Teaching CI With a Textbook

Inside: How to plan Comprehensible Input lessons when using a textbook? How to use CI strategies when you are tied to a district assessment? I’m part of a department, how do I use CI and TPRS with my students? 

If you’re a member of a bigger district or department, chances are your curriculum is tied to a textbook or a prescriptive curriculum. For some, this just means giving a common semester exam. For others, this means vocab quizzes, tests, and other assessments are all supposed to be in step. Is it possible to make CI “work” in this case? Let’s chat about that!

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Where to Start

Start with the end goal in mind. If your students’ success is to be measured by a district assessment, then that’s what you need to look at as you plan. What will your students need to do to show mastery, as defined by that assessment? What are the learning targets? If the target is, “Student will be able to conjugate irregular verbs in the preterite,” then take that into account in your stories. Are there particular vocab words or phrases that show up a lot? Jot those down. Once you have your list of things that MUST happen, it’s time to move onto the timeline.

The Timeline

The process will vary depending on which party you were in for district assessments. Do you have to give chapter tests? Our district tends to do a chapter every 10-14 class days, with 50 minute class periods, seeing students every day. That window for acquisition is pretty small. Only give quarterly assessments? You have a bit longer, but you still need to be strategic in your planning. Do you have freedom throughout the semester, but give a district final exam? You have some more time! I’ve tried different strategies for those different time frames, so here we go!

Shorter Time Frame

If you have to give chapter tests, this is a little bit tricky. In my opinion, it’s harder to find and use other people’s stories or curriculum because you have very specific targets you need to hit. What we have done is look at the grammatical focus for the unit, look at the vocab chunks, and then write stories to go with what the students needed to do. They are SHORT stories, between 8-15 sentences. For example, for our unit with weather & tener phrases, we came up with a story about Carlos the cactus who was hot in the desert so he went to Colorado, where he was finally cold. Unfortunately, Carlos is scared of bears in the mountains. He wants to go skiing, but he’s afraid. He finally goes skiing, and he gets eaten by a bear.Totally wacky, but we were able to get in a lot of weather and tener phrases in those short sentences!

The chapter pacing tends to be about 3-4 days on story, with vocab warm ups, then 1-2 days on reading activities. The reading activities are either with the first version, a parallel version, or an expanded version of the story. We usually take a vocab quiz on day 7 or 8 of a unit so the first “half” of the chapter is generally focused on vocabulary. We also use the stories to introduce the grammatical chunks in context. From here our strategies have varied. Depending on the grammar focus, sometimes we’ve done short stations to practice, sometimes we’ve just done traditional grammar “rules”, or more storied practice. This strategy is definitely more of a “blend” of traditional grammar-based instruction coupled with comprehensible input in the form of short stories or clip chats due to the deadline placed by the test.

Longer Time Frame

Do you have a district assessment you have to give, but have a quarter, or a whole semester to work with students before that happens? From what I’ve seen, a lot of people seem to be in this boat. You have to follow a textbook for a scope, and the grammatical points, but you can cover the material however you want.

Again, I’d suggest sitting down with the assessment. What are the major targets and things students are expected to be able to do when they hit end of the semester? Write up a list. Are there certain vocabulary words or phrases they “need” to have? Add them to the list. Got everything? (Mine is usually a scribbled, jumbled mess at this point).

Now you need to decide, how are you going to hit those targets? For us, two of the specific plans we put into place this semester were Música Miércoles and Persona Especial. Música Miércoles specifically is great practice with ser, origin, and nationality, especially since we talk about where each artist or group is from. Once a week for a whole semester? They’re pretty awesome at talking about where someone is from now!

Persona Especial kind of morphed into this catch-all extra practice. A lot of semester one of Spanish I is basic talking about self and Persona Especial is GREAT for that! I would be the first to tell you that our questions and routines for Persona Especial expanded and grew as we went through the semester! (I mention a few of the changes to that routine here in my reflection post!). We added more questions about pets, because we then practiced describing them. We’ve added questions about sports, instruments, how often they listen to music, and their family members, all to build on the things we have used in our stories, and things that they are interested in sharing about, but also to move towards those final assessments (hello, frequency words, gustar, and family members).

Chris Stolz has a pretty sweet post about how to cover all of the “boring stuff” that you need to cover, and I think it’s awesome. Do your kids need to count to 100 in Spanish? Every story gets a number. The boy doesn’t just want one cat, he wants 88 cats. He’s going to be a crazy old cat man. Oh, they have to have adjective agreement and colors? Now the boy wants 88 blue cats. I shared a bit more about this in my post about adjectives in Spanish. The idea here is to cover the things you must cover using strategies you want to use.

Every now and then as you progress through your time frame, I’d encourage you to revisit your list, combined with data of your students’ abilities from formative assessments. Make sure you’re checking in on where they’re at, and that you haven’t lost sight of where you need to be. It’s easy to get caught up in a fun story for a few days in a row, because it’s good, authentic, and fun language use, but it’s important to prepare your students for that assessment, especially if it’s going to make up a significant portion of their grade as required by your district, or department. The reality is that grades matter, transcripts matter, and they’ll affect their college plans. You already know this, and care about your students, or you wouldn’t be here, reading about ways to help them succeed.

This past semester we revisited our list 4-5 separate times, and it helped us readjust our trajectory and plan again. We created stories, Clip Chats/Movie Talks, and Picture Talks specifically to hit things the students needed more on. There were some things our students were REALLY solid at, and then there was the listening assessment on the final that made me realize we hadn’t used the word “biblioteca” in class..not once. Whoops. You can’t be perfect, but you can try your best!

Overall, my semester was comprised of weekly routines and story units that were all focused in on that first list that we created from the district assessment. Some of the story units were based on resources we found or purchased, but at least half, if not more, were story units and activities we created on our own to fit our classroom and our students’ needs.

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Wrapping Up

This post got way longer than I thought it might, but I hope it’s helpful for you. I definitely think it’s possible to incorporate methods of TPRS and Comprehensible Input along with a textbook, and most people already do, whether or not they realize it! The trick is that you want your students to acquire the language and structures naturally, which doesn’t always fit on the timeline decided by a textbook. I hope this post gives you some ideas for ways to make things work for you and your students, in whatever situation you are in!

Feel free to drop any questions you have for me below, or come find me on Instagram!

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