Use Comprehensible Input to Stay in Spanish
One of the best practices for teaching the Sonrisas Spanish elementary Spanish curriculum says, “Speak Spanish a minimum of 90 percent of the time in class.” This is an instructional recommendation from ACTFL for teaching world languages. We followed this recommendatioin when designing the Sonrisas lessons. This goal is achievable because each segment of the lessons in Sonrisas Levels I and II utilizes Comprehensible Input.
What Is Comprehensible Input?
The concept of Comprehensible Input (CI) was developed by linguist Stephen Krashen after many years of research. Krashen made a distinction between language acquisition and language learning. He found that acquisition is the product of a subconscious process which requires meaningful interaction in the target language and a focus on communication rather than form. Language learning is the product of formal instruction and requires a conscious focus on the forms and rules of language. According to Krashen, learning is less important than acquisition for second language learners.
CI is really nothing more than language that the learner can understand. One might ask how a learner can understand language that she has not acquired yet. The answer, according to Krashen, is that the learner uses her linguistic competence to help understand. This includes using context, knowledge of the world, and extra-linguistic information to help understand. We know that most young children possess strong linguistic competence. Children are able to derive meaning from context. They can make connections between their physical bodies and language easily. They are less inhibited about making guesses and errors.
Providing CI really boils down to making the language you use in your Spanish lessons understandable. This is what the Sonrisas Spanish lessons aim to do. Check out this short video in which Krashen explains CI:
The Learning Environment You Create with the Sonrisas Spanish Lessons
Before we look at how you use Comprehensible Input Spanish in the Sonrisas lessons, it’s helpful to emphasize the learning environment that you create with the lessons. When you teach the lessons, you are creating an immersion environment, using CI, with lots of opportunity for meaningful interpersonal communication. This really is the crux of the Sonrisas lessons, and it is one of the keys to why they are so effective.
Krashen finds in his research that when second language learners have the opportunity to use the target language in “natural communication”, and plenty of CI is used, that language acquisition occurs. The focus on natural communication is important. The different modalities in the Sonrisas lessons provide this natural communication by giving students the opportunity to communicate in age appropriate and fun ways. Song, verse, stories, role-play, and art are fun and engaging for young children. Immersing your students in Spanish while doing these activities enables them to acquire the language.
Using CI in the Sonrisas Spanish Lessons
Circle Time should be kinetic, fun, and engaging for your students. This is the segment of the lesson in which you sing songs, recite verse, do Calendar Time, do role-play, and introduce the performance targets with the lesson activity.
The music on the Sonrisas CD and the Canciones Culturales CD is meant to be used as a resource to learn how to sing the songs. Then you learn the movement and gesture that accompanies them, and you perform them with your students. This is the most effective learning experience. This is as opposed to simply playing the music and saying something like, “Everybody sing along.” The reason it is so important that you do the movement and gesture as you sing is because this is how you provide CI.
The lesson activity also provides CI. Each lesson has a specific lesson activity which introduces the performance targets for the lesson. The CI comes in the form of the context of the activity and the physical materials or props that you use for the activity. The lesson activities also require students to engage with you and each other in the target language. It is through the lesson activity that you provide the “natural communication” which Krashen sees as so important to acquisition.
All of the storybooks which accompany the Sonrisas lessons have been chosen based on their effectiveness at providing CI. This means they include elements such as: vivid illustrations which convey the meaning of the text, repetitive text, verse, and familiar, age appropriate themes.
When you read Spanish stories to your students, CI is provided through these elements and the context of the story. Natural communication occurs through the storytelling process because it is very natural for young learners to learn by listening to stories. You also capitalize on the subconscious process of acquisition by engaging your student’s imagination when you read them stories.
Story Time also provides an excellent opportunity to extend your communication with students. As you read the story, pause from time to time and ask clarifying questions about the illustrations and the story. Doing this, you can check for meaning, assess previously-learned concepts, and differentiate communication with learners at different levels.
CI in Art Time is probably the easiest of all the segments. All of the art materials are right in front of you and your students. Using them as props as you explain how to do the art project provides CI. Then, as students do the art project, you can have one-on-one conversations with them about what they are working on. The art project itself provides the CI. You can point to different parts of the project and ask clarifying questions or extend communication to connect to students’ daily lives.
Again, this is very natural communication. Young children love to create and use their hands. When you communicate with them as they do this, you provide a very effective learning experience. The art projects are always related to the theme of each lesson. This means that you reinforce performance targets as you communicate with your students during Art Time.
When Is English OK?
This is one of the most common questions we get in our teacher trainings. It is OK to use English to explain a new activity or routine. You can do this briefly, but then when you go to do the new activity or routine, you want to stay in Spanish. As long as you provide Comprehensible Input Spanish, your students will not need English.
You may want to give them a little pep talk about this. Explain that when they are in Spanish class, mostly Spanish will be spoken, and it is OK if they don’t understand everything. You can reassure your students that if they follow along and participate in all of the fun activities, soon they will understand and be able to speak a lot of Spanish.