Hint: It’s not a fad, it’s not a method, and it’s not going away in the world of language teaching and learning.
Every world language teacher uses Comprehensible Input – it just depends on whether they use it intentionally.
Comprehensible Input in very simple terms is any type of message that conveys an understood and interesting meaning to the receiver: listener, reader, conversation partner, you name it.
So what does that mean in practice?
Tina Hargaden is the resident expert on this topic as the leader of CI Liftoff and a highly sought after speaker on the topic. To paraphrase, she refers to comprehensible input as the essential ingredient, like food in a meal. HINT: Your class is the meal. There’s no meal without food.
There’s no meal without food, but how you cook is up to you!
Comprehensible Input is the food in your delicious class meal. There’s no meal without food, but how you cook it is up to you!Adapted from CI Liftoff, Tina Hargaden
This is probably why you’ve heard of so many different methods with comprehensible input being thrown in the mix with it. I used to think that too – but there’s no reason why focusing on providing interesting messages in easy-to-understand language can’t be the focus of our classes over grammar.
This of course does not put us at odds with grammar, because this is still important, but it’s frankly outdated to think that this is the focus of class, or that it will lead to your students learning your desired language. For more information and research about this, check out this post on Why I Switched to Comprehensible Input where I presented to my district on the research behind switching to proficiency. You can also check out the 3-part video series here below:
What Comprehensible Input Is NOT
A teacher talking a mile a minute in front of the class the whole time. Comprehensible Input at its core has to be understood. It is not just a message, it has to be received. It is different from target language use, but entirely linked. To see what I mean, check out the queen of comprehensibility from the CI posse Sarah Breckley. She has a great youtube channel that will make you pee in your pants and learn a ton. BAYUM. For the win!
Here’s another great compilation of teachers using comprehensible input in class:
Strategies with CI & Proficiency
Comprehensible Input is not really a method-like Tina says, it’s the ingredient. In every effective world language classroom where acquisition happens, there’s plenty of input that people understand and interact with, and there’s plenty of different ways to do this. Some teachers stick to a method that they call “CI” in that they use methods associated with the term, which is awesome.
Some examples you might have heard of or you might use:
- TPR and its buddy TPRS
- Natural Approach
- 100% Target Language
- Project-Based World Language
- 90% Target Language
- unit-free, student-driven curriculum
- deskless classrooms
- Proficiency-Based instruction
- ClipChat (previously known as MovieTalks)
- Authentic Texts and Materials
- Teaching with Songs
- Teaching with tasks
- TPR storytelling & procedure instruction
- Special Person Interviews
- TPRS – teaching proficiency through storytelling
- whole-class games in the target language
- timed writing
- IPA – integrated performance assessments
How Teachers Use Comprehensible Input
Frankly, I don’t know of a teacher who strictly uses one method – most use lots of different tricks. If you keep up with ACTFL publications, you’ll know that all of these different strategies all have different advantages.
In reality though, CI is a term that just means we use messages our students understand, and you can see above just how beautifully creative the language community is in how we deliver that content.
The research also shows that there’s still so much that we don’t know, and that different methods have different advantages. There’s also alot of research bias. What is certainly evident is that students exposed to more CI are more successful than those with less, which is why ACFTL has a very strong stance on this:
In classrooms that feature maximum target-language use, instructors use a variety of strategies to facilitate comprehension and support meaning making. For example, they provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals…
My Story with Comprehensible Input
As a Spanish and French teacher fairly new to comprehensible input and all the goodies and methodologies that come with it, I’m hoping that clarifying this term will help you to use it with confidence.
TRUST ME – There’s a reason you’re hearing this term everywhere. It’s not going away anytime soon.
I also help that sharing my story will encourage you to try it out!
Keep at this work that matters so much and I’ll catch you in the trenches.
Devon @ La Libre