Input comes in various forms. Kumaravadivelu (2005) makes the distinction between three types:
In most classrooms it is the first two which are most commonly encountered. Non-simplified (‘authentic’) listening input is also used, but chosen by the teacher to be accessible. Bear in mind, however, that input does not necessarily become intake, i.e. even though the language students hear may be comprehensible, it may not actually be comprehended (noticed and processed). As Corder (1967) pointed out, language has to be comprehended to be acquired. Anything you can do to help this happen is valuable.
Kumaravadivelu (2005) has put forward an apt acronym for the factors which affect intake:
Thus, a key skill for teachers when doing interpersonal listening is to make the input understandable to students at all times, (e.g. Pica, Doughty and Young, 1987). If classes are subject to lots of language they simply cannot understand they will soon switch off. Alongside the skilled use of QA, a number of specific techniques can be used to make language comprehensible and learnable when talking to students. These techniques include what Long’s (1981) modified input and modified interaction, whereby we simplify input and check for understanding (as a caregiver would with a young infant). They form part of effective use of formative assessment.
- Avoid talking for too long; observe when a class may be losing enthusiasm for an activity. Make use of your emotional and cognitive empathy skills.
Making it comprehensible: an example classroom exchange
Here is an example of a typical classroom dialogue which allows you to model language repeatedly in an organic, communicative fashion (adapted from a lesson observed in Nava and Pedrazzini, 2018).
Suppose you want to explain the new word sporty.
Teacher: Are you sporty? I love sport. I’m very sporty. I play football, tennis and love to go walking (gestures). Do you like sport? Hands up (gesture)if you like sport.
(Students raise hands)
Teacher: Lionel Messi is sporty, isn’t he? Harry Kane is sporty. Who else is sporty?
Student: Rafael Nadal.
Teacher: Yes! He’s sporty. Is Homer Simpson sporty?
Teacher: Homer loves sport!
Students: No! He loves donuts!
Teacher: Is an elephant sporty?
Teacher: Is a hippopotamus sporty?
Teacher: All together: “sporty”.
And so on. Note how students receive plenty of modelled L2 input, including multiple repetitions of the words sport and sporty, before they are expected to produce much language themselves.