As a teacher coach and mentor, often brought in to help teachers better reach their ELL students, I have seen some great teaching. Often, however, I can help these teachers become superstars by introducing strategies that illustrate the importance of using comprehensible input – making oneself and one’s content understandable to his or her English Language Learners.
Why using Comprehensible Input with ELLs is so important
Language learning is a difficult, tiring process. I began learning Spanish at the age of 12, when my father thought that placing me with a family in Mexico City would be the best way to accomplish his goal of having bilingual children. It turns out it was one of the best decisions he’d ever made for me. Being immersed in the culture and language helped me a great deal, mostly because just about everything I did was context-embedded – I was learning the language of what I was doing at the time. If we went to the market, the names of the groceries were added to the names which I already knew in English. It was a recipe for success.
One would think that I would have made that type of connection to my own classroom as a new teacher; I confess I did not. I couldn’t understand why my bilingual students were barely getting by with their grades, and didn’t demonstrate proficiency in a lot of their work. It turns out I was missing the context-embedded piece. Then I began to research what works with English Language Learners, and everything fell into place.
I began to see my students’ needs in a new light. If they were going to learn from me, I was going to have to start using comprehensible input to create context for as much of my day as possible. Books would need to be previewed, read slowly, with vocabulary needing to be taught beforehand and during the read. Science would not be out of the book – it would be experienced through hands-on learning. Many of us already do that, but what kept my students engaged was me – how I lead them into the lesson. Instead of just talking, I used photos and other visuals, drew stick figures, made simple drawings related to the subject, used gestures, and changed my facial expressions when asking a question. I simplified my speech and – this is important – used chunking (giving small amounts of content), chewing (having the students talk about what they just learned), and checking (for understanding, to make sure they got it).
My students were far more engaged and I could tell by the lights in their eyes that they understood what I was teaching. They started getting better grades and I spent much less time remediating. The native English speakers were doing much better, as well. I no longer wondered if I’d made a mistake in becoming a teacher. I fell deeply in love with the profession.
Using Comprehensible Input with ELLs was one of the best moves I’ve ever made as a teacher. Try it! I think you’ll agree it will energize your teaching.
If you’d like to learn the full picture of how to reach English Language Learners, sign up for our Online ELL Strategies Course. You’ll receive a certificate for 45 clock hours for recertification and will deeply understand how to teach your ELLs.