Circling with Balls Q and A – 4

Q. I just want to be able to reach my students with this activity and not be boring.

A. Our students are so talented, but some of us spend an entire year with them and don’t even notice! Last year I had a student named Juan who did Hip-Hop at a very high level. When he cut loose once in class, it was like America’s Got Talent. This normally shy kid had come to me from another class where he had been shamed because he couldn’t learn French grammar. He came to me with an F and left with a B, and I think that the dancing had a lot to do with that. Juan received repeated requests to hit the stage (the small area where we act out stories in our classroom) and he sometimes obliged us with a spin or two and it just lifted us all up so much. We even swept and wiped down the floor for him. I guess you could file this answer under the idea that play counts in education. But, if we don’t feel comfortable going that far into things with students, to answer your question, we remember that we are all different and when we use comprehensible input all we really have to do is speak to our students in ways that they can understand and that are interesting to them. That is all we have to do. And now, thinking about it, I see that the only reason I could do cheerleading and all that was because I had spent a long time learning how to do the comprehensible input teaching skills first. So also must professional musicians go through the early levels of mastering technique before they can express themselves as artists.

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Circling with Balls Q and A – 3

Q. Are the sports balls necessary? What about those kids who ski, dance, skateboard, etc. where getting props for those sports into a classroom is difficult? Also, what about the students who do activities that don’t involve athletics at all, like reading?

A. The original reason I created Circling with Balls was for those physically rambunctious athletic types who, in eighth grade especially, can’t even stay in their seats. Many teachers have run into immediate problems by ignoring such students. I need to tame them immediately in the first days of class. So I start things off on the first day of school by holding a football in my hands and engaging them in the TL about their interest in football. I use the football as a carrot, dangling it in front of him, pretending to be about to give it to him, then withdrawing it. It is very much like taming an animal. My goal is to control the dialogue with that student before he even thinks about trying to control it with me. During this time I teach the student the rules and everybody learns them by seeing them modeled. The whole thing can take up to an entire class period with that one kid.

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Chicago was wonderful. Craig Sheehy slept at the mini-steering wheel of the monorail above Victoria’s Secret and his Turkish boss yelled at him and then just outright fired him.

That same Turkish boss, Lt. Col. Ali Isik, blew up the word chok in Turkish into a big balloon and now I can’t forget it. He also taught us how to power lift the word laughs gurule above our heads.

Anu Singh danced the rrrrromba in Tamil so now I know how to say “too much” in Turkish and in Tamil. Then Scotland’s new pride and joy – they don’t know it yet but they will – Jason Bond showed us how blasta/tasty things can be in Gaelic.

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Mark Knowles on WL Education

Sometimes I publish comments as articles. I do so because I think that sometimes we miss comments that are important. So this comment-turned-article is from Mark Knowles, Director of the Anderson Language and Technology Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. We have been working with Mark over recent years and will be working with him even more this year, so if you want to read more just click on the Mark Knowles category on the right side of this page. Why is this important? Because besides Dr. Robert Patrick in Atlanta, who teaches both in Gwinnett County Schools and also at the University of Georgia, as well as Birsen Tutunis at Istanbul Aydin Üniversitesi and only a handful of others (we need a list), we have precious few scholars worldwide who embrace what we do. In his comments, Mark addresses this and other topics:

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Traditionally Trained Kids – 4

This is a repost from 2013 that fits in with the thread started this morning by Wileen and John about teaching traditionally trained kids:

Q. In your new book you mentioned the agony in trying to use TPRS with the kids who have been trained by worksheets and memorization. However, you didn’t mention what you do instead to teach them. Any ideas?

A. There are posts on this. Teachers in this group respond in different ways. I advocate doing about ten minutes a day of CI, just doing some low grade talking to them, and then teaching traditionally the rest of the time.

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Traditionally Trained Kids – 3

John concludes sharing his thoughts on how to work with upper level kids we get from traditional classrooms:

All my best efforts I’ll save for the first year students, and let the word of mouth filter up. 3rd year students may see a stuffed animal or prop in the classroom and ask: what’s that? I’ll respond: “oh nothing, just some fun stuff I do with Latin 1. You don’t want to do that, do you? Now let’s get back to our serious work.” If they end up begging for it, I might do it for 5 minutes with them at the end of class, and let it grow from there, but only after they’ve made it clear that they want it.

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Traditionally Trained Kids – 2

John continues his response to Wileen’s question about inheriting non-CI trained upper level kids from other classrooms:

I really think reading is the bridge between traditional inherited classes and CI. If they are looking at a big readings and doing lots of work with it, students will think they are doing serious work. Conversely, if we do too much spoken work with these students, or make it appear less rigorous, they will be less likely to take us and the class seriously. I am taking the traditional textbook, selecting the best stories from that text, and creating as many embedded readings as I can. These I will use for Latin 1 and 2, and for 3 review at the beginning of the year.

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Traditionally Trained Kids – 1

Wileen asked this question in a comment earlier this morning:

…I am teaching all third-year classes in the fall (well, in two weeks), and they are all coming from more traditional classroom environments. Do you have suggestions in how to test the waters and for how long before resorting to traditional methods?….

I have suggested that we avoid making them change to what we do and focus on our younger kids. But John (Piazza) gives a much more thought out answer:

I am thinking about this a lot as well, as I come into a very traditional super high acheiving Latin program. For 3rd year, rather than making speeches and trying to convince them to enjoy fun activities, I am planning to make reading — CI reading — a huge part of the curriculum, with quick quizzes, comprehension, grammar and vocab quizzes, translation tests, dictation, etc. They will know that it’s rigorous, but they will be getting a whole lot of CI. I will also have them do composition work emulating the different genres, writing their own letters, poems, aphorisms, etc. Even if this production doesn’t help them with acquisition, it will tell them that I’m a serious teacher who knows his stuff, and has high expectations of excellence, blah blah. Projects? Why not? It’s what they are used to, and as long as I don’t have to do more work, I’ll let them do and present their projects to the class.

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Circling with Balls Q and A – 2

Q.  In Circling with Balls, what do you do if there are five kids in the same class who play basketball?

A. This has happened to me. I just make each one of them the best player in their region. I can teach geographical expressions that way. Each athlete has a region or a maybe a country that they are the best in. Connecting a place to a student is a powerful aspect of the overall personalization process that we use in comprehension based instruction.

Another thing is to compare the five players to major stars in real life, but never with each other. Leonard who plays basketball better than Tim Duncan is the best player in the Western Conference of the NBA and Landen, a guard, plays better than Eastern Conference guard Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets. Leonard is the best player in the West and Landen is the best player in the East. Leonard is never better than Landen; students in any activity are always better than someone not in class. You can see, just from the above discussion about only two students who play basketball, how rich the discussion can become very quickly, with so many facts that you could spend a week just talking about those five basketball players. It would be a good use of time.

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Circling with Balls Q and A – 1

Since many of us will be starting the new academic year with the Circling with Balls activity, I present some additional information about it in this next series of posts in the form of questions and answers:

Q. Should advanced students I am getting next year from a traditional teacher be spoken to in the Circling with Balls activity in more complicated tenses since they already knew the present tense, and what would that look like?

A. Students consider the present and the past and really all verb tenses as not different in terms of difficulty. Once they know that a certain sound means a certain thing, that’s it. There are no levels of difficulty in comprehension based instruction – there is only how fast we speak and how clear the message is in context. We as grammar teachers made up the idea that complex verb tense are more difficult. For proof of that statement, look to how small children learn complex grammar all the time. Nothing is harder or easier to understand in the target language for beginners as long as they know what it means, so in comprehensible input we teach grammar by just saying what it means. That’s all they need to know.

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Repairing Classes

I got this question:

Hi Ben:

I will have 48 8th graders this year that I did some CI instruction with last year but with whom I also used the textbook (I caved!). How would you suggest I approach this returning group as opposed to my fresh batch of 60 7th graders?

They liked the stories at first, but I went way too fast and did not establish the meaning of the structures well enough. I also had too many structures, was too concerned about being entertaining, and jumped in too quickly with the stories (I used the prepared stories in the Blaine Ray book, as I had just done in his 3 day workshop with Katya Paukova).

