Todd & A Series On CI (Part 5): Forms Of Input: Representational Input

It’s easy to make incomprehensible L2 input meaningful with the help of a picture.

However, it’s JUST AS EASY TO CONFUSE L2 students…

…if you use a picture in the wrong way.
elephant-and-birdLet’s assume that your L2 students don’t know any vocabulary related to this picture of an elephant with a blue bird on its back.

Here are some UN-helpful ways to use the picture to help students acquire new L2 vocabulary.  AVOID using the strategies listed below.

1- Don’t, don’t, don’t…hold up the picture and say a sentence about it.  Don’t, don’t, don’t…hold up the picture and start talking (in the TL) about it.  For example: don’t hold up the picture and say, “Look at the picture of the elephant and the bird.  The bird is on top of the elephant.  The bird is on top of the happy elephant.  The elephant has four legs and the bird is on his back.”

Danger:  The students may be sitting quietly.  The teacher may be saying lots of sentences in the target language.  The students may be having an experience in a target language immersion environment.  HOWEVER…the quantity of L2 input is too great.  The picture is no longer a helpful tool for making the L2 input comprehensible.  It’s likely that the students are feeling overwhelmed and want to give up.

2- Don’t, don’t, don’t…hold up the picture and sing a song about it.  For example:

“The elephant is carrying the bird. Cha, cha, cha!

The elephant is carrying a bird.  Cha, cha, cha!

The bird is blue.  The elephant is gray.

The elephant is carrying a bird.  Cha, cha, cha!”

Danger:  The students may be smiling.  The students may be enjoying the “cha, cha, cha” part of the song.  With enough practice, the students may even be able to sing the L2 words.  The teacher may be proud of the strategy.  He might say things like, “Wow!  We spent 15 minutes practicing an L2 song.  The students really got into it!  They loved the, “cha, cha, cha” part of the song!  Every student was paying attention.”  HOWEVER…it’s likely that the students are having so much fun watching each other sing, “cha, cha, cha” that they don’t even focus on the target L2 vocabulary and what it means and how it can be used in a real-life situation.

3- Don’t, don’t, don’t…hold up the picture and start asking students questions about it before you’ve made sure they’ve acquired key vocabulary words.  For example: Don’t say, “Class…yes or no…is the bird blue?  Yes?  No?  Blue??  Is the bird blue?  Yes.  Yes.  The bird is blue.  The elephant is gray and the bird is blue.  Is the elephant big?  Yes or no.  Is the elephant big?  Yes.  The elephant is big.  The bird is small and the elephant is big.”

Danger:  The students may be listening.  The heritage speakers (if you have any in your class) may be able to answer the questions.  HOWEVER it’s likely that many students will have no idea what is being said, even though the questions are simple and the answers seem obvious.

Here are some GOOD WAYS to use the picture to help students acquire new L2 vocabulary.

1-  Start simple.

  • Point to the bird.
  • Look at the students while pointing to the bird.  (This action suggests to the students that you want them to pay attention to the bird that you’re pointing to.)
  • Point to the bird again.
  • Say, “tweet, tweet,” while pointing to the bird.
  • Say, “bird,” while pointing to the bird.
  • Say, “bird,” again while pointing to the bird.
  • Say, “Class, repeat: BIRD.”
  • Say, “Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  BIRD,” while pointing to the bird.
  • Point to the elephant.
  • Look at the students while pointing to the elephant.  (This action suggests to the students that you want them to pay attention to the elephant that you’re pointing to.)
  • Point to the elephant again.
  • Make a motion/gesture that the students will know means elephant.
  • Say, “elephant,” while pointing to the elephant.
  • Say, “elephant,” again while pointing to the elephant.
  • Say, “Class, repeat: ELEPHANT.”
  • Say, “Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  ELEPHANT,” while pointing to the elephant.
  • Point to the bird and say, “A bird.”
  • Point to the elephant and say, “An elephant.”  (Repeat these last two steps)

2- Practice “the simple.”

  • Point to the bird.
  • Say, “Class.  A Bird or An Elephant?”
  • After class says, “A Bird,” say, “Yes. Yes.  A Bird.  Correct.”
  • Point to the elephant.
  • Say, “Class.  A Bird or An Elephant?”
  • After class says, “An Elephant,” say, “Yes.  Yes!  An Elephant.  Correct.”
  • Point to the bird and say, “A bird.”
  • Point to the elephant and say, “An elephant.”

3- Ensure that “the simple” is comprehensible.

