Turning Output into Input

Friends, have I convinced you yet that input is more important that output? If you aren’t convinced, I urge you to read what Stephen Krashen has to say about it. Or if you have time to read a book, check out BVP’s latest. If you are convinced that language students needs more input than output, then you have to figure out how to provide that input. But you may have a problem doing that if you have been trained to force students to speak in your language class. Here is a list of ways that I have turned output activities into input activities.

1. Provide supports. In my first year classes, I always start by talking about the day, date, time, and weather. Before I switched to CI I would ask students the question and wait for a response. The problem was that it was always the same teacher’s pets who would volunteer to answer questions such as, “What day is it?” “How’s the weather?” and so on. These days I still ask questions like that, but when I am asking those questions I project a PowerPoint with possible answers. My students are not really producing output but are reading possible answers, thus providing themselves and their classmates with additional input. The main goal is that eventually the students will be able to produce answers to my questions without the supports (but I am not planning on removing them down any time soon for the benefit of my slow processors).

2. Turn open-ended questions into yes-no or either-or. Many textbooks I have used have one activity per chapter where students are asked to answer open-ended questions. In French books that activity is often called “Questions Personelles,” or “Preguntas Personales” in Spanish textbooks. I have gotten really good at turning those questions into either-or or yes-no questions. For example:

The original question is, A quelle heure est-ce que tu te couches? (What time do you go to bed?)

I ask: Tu te couches à 9 heures? à 10 heures? à 11 heures? (Do you go to bed at 9:00? At 10:00? at 11:00?)? Sometimes I ask these questions on a Google Form or just a plain piece of paper with places for students to put a (potential) check mark.

I have found that most students are not able or or willing to answer the open-ended question. Turning it into a less threatening yes-no or either-or means that more students will be willing to speak in class.

An extension of this is the activity Four Corners. I put up four possible answers in the four corners of my room (Usually “Yes, a lot” “Yes, a little”, “No,” and “I don’t know” in the target language). Then I ask a question. Students have to move to the corner of their room based on their response to the question. I did this activity recently with activities students like to do. I asked questions like, ¿Te gusta bailar? (Do you like to dance?), and students would have to move to the appropriate corner based on their personal preference.

Does that mean that I don’t ever do open-ended questions in my classes? No, I still do. I just make sure that I ask them after I have made many opportunities for my students to answer with yes-no or either-or. I have to provide input before they can produce output!

3. Card Talk, aka Circling with Balls (I credit Ben Slavic with this activity). This is an activity where students are given a piece of paper and are asked to draw something representing themselves. Then the teacher can look at the drawing and create sentences in the TL about the student based on what they have on their papers. When I do this activity I have the tendency to say a sentence or two about what my students have drawn and then ask questions as a comprehension check. I have done this activity four times so far: things students like to do, brothers/sisters my students have, pets my students have, and where/when my students were born.

If you are chained to a textbook, you could use this activity at times with new vocabulary that you must present. If the chapter is about leisure activities, have students draw pictures of activities that they like/dislike and ask questions about those activities (You might have questions like this: Classe, Guy n’aime pas nager. Vous aimez nager? Qui aime nager? [Class, Guy doesn’t like to swim. Do you like to swim? Who likes to swim?]) You can also  do this activity with other vocabulary themes, such as family (Classe, Paul a deux soeurs. Vous avez des soeurs? [Class, Paul has two sisters. Do you have sisters? How many?]), jobs (With questions like, Classe, Julien veut être médecin. Vous voulez être médecin? [Class, Julien wants to be a doctor. Do you want to be a doctor?]) and favorite foods (With questions like, Classe, Neha aime la glace. Vous aimez la glace? Qui aime la glace? [Class, Neha likes ice cream. Do you like ice cream? Who likes ice cream?]). Keep in mind, however, that some subjects might not lend themselves to natural, compelling questions. If the questions don’t feel natural, don’t ask them, because otherwise the activity will probably not be very successful.

4. Total Physical Response (TPR). Total Physical Response is a method where students respond to commands in the target language (TL). For the longest time I did TPR with only classroom commands and body parts, but lately I have started branching out and doing this activity with more topics. I have also started adding adverbs to my commands and have begun to tell students the number of times they need to do something, thus giving them a chance to review numbers and add more adverbs to their vocabulary. With visuals of words and expressions, TPR can work with almost any vocabulary list (BTW, I am not big on long, vocabulary lists in textbooks. I aim for depth over breadth, so if you are chained to a textbook I recommend that you pick the most useful words in the vocabulary list to present to your students).

The goal for most CI teachers should be to abandon the traditional textbooks and their curriculum, but in some situations teachers aren’t able to do that. In those cases, the best thing for those people to do is to make those textbook activities output instead of input driven. If anyone has examples of input activities they have created for use with their textbook, let me know!



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