Adding Details

Whenever we communicate with our students using comprehensible input, whether in building a character or a story, a one word image, etc., we ask questions, to which the kids answer in yes/no or one word answers. This is how CI works in the early years, and it results in speech output sometimes as early as in levels 3 and 4 in a high school program, but usually real speech emerges later – more time is needed. 

But there is this question:

Q. I can understand the importance of adding details when we build our characters, but sometimes the kids just keep adding more and more and I don’t stop them because they are having so much fun. Is there a way to keep this from happening?

A. If your students are just piling detail upon detail, you might need to check your pacing. You are probably going way too fast for the majority of them to truly understand the language. Plus, how will your poor artists ever hope to keep up? Once I saw this happen in a workshop. The artists almost quit that day because the input got away from her and the details were raining down too fast. The pace might feel fine to you, but you are have mastery of the language! My advise is to train yourself to add only five or six details in the class period. You can do this and still provide a whole period of CI by focusing on slowing down, recycling some previously-established details, looking them in the eyes, gesturing, doing some quick TPR (“show me hand, show me face, etc.”), looking at the space where the language is being “sculpted” and describing it in a tone of wonderment that it is SO small or SO rainbow-colored or SO whatever. I have developed a kind of internal radar once I get past five or six details. I just stop asking questions when I feel that the character or story has a proper balance to it. More is not better in a CI classroom. With One Word Images, especially, it is all about quality over quantity.




7 thoughts on “Adding Details”

  1. This advice is GOLD Ben! I need to reread this every single day, as I am guilty of that “more more more” schtick. Which is indeed a schtick. I am certain that for me it is rooted in insecurity.

    1. That’s why this work is so tough and yet so exciting. Like we know something good is happening when we embrace it. How many jobs require that we reconfigure our psyches from ones largely based in fear and “not being good enough” to ones based in positive thoughts about what we are capable of in the future, simply because of the way we have decided to teach?

    2. And jen it’s not just in limiting the amount of questions that you ask (as per the above post) that you find control in your delivery. It’s like a pitcher in baseball who, if she lacks control, cannot win the game because she will walk everybody….

      Now control involves the classroom managament piece, of course, and in particular command of Classroom Rule #2 as well as the particular way Tina shows us how to confront kids in class at level #3 of our classroom management plan. But it also involves how slowly we speak.

      One of a pitcher’s “bread and butter” pitches in baseball – to stretch the baseball metaphor possibly more than it wants to be stretched – is called a change-up pitch. It’s where you move your arm as you do in throwing a regular fast ball or curve while slowing the speed of the pitch down considerably, from 95 mph to around 78 mph.

      How does this relate to gaining control of your questioning in your CI classes? It is because mastery in questioning in a CI class is “slowed down questioning”. In baseball if the batter knows that a change up is coming, she can really tee off on it. (Batters don’t know that in baseball but they should be able to tee off on our every pitch/question in our classrooms – they should understand everything we say and it is on us if they don’t.)

      So ask fewer questions, be all over the classroom management piece in the way Tina and I talked about it last summer in the workshops, but also remember to put lots of space between your questions besides just asking fewer of them in class. Pitch is so that they can hit it as per this articles from 2011 here:

  2. Great stuff!
    I did an OWI im my sixth grade and the artists did a great job. Next I asked a story with this character and the artists couldn’t finish their last panel and also got the colour of the submarine wrong and it was my fault of course. Now I know what I have to work on. Thanks, Ben!

  3. Udo can you expand on this –

    … I asked a story with this character and the artists couldn’t finish their last panel and also got the colour of the submarine wrong and it was my fault of course….

    1. I went too fast with asking the story, although I reviewed the story with the class while the artist were working. I didn’t check in with the artists often enough. I didn’t create the invisible space for the image – think of that. I was so absorbed with the energy of the class that somehow I got swept along. For me as a beginner with this kindof CI-work it feels like a beginning juggler: There are too many balls in the air. This was the main reason why I didn’t dare to start this work any earlier.
      It is great stuff but without any workshop or coaching it can be intimidating whereas with Storylistening I feel much more competent. But with asking the story there is a lot of energy in the room and it is real fun for me too bc the kids come up with hilarious ideas. So I will work hard on my skills for doing the Invisibles better.

      1. Got it. But Udo even if you drop some of the balls you need to juggle you are still doing CI and that is all that counts.

        Re: your point about SL I asked Beniko what she thought a good ratio of SL:Invisibles would be and she said 50:50. I had suggested 80:20 to her but she said half of each would be best.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben