Beyond Memorization: The Power of Comprehensible Input Teaching

Beyond Memorization: The Power of Comprehensible Input TeachingBeyond Memorization: The Power of Comprehensible Input Teaching
(last modified April 8, 2024)

Embarking on the journey of language learning is an exciting endeavor, particularly for children. For authors committed to producing enriching Spanish-language learner books or teachers dedicated to providing the best possible learning experience for their students, understanding the methodologies that render the process both educational and enjoyable is imperative. This article delves into the realm of Comprehensible Input (CI) teaching, a dynamic approach that prioritizes meaningful exposure to language, thereby nurturing comprehension and communication.

Comprehensible Input (CI) teaching for second language acquisition is an innovative approach that prioritizes exposing learners to language in a form they can easily understand. 

What is Comprehensible Input (CI) Teaching?

Rather than relying on traditional memorization methods, CI emphasizes communication and comprehension. By immersing learners in compelling, context-rich content, CI aims to make language learning a natural and enjoyable experience.


Learning a language through comprehensible input is, in essence, simply exposing yourself to language in a natural and understandable way, even if you don’t know all the words or grammar rules. Here are 10 key principles and strategies for effective language acquisition through comprehensible input:

  • Engaging Content: Choose content that is interesting and relevant to you. This could include books, articles, videos, podcasts, or any material that captures your attention. When the content is engaging, you’re more likely to stay motivated and focused.
  • Contextualized Learning: Focus on content that provides context. Whether it’s a story, a conversation, or a video, understanding the context helps you grasp the meaning even when you encounter unfamiliar words. This mirrors the way we naturally acquire our first language by understanding context.
  • Graded Material: Start with material that is slightly above your current proficiency level. This ensures a challenge without overwhelming you. Gradually increase the complexity as you become more comfortable with the language.
  • Repetition: Exposure to the same words and phrases in different contexts helps reinforce your understanding. Revisit content multiple times, and as you encounter words repeatedly, your brain starts to internalize them.
  • Interaction and Engagement: Actively engage with the material. This could involve discussing what you’ve read or watched with language partners, answering questions, or even creating your own content in the language. Interaction enhances comprehension and retention.
  • Visual Aids and Contextual Support: Use visual aids, gestures, and contextual support to aid comprehension. This is particularly effective for beginners. Total Physical Response (TPR), where you associate words with physical actions, is an example of this approach.
  • Storytelling: Narrative-based learning, like Storyasking, involves creating and understanding stories. This method taps into the natural human inclination for storytelling, making the language more memorable and enjoyable.
  • Patience and Consistency: Language acquisition takes time. Be patient with yourself and maintain consistency in your exposure to comprehensible input. Regular, shorter sessions are often more effective than infrequent, lengthy ones.
  • Language Immersion: Immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. Surround yourself with media, conversations, and activities in the target language. The more you expose yourself, the more comfortable and natural the language will become.
  • Varied Input Sources: Explore a variety of content types, including books, movies, music, and news. This exposes you to different vocal ranges, accents, and styles, contributing to a well-rounded language proficiency.

Remember that the key to teaching a second language effectively is to make learning an enjoyable and immersive experience. Comprehensible input is about understanding the message rather than focusing solely on individual words or grammar rules. By exposing yourself to meaningful and understandable content, you’ll find yourself naturally acquiring the language in a way that mirrors how you learned your first language. There are many methodologies and techniques you can use to create this kind of learning environment, including TPR, creating a comprehensible classroom, incorporating storyasking and movietalk into your lessons, using caretaker language, and more.

What is TPR?

Total Physical Response (TPR) is a cornerstone of CI teaching. This method engages learners by incorporating physical actions into language instruction. By associating words and phrases with corresponding movements, TPR creates a dynamic and interactive learning experience. For young learners especially, this method proves to be highly effective, as it taps into the natural connection between language and physicality.

For example, the teacher might say “stand up”, “sit down”, or “pick up a pencil.” The act of tying a physical action to the new words you’re learning helps cement them in your mind, much in the way that playing Simon Says hones your listening skills. The benefits are that the teacher can immediately see whether or not you understand, and these action commands tie into story-based approaches to learning.