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Educreation Samples/Comment on Less Use of Novels in Beginning CI Classes

I had mentioned earlier the Educreation website that Chris brought to us this week from Kristen. Here is a sample story in Latin from John:

John says about it:

…I made this in about 5 minutes, only because the drawings took me so long to make. That’s what a terrible artist I am….

Remember that we had said that it fits perfectly as a fourth mega-effective job for kids to add to the three most important jobs for kids (of 59 – see Jobs for Kids): the story writer, the quiz writer and the story artist.

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iFLT Wrap Up

This wrap up represents about .01% of what happened this week. Much was accomplished as the trust grew by day and hourly and with each new friendship.

I apologize to the PLC members for no video from the week. In our defense, we were literally so intent on the work that we would have forgotten any cameras in the room anyway, and, really to the point, what we were doing could never have been even remotely captured on film.

We learned about educreations, a major new import from Canada (Kristin Duncan via Chris Stoltz and thank you both). I will contact Blaine on Monday about making sure it gets plenty of attention at NTPRS because it is just the very coolest new idea in the past five years, up there only with jGR. Yes, it equals or even surpasses jGR in the classroom kick ass factor.

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Stepping Stones to Stories Update

In a recent article* I offered those who bought Stepping Stones in 2013 a free ecopy of the 2014 (second) edition of that book. Now at the end of iFLT I have to ask for another few weeks before I send those ebooks out. Why?

Because working with everybody in the War Room generated new specific and concrete strategies that Carly Robinson wrote down that I cannot leave out of this book before I call it finished. (Thank you Carly and thank you for that great courageous work this week it was awesome on 47 levels.)

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War Room Report – Wednesday Morning

We are just developing this coaching model so we need to refine it each day. Here are some of the things that we are learning about this model. By the way, it’s wonderful to finally meet people we have known only through their internet voices. This is a very happy time.

1. The use of the (Jobs for Kids) professeurs 1 and 2 has come up a lot in the work so far. I had never really noticed how often teachers get stuck between whether the house is red or blue, causing a kind of interruption of the flow of the questioning. Asking a student (le professeur) to just say either red or blue and getting out of the lull in the question in a matter of seconds is a fantastic way to not lose the flow of the questioning. Was it chill who suggested that in yesterday’s first session? I know John asked the question but who answered it? Brilliant answer and a good example of how we can work together to make this coaching model work. Then when Joe was teaching last night he applied this technique with Louisa Walker and got through the speed bump in about three seconds. It was the way the Professeur technique was meant to work! So that is one thing we have learned so far, is how important the professeur is.

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Stepping Stones to Stories

Last June (2013), in preparation for the San Diego iFLT Conference, I tried to slam together a book called Stepping Stones to Stories. I didn’t think much about it – my main goal was to take some of the best ideas from the PLC from 2013, like jGR, and get them out there. Then, since we again came up with more new ideas that were really good here this past year in 2014, I have, for the past few weeks, been rewriting the 2013 version of that book. Rereading the 2013 version of that book and freshening it up made me realize how bad the first version was. The 2014 version is pretty good. In it are ideas from the blog here actually going back seven years. Undoubtedly we will come up with more new ideas in 2015 and a third version may appear next summer, perhaps along with an update of TPRS in a Year! and/or PQA in a Wink!, but those may not happen until 2016 or even later, depending on how lazy I am. So, if anyone who has the 2013 version of Stepping Stones wants a free ebook version of that book, just let me know at and I will send it to you. However, I need another few weeks to complete it since so many new ideas have arrived with the conferences. So please give me until mid-August to get these ebooks out to those who bought the earlier version. You will see that this new 2014 version of the book is much more clear and strong than the 2013 version.. I think it’s the best thing I have written and I have been wanting to write it for a long time, to get all the stuff we’ve been doing here over past years finally into one place!

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Rides Into Denver Tomorrow

I am most concerned about the evening arrivals – that’s the biggest hassle – tomorrow so they have priority. I’m thinking of Joe, Annemarie and John. Anyone else arriving in the evening?

Also I am getting chill and Kristy and a few others at 10:00 a.m. The afternoon looks weird – John at 1:00, then Louisa at 3:00 then Chris at 4:00. Carly and Angie you said you are all set I think but call if you need to. I will wait to hear from you afternoon guys. I’ll be at North HS so just call and I’ll come out.

