Comprehensible Input Strategies & Activities


In 1977, linguist Stephen Krashen formed the so-called input hypothesis. This hypothesis put emphasis on comprehensible input as a key factor when learning a foreign language.

According to Krashen, comprehensible input for ELL students is a part of SIOP, which stands for Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol. This protocol is used to measure a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom by using the following activities:

Check out our article about instructional strategies for your ELL students.


  • Lesson plans
  • Background
  • Comprehensible input
  • Strategies
  • Interaction
  • Practice
  • Lesson delivery
  • Review and assessment

What is comprehensible input?

Input is what the students receive from you as a teacher. Basically, it is what they hear, see and perceive as you teach. Comprehensible input is a teacher’s input that the students can easily understand due to its high quality and relevance. And this is particularly important for ELL students, because comprehensive input helps them use information that they already know to understand and interpret new linguistic concepts.

In other words, the teacher’s input should be both understandable and a bit challenging for the students.

In this article, we are going to discuss the comprehensible input strategies and activities that will help you create a comprehensible classroom style to efficiently teach your students a new language.

Comprehensible Input Strategies

Comprehensible input strategies were developed by Krashen in 1981 and can be described as follows:

1. Direct Instruction

Teachers can use this strategy with beginners, or entering ELLs, who do not understand the language. It consists of instructing the students on what they should do. According to such instructional input, students watch the teacher do something and then they can model it.

2. Joint Construction

This strategy can be used with the students who already have some basic language knowledge, or developing ELLs. Such students can already follow the instructions themselves but still need some guidance from the teacher.

3. Coached Construction

Teachers can use this strategy with intermediate students, or expanding ELLs. Now, the teacher observes the students applying strategies on their own and offers suggestions only as needed.

4. Monitoring

This comprehensible input strategy is suitable for advanced students, or Bridging ELLs. At this stage, they require a minimum guidance from the teacher and are capable of following the instructions without constant supervision.

Comprehensible Input Activities

How can you practice the comprehensible input in the classroom? Here are some options:

1. Use different sources of input

Make sure that your students master the language at all levels – speaking, listening, reading and writing. Give your students enough room to experiment with the language.

2. Tell stories

Storytelling is one of the most successful comprehensible input activities, because an exciting story can arouse interest in improving the language skills in order to understand the plot better. However, make sure that your stories include at least 80 percent words and expressions that your students can understand. The stories should also contain realistic examples that may help the students exercise their language skills in real life. Another good idea is to write a story frame and let the students fill in the details.

3. Visualize

One of the comprehensible input examples is to use drawings, images, doodles or objects in order to illustrate the complex or abstract concepts that you are explaining.

4. Sing songs

Songs and rhymes help the students understand and memorize the words that sound similarly or even equally, but have different meanings, for example, “write – right”.

5. Play games

There is a wide range of conversational games, such as “I’m going on a trip,” “Bingo” or “Important Numbers”, which can also be used as comprehensible input techniques.

6. Specialized reading

Read with students the texts that focus only on one narrow topic, and study new vocabulary that is related to this topic. The students can also choose their own topics of interest.

7. Watch news or movies

Dedicate the entire lesson to watching news and movies, and then discussing what you watched in a group. Such an approach will improve both the listening comprehension and speaking skills as part of comprehensible input.

8. Correction of mistakes

Give the students texts that contain grammar or spelling mistakes and encourage them to find and correct those mistakes.

9. Listen and draw

Describe a picture to the students, and then have them draw the picture based on your instructions. Students can also work in pairs and describe the pictures to each other.

10. Adapt your speech

Use less complex vocabulary whenever possible and limit the use of idioms.

We hope that our comprehensive input definition and tips have motivated you to practice this approach in your classroom. Of course it is up to you to decide what comprehensible input activities will work best for you and your students, but we recommend that you try all of them.

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  1. Singing songs has been great. Letting the students role play with puppets and using their own stuffed animals at home as promoted the learning experience as well!

  2. I love that the comprehensible input strategies add 1 more step to the “I do, you do, we do” learning approach.

    Now I want to incorporate more games to increase students’ comprehension. I must be mindful, though, to ensure that the student can understand at least 80% of the vocabulary. This will be a fun teaching challenge for me!

  3. This list appears to be tried-and-true methods for imparting knowledge to students.
    I plan to save this list and use it as a reference any time I need ideas for supplemental activities.
    Very helpful!

  4. With VIPKID, we are not free to use all of these strategies (specialized reading or watching movies, for example), because we have very specific material to teach during each class period and not a lot of extra time to embellish it. In a traditional classroom, we can prepare our classes well in advance and organize them in a way to include some of our own fun activities, but we do not have many opportunities to do that at VIPKID. In fact, until we have taught for awhile and have repeat students, we find ourselves jumping around from one level to another, and we do not even have a sense of continuity as to what our students already know. That said, I still think that VIPKID probably has the best language program in the world. It is certainly the best program I have ever taught with (and I have used many different textbooks for both French and English). I love that VIPKID teaches content — not just grammar and literature — and that each unit has a theme. Most of my students can read just as well or better than their American counterparts, which is quite impressive, and I find working with them very rewarding. With regard to the specific comprehensible input activities mentioned in the article, there is one in particular that I hope to add to my lower-level classes: asking students to draw what I describe. It’s a listening activity disguised as art, and I love those kinds of activities. The kids are concentrating on one thing and learning another practically by osmosis. This is what teaching content does, too.

  5. I love this! I’m actually certified to train SIOP. I went to a train the trainer workshop and as an instructional coach, I worked with the classroom teachers on using more of these methods in their classrooms.

  6. Wow, that is a comprehensive look at being a more effective teacher. I look forward to referring to this – a lot for just one reading. Thank you.

  7. Great for having a comprehensive input definition and tips to motivate me to practice this approach in my classroom. Of course it is up to me to decide what comprehensible input activities will work best for me and my students, but I plan to try all of them.

  8. This gives helpful information for the progression of teaching strategies for different levels of language acquisition.

  9. I want to use the drawing idea. It can go both ways. The teacher could tell the student what to draw; the student could tell the teacher what to draw. If time and supplies allow it, they could include the use of color words in the lesson/drawing.

  10. I agree that the more strategies and different forms of input, the better-especially for ELL learners. For regular students you hit more learning styles and for ELL’s it will help them to understand the meaning more if the forms of input are varied.

  11. I will try these techniques… I am just not sure storytelling would assist me in not using incidental language in my classes.

  12. Excellent teaching techniques! There are so many different “learners” that it is crucial that we (as teachers) reach every student. I appreciate the information in this article.

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