Todd & A Series On CI (Part 7) – Forms Of Input: Constructed Situational Input


I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time.

I get to write about my favorite “staying-in-the-target-language” instructional strategy.

I’ll start the post by telling three stories to illustrate how I use what I’m calling “Constructed Situational Input” to help an individual find meaning in an L2 immersion environment.

Story #1: I Stole A 1st Grader’s Birthday Crown

Rhyon (1st grader) walked into class with a birthday crown on.

happy birthday

We all got quiet and I stared at his birthday crown with jealous eyes.  I sat myself down right next to him in the class circle on the rug.  I slowly and teasingly took the crown off of his head in a way that would avoid him protesting, “Hey that’s mine!”  I, gently but triumphantly, put the crown on my head.  In the target language I said, “It’s MY birthday.”  The children, including Rhyon, all laughed and giggled because I was being playful with them.  Some of them smiled and protested, “NO!  Señor Howard!!!”

I used the Two Hand Method to help the students say, “Sr. Howard!  It’s not YOUR birthday!  It’s HIS birthday!”  We joked around in the target language for about 5 minutes, saying phrases like those to each other.

Even though I was speaking a language that the students didn’t understand, they found a level of meaning through what was happening SITUATIONALLY.

What I mean by that is:

  • They knew it was Rhyon’s birthday because, in this situation, he had a crown on his head.
  • They knew I was teasing because, in this situation, I put a devious/teasing look on my face and because EVERYONE KNOWS that no one should EVER take off someone else’s birthday crown and put it on their own head!
  • By putting Rhyon’s crown on my head I created (or constructed) a situation in which everyone wanted to say the same thing: “HEY!!!  That crown isn’t YOURS!”

Since I constructed a situation in which the students all wanted to blurt out the same thing (i.e. “It’s not YOUR birthday!  It’s RHYON’S birthday!”) all I had to do was give them the L2 words they needed in order to communicate.

Story #2 – “I WALKED INTO A WALL”  &  “I GOT SICK” (Watch the video clip here or by clicking on the links below)

ACTFL tips for staying in the target language

I needed to teach students how to talk about how they felt.  So I had my wife record 15 second video clips of me feeling different ways based on what was happening to me.  The clips included:

At the end of each situation/scenario, I say how I’m feeling in the target language.

The strategy worked!  Even though my students don’t initially comprehend the L2 words I’m using during these video recordings, they find meaning based on the situations I have constructed.  The situations make it so obvious.  The students know what I’m going to say even before I say it.  They would know what was happening regardless of what language I chose to use.  (See a different video example of this here.)

Story #3 – Snuggling My Daughter

holding daddy

I was holding my daughter Ava this morning.  After breakfast she walked over to where I was sitting, reached her hands up high and looked at me with the sweetest eyes that said, “Can you pick me up, Daddy?”

I was so happy to oblige.  I picked her up, put my arms around her, let her head rest on my shoulder and patted her back.  She stayed there motionless for about 10 mins while I talked to my wife who patiently listened to me ramble about this input theory that I’ve been writing.  (What other wife would listen to a husband’s musings about “Constructed Situational Input!?”)

Towards the end of my conversation with my wife, I paused, looked at Ava and snuggled my face into hers.

I told my wife, “See!  Ava is receiving input right now.  It’s not verbal (linguistic) input.  It’s non-verbal (extralinguistic) input that she’s receiving.  What is the extralinguistic input that she’s receiving?”  Sarah answered, “My daddy loves me.”  “My daddy is paying attention to me.”  “I love to be in daddy’s arms.”

Ava was listening in on our conversation and kept soaking in my affection.

Then I told my wife, “Into this constructed situation (in which I’m holding, snuggling, patting, caressing, rocking…etc.) I could speak the words “I love you” in any language and she would understand what I’m saying.  It doesn’t matter if the words are incomprehensible.  The extralinguistic input (in this case “Constructed Situational Input”) is so undeniably comprehensible that she will know what my words mean no matter what language I choose to tell her, “I love you.”

Then I demonstrated for my wife what I had just explained.  When I had Ava’s attention, and when she knew I was about to say something that matched up with the affectionate experience we were having, I chose to tell Ava that I loved her in Spanish.  I told Ava, “Te amo.”

When she heard “Te amo,”she smiled warmly and snuggled in closer to my embrace even though she just got done hearing language that is unfamiliar to her.

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.”

In 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.”

In this post (part 7) we observe that:

“”Constructed Situational Input” is one such form of extralinguistic input in which a teacher helps students find meaning by creating a situation, scenario or experience wherein the observer(s) know(s) exactly what’s being said or what’s about to be said.”

Language Acquisition Theory Statement:

“Constructed Situational Input” (as defined above) 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 inserted throughout many of the posts in this series) have on foreign language teaching and foreign language acquisition.

I will 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.


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

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @calhwrd

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  1. Pingback: Lionel Messi & A Quick Tip For Staying In The Target Language | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

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