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War Room Process

I used to think that I wasn’t good enough. It just seemed as if there were so many more talented people around me and so when I tried to do something, like run or play basketball or get good grades, I wasn’t as good as them and so, being a child, I drew the conclusion that I wasn’t good enough. I was o.k. but there always seemed to be someone better.

On the off chance that any of our PLC members coming into the War Room next week are feeling this way as well, having drawn the same conclusions that I did growing up, I offer this advice:

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Chicago NTPRS War Room Update

The Denver War Room is full but the Chicago War Room has one spot left. Sean and I will be organizing it there. We plan to work later in the day, into the evening perhaps, so that people can get to their sessions during the day. Email me at if you want in. Limit is 15. Remember, we want only PLC people in those War Rooms because they understand the dialogue and acronyms here. For more information on what a War Room is, see

Already in are:

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iFLT on Monday

I was talking with Brian Cass Peck in Detroit and want to put this out there. Since the conference starts on Tuesday I don’t know what is happening on Monday except that I am doing some schlepping from the airport in the a.m. (If you need a ride let me know in the comment fields below – maybe we can save some shuttle fees), and I also need to get to the school to set up my War Room stuff. So let’s play it by ear. But for those arriving earlier on Monday maybe we could at least get together for lunch and maybe even conduct a War Room session. It seems a waste to all be there on Monday and then not do anything.

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Afterword to Stepping Stones to Stories

I have really enjoyed this break. We should do something like this every June. I haven’t taken a break like this since the blog started in 2007. Besides going to Portland, I have been working intensely on a rewrite of Stepping Stones to Stories, which needed it. I will send ecopies of the new book out to anyone who requests them who bought the old book ( It will be done in a week.

The French conference starts today in Agen. That is cool. Only good things will come from that conference. Then the Denver iFLT conference happens on the 14th. Krashen is here on the 10th. Then the National TPRS conference happens the week of the 21st. We are going to be busy! I am going to lay low for another week, then start releasing some more articles from the queue that are directed at helping us get ready for next year. I am working with Diana to get some video of both Denver and Chicago War Rooms to share here.

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Here is a tutorial that Sean created for us on how to put a flag in our state or country on our “PLC Map “so we can know where each other is:

5-Step Tutorial to Access Ben Slavic’s Members Locations Map:

1) Access the map at

2) Register by clicking on “Sign In/ Register”, a link you’ll find at the upper right-hand corner of the map.

3) Add your location by clicking on the “Additions” blue tab. Scroll and click on “Add Marker – Simple” or “Add Marker – Detailed” depending on how much info you’d like to add. Clicking on the details tab allows you to add media, say something about yourself, etc. It’s real easy to change your color on your pin. You simply click on your pin, then click on your name, then a window with a “Marker” tab comes up. In the “Marker” tab you can change your color.

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Krashen Let The Cat Out Of The Bag

This post originally appeared here five years ago:

How could I have believed that Dr. Krashen’s work is anything but the best way on which to base my teaching of language? I spent 24 years teaching AP French Language and Literature using the old way and it totally sucked, but in my defense I had never heard of Krashen’s work before I met Susan Gross in 2001.

Prior to that year, my kids never made any real gains towards actual fluency (that is the keyword in the discussion about methods) because I wasn’t using the language in the classroom. I was merely talking about the language during those long and completely frustrating years. Horrible years.

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Break Time

I need some time to add some of the stuff we have been talking about into Stepping Stones to Stories for the summer conferences as new chapters. I am going to Portland tomorrow. So I will take a break from the blog and see you all in about ten days.

It’s good to take a break. We need a break. It’s been an intense year. We have accomplished a lot. For those who want, there are years of articles and comments. You can use the search bar or read in the categories or on the Forum.

I’ll probably check in from time to time in the next few weeks, but I am going to try to rest as well. It’s not something I do easily, as this work is so compelling. Y’all rest too! If not in June, when? Another year will be here soon enough anyway, so we might as well rest now.

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Interesting Thread

There is an interesting thread over on the Forum. You may want to check it out: