Comprehensible Input for ELL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, you will learn about using comprehensible input, or how to present information in a way that is easier for ELL students to understand.

The Importance of Comprehensible Input

Imagine enrolling in a college-level Spanish class at your local community college. Considering you have no Spanish language background, what kind of support do you think you'd need to be able to follow along during the Spanish-only instruction? Would it be easy for you to follow along during lectures? Would you be able to read the Spanish textbook independently, or follow your instructor's directions? Probably not. Eventually, without the right support, you might want to give up. If only your professor knew a little bit about comprehensible input, your experience as a second language learner might be entirely different.

Now, let's imagine that your instructor is well-versed in teaching second-language learners, so she uses a variety of instructional strategies to enhance your understanding. When talking about the Spanish Civil War, she refers to a large world map to point out the areas involved in different battles. She distributes photographs of soldiers and battlefields, and shows videos with English subtitles so you can follow along. This is comprehensible input: the practice of using teaching aids, like visuals, adapted content, and other strategies, to make language more understandable for second language learners. Let's look at some examples of how teachers can use the concept of comprehensible input to enhance understanding for their English Language Learner students.

Comprehensible Input During Reading

There are several strategies for making input comprehensible during independent or guided reading. First, make sure to explicitly pre-teach vocabulary prior to reading the text. Next, present reading material in a variety of ways to give ELL students options for what works best for them. For example, look for bilingual versions of the text so students have native language support. Find graphic novel adaptations that reinforce the text with visuals. Read aloud to students or allow them to listen to an audio book as they follow along. Allowing students to read in pairs or small groups can also help, depending on student proficiency levels. Provide students with graphic organizers and thinking maps, and explicitly teach them how to use them to enhance comprehension. Highlight key vocabulary and concepts in the text, and make marginal notes to draw students' attention to the most important points. All of these strategies help to break down the reading material and make it more digestible for ELL students.

Comprehensible Input During Listening & Speaking

When delivering instruction to ELL students, it is important for teachers to be cognizant of their speech. Speaking too quickly and using advanced vocabulary will ensure that the content will fly right over ELL students' heads. You don't necessarily have to speak in slow motion, either. Find a natural pace that gives all students a chance to follow along, and make sure to enunciate clearly.

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