Create Effective Comprehensible Input in Your Spanish Class

One of the best practices in the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum is to speak Spanish at least 90% of the time in your classes. This is the recommended usage that ACTFL suggests, and this is absolutely attainable with the Sonrisas lessons. At the same time, you want to insure that you are providing comprehensible input for your students. Research has shown that when students get lots of repetition with comprehensible input, they acquire language naturally and easily. All of the activities, songs, stories, and art projects in our curriculum employ visuals, props, gestures, body movement, modeling, routine and repetitive language to make the Spanish you use in class comprehensible to your students. Here are some ways that you can create effective comprehensible input in your classes.

  • Use body movement and gestures to convey meaning. Teaching Spanish to young children can sometimes feel like putting on a performance. But it is true that when you “perform” the language that you are speaking, you not only provide comprehensible input, but you also engage students and give them the opportunity to bring the language into their very active bodies. In a beginner Spanish class, you can act out almost all of the language that you use on a daily basis. In the Sonrisas lessons, all of the songs from the Sonrisas and Canciones Culturales CDs have gesture and movement that accompany them and provide the meaning of the lyrics you sing with your students. You should be performing these with your students as you sing. The directions for these can be found in the Song List section of your teacher’s manual.
  • Use visuals to provide context. Young learners connect easily to stimulating illustrations and photos. When you are reading stories to students, point to the illustrations and emphasize them to give meaning to the text. During the Calendar Time segment of your lessons, the Sonrisas classroom posters provide an excellent means to give context to language that is focused on the days of the week, months, seasons, weather, colors, and alphabet. These posters can also provide a starting point for engaging students in a living, dynamic exchange of language.
  • Model how to do art projects. Every time you do an art project, you should first model for your students how to do it. Actually go through each step of the project. Model exactly how to do each step and explain each step using simple, familiar vocabulary and phrases. The more you do this, the more comprehensible your explanations and modeling will become for your students.
  • Establish a consistent routine and use repetitive language. We can’t ever stress this enough. When your students know what to expect in the routine of your class, and when you use the same language each day to implement the lessons, and when you use the same language during transitions, then not only does that language become comprehensible, but it also becomes easier to introduce new vocabulary and phrases within the routine.

Expectations also play a role in creating comprehensible input. I always let my students know that we are going to be speaking Spanish most of the time in class, that I know they are not always going to understand everything, and that that is OK. I reassure them that if they listen well and participate in our activities, then it won’t be long before they understand everything and begin to speak beautifully in Spanish.

As writers of elementary Spanish curriculum, we also have the expectation that we have been effective at creating lessons that make the goal of speaking Spanish 90% of the time attainable. We have designed our lessons so that teachers can incorporate all the above strategies, but we also realize that staying in the target language is sometimes a leap of faith. More on this later. Happy teaching!

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