Adventures in Comprehensible Input: Teaching CI with a Spanish Textbook

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July 2017-

Hola todos!

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “I wonder if I can teach CI with my Spanish textbook?” or maybe even, “Is it possible to teach CI with a textbook?” The answer the both is YES.

When I first started Spanish teaching in 2016 I found myself completely clueless. I was not a formerly trained teacher (yet) nor had I been trained in any way how to teach Spanish. But I did lots of research and I thought about my personal experience & journey learning Spanish.

In middle and high school I was taught Spanish “traditionally” with a textbook, Navegando to be specific. That was as early as 2001. When I started teaching in 2016, my school had JUST bought new textbooks, Realidades. For at least 15 years they had been using the EXACT same material. Same examples, same vocab, same culture, same everything. Had nothing changed in 15 years? Had we not learned anything new or more about how to teach Spanish? These were all questions in my head.

In college I was taught “differently” using a method known as Comprehensible Input, or the natural approach. My professor (TA) would spend most of class speaking and giving us TONS of Spanish in a way that we could understand. I had never understood or spoken so much Spanish in my life- and I had been “studying” and “learning” Spanish for 7+ years. Why wasn’t this approach being used in my classroom? When I spoke Spanish to my students, why didn’t they understand? All Spanish is the same, right? These were also questions in my head.

In 2017, my second year teaching, my team of Spanish teachers changed a lot. Half of the team was new to the school. One person new to high school teaching, and the other a first year teacher. These new folks began to talk about things I had seen in my research. Things like TPR (Total Physical Response), TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), and CI (Comprehensible Input). My mind was blown. I needed to learn more!

My 2017 team

I quickly discovered that Realidades had a TPRS piece to their curriculum. Perfect! I thought. I was going to use that. I also quickly discovered, that much like the textbook activities I needed to redesign, I was going to have to redesign these too. While the activities provided a high level of TPR and TPRS functions and instructions for the teacher, the stories were too complicated. The stories weren’t comprehensible at all. I needed an approach to redesign these stories to make them comprehensible for my students while still meeting ALL of the requirements I need to teach in each Realidades chapter. So my new teaching friend and I got to work. We started by re-writing the Realidades TPR stories…then we realized these stories would be easier to write if we wrote our own*. 


Our first CI Realidades story


In writing these stories and using them in class we began to notice a few things change. 

1- we were speaking more Spanish as teachers. Yes, a lot of that was reading and repeating what was read in asking questions, but it was a place to start! 

2- our students were beginning to see grammar concepts illustrated in practice and being used instead of copying down charts and notes. We saw our grammar teaching time drastically decrease. 

3- we were starting to do more engaging activities in class like games, acting, popcorn reading, drawing, etc. Class was a fun time for us and the students.


This solution totally changed our approach to teaching Spanish comprehensibly with a textbook. We saw that it could done and it could be done while STILL meeting the textbook requirements. To take a look at some of those stories, you can click here. 


*aside: while these stories were written to be comprehensible, they were also written to be used with Realidades and teach/illustrate the grammar concepts in each chapter alongside high use of the vocabulary. These were NOT your traditional TPR or TPRS comprehensible stories with super high amounts of repetitive input.*

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