Creating a Comprehensible Classroom

Creating a comprehensible classroom environment is crucial for the success of CI teaching. This involves using engaging materials, such as books and visual aids, that are tailored to the learners’ proficiency level. Teachers employing CI focus on delivering comprehensible input at a level just above the learners’ current understanding, ensuring a challenging yet accessible linguistic experience. Through storytelling, interactive activities, and meaningful interactions, the comprehensible classroom becomes a fertile ground for language growth.

One way you can foster a comprehensible classroom is to label everyday objects with sticky notes in the target language. If every day you sit down at your escritorio and take out your libro, the words begin to feel natural as you interact with your ordinary day-to-day objects.

Incorporating Storyasking and MovieTalk

In the realm of CI, Storyasking and MovieTalk are two dynamic methods that captivate learners’ attention while promoting language acquisition. Storyasking involves co-creating stories with students, encouraging active participation and understanding. For example, the teacher might set the scene with a short prompt, then encourage the students to share their thoughts, then incorporate the vocabulary from their thoughts into the story, involving and engaging them directly.

MovieTalk involves narrating a story based on visuals, fostering comprehension through context. For example, the teacher might show a short movie clip, then narrate a simple story based on what is happening in the video. The teacher asks questions related to the visuals, encouraging students to respond in the target language. These methods not only make learning enjoyable but also enhance linguistic proficiency in a natural and holistic way.

Engage students by presenting a simple scene, then talking about what’s happening in the picture using simple vocabulary words. Photo Credit: Vecteezy (Creative Commons)

Engage students by presenting a simple scene, then talking about what’s happening in the picture using simple vocabulary words. Photo Credit: Vecteezy (Creative Commons)

Using “Caretaker Language” to Engage With Your Students

“Caretaker language” refers to the language used by adults, caregivers, or teachers when interacting with young children or language learners. It is a term often used in the context of not only early childhood education, but in language acquisition contexts as well, because the way to effectively teach secondary languages involves tapping into the organic methodologies used when you learned your first language, as a small child.

Caretaker language is characterized by certain features that are believed to support language development in children. These features include:

  1. Simplified Vocabulary: Caretaker language often involves the use of simplified vocabulary to match the child’s current language level. This helps in making the language more comprehensible for the child.
  1. Repetition: Caretakers frequently repeat words and phrases, reinforcing the child’s exposure to language and aiding in the internalization of vocabulary. “This is a dog. Is the dog big or small? Is the dog fuzzy or smooth? Does the dog have a long tail or a short tail?” Rather than asking “why?”, asking specific questions about one subject can become a way of storytelling with limited vocabulary.
  1. Slow and Clear Speech: Caretakers tend to speak more slowly and clearly, making it easier for the child to understand and process the language input.
  1. Expanded and Descriptive Language: Caretakers often expand on a child’s utterances, providing more detailed and descriptive language. This helps in building the child’s language skills and understanding. The child says, “I like pizza.” You follow up with “Do you like pepperoni on your pizza?”
  1. Use of Gestures and Visuals: Caretakers may use gestures, facial expressions, and visual aids to support verbal communication and enhance understanding. For example, when you teach the word “happy”, you make a happy face to convey the meaning physically.
  1. Positive and Encouraging Tone: Caretakers typically use a positive and encouraging tone, creating a supportive language-learning environment.

The concept of caretaker language aligns with the broader idea of “comprehensible input,” which is crucial for language acquisition. Providing language input that is tailored to the learner’s current proficiency level and delivered in a supportive and engaging manner contributes to effective language learning, especially in the early stages of development.


In the vibrant landscape of language teaching, Comprehensible Input (CI) stands out as an, effective and enjoyable way of learning secondary languages. Through methods like Total Physical Response (TPR), the creation of comprehensible classrooms, and dynamic techniques like Storyasking and MovieTalk, CI teaching nurtures language growth in a way that resonates with learners of all ages. As we embrace the principles of CI, we open the door to a world where language acquisition is not just a skill but an exciting journey of exploration and understanding.