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Comprehensible Input

Making Content Understandable and Accessible to English Learners

An essential aspect of educating second language learners is the use of comprehensible input, or specialized instructional techniques and methodology that make content comprehensible to students at all English proficiency levels. Take a moment to imagine that you are attending an anatomy class as a visiting student at a university in another country where you do not speak the language. Depending on your professor's style of instruction, you might sit through an entire lecture-style class without having understood a thing, or you might have understood a significant portion of the lesson if your teacher used a variety of strategies to make the content comprehensible to you as a second language learner.  If you were learning content in a second language, which instructional techniques would you want your teacher to utilize?
 
When asked this question, many adults respond that it would help them if their teacher used pictures, drawings, gestures, and visuals when teaching.  Other adults sometimes reply that it might help them understand the content if their teacher was to provide primary language support through the use of a bilingual peer, cognates, or by providing them with the definitions of vocabulary in their primary language. The list of instructional strategies that you might be thinking of can go on and on, but the main point here is that all of these strategies are what is termed "comprehensible input" designed to make content understandable to a second language learner.
 
Comprehensible input is so much more than showing pictures or making gestures, however. The SIOP model of English language development (ELD) provides specific guidelines for the key components that characterize comprehensible input. Teachers of English learners should utilize the following key features when planning lessons for second language learners:
 
Appropriate Speech 
Teachers of English learners must be cognizant that they are not speaking too quickly when working with students at the lower levels of English proficiency levels. It's important that teachers slow down their speech, but not to such a degree that comprehension is disrupted or students feel that they are being "talked down to".  In addition, teachers should clearly enunciate their speech when speaking. Native English-speakers often take for granted that they speak quickly and "blend" some of the words together when speaking, which makes comprehension difficult for students who are learning a second language. It's important that teachers paraphrase and repeat vocabulary multiple times across a variety of contexts. When speaking to students at varying levels of English proficiency levels, teachers must differentiate the vocabulary and grammatical structures that are being used with students by using more concrete vocabulary and grammar with students at the lower levels of English proficiency. 
 
Clear Explanation and Modeling of Academic Tasks
All students benefit from clear explanations for academic assignments and activities. It's recommended that when introducing an assignment or task that teachers model for students how they are expected to complete the task. It is recommended that teachers show completed sample products to students so that students will have an understanding of the expectation. In addition to providing oral directions, it's advisable that written directions and visuals/pictures/sketches are provided with the oral directions in order to provide more language support.
 
Instructional Techniques and Strategies That Make Content Comprehensible
A number of instructional techniques were mentioned in the imaginative exercise at the beginning of the discussion about comprehensible input, including pictures, gestures, and primary language support. There are many additional SDAIE (specially designed academic instruction in English) strategies that can also be utilized in order to make content comprehensible. The Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquistion Design) instructional model of ELD also includes a variety of "input strategies", such as the pictorial input chart, narrative input chart and comparative pictorial input chart which are all designed to make content comprehensible to students.
 


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English language development ELD is an instructional model of developing language. During ELD lessons, one important ELD component is the use of comprehensible input. Without the effective use of comprehensible input, ELD lessons will not be understandable to students. ELD teachers can utilize a variety of eld strategies such as glad strategies, siop strategies and other ELD techniques. One warning about comprehensible input is that teachers must be careful that they do not provide so much comprehensible input during ELD that the ELD lesson is watered down. ELD teachers should visit the comprehensible input strategies page to view additional ELD strategies that can be used with English learners to provide systematic ELD. 

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