Today is especially for beginners or people who are looking for a quick activity that they can use do tomorrow but still rocks for both students and teachers. When you’re new to CI or transitioning to proficiency-oriented instruction, it’s important to have a few easy comprehensible input activities up your sleeve. Hell, it’s the difference between a good day and a bad day in class – what’s more crucial than that in teaching?
Beginner-friendly proficiency activities
These are three (plus one) very beginner friendly, proficiency-centered comprehensible input activities that you can use in your classroom tomorrow. They’re teacher friendly, low-prep, wildly fun and engaging, and facilitate tons of input for your students in a way they understand.
You don’t need any materials for these teacher-friendly comprehensible input activities. It’s all going to be things that you already have in your classroom, tools that you already actively use, and all of the skills that you already built as a teacher. It builds in the community that you’ve already made in your classroom.
I will tell you though, that with any activity, just pick one to try after you read.
3 Comprehensible Input Activities
I’m giving you three as a smorgasbord to choose from between: We’re going to be talking about:
- weekend chats
- picture talks.
- how to use more drawing in your class.
- A bonus 4th! – proficiency-oriented vocabulary presentations
I picked these because they don’t require any training or any further knowledge on your part.
You don’t need to be a CI expert – just dive in and try them!
The wonderful thing about proficiency is that there’s always more to learn. And there’s always more to get better at. These are the entry-level comprehensible input activities for teachers new to using more CI in class. It’s also great if you’re looking for something easy with little planning for tomorrow’s French or Spanish lesson.
These are the things that you can do tomorrow with the skills that you already have. And you can work on them, and perfect them to make them powerhouse practices. The good news is you already have everything in your toolbox in order to make them happen.
Many people usually think: “what I am going to do with my grammar?” when they’re first working more proficiency into their routine.
I would honestly argue that grammar gets the most sticky, the most difficult to deal with. Some might even say controversial if you’re working in a team.
The easiest entry point to putting more proficiency into your daily plan and curriculum is actually vocabulary.
Comprehensible Input Activities for Beginners #1
Proficiency-Oriented Vocabulary Presentations
Take a look at how you’re presenting vocabulary and put a more proficiency-oriented approach as your focus. Rather than trying to overhaul the grammar program. That’s going to take a lot more work.
This however, you could do tomorrow with very little work, zero training because these are the things that are already the principles of just solid research based practice.
The number one activity that you can do is do a full swap from presenting lots of vocab terms from a list to instead having a conversation with students to TEACH the vocabulary.
Let’s say you’re teaching school supplies vocabulary as an example.
Instead of using a PowerPoint and trying to get through 50 terms in a day?
What if you brought a backpack to school, filled it with supplies, and ask students yes/no questions about them?
What if instead you tried to get 20 repetitions of 10 words instead of 2 repetitions of 50?
Repetitions and Comprehensible Input
Here’s what repetitions looks likes with yes/no questions when students are completely new to a word. Remember that the focus is on giving students tons of in-context examples of the new word “ruler”. But what they actually get is also lots of input, and lots of rich questions and answers – not just the word “ruler.”
Repetitions and Comprehensible Input Examples:
- Is this a ruler or a stapler?
- What color is the stapler?
- Is the stapler green or orange?
- Is the ruler green or orange?
- Is this a ruler or a stapler?
You see the amount of repetitions that are happening in here? You don’t have to have any training in order to do that – just practice! Trust me, it gets easier the more you do it.
And honestly, you can get better and better at that by just looking up a little bit of circling. I’m by no means an expert at circling. But that is how you can make your vocabulary much more proficiency oriented. Then you can put those different supplies on different students’ desks. Ask them as you go around the room. “Is this ruler or stapler?”
You keep asking the same questions over and over again, ”is this chalk or pencil”.
“What color is your pencil?”
You’re not looking for input back from the students. You just want small indications that they understand what’s going on.
That’s a really quick and easy way to incorporate more proficiency there.
The benefit of this setup is that students can show they understand with low-pressure answers, and they get SO much more than just school supplies. They’re getting the actual structure of the language with all the words AROUND the school supply vocabulary!
Using Stories, Authentic Texts and CI Novels to Introduce Vocabulary
You can also use a story or short text. There’s tons of stories out there, you can find lots of free ones, you can find lots of paid ones. All kinds of good stuff! You could do a contextualized vocab presentation that’s a little bit more in-depth with a story. This works well when teaching new vocab that’s not as tangible as food. If you have a unit on making friends or weekend activities, stories and texts are your best friend.
