The WHEN, HOW, WHAT, and WHY, of Non-Targeted CI in my Classroom!

This year, I have switched to almost completely non-targeted Comprehensible Input. I have not blogged about it sooner because of many different reasons. Number one being, that I am very new to it. If I am honest, I am much better at trying and failing and trying again to find out what works best for me, rather than reading lots of different ways others do it and trying it in my room. For me, I need to just get in and “do” then I can understand what people write about later because I can relate to it. Now that I understand “WHAT” non-targeted CI looks like in my classroom I can blog about it. Secondly, at the beginning of the academic school year, I was reading and sensing a lot of negative feelings around the idea of “non-targeted CI”. In fact, that is why I wrote my blog on respecting every teacher who is attempting some form of CI in their room. It doesn’t matter what that CI looks like as long as it is compelling and comprehensible to our kiddos. It will ALWAYS look different in different schools and different classrooms because not one of us teachers are the same, and not one of our students are either. We are all unique and therefore, our teaching styles are too! I was honestly scared to blog about non-targeted CI too early, for fear of not being able to confidently defend myself if I came across some of the ugly push back I have seen online. I am excited to finally share all that has been happening in my class this year with non-targeted input.

SO, here we go! The HOW!?, What!?!? When!?!? and Why!?!? to non-targeted CI in La Loca’s classroom:


I think of targeting as trying to get lots of reps out of high frequency vocabulary through circling while using many forms of CI (Movie Talks, PQA, TPRS, etc.) So when did I start using non-targeted input? It happened totally naturally at the beginning of the year. I sort of fell into it. Often times when doing a more targeted approach to CI, what I like to call “spin-offs” often happen. For example, if I am targeting the word le gusta (s/he likes), the other high frequency words that are most often introduced or come up on that day are: both, neither, prefer, and love. (los dos, ninguno, prefiere, and le encanta). In MY approach to non-targeted CI, rather than just briefly mentioning those words as they happen and writing them up on the board, I become a pretzel, and allow my whole focus to shift into targeting THOSE words instead. In a sense I guess, I am targeting what ever the students “want” me to target.  This is another place where I see OWL (Organic World Languages) blending with the Comprehensible Input in my classroom. The way I target this year is very organic, it is unplanned (for the most part). I also have lost the need to circle at all. I get the reps in through natural use of the language. I feel better about this and so do my kids!


The first day it happened, I was introducing our “dicho” of the week, and I had a photo of David Beckham on the board and his son. They are like two peas in a pod! (se parecen como dos gotas de agua in Spanish). In my first class of the day, one student didn’t know who David Beckham was. I was horrified, as were some of her classmates. That day I had planned to “target” debe (s/he should) in 8th grade, using PQA and some photos in a presentation. Instead, I let the conversation shift, and we focused on the words juega (s/he plays) and quiere ser (s/he wants to be). The first was a review word for them but the second was fairly new. After talking for 15 minutes about David Beckham and his career, we spun off into a discussion of what we want to be when we grow up and then the next day I did a great movie talk with this video. The kids were SO engaged, and I loved that it felt completely organic, and they felt like we were just conversing. I decided to just “go with it” in my next class too…


With seventh grade I had “planned” to target “trabaja”. I had written a great story for us to read together on my power point. I again, was introducing the dicho, and one of my boys said something hysterical in Spanish about David Beckham having a really spicy wife. I about died laughing because I knew he was referring to Victoria Beckham, formerly a member of the Spice Girls. (I WAS OBSESSED, and I STILL have a pink shirt of “Spice World” that I wanted to wear every single day in 4th grade!) I slowly, and comprehensibly broke down who it was that Beckham was married to, and pulled up photos of the Spice Girls on Google. Turns out only 2!!!, TWO!!! yes, only TWO students knew of the Spice Girls. This lesson turned into something totally different than what I had planned and I ended up introducing one new “structure” puede + infinitive and we rolled with that, using other recycled language that they had already acquired. We ended up movie talking our way through one of the Spice Girl’s music videos!! Again, the kids felt totally in control, they guided it, I was in total control of the language and input given, but THEY decided what was compelling for the day.


One of the biggest questions I get when people observe is how do I pick the language, how do I know WHAT to target when they steer the conversation? I think the most important part of teaching using non-targeted CI, is knowing WHAT it is that your students already know, and being very familiar with the most frequently used words in Spanish. When I used to target vocabulary, I used “structures” (usually verbs) from the most frequently used words lists. Denver Public Schools has a fantastic wiki, and you can find the Spanish and French High freqency word lists here. Mary Overton and I wrote the Middle School curriculum on together, using those structures. I know what it is my students need to ACQUIRE to be successful communicators. I also know the language they already know. So, as they steer conversation, I pick the most suitable language that lends itself to whatever they want to talk about and THAT is how I decide what language is used for the day. It really isn’t “targeted” language though. It is the language that is needed to make it INTERESTING, COMPELLING, and ENGAGING.

ALL of the most frequently used words will ORGANICALLY and NATURALLY happen and be used in your classroom. The one thing I do NOT do, is I don’t allow for lots of out-of-bounds words outside of the high frequency structures I am using that day. This may look different from other non-targeted CI classrooms. Do I allow for what language is needed to keep them interested and engaged?, yes. But I manipulate and shelter language to use what they already know. For example, in the class where we focused on plays and wants to be in my example above, I didn’t introduce tons of “professions” but rather focused on the “quiere ser” and then the kids and I circumlocuted the professions together. Rather than saying psychologist, we said Ben wants to be a person who helps people with their problems. Rather than explaining to the class that Katie wants to be a pediatric doctor, I gave them the comprehensible input by pulling up pictures of doctors and explaining that Katie wants to be a person who helps children who hurt and don’t feel good. ALL of the other vocabulary I was using to circumlocute, consisted of words and structures they had already acquired or that were cognates.


The “why” is my favorite. I have always been pretty lucky, in both private and public schools to have my classes be well liked. Outside of my belief that this is largely to due to how I feel about my students and treat them because of that,  I think it is ALL about the method. This year, has by far been my best year of teaching with Comprehensible Input. I truly believe it is because I have chosen to be more organic rather than structured and targeted. My students have ALWAYS steered the curriculum because if you are doing CI correctly, it should be compelling input which is only compelling if it is about things they are interested in, or about them! Well now, they actually “feel” in control. They “feel” like they are steering everything. Before, they loved class because I talked every day, about something they thought was cool or interesting. Now, they love class because I talk about what ever THEY want to talk about on THAT day!

The other day, I overheard 3 students talking during lunch. These are three of my more mischievous 7th grade boys. They didn’t know that I had come in to eat and was sitting behind them. One of them said, “dude, in Spanish today, we completely distracted Maestra and she didn’t get to teach anything that she planned! We ended up just talking the whole time about the dance last weekend.” Then the other boy chimed in and explained, “she even pulled up pictures from our Instagram accounts” (to talk about what different people were wearing). Then the OTHER boy said, “Oh! I know! She is the EASIEST teacher to derail! All you have to say is something half way cool or interesting, and she goes with it and before you know it, class is over!” Then he proceeded to compare me to the dog DOUG from the movie “Up”. SQUIRREL! These classes are ALWAYS 95% or more in the Target Language. What they don’t realize is THAT IS THE PLAN! I WANT them in control! That day with the “dance” talk that the boys spoke about,  lleva (s/he wears) naturally came up and I  combined it with está + ando/iendo (is __ing) which we had used a lot the day before. I pulled up ACTUAL pictures of the students in my class and their friends in their pretty outfits, headed to the dance. They ate it up!

So I guess the students are right…. I am a bit like Doug, but I love every minute of this ever changing, creative, spontaneous, group created input that is happening in my classroom.

There you have it! All summed up… actually that was much longer than I thought it would be! But I got excited and let my fingers run wild!

If you are going to Comprehensible Cascadia already and if you are interested in learning more about non-targeted CI, and my approach to it, and you are eager and willing to give it a go, consider signing up for my pre-conference workshop! I promise we will have fun! And if you aren’t already signed up for Cascadia, you should! It is going to be a great conference, and in such a beautiful city, PORTLAND! 🙂

Until next time,



La Maestra Loca




  1. I love this idea and can see the numerous benefits that could come from it. My question is: If each class is discussing something different and targeting different language, how do you ensure that you are in bounds in each class, day after day? How do you keep track of it all ie. in 3rd period they know “quiere ser” but in 7th they don’t, but they do know “puede cantar”.

