Circling With Balls
Section 1: Video links:
Section 2: Materials needed to do Circling with Balls
1. The Circling with Balls Template side A
2. The Circling with Balls Template side B
3. The Classroom Rules Poster
4. The articles below
(Get the posters for free - click here)
Section 3: Two Articles to Further Explain Circling with Balls
Circling with Balls 1 – The Process
Each student has a sheet of colored card stock folded in half lengthwise with a line down the middle lengthwise. (I use a different color for each class.) On one of the halves the students write their first names clearly in large letters on the right side, and next to it, on the left, they draw a picture of a sport or musical instrument they play. The other half lengthwise is blank.
They place that in front of themselves so that as I walk around the classroom I can see their names (they have to be written in very large letters) and what they have chosen to share.
The background on this is that I created this activity while teaching in a middle school, and I noticed that many, if not most, students drew pictures of sports balls. It’s definitely a middle school thing.
But it doesn’t matter. The kids can of course draw something that they enjoy doing, like reading. Anything that they want to put on their card is fine. Call it Circling with Cards if you want. This is not a CI activity biased towards kids who do sports.
Anything that personalizes and allows us to focus on the rules in our classrooms and just talk about the kids is fair game. We must first do those two things for our fluency programs to work.
For the next several days, I just walk around the room, expressing authentic interest in each student while engaging them in conversation in the target language about the images they have provided for class discussion, using the powerful tool of Circling to make that happen.
As I walk around, I notice that Casey has drawn a volleyball next to her name. I say:
Classe, Casey joue au volley!
Next, I go to the board and write:
joue au volley - plays volleyball
Then I begin a series of circled repeated questions based on the original statement. While making these statements, I ask the class to respond to each one in some way, as indicated below in parentheses. Just this one circling cycle below should take 3 or 4 minutes, by the way. We must learn to go so slowly that it is painful for us; then the kids can understand:
Statement: Class, Casey plays volleyball! (ohh!)
Question: Class, does Casey play volleyball? (yes)
Either/Or: Class, does Casey play volleyball or does Casey play soccer? (volleyball)
That's right, class, Casey plays volleyball! (ohh!)
Negative: Does Casey play soccer? (no) No, class, Casey doesn’t play soccer. She
plays volleyball! (ohh!)
3 for 1: Class, does Casey write novels? (no) That's right class, that's ridiculous,
Casey doesn't write novels! She plays volleyball.
Who: Class, who plays volleyball? (Casey!) Correct, class, Casey plays volleyball.
If our goal is to get to know the kids and norm the classroom by teaching the rules at this crucial point in the year, then we are now in a perfect situation to do those things.
By thus starting the first class of the year in the target language, I send many messages to my students:
By asking the kids to do this on the first day of class, I send them the very clear, and, for them, quite novel, message that their interests, and not a textbook, are going to be the subject of the class.
By speaking only in French, I am sending the message that French, not English, is the language that we will be focusing on in class this year.
By slowly circling in the first minutes of the first class of the year, I send the message that slow circling will be the rule in my classroom all year. I am also sending the message that it is my job to make my message clear, and that all they have to do is sit back and listen.
By taking time to stop and laugh if something is funny, at the expense of no one, I am sending the message that we will have fun and laugh in my class this year.
By laser pointing to the Classroom Rules at each use of English or head down, etc. by a student, I send the messages that we have strict rules and consequences in this class that will be enforced. Thus, I guarantee my own safety in terms of classroom discipline for the entire year.
By requiring that my students react when I state something, I send the message that everything I say is totally fascinating to them, and that it is their job to show me that. I make it clear that they have 50% of the responsibility in class, and that, since they don’t yet speak in the TL, they will do the hardