Unit 3: Comprehensible Input

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Using the TL is great, but only if students can understand you! This unit focuses on the Comprehensible Input theory of Krashen.'

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Strategies to Make Content Comprehensible: Retrieved from languageeducation.pbworks.com


Teachers attempting to conduct class at the level of 90% target language use as ACTFL recommends need to think carefully about how to present material to students. If they use language that is too far above students' current level of language skill they risk frustrating the students, and if they use language that is too simple, students will not grow their vocabulary and grammar. Teachers need to spend time in their lesson plans deciding what type of language to include. They should keep the following in mind:

Krashen's Input Hypothesis

As teachers, how do we know the type and difficulty of language we should be using in class? Should we speak as if we were talking to a native speaker? Stephen Krashen, a famous linguist and education researcher, concluded in his famous input hypothesis that we should be providing students with a student's current impenitence+1 (i+1). In other words, we acquire language when it contains language "a little beyond" our current knowledge. This is because we tend to use more than our linguistic competence to help us understand, employing context, and knowledge of the world (Krashen, 1985, p.21). If a teacher can provide a rich context for the language, students can understand something just a little bit out of reach.

For more information about Input Hypothesis and Stephen Krashen's theories about second language acquisition see [Principles and Practices]


Code-switching is the practice of switching between two languages, and can be done by changing languages after a sentence, or inserting a word from one language into a sentence spoken in the second language. Code-switching can be a useful tool for the language teacher. Switching into English can help students understand higher level vocabulary or can be used to clarify a grammar point. Though code-switching can be a very useful tool, (Thompson & Harrison,2014) research shows that even when teachers use 90% target language, code switching can give students the signal that using their native is okay and can decrease students' use of the target language. Thompson & Harrison (2014) suggest that teachers set strict rules for the use of native language in the classroom.

To Do

Video: Comprehensible Input

Watch the following video about comprehensible input in the classroom.

[STARTALK Concordia Comprehensible input]

While you are watching the video, please think about the following questions:

1. What are some strategies for providing comprehensible input to students.
2. What challenges do you foresee to teachers and students?

Comprehensible Input Checklist

Find a video of a foreign language class. You may re-visit this webpage, or find your own example. Alternatively, if you have the opportunity, observe a foreign language class in person. While you are watching the class, have the Comprehensible Input Checklist open in front of you.

[STARTALK Comprehensible Input Checklist]

Journal Entry #3

Take a moment to reflect on your own language learning experiences in the classroom.
1. Did your teacher provide comprehensible input?
2. Were there ever times that you were frustrated because you could not understand the teacher?
3. What strategies did the teacher use to help you understand? What could your teacher have done better?

Now reflect on your own teaching practices.

1. What steps do you take to provide your students with comprehensible input on a daily basis?
2. How could you improve?

Design Project

Think about how you will provide Comprehensible Input to your students. Will you include pictures? Props? Will you have a second student demonstrate with you?

  • Make note of what vocabulary and grammar students will need to know as a prerequisite to this lesson.
  • Make note during each activity, exactly how you will provide comprehensible input to students.
  • Make note of where (if at all) you may need to include an English explanation.

Now What? Mini-Course Closing


1. Donato, R., & Smith, M. [Word Document] STARTALK Comprehensible Input Checklist. Retrieved fromhttp://startalkcooperatingteachers.wikispaces.com/Instructional+Strategies.

2. Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Retreived from: http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/books/principles_and_practice.pdf

3. Strategies to Make Content Comprehensible: Retrieved from languageeducation.pbworks.com

4. Thompson, G., Harrison, K. (2014). Language Use in the Foreign Language Classroom. Foreign Language Annals, 47(3), 321-337.