We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Apr 28, 2014

i + 1 = ? What’s your formula for comprehensible input?

Scaffolding by Gavatron, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Gavatron 

Welcome back to #langchat, everyone! We hope that you could join us for yet another lively Thursday night chat. This time the conversation focused on comprehensible input. In case you couldn’t participate or missed some of the rapid-fire comments and links circulating, not to fear! We’ve included a summary of the Thursday’s discussion below.

As always, thank you to everyone who participated! We extend a special thanks to our moderators: Don (@dr_dmd), Kristy (@placido), Diego (@DiegoOjeda66), and Kris (@KrisClimer), the newest member of the team!

Defining Comprehensible Input

Don (@dr_dmd) started off the conversation by asking members of the #langchat community how they define comprehensible input: “What IS comprehensible Input??? SERIOUSLY What IS IT??” He provided some background information to get the discussion going:

@KrisClimer also shared a video-recorded lesson on comprehensible input from Krashen, aka “the sage himself”:

Participants shared their understanding of comprehensible input. @placido wrote, “CI is language which is comprehensible to the learner and slightly above their ability to produce.” @NicoleNaditz commented, “CI is in the target language and contextualized. It’s relevant to real communication and includes frequent checks 4 understanding.” @madamebaker added, “CI is lang, whether spoken or written along with visuals and gestures that allow students to interpret L2 without reverting to L1.” @HolaSrHoward underscored the importance of comprehensibility: “CI is what you do to avoid students concluding ‘I don’t know what the [teacher] is saying’.” Participants point to the need for input that is just beyond learners’ current level, and which is made comprehensible through contextualization and non-linguistic cues.

Making Input Comprehensible

Participants discussed different strategies that can be adopted to make input comprehensible, emphasizing the incorporation of non-linguistic resources and the importance of repetition and circumlocution. Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Don’t forget about non-linguistic resources. @KrisClimer wrote, “Sometimes we focus too much on words, though. [images], facial expressions, gestures, modeling answers can lead to …” @alisonkis also suggested “[Powerpoints], clip arts, mind maps.”
  • Repeat and Rephrase. @alisonkis acknowledged the importance of (re)paraphrasing and repeating utterances.
    @LauraJaneBarber emphasized “modeling circumlocution when they don’t know a new word you use.”
  • Be (melo)dramatic! @SenoritaBasom said, “I use a lot of visuals & often act out things. Funny how my melodramatic acting can make the input more comprehensible!”

@NicoleNaditz summarized the need for a ‘bank of tools’ to provide students with CI: “We all need a bank of tools and strategies to meet student needs. No one strategy can ever be an entire bank of strategies.” Teachers can draw on a variety of resources (e.g. gestures, facial expressions, images, skits, etc.) in order to make input comprehensible for different students.

How to Make Things Interesting

@km_york touched on the frustration that instructors may face when trying to produce comprehensible input that engages students in the target language: “I used to work so hard to establish meaning w/o using L1.” Only the top most interested hung on.” As a new teacher, @MmeFarab echoed this difficulty: “As a first year teacher, I struggle with CI. Best strategies to make students interested?”

Our participants offered a wealth of suggestions and emphasized the importance of making the input interesting for students. Below are some of their suggestions, which include the discussion of events featuring cognates, the use of storytelling visuals, and the incorporation of student interests and prior knowledge in lessons:

  • @fravan said, “I used current events as a warm up, a lot of cognates.
  • @jmattmiller said, “I like to use CI with students’ personal interests, storytelling w/students as stars. Fiction w/students.”
  • @madamebaker shared: “a fresh idea to spice up the #ci” [celebrity masks and narratives]
  • @placido said, “Use the learner’s prior knowledge, interests, context, images, gestures to MAKE it #ci.”

Additional Resources

In case you accidently lost or closed some of the many links and window tabs you had open during the conversation, we have included additional resources shared by participants.

  • “The Comprehensible Classroom,” lesson plans, activities and strategies for world language classrooms (shared by @ dr_dmd)
  • A video example of comprehensible input being modeled in a French Class, (shared by @dr_dmd)
  • “25 ways to find or create CI:” (shared by @axamcarnes)
  • A summary from a previous #langchat on how to do CI with #PBL, (shared by @dr_dmd)


There is no one formula for comprehensible input, and the variety of strategies that language instructors develop may be more or less effective when interacting with particular students. Participants stress the importance of making the content relevant for students so that they become more invested in trying to understand. While delivering comprehensible input can require a lot of energy and flexibility on the part of the instructor, @KrisClimer offered inspiring words, which were retweeted by several participants: “Love each student. Meet them right above where they are. CI + trust + patience = proficiency progress.”

Thank you

Thank you again to Don (@dr_dmd), Kristy (@placido), Diego (@DiegoOjeda66), and Kris (@KrisClimer) for moderating such an animated discussion. Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

If you have any comments or questions that you would like to share with the #langchat community, do not hesitate to do so. Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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