Todd & A Series On CI (Part 9): “Pairing”

These posts are probably helping me more than they’re helping you.

Writing them is allowing me to articulate, for the first times, exactly how I’m helping my novice students acquire their first bits of L2.  (Disclaimer: My writing is not research based.  I’m merely writing about my experiences.  The terms I’m using I’ve coined myself and aren’t taken from formal academic writing.  One day, I’d love to learn the “official terms.”  Until then, they are what I’m using to organize and explain why my novice students are thriving in an L2 immersion environment.  (BTW…please feel free to respond with comments and links to helpful academic resources that you’ve read/written that talk about some of these same topics.)

In this post you can read about an important technique I use that I’m calling “pairing” and other summary thoughts (in Q/A form) regarding what I’ve learned from writing the first 8 posts in this series:

Question(s) #1– “Sr. Howard, how is it that your novice students are able to follow your L2 instructions?  How are the students not only surviving but thriving in the L2 immersion environment that you’re creating?”

Answer #1– I’m realizing that it’s NOT because they are finding a LOT of meaning in the L2 words and phrases that I use.  In fact, a lot of the L2 words/phrases are still INcomprehensible to them.

Students AREN’T finding meaning (in an L2 immersion environment) because they’ve suddenly become more fluent in L2.

They are finding meaning because I HAVE become more “fluent” at leveraging various forms of extralinguistic input.

In class, they gather meaning from comprehensible and compelling extralinguistic input that I repeatedly “pair” with incomprehensible L2 words, phrases and sentences. “Pairing” is what makes the pieces of incomprehensible L2 become increasingly meaningful, and eventually comprehensible. My own (non-research based) explanations and examples of the various forms of extralinguistic input that I use can be found by clicking on the links below.

  1. Representational Input
  2. Gesticulated Input
  3. Constructed Situational Input
  4. Incidental Situational Input
  5. Inflectional Input
  6. Procedural Input
  7. Melodic Input

Question #2: “Sr. Howard…you just used the word “pair”.  It seems like a significant word.  What do you mean by “pair” or “pairing?””

Answer #2: “Pairing” is what a traditional L2 vocabulary list does:

azul – blue

أحمر – red

bonjour – hello

спасибо – thank you

再见 – good bye

“Pairing” matches an incomprehensible L2 word/phrase with something comprehensible.  “Pairing” helps an L2 learner find meaning in incomprehensible L2 words/phrases/sentences.  A traditional vocabulary list matches (or “pairs”) an incomprehensible L2 word with it’s L1 equivalent.

In my 90+% TL classroom I “pair” as well.  However, I don’t “pair” an incomprehensible L2 word with its L1 equivalent.  I “pair” an incomprehensible L2 word/phrase with an extralinguistic equivalent.

See examples of how I…

Question #3- How does this ‘pairing’ technique benefit my L2 learners?

Answer #3-

  • It allows them to actively participate in all L2 immersion instructional activities while still having a small L2 vocabulary foundation.
  • It facilitates a process in which pieces of incomprehensible L2 input become comprehensible.
  • A traditional vocabulary list has the potential to be very UN-appealing (aka “boring,” “tedious,” “work-intensive”) to anyone except a highly motivated L2 learner.  “Pairing,” as I’ve described above, can allow L2 students to find meaning in potentially more engaging/exciting/meaningful ways.
  • In some instances, it allows students to learn bits of L2 by accident.
  • Students slowly/eventually start using L2 spontaneously and appropriately.  L2 fruit!
  • It allows them to not only learn what L2 words mean but ALSO experience what some L2 words can feel like. (i.e. exclamatory L2 words feel exciting, L2 reprimanding words feel corrective, L2 praise words feel encouraging, etc.)
  • As a student’s proficiency level increases, the need for extralinguistic support decreases. Incomprehensible pieces of L2 can now be made meaningful by *pairing them with comprehensible pieces of L2. See this post for more.

Question #4- Are there any other things you do to help “pairing” in a 90+% TL classroom go well?

Answer #4- Yes.  I “use fewer words” because input has quantitative qualities.  (Click here for more info.)  I also use strategies to keep students from being distracted by other forms of input.  (Click here for more info.)

The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, I will continue discussing my developing (and non-research-based) thoughts on…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …obstacles to making incomprehensible L2 input meaningful in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the *pairing obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.


 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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4 thoughts on “Todd & A Series On CI (Part 9): “Pairing”

  1. Pingback: Todd & A Series On CI (Part 10): Forms Of Input – Using L2 To Make Sense Of L2 | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

  2. Pingback: Todd & A Series On CI (Part 11) – Forms Of Input: L1 | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

  3. Pingback: Debunking 5 “Teaching In The Target Language Myths” | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

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