  • Point to the bird.
  • Say, “Aiden.  Is this An Elephant or is this A Bird?” (Hint: One thing I like to do if I’m afraid I’ll confuse the student by adding the verb (“Is”) is to say the incomprehensible words (i.e. the verb and the adjective) quietly and quickly and say the comprehensible words (i.e. “An Elephant” and “A Bird”) slowly and deliberately.  This keeps the student from freezing up because of the unanticipated addition of extra, unfamiliar L2 words.  For more on this “hint” read this post.)
  • When Aiden says, “A bird,” say, “Yes!  Yes!  A bird.  A bird!  This is a bird.”
  • On the board or next to the picture write the L2 words, “This is a bird.”
  • Give Aiden ClassDojo.com points or some other form of reward.
  • Point to the bird again and repeat the same line of questioning with another student.
  • Point to the elephant.  Pick a new student and repeat the same line of question for An Elephant.

4-  Then add layers of complexity; ONE AT A TIME.

Adding Adjectives

  • Point to the bird.
  • Assuming that the students know the L2 colors, say, “Jessica.  Is this a RED bird or is this a BLUE bird?” (Hint: say the capitalized words more deliberately to draw attention to them.)  (Hint #2: If Jessica looks confused, point to the bird and say, “Red? or Blue?”
  • After Jessica answers say, “Yes!  Blue!  The bird is blue.  The bird is blue.”
  • On the board or next to the picture write the L2 words, “The bird is blue.”
  • Give Jessica ClassDojo.com points or some other form of reward.
  • Repeat this line of questioning as many times as you would like for practice.
  • Point to the elephant.
  • Say, “Aliquan.  Is the elephant BIG (gesture BIG) or is the elephant little (gesture little)?”
  • Etc.

Making The Sentence Complex

  • Point to the picture.
  • Say, “Justin.  Is the elephant big and blue or is the elephant big and gray?”
  • If Justin lacks confidence you can write the question on the board before you ask it or while you ask it.
  • After Justin answers you can pick other students to answer the exact same question.  The students will need this repetition.
  • Point to the picture.
  • Say, “Ariella.  Is there one elephant and two birds or is there one elephant and one bird?
  • After Justin answers you can pick other students to answer the exact same question.  The students will need this repetition.
  • These are just two examples of ways you can make the sentences more complex.  Use these ideas to help get your own creative juices flowing for how you can effectively use a picture to help students acquire more L2 while staying in the target language.

(Side note: at the beginning of this post I said that it’s a bad idea to sing songs about the picture of the elephant and the bird.  I just want to clarify.  Songs are fun.  And songs CAN be used effectively.  It would be a good idea to use a song after you’ve helped the students complete steps 1-4 that are listed above.  The song, then, can be used to enrich their L2 acquisition experience.)


The THEORY behind the PRACTICE

In part 4 of this series on input theory we observed that:

“If a linguistic form of input is incomprehensible to a student, attempts can be made to communicate comprehensibly by making extralinguistic input available.”

We also observed that:

“It can be helpful to categorize forms of input into LINGUISTIC input and EXTRALINGUISTIC input.”

In this post (part 5) we observe that:

“There are several forms of extralinguistic input.  Each can be used strategically by an L2 teacher to attempt to make L2 (linguistic) input comprehensible.”

And:

“Pictures, drawings, images, etc. are a form of extralinguistic input that I will call “Representational Input”  (see explanation below the sketches of Todd)

Over the next several weeks my purpose is to help readers explore how the forms of extralinguistic input can be used effectively in an L2 classroom.


 

Todd is a stick figure that is helping me explain some of these input theory concepts.  Notice, in the drawings below, how Todd can receive multiple forms of input and that some of them are extralinguistic forms of input.

The words that Todd hears or reads…whatever symbols he sees…whatever gestures he interprets…can be called INPUT.

input

 


 

Todd can receive input from a T.V. screen.

input can be received from television


 

Todd can receive input (in written form) from a book, magazine or from his iPhone.

Written Linguistic Input

Written Linguistic Input


 

Todd can receive input in the form of another person’s words.

Spoken Linguistic Input

Spoken Linguistic Input


 

Todd can receive input (from another person) even though they don’t use words.

Extralinguistic Input

Extralinguistic Input


 

Todd can receive input when he reads words on a sign.

Linguistic Input

Linguistic Input


 

Todd can receive input even when a sign displays no words.

Extralinguistic Input

Extralinguistic Input


 

Representational Input

One form of extralinguistic input that teachers can use to their advantage is pictures and drawings.  I’m not sure what other writers have called this form of input but I will call it “Representational Input.”  I call it “Representational Input” because pictures and drawings represent (or are image reproductions) of things that are real.  (For example: a postcard picture of the Grand Canyon is a picture representation of the Grand Canyon.  An iPhone snapshot of a flower is a digital representation of that real flower.)


Language Acquisition Theory Statement:

“Representational Input” (i.e. pictures, images, drawings, etc.) is one of several forms of extralinguistic input that a teacher can use strategically to help students acquire L2.


The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, the posts on Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language will delineate the massive implications that simple sketches (like the ones above) have on foreign language teaching and foreign language acquisition.

Todd will help me discuss and/or continue to discuss…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input and comprehensible input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of comprehensible input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.
  • …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.
  • …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.

STAY TUNED!

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

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