Key Ways to Ensure Comprehensible Input

Oftentimes, you may be bringing students through a sequence of steps without naming the steps explicitly. It helps to turn a complex process into a small list of steps, saying, “First… Second… Third…” You’ll want to repeat these steps multiple times. Typically, they are repeated before you teach (“Will you watch how I…”), as you teach (“First… After that I … Then…”), and summed up after you teach (“Did you see how I…?”).
If you are teaching students that readers reread a piece of writing to determine what craft moves are used, instead of saying, “Reread this writing and see what craft moves are used,” you might instead say, “Will you watch me (or join me) as I reread this writing, noticing what craft moves are used?” Then, you could shift into a demonstration and show students how you read a bit of the writing, and muse aloud about what craft moves were used. You note something in the text, then think aloud. “Huh… that’s interesting! It feels like the author is using the same exact words she did earlier…Maybe she’s doing that because...” This lets students see and participate in the step-by-step process used by a proficient reader/writer.
If you want to teach students to compare and contrast two texts, for example, you might firs help them to compare and contrast an apple and an orange, then you might ratchet up by the task by comparing and contrasting two photographs, and finally you will move to texts.

When you are introducing a new concept or strategy, you can boost kids’ understanding by providing a counter example. This is often done as a quick aside. You might say, “Will I describe this character by saying, ‘She is nice’ and that’s all? No way! I’ll need to be more specific, right? Maybe I’ll say, ‘She is generous with her things, and she is also enthusiastic about ideas, always game for anything'.” If you exaggerate and ham things up a bit, kids often find these “don’t do” examples are funny.

In a partner conference, you might demonstrate dysfunctional partner work, then contrast it with highly functional partner work, and then invite kids to name what was different between the two examples. In a writing strategy lesson, you might use a fairly weak piece of writing and then ask students to practice using a writing strategy to strengthen an aspect of that piece of writing. You then have two texts—one that illustrates the “don’t do,” one that illustrates the “do.”

After you listen in to students talking, you might share out whatever you heard the studentsdiscussing, saying, “I heard so and so say…” Your description might use language structures that make the students’ language more academic or grammatically correct, or that include higher-level vocabulary. You might also explain to the rest of the class how the example you have just shared goes with the concept you have been teaching. “Notice that Rhea didn’t just…. No way! Instead she….I love the way she…., don’t you?” Often you will highlight positive examples of students’ work at the end of the active engagement when you say, “So I heard so and so saying…”
It is helpful if you use language in consistent ways. This means clarifying among yourselves whether or not terms are synonyms. Is there a difference between “evidence,” “example,” “sup-ports,” and “reasons,” and if so, what is the difference? If several terms mean the same thing, use them as synonyms when talking with kids. For example, you might say, “It helps to add specifics, to add details.” It also helps to repeat the teaching point multiple times, in the same language, so that kids come to know it well.
To teach academic language successfully within a session, it helps to identify critical language that may need to be simplified for some students. While teaching, you can use the tricky word, and then provide a synonym or a definition to help students access the academic language. You’ll want to keep your paraphrasing short and concise. This allows students access to the critical work of the session/unit without reducing the rigor of the work and without extending the amount of teacher talk by more than a few seconds.
You might dramatize key parts of whatever you are teaching. For instance, if you are doing work around character traits, you might say, “Oh, the character is sneaky,” and then move your body in a sneaky way. You could invite students to do the same, recruiting them to briefly act out what “sneaky” looks like. Or, your modeling might relate to the context of the work. For instance, if you want to emphasize that people can retell a book in big or small steps, you can walk across the room in the two ways.
It can help to locate a few concepts or vocabulary words that recur across the unit, and to create gestures that link to these. You’ll want to use those same gestures repeatedly and to invite students to use them as well. For example, you might teach students that when retelling a text, they can start by telling the part they just read, but then as they retell that part, they’ll refer to characters or events that happened earlier in the book. At those parts, the reader can literally reach back with his or her hand, physically drawing on and recapping an earlier part of the text that explains the current section. These gestures are especially powerful if they link to the visuals on the anchor charts. Gestures serve as a tool to teach students what you are talking about and also to help students remember the meaning of a term.
You’ll want to identify key vocabulary, concepts, and language structures that will help students access a particular skill as they read or write. Then, you’ll want to provide visual support (e.g., pictures, photographs, or videos) that captures the key concept and helps demonstrate language forms and functions. This support is critically important across the grades. Visual word banks (which include a word plus a picture) should be accessible in the classroom environment. You may find these on instructional charts, in reading notebooks, or on a social studies or science vocabulary chart in the classroom.
The important thing is to be aware of when you use idioms such as “head start” or “leg up.” Similarly, you need to be aware of when you use metaphors such as talking about rereading with a lens, or zooming in on important examples. You may decide to cut back on the use of some of these, but mostly you’ll treat these just as you treat any vocabulary word or phrase that you believe may be new for your students. That is, you might make the terms comprehensible by acting them out, by adding gestures that illuminate, by providing a synonym, by defining the term.
As much as possible, when you ask one student to share out with the whole class, it’s important to carefully select the student who will share his or her ideas. In order for that sharing to be valuable for the whole class, it helps if the student’s response is a good example, one that mirrors what you’re expecting to hear. Prior to calling on one student, then, it helps if you listen to students as they turn and talk. You might want to prepare the student you select by saying, “In just a minute, can I ask you to share that idea with the class?” Or you might set a student by asking, “Are you saying…” and then rephrasing what the youngster has said so that it will work with the larger audience of the class.