[TFLA-list] Textbooks / curriculum...

Michael Wagner mwagner at mcgregor-isd.org
Fri Mar 31 09:22:41 EDT 2017

Many who responded to my email want to know what is Comprehensible Input
(or CI). Over the the last few days I have pondered how best to answer this
question since discussing teaching using CI strategies in an email may not
convey all that one could get out of actually being able to see and
experience it in action.

But this is good for me because it causes me to look at and analyze my own
practices in the classroom. So, here we go...

In a nutshell: "Comprehensible Input is language that we receive (read or
hear) that is comprehensible to us (we understand it)." [Quote from Martina
Bex's website: The comprehensible classroom, May 8, 2015

Instead of me having to reinvent the wheel, I think that reading this
particular page (be sure to scroll down past the picture of the girls
learning to ride a bicycle) from Bex's website will give you a better
understanding what CI is and a few of the instructional strategies that
provide comprehensible input. Once you have scrolled down past the bicycles
and have read what she has there, then you can scroll back up to the other
steps she has listed and explore what else she has to say about CI.

Here at McGregor we are a small department of three Spanish teachers and we
all use CI as our guide for how we approach and teach our classes. Starting
on the first day of class (yes, even with Spanish I) we start our classes
using Spanish. We have found several different activities that are CI
worthy and allow us to use the target language with total understanding on
the part of our students starting with day 1 (if you had told me this about
6 or so years ago, I would have probably rolled my eyes and would have said
"not possible").

One of our goals is to be able to use the target language 90% of the class
time as established by ACTFL. Are we there? No. But as we learn more about
CI and strategies that provide comprehensible input, we are finding that it
is becoming easier to maintain class in the target language and that
the students are much more receptive.

What are some strategies that we use? Here is a list of some the more
frequently used one:

TPRS (*T*otal *P*roficiency through *R*eading and *S*torytelling)

Please, please, please, do not confuse *TPRS* with *TPR* (Total Physical
Response). TPRS and TPR are extremely different from each other. The only
thing they have in common are the first three letters.

*TPRS* involves lots and lots of story telling (which the students love) in
the target language followed by tons of reading that recycles and supports
the target structures and vocabulary being learned.

I love TPRS, especially if the story turns out better than expected. TPRS
provides the students with a lot comprehensible input and it is all done in
the target language.

As a follow-up to storytelling, we usually have the students write the
story (each student retells in his/her owns words). By the end of the
school year, Spanish 1 students are writing stories that are roughly 150
words or more in length, Spanish 2 roughly 200-300 words, and Spanish 3 and
4 stories that are 300+ words in length.

PQA (Personal Questions and Answers)

​PQA is pretty flexible and something I am still learning how to do. It
basically involves asking question and getting answers from the students,
all done in the target language. It can be done anytime during class.

Movie Talk

​I love Movie Talk. It is so easy to do and can provide a lot
comprehensible input​. You basically take a commercial or a short movie
(3-6 minutes in length - YouTube is a good source) that fits with the
vocabulary and structures you are teaching. You start and stop the
movie/commercial and ask tons of questions and discuss what i
s going on. All done in the target language.

​Embedded Reading

This is another favorite of mine. It is basically taking a story and
reading three versions of it (1st reading of the story is brief and
provides the bare bones of the story, 2nd reading is slightly longer and
has a few new details added, and the 3rd and final reading is the full

Again, as you work through the readings with the students, you ask
questions and discuss.

And the wonderful thing is that after students get a lot of input, you
begin to see voluntary output on the students part.

I know this has been a long email in response to the question of what is CI
and now you probably have more questions. Trying to explain what CI is and
how we go about teaching with comprehensible input in a single email is not
possible. When you can see it in action and then can discuss with that
teacher what was going on, it makes so much sense. I only wish I had
started teaching using comprehensible input earlier on in my career.

I am now in my 30th year of teaching, the other two Spanish teachers here
at McGregor have just started their careers - one now has been here three
years and the other two. The one teacher who has three years experience got
to witness the difference between a CI classroom and a traditional textbook
driven classroom when doing her student teaching. When she was interviewing
with us and I asked her if she knew what CI and TPRS and a host of other CI
strategies were, she became so excited and animated. She related how she
was able to see the difference in ability to use the language between the
students who learned under a CI approach versus the textbook.

Anyway, I could go on, but I do need to bring this email to a close.

I will do my best to answer any and all questions you send my way.

Y que todos tengan un buen fin de semana (And may everyone have a good

Michael E. Wagner
McGregor High School
903 Bluebonnet Parkway
PO Box 356
McGregor, TX 76657

Tele. (254) 840-2853
Fax: (254) 840-2489
Email: mwagner at mcgregor-isd.org

On Wed, Mar 29, 2017 at 7:25 AM, Sisler, Susan <
Susan.Sisler at springbranchisd.com> wrote:

> I haven't used a "traditional textbook" for many years. But can you
> explain how you determine and agree what "comprehensible input" is to be
> used and what the source of this input is? Depending on the textbook, that
> can be a good source. I don't know any good teacher who slavishly follows a
> textbook, page by page.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: TFLAlist [mailto:tflalist-bounces at list.tfla.info] On Behalf Of
> Michael Wagner
> Sent: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 3:54 PM
> To: tflalist at list.tfla.info
> Subject: [TFLA-list] Textbooks / curriculum...
> Dear Colleagues:
> A few months back several in LOTE community were wanting feedback on
> textbooks. My question is not about which textbooks you are thinking of
> adopting. My question is who approaches the teaching of his/her classes
> with comprehensible input (CI) as the main deciding and driving factor?
> Here at McGregor High School we have stopped using the "traditional"
> textbook. Instead we have gone towards letting CI dictate how we approach
> our classes and how we design our curriculum and lesson plans. We have been
> using CI now for the last five (5) years and we absolutely love it!!!
> It would be great to be able to share ideas and strategies with others who
> also are using CI in their classrooms.
> So, who out there is using CI in their language classrooms?
> Michael E. Wagner
> McGregor High School
> 903 Bluebonnet Parkway
> PO Box 356
> McGregor, TX 76657
> Tele. (254) 840-2853
> Fax: (254) 840-2489
> Email: mwagner at mcgregor-isd.org
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