    I’d like to try some more non-targeted ci but am concerned about managing 4-6 different vocabulary lists for different classes. What are your thoughts?

    • Brilliant question. This is something I am still working on but I have a pretty good system started…

      Currently I have a binder that I keep readily available on my desk and each class has its own section. Behind each class’ tab, I have a piece of paper which contains ALL of the frequently used structures (levels 1a-2b) in the order that I used to teach them when I was very targeted. At the end of each class, if I introduced new structures, I highlight them on that paper. I had to think of a way to do it quickly, and also this works for referencing it quickly too.

      On the pages following that I have a page of “phrases” or “expressions” that I maybe only taught that class, and I also have a page for Movie Talks and I write what movies I’ve shown that class (because so often we will be in the middle of class and I will think of a great movie that goes with what we are talking about so I will show it) and finally, I have a page for out of bounds vocab, which I let one of my most organized and neat writers add to each day. Normally it is only 1-3 words they are adding.

      I haven’t found that I have used the last page at all, but what I HAVE noticed is that as I am teaching, and the focus of the conversation shifts, the students remind me of what language they already have through the output they are sharing. I have also noticed, that since my 8th graders are all around the same level and my 7th graders are all around the same level, the two different sections end up covering almost the exact same structures within just a few weeks of each other. I think this is because it is so organic, and they are following in the same sort of progression naturally as the list I had developed for teaching “targeted” structures.

      Again, this is the way I have managed it this year. I know that I am not type A however, and my lack of strict structure and organization bothers some of my more structured friends so I am not sure how they might do it differently. As I come up with more ideas I will continue to share!

      I hope this helps a little! 🙂

  2. I have many thoughts on this – how do we ensure comprehension without word lists? I’ve been working with NT input, exclusively, all year, so I have had some time to think about this. So, the first thought is that I have to be “in tune” with the students. I have to watch their eyes, their posture, I have to ask “Clase, tiene en inglés” and see if there is a strong reaction. This sounds like a lot of work. It is easier than it sounds because if you have been working with targets, like I did for nine years, then getting rid of the targets feels like a big weight off your mind! What to do with all those free brainwaves? Why, check in with the students on that emotional level, of course.
    Also, I use a lot of gestures, just little hand motions, to reinforce the meaning of words as I say them. So, if I say “Quiere cantar” I would gesture “quiere” and maybe have the class do it with me if they needed a little movement or if I sensed that their comprehension was a tad weak on that. And I would gesture (or most likely just sing) “cantar” too. I just take the responsibility at all times to make my speech understandable, to check for comprehension, and to scaffold their comprehension as much as I need to.

    Using non-targeted CI is s much easier (for me anyway) than counting reps or trying to get the kids to pay attention to a targeted story, but it does require some mental work, especially to shift one’s thinking away from the concept of teaching words from a wordlist. Once you can get your mind around the concept that we can just focus on speaking comprehensibly in the language, using whatever language we need to convey messages that the kids are interested enough to pay attention to, then your whole conception of your job shifts too.

    I see ny job now as: Talk in sheltered, scaffolded language. Constantly make sure the kids are with me. Use whatever language I need to communicate. Make sure they are with me. Assess them on their understanding of messages, not their mastery of certain words. Assess them on their ability to communicate on the ACTFL scale, not on their ability to use pre-selected parts of the language (words, structures).

    If this does not make sense, I would be very happy to explain more. Making a shift away from pre-chosen language to target and repeat and assess has been THE BEST thing I could have done for my enjoyment of teaching languages, BESIDES learning about CI in the first place!

    I enabled email notifications here so if you have questions please ask away! I have done a LOT of studying and thinking and tinkering and writing about NT work.

  3. Annabelle,

    I’d put the “why” first…. People are far more likely to buy into what it is what you’re doing if they get “why” you’re doing it…

    Have a watch of this if you have never watched it find 15 minutes…. It could be very useful for you.

    Also, whilst I love what you do I wonder if you ever studied the fine art of précis? ;o) Your passion comes across in bucketloads, but I worry that your message might get lost in there…. Perhaps if you had the blog as your “full fat” version and then Facebook/twitter versions as the paired down version??

    Anyway, whatever I might think, keep doing what you’re doing!!

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