping unit and life divisions unit- I AM LOOKING AT YOU!)  Start by pairing down your list.  Students rarely remember el alquiler (rent) or el locutor (radio announcer).  Why do teachers quiz students on it?!  Since other teachers are used to that (and probably are not recycling these terms anyway because they are so low frequency), they won’t notice.  This gives you space to concentrate on useful terms that students actually may use/remember.

If you can get rid of a whole unit (maybe not the first year, but perhaps the second!), then I recommend trying a novel unit instead.  I started to use novels by putting one at the end of the year.  Many novels tie in themes from the year, and it seemed like a nice way to wrap everything up.  Plus, it is a nice change from what you have been doing which can be invigorating at the end of the year.  (Or if you have a review unit, you can replace the review unit with a novel at the beginning of the year!)

My other recommendation is to switch one level at a time.  This is especially easy if you teach multiple levels (AND almost more essential.)  Even though I teach four levels now (which seems crazy!), I made a HUGE switch the one year that I only taught level 2.  Then, last year, I made changes in the two other levels and this year, I have switched two other levels.   This isn’t to say that you can’t do any CI in your other levels.  In fact, I think as you start to switch in one level, you will find that an activity you did in one level can easily be modified and used in another level.  I have found that to be true with my students.  I realize that we haven’t done PearDeck vocabulary much and all of the sudden it is in all of my plans for all of my levels.  It will seem more manageable if you have the goal to start with one level than if you plan on chucking everything out and focusing on all of the levels.

In addition, to talking about how you can make curriculum changes to make space for CI, I wanted to put together a post with links that can help teachers.  My hope is that this list will be low-ish prep or ways to come up with stories if you are feeling uncertain:

  • One way to start using more CI is to incorporate weekend talks.  It is a great way to start Monday morning and low to no prep, so you can enjoy more of your own weekend!  I always start with Martina’s list or  Andrea’s variations.  Bethanie has made these AMAZING placements to help facilitate the discussion.  (And other teachers have translated them into new versions.)  Finally, once you have tried a few of these variations for awhile, I recommend changing it up with this game.  My students love it!
  • If you do have a story script that you can use, I recommend putting it in PearDeck!  This helped me transition greatly!  PearDeck is a technology tool that can be used as an add-on to Google Slides.  In PearDeck, I was able to ask questions, circle and allow brain breaks for drawing.  Each student would participate, and it was engaging.  If you have a story, you can put it in Google slides.  I tend to put 2-3 sentences per slide.  Then you can include comprehension questions and personalization questions within your presentation.  While in the free version, students cannot draw the pictures, PearDeck can allow your students to answer all of your questions including multiple choice and open-ended questions.  You can also see what students are understanding on your end.  While the projection view shows everyone’s answers anonymously, you can go back and view what student said what.  (Or you can open PearDeck on another device such as your phone or iPad.)
  • Although typically MovieTalks are not geared toward a specific theme, you can always find a lot of topics embedded in each video as you are making your transition to use more CI in class.  In each video, I can always discuss:
    • Clothes and color
    • Weather/time
    • Feelings
    • Descriptions
    • House rooms and furniture or city words

I also prefer to structure it more as guided by questions AND then explain what is happening.  This helps me make it more interpersonal.  I give my students a sheet to fill out that accompanies the main words that I am trying to hit from the unit.  I write these on the board as we are discussing the video.  I have found that as long as I plan out the main words that I hope my students to learn, I don’t have to script out as much.  You can see how I did this with Carrot Crazy.  (Kara and Arianne also have a ton of free MovieTalks too!  Many of them you can modify to work with your set of words if needed.)

  • After the MovieTalk, take a few minutes to write up the story.  It should go a bit faster since you have completed it in class, and you don’t have to create the story.  Once you have the story, you can come up with a few low-prep or zero-prep ideas to review it.  You have to keep in mind that your main goal is to have students read the document again and again to get more exposure to the words and story.  Plus, the more you can get out of it, the less prep for you!  You can:
    • change a few details and have students read and correct them.
    • split up the main sentences onto Quizlet and then have students play Quizlet live.  Instead of using it for vocabulary translation, you can write the first half of the sentence on the left and finish the sentence on the right.  (Remember to only come up with obvious splits here.)
    • give the students the story and have each student draw a line from the movie.  Then, scan their drawings and project them and have students guess what line the student was drawing.  (Thanks to my colleagues Evelyn Beckman and Rich Green for sharing this idea during our meet-up as well!)
    • have students go back and highlight all of the people or places.  (Or really highlight anything you think is important!)
    • have students change an ending if they are up for more output.
  • Another thing we discussed was trying to incorporate more CI without having to write all of the stories.  Dreaming Spanish YouTube channel is a godsend!  Pablo does an amazing job of keeping everything comprehensible.  This year in particular, there are new videos constantly- and here are some that would fit your traditional textbook themes- but are way more compelling:

You can have students complete an EdPuzzle with these videos- and they are so popular that many videos have already been made!

  • I think one of the scariest jump is trying to come up with a story with the students as well as the story structure.  While there are many structures to use, it can still feel like a lot of prep.  My colleague Rich also has a great way to avoid this.  You can give students a list of 7 words that you are practicing and have them use 4 in a cartoon.  They can use the words in the caption or the speech bubbles of the people in the cartoon.  Then, you can make any corrections and scan them to discuss.  I really like talking about drawings that students create because circling seems more natural to me.  You have to say- who is it because you don’t know.  You can also ask what they are doing and include clarifying questions.  You can also add more details to match up what you are talking about- like where are they if students didn’t give a background.  If you have a big class, I would only do a few cartoons a day.  That also minimizes your prep of correcting and scanning their work.  Then, after you find a story that really resonates with your students, you can type it out and elaborate more.  While this requires some prep on your end, you don’t have to worry about coming up with a whole story.  Also, you can use stories from other classes.  If you do that, you could also have students compare and contrast the stories.
  • Finally, I have always found inspiration in the news.  On Facebook, I follow news sources like Remezcla and AJ+ Español.  I also intentionally search for news from every Spanish speaking country.  While it takes time to make the news comprehensible for your students, the good news is you will have more culture embedded, and you can adjust it to include more of the vocabulary that you are trying to teach from the textbook.  If you are planning to make the transition, you can start by making a few over the summer.  Then, you don’t have to do as much over the year.  It doesn’t have to be an immediate current event especially if it connects with your students.  Also, most likely it is more current than most of your textbook readings.
  • Another big tip I suggest is going to professional development over the summer!  Mike Peto has once again created a map of all of the CI PD that is available this summer.

I hope this helps teachers, and I would love to hear if you try to incorporate more CI with one or more of these techniques.  I also want to extend a big thank you to Lauren for meeting with me and inspiring me to write this up!!


5 thoughts on “How to transition to using more comprehensible input

  1. Thank you for all of these resources! I am a 17 year veteran teacher and department chair whose state standards are shifting to a focus more on proficiency than traditional grammar-based approaches. My department members and I have decided to start incorporating more CI. The information you present here decreases my stress and makes me understand that the transition is more of a process than just a two-month overhaul.

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