Also, you can try this with a novel! People don’t think that you can use a novel to introduce vocabulary. But the best part that I’ve found about novels, especially with CI novels, in the way that they’re written, is that they have an incredible glossary section because they know exactly where your students are going to get stuck.
CI Novels for New Vocabulary
These powerful tools like glossaries and easy-to-read pages make them the best vocab presentations ever. And the only work on you is to get the novels into class and 1 or 2 simple activities to go with reading!
Because most of the people who are writing CI novels (like AC Quintero) have been in the classroom for 15-20 years, they know where your kids are gonna get stuck. They write incredible glossaries.
So your students could read. And as soon as they get stuck on a word, they’re not even going to stop reading, they’ll just go to the back, find the word that they need, and just keep on going. And they will learn, learn, learn like crazy, because the stuff will stick in their brains so much better than if you present the vocab to them. That’s the first idea I have for you, is to make a one-to-one swap for how you teach or present new vocabulary.
The Truth About Your Vocabulary List
I’m not saying a vocab list is a bad idea. Because I used to give out vocab lists to students.
Students certainly like having a nice organized vocab list, especially as a source of reference. And especially in textbooks. That’s how it’s organized.
But when it comes to presenting the vocabulary, a vocab list is not the best way to go. You have so many other options that don’t require you to sing and dance on top of your desk or do a TPRS story if you’re not ready for that yet.
Comprehensible Input Activities for Beginners #2
Okay, ready for my next one? Try a weekend chat! This one is so easy and puts a ton of personality into your class. Low friction and easy. This also doesn’t really even require copies or technology or presentation. All you gotta do is create a little word bank somewhere. Here’s how you do it.
What is a weekend chat?
Well, a weekend chat is when you make a routine out of asking your students and then expecting them to respond with what they did that weekend.
So in my French class, it was “qu’est-ce que tu as fait ce weekend?”
Find the full guide on how to use weekend chats in your Spanish or French class here.
Try a weekend chat. It will help you to get to know your students better and it also becomes a great weekly routine that as you invest more in it each week becomes less and less work while your students grow in their language abilities and proficiency. It’s one of those things that really pays off.
Comprehensible Input Activities for Beginners #3
The Power of Drawing in World Language
So my next activity for you, number three, is to draw literally anything.
I used to write simple stories about their classmates, about random characters, about anything. But we would always incorporate a drawing activity to not only be more comprehensible and check for understanding, but to also extend great activities (less planning!)
Why Draw In World Language Class?
Why should you draw more in class? My main reason is for the student feedback. You figure out very quickly whether you are comprehensible or not.
It’s also really easy – you could do it tomorrow with the know-how and supplies you already have in class. It gives you an immense amount of feedback of what’s going on in your classroom, and how well your students understand better than any other activity will.
Because as you talk, you draw. It forces you to slow down and repeat naturally.
Since you’re drawing, your students are going to make fun of your silly drawings. And they’re also going to see if they can figure out what the story is about. And the more they’re relying on the drawings, the more you know about your own speech. I need to work on my language a little bit here, I need to make this simpler, I need to repeat things more.
How to Make Drawing a Comprehensible Input Activity
So you might be asking, well, Devon, What on earth am I going to draw about? You can literally draw anything! You can tell them about your weekend. After you do weekend chat, you can roll into this whole story about your weekend.
You can make a fake story about your weekend about how you met a talking unicorn, and they gave you a really, really embarrassing tattoo. You could do anything that you want. It’s already in communication, right?
Drawing = Built-in Check for Understanding
One time students asked me a story about when was the last time that I had to speak Spanish. I told them well, there was actually a situation in my neighborhood where there was a Spanish-speaking person. And this and this happened, and I needed to use my Spanish wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. I told them the story in Spanish, and I drew it on the board. And they had to figure out what happened.
Drawing Games for World Language
You can make it like improv where you get up there. And you say, All right, y’all give me a word, we’re gonna make a story about a word! I think people do really get tripped up, or at least I know, I certainly did. Maybe you feel the same way. I used to feel all hung up about the idea of telling a story to my students, because I thought I need all the training in order to do this, right?
False, you need training to do it really well. And do it efficiently and do it comprehensively.
But you can still do it tomorrow with the language teacher skills you already have and get great results! (your half-ass beginner attempt on a bad day to interact with students in the target language and use drawing to help make it comprehensible is way better than any worksheet, trust me! Have faith in yourself! )
It’s like the difference between making spaghetti and homemade sauce. The spaghetti and sauce is still nutritious for students. Soon as you have the training, you can make it ultra delicious and more nutritious with homemade sauce.
The Power of Stories in World Language Class
Don’t be afraid to try something new even if you don’t have a ton of know-how.
Because telling stories to your students, even if you’re not doing it well, even if you’re only doing it like 50% comprehensible, is a million times more interesting, more compelling and more effective than literally anything that you have in your filing cabinet or your Google Drive.
I promise you, this knowledge is student-tested. Stories are everything. Stories are communication. So even if you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing it exactly right, just try it!
Stop trying to be perfect (or waiting till you know everything to try it)
But if you’re one of the people like me, and you get a little hung up about the fact that I’m not really good at telling a story in another language and making it comprehensible, that’s okay. Wait until the conference this spring when we have people who will teach you better ways to talk to your students and tell stories to your students. But until that conference, here is what you can do.
Activities for Storytelling
Make it like improv. Ask your students for input.
Ask your students, okay, give me a word, we’re going to make a story about this word. “costumes sparkle pumpkin” costume.
So now I’m thinking to myself, sparkle pumpkin – what on earth? But now a story is forming. It’s the most glittery pumpkin in the whole pumpkin patch…….. But nobody knows that she’s actually wearing a costume……
Tips for Storytelling in World Language Class
Remember that the key to every story or any interesting thing ever is some type of problem or conflict. Here we took sparkle pumpkin and made “costume” the problem. It’s a secret so now there’s conflict in the story —- will someone find out she’s a fraud? Or will she find a way to just be herself? You know the drill.
There’s your story. Everybody thinks that she’s just special the way that she is. And she has a secret, she doesn’t want to tell anybody that she’s actually wearing a costume.
I’d read that story. That sounds like fun. So that’s what you can write about. You might have to, you know, give students the words for sparkles and pumpkin in costume. But you would be fine, you’d be able to work with the idea of she has a secret she doesn’t want you be able to work. Try it. I think you’ll love it.
Drawing and Stories in World Language
Now again, let’s get so just to give you an example. I tell a story. And then I break it into pieces like a storyboard. It’s just a more structured way to draw in your class. And you can absolutely try it too. I gave students the story. And then I drew it with them. The next day, I had somebody else draw for me. And then we put the all the pieces in order, all that kind of stuff. It was fun.
Comprehensible Input Activities for Beginners #4
I have a bonus one for you. I couldn’t help it. I really wanted to do this one, because I think it’s also a really good tool for you. So you came here for three, you get a bonus!
Your bonus is picture talks. It’s too good to not put in here. Picture talks are exactly this, you put a really outrageously compelling photo in front of someone.
Check out a full how-to guide on Picture Talks here with examples and variations
It works especially well, in levels one and two when responses are limited and input is the name of the game.
All right, time to reflect. Now that you have three plus one secret bonus, what’s one thing you think you’re going to try this week with something that looks really fun to you? If you already do picture talks, did you hear something today that might make it a little easier for you? Did you see something in here for drawing that you might want to try? What might be a little bit better for you this time around? Are you doing a weekend chat? Did you find something in here that might just make it a little bit easier for you to implement? Are you doing one of these activities already? Let me know which one it is.
#1 proficiency oriented vocabulary
#2 weekend chat,
#3 drawing literally anything
#4 picture talk.
More Tools for Teaching with Comprehensible Input
If you are interested in more activities like this, and you like this whole style of approaching proficiency, then I have something that’s really going to help you out. If you don’t already have this, make sure you get your hands on this. I actually just revised it and tweaked it to make it absolutely perfect for you.
But it is a completely free over 20 page ebook of my best ideas and strategies for how to make proficiency doable in your classroom. Not by putting more work on your plate or trying to replace the things that you’re already doing. But ideas that are focused in this same mindset of let’s not try and add more to what we’re doing. Let’s instead maybe replace some old routines, let’s dig into some really good proficiency routines and build on them.
Have you ever wished the transition to proficiency were easier to do? Grab the FREE toolkit here to learn the framework for updating your practice to comprehensible input – without all the overwhelm – and prepare for the challenges ahead.
Thank you so much for joining me. And I cannot wait to hear more about how you use these activities in your classroom. Do not forget to share with me in the comments below. Which ones are you already doing and which ones are you going to try?
Rooting for you,
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