Comprehensible Input Techniques | Writing Comprehensible Stories for Students
Writing comprehensibly is one of the most powerhouse, and effective comprehensible input techniques for creating a proficiency oriented instruction environment.
It’s a crazy essential skill for comprehension based teachers. Because being able to do this is one of the main conduits for language in your classroom, right? Written Word is one of the most important ways that students acquire language and stories is one of the fastest ways to do it.
Let’s get into one of the most valuable comprehensible input techniques – writing for students in a way they understand!
One of the Most Useful Comprehensible Input Techniques
Now stories doesn’t necessarily just mean many of the things that you might be thinking of when it comes to teaching with comprehensible input based methods. It’s not just novels or short stories you find.
It could just be that you’re presenting a nonfiction text and you want to write it yourself. Let’s learn how to utilize one of the most powerful comprehensible input techniques out there.
It’s completely okay to use mostly stuff that you write yourself, for your students.
CI Novels and Readers + Authentic Texts
Wait until it’s in the budget to get readers. And don’t worry so much about whether the text is authentic or not.
Especially when you’re working with baby-brand-new novice low learners, that’s not as much of a huge focus as we think it is. You definitely want to have engaging, authentic cultural material.
But you can also write about cultural events in your own words. And writing simple and easy to read paragraphs at just the right levels for students is a really easy way to shave a lot of hours off your work week.
For example: it’s monday morning and you’ve got NADA for the next class period because you have 4 preps and you have a life on the weekends. You can take ideas from the Carnaval news article your French 3s are reading and use it to write a simple 5 sentence paragraph for your 1s in 10 minutes. Boom! That simple 5 sentence paragraph can generate 30 minutes of quality input work with your students in class.
Simple and Efficient Comprehensible Input Techniques: Writing Your Own Materials for Class
This is why this practice of writing materials yourself for class is a simple, cheap, and highly efficient way to provide high quality input for all of your levels.
But here’s the catch – it only works if students understand what you’re writing and they WANT to read it.
So let’s jump in and learn how to write both comprehensible input and exciting, interesting input for world language class!
Today we’re going to learn how to write and create very quickly.
We’re going to learn how to write concisely and that blinking cursor syndrome that keeps a lot of people from writing for their students, and make every single second spent on writing worth it.
The Golden Rules of Writing for World Language Teachers
Here are the golden rules of writing in a nutshell. When you are writing for your students 70% of what you’re writing, 7 out of 10 things that you write should be stuff that they already know, or things that they can figure out as soon as they look at the page.
#2 Comprehensible Input Technique – Repetition
Also, the next golden rule is to repeat info in new ways. Just like circling in speech, you must repeat the same information but in new ways. However, it’s easier than circling because writing gives you more time to plan out the repetitions instead of the real-time pressure of classroom conversations.
Comprehensible Input Example Writing:
Here is a super boring example: this is a book, the book is gray, I have a gray book, it is not a blue book, it is a grey book, blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth.
And you can use the previous information that might have been introduced, like the color gray, green, or the word book, like in Spanish libro.
Writing for Second Language Acquisition – Start with WHY
The next thing that you need to look at is make sure that you’re starting with Why? Why are you writing in the first place, because you shouldn’t just write because people tell you that it’s important to write or that it’s important to work with stories with your students.
The whole reason that you’re writing is in order to transfer language. So why are you writing? What are your language goals? This will make your writing much faster and easier.
High Frequency Verbs Example
Your language goals might be I’m really hitting hard, super seven verbs. If you’re not sure what super seven verbs are, check out these posts for French high frequency verbs and Spanish high frequency verbs to learn more.
For example, maybe you’re working on ES and Tiene that week in Spanish or ELLE EST and ELLE A in French. Those two verbs are the focus of the story/text and should repeat ALOT.
So all you want to do is make sure that every single other word in that story is something that moves it further along. It’s okay if you need one or two unfamiliar words just in order to make the story work. Remember that ratio of 70/30.
Only Add Related Content Words
Another golden rule is to only add related content words. So what does that mean? If I’m talking about flowers, then the only other content words that I would want to add are things related to flowers, because they might never really see them again, but it’s going to be relevant to the story like maybe stem or leaf. But that’s it.
Shelter Vocab, Not Grammar
So make sure that your content words are very related and highly focused and targeted, sheltered vocab, not grammar. You’ve probably heard that before. So let’s talk about what that really means. We are often programmed as language teachers to move through a syllabus in the order of grammar, right? That’s what we’re all pretty comfortable with. But honestly, like I’ve done this before, and it is very true in practice, students pick up on new tenses really fast. It’s all about context for them.
It’s different if you’re asking them to produce and it’s very different if you’re asking for accurate results. But if you’re just asking for comprehension, like you are in a story, because remember, the whole reason that you do stories is in order to give them input, and to be a vehicle for new phrases and words.
If you’re not asking them to produce, you can put anything you want in there in any tense, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s very, very focused as long as it keeps the story moving. So you don’t have to shelter grammar literally ever, because students can figure it out.
I once told an entire story off the top of my head with Spanish 1s once about something that happened to me that weekend. And they figured out all of it from gestures and familiar phrases. And all of it was in the past tense!
They don’t need a lot of help when it comes to understanding past tense. Because most of the words that we use, like you’re going to this is wild, but it’s true. Most of the words that we use in language, 90% of it, sometimes even 95%, depending on the language boils down to 500 words. That’s it, you’re probably using the same words over and over again in your class. So don’t worry about the grammar, worry about the vocab. Worry about all the other words besides that 500 core, those 500 centered phrases, that’s what you need to worry about, not the grammar context.
Context: Your Comprehensible Input Techniques Go-To
Here’s how you can leverage context – your best friend – to make things understood.
- Leverage opposites
- things like stop and go like if your students already know go use the word stop. It helps. It helps to make things more concrete in the brain. And it also really helps it stick. And it allows you for an opportunity to go back to the first one and repeat info in new ways.
- negation is your best friend. I know French teachers we like to move away from negation, because for us negation is weird. And we don’t usually do it until unit three, because the formation is a little confusing for students, but use it all the time in your writing. And you won’t ever have to teach negation. I promise you I never taught negation outright, I just use it a lot in stories, and they just picked it up. There were a few weird, you know, commas everywhere in their spelling, but the structure was there.
The whole principle of QUALITY language instruction is that it matters far more HOW much you use something rather than HOW you use something.
- of course cognates are going to be your best friend. And this is a really helpful insightful one I wanted to put this in there. It’s not as much for Spanish teachers, but for pronouns: anytime that you can say the actual object instead of “it” you will really help your students understand.
How to Keep your Writing Concise & Comprehensible
This one’s the most important golden rule though – you ready? Fire year every single word that doesn’t serve a purpose. Fire them, they’re not welcome.
What I did in order to make this for you is I wrote a first draft. And then I went through and I picked through it and I eliminated a lot of text off of the page. And you can do the same thing for your students. That process might take you 10-15 minutes depending on how often you do this, maybe 20 If you’ve never done it before just writing a story.
But eliminating stuff after you’ve already written it is way easier once you’ve got stuff on the page.
Firing words that don’t serve a purpose, it means they’re out of a job. If they are not directly conveying meaning, if they’re just sitting on the page, they’re out, they gotta go. It’s the act of being very, very concise.
That’s the hardest part. That’s why you save it for last.
The next golden rule is the one no one talks about in teaching:
The Key to Comprehensible Input in Short Stories & Texts
Formatting matters as much as the words you choose.
Even reader brains are repelled by too much text squished together. So why are we giving students brand new to a language a full paragraph of a crazy intimidating language and then expect them to pick it apart themselves?
No one would read this blog post, even if it was well written and interesting and concise, if it was just a giant block of text. There are headers, images, and text breaks for a reason! Do the same favor for your students.
Because your brain wants to find immediately where the eye should go.
Formatting Techniques for Student Readers
Here’s what you need to know about how your students’ eyes work. Your eye reads a page in either an F or an E shape.
Depending on how your brain works, it follows an F pattern or an E.
And if you don’t let your brain follow an F or an E, it doesn’t want to read it.
You’re already working with reluctant learners. So use text features as much as possible!
What Are Text Features?
Text features include:
- spaces between lines
- isolating important words or sentences
Anything you can do to make that more accessible to your students.
Steps to Writing Comprehensibly
Here are your steps of writing. Now that you know what we want to keep in mind, here are the steps.
- First, start with what structures you want to use and base that off of choosing your Why.
- Next, use the template for all stories of all humans. This is the very simple fundamental of what makes all stories interesting: A character and a problem. You don’t even necessarily need a solution quite yet, because you could drag the story out for a few days if you wanted to. But all you need is a character with the problem. Ready? This is a can. The can is leaking. Now it’s interesting. That’s all you need. All you need to make something interesting is a problem.
- Write a simple ugly draft first. So no text features no nothing, just get the text down.
- Then fire all of the unusable language, get rid of it, every single word that does not serve a purpose on the page.
- Next, add some simple text features and formatting. Make sure that your eyes can follow it in an F pattern, or an E pattern, whichever.
- I would also highly recommend that you always add a picture. If you don’t have time, then just plan out your drawings, or your props that you’re going to use with it, or map out the gestures you’re going to use.
- Last, give it a quick final check.
- Is it highly focused on your phrases?
- Did you fire all the freeloaders?
- Did you format it?
- Is it mostly all old and familiar words?
- Is it interesting?
- Does it have a story?
It certainly takes practice, but the more that you practice, the better it will get.
Ways you could use quick texts in class to save you planning time:
This is a genius warm up.
I used to make up stories about my students. And I would use that story for like four or five days in a row. So it would be five days worth of material and we would do different things with it.
Sample World Language Lesson Plan with Student Stories:
First, I would give them the story, then we would read it together. Then I would read the story and ask them circling questions about it. And when you’re in level one, all you need is four or five sentences to do a whole circling activity. Honestly, in level two as well. So same thing, then we would do a drawing activity with it the next day.
Then we would let it rest and do something else for 30 minutes. The next day we would do a drawing activity with it where I would tell them the story and they would draw the stuff that was happening. The next day was a storyboard activity. Draw the pieces of the story to show me that you understand it. You can make stories work so many times to make the repetition not feel so repetitive.
Save Time Lesson Planning with the RIGHT Comprehensible Input Techniques
This is one of those practical comprehensible input techniques that every comprehension based teacher needs. In reality, not all the comprehensible input techniques you come across are efficient or beginner-friendly. Although they are all more effective than traditional teaching, some are very high prep, high energy, and require a great deal of skill.
Comprehensible input writing geared towards students is one of the more approachable comprehensible input techniques. Bonus: it also saves you a ton of time because you only have to create the content once and you can repurpose it multiple times. It’s a little bit harder to do this with things like movie talks, you have to be very skilled. And you have to put a little bit of time in to make something like a movie talk, or clip chat.
Make Every Student Text Interesting
The hard part about it is the end when you’re looking at your stuff and trying to figure out okay, how am I going to make this interesting? Remember that making text interesting is not as hard as everybody makes it seem. All you need to do is clearly convey a problem. That is what gives the spice in stories. And then make sure that your text is concise. Got those two things and you’re solid!
This is a lot of fun to talk about. I hope you learned what you needed to about comprehensible writing in class for students in a way that saves you planning time in your comprehensible input focused class!
More Posts on Comprehensible Input, Research, and Linguistics
Dive into the world of second language acquisition with these other posts for teachers:
More World Language teacher resources for you
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