Input Selection/alx

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Input Selection
Contributors Christian Köppe, Mariëlle Nijsten
Last modification May 15, 2017
Source Köppe and Nijsten (2012)[1][2][3]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

Most courses make use of material — literature, websites, tutorials etc. — which covers the content of the course. You have identified both the Content-Obligatory Language (Content-Obligatory Language) and most parts of the Content-Compatible Language (Content-Compatible Language) and you know the Language Status Quo (Language Status Quo) of the students’ language levels. You now want to start to look for the material.


Available material often differs in both language levels and comprehensibility, and can be too difficult or too easy for students. Both cases will lead to problems during the course.

Complexity. Long sentences and words, academic words, complex concepts and a dense writing style requiring analysis, makes texts hard to understand.

Text cues. Cues such as headings, lists, signal words, and visuals help students understand course texts.

Different Writing Styles. Each author has a specific writing style, and as a result, some authors’ texts are much easier to read than others. Getting used to different writing styles takes getting used to.

Different book audience. Most of the textbooks available which cover the content of a course and are written in the foreign language are made for people using this language and not for people learning this language. These books therefore do not include language didactics, which might be necessary or helpful if this book is used as input.


Therefore: select comprehensible course input that explains the subject matter in a way that matches students’ language levels and interests.

Krashen looks upon comprehensible input as the primary motivator of language development, immersing students in meaningful input, without any explicit teaching of grammar[4]. This could be realized by e.g. incorporating newspaper or blog articles about the subject being taught.

According to Carrell, teachers should focus on the readers’ background instead of on the text[5]. Students need sufficient knowledge of text content as well as text structure and grammar. They may fail to understand texts due to lack of text cues or schemata, or culturally specific schemata. She suggests narrow reading, i.e. limiting the number of authors to one. She also advocates students previewing texts, which may include presenting difficult terms and expressions used in these texts[5].

According to Dale et al., as a rule of thumb, no more than 5 of the words on a page should be unfamiliar[6]. This is not easy to realize and should be seen more as a recommendation than as a fixed rule. However, readability instruments can be found online, helping instructors determine the level of difficulty of texts[7]. Another way of using this rule is to have target students read a text and mark all unfamiliar words.

A consequence of applying this pattern is a longer preparation time, as the material has to be checked on appropriateness for both content and language.

Christian Köppe uses for a course on Patterns & Frameworks different kinds of literature. As the book by Gamma et al. [8] is a quite difficult reading for undergraduate students, the material was complemented with links to websites which describe the design patterns in a shorter and more comprehensible way. But in the later phase of the course the students had to use the Design Patterns book, but were better prepared for it as they understood the Content-Obligatory Language (Content-Obligatory Language) and the Content-Compatible Language (Content-Compatible Language).

Christian Decker from the HAW University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg provides via his twitter feed links to English articles containing interesting news related to a course’s topic. These articles are supporting the course material and complementary. Students are encouraged to read them, and because they often contain interesting news, students are for a large part motivated to read this extra material and therefore are exposed to a wider range of content and language input.


  1. Pattern first published in Köppe, C., & Nijsten, M. (2012). A pattern language for teaching in a foreign language: part 1. In Proceedings of the 17th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (EuroPLoP 2012) (p. 10). New York:ACM.
  2. Patlet mentioned in Köppe, C., & Nijsten, M. (2012). A pattern language for teaching in a foreign language: part 2. In Proceedings of the 19th Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP 2012). New York:ACM.
  3. Patlet also mentioned in Köppe, C., & Nijsten, M. (2012). Towards a Pattern Language for Teaching in a Foreign Language. In Proceedings of the VikingPLoP 2012 conference. Saariselkä, Finland.
  4. Krashen, S. D. (1988). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Prentice Hall.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Carrell, P. L., & Eisterhold, J. C. (1983). Schema theory and ESL reading pedagogy. TESOL quarterly, 17(4), 553-573.
  6. Dale, L., Van der Es, W., Tanner, R., & Timmers, S. (2010). CLIL skills. ICLON, Universiteit Leiden.
  8. Gamma, E., Helm, R., Johnson, R. & Vlissides, J. (1995). Design Patterns: elements of reusable object-oriented software. Addison-Wesley: Boston, MA.ISBN 0-201-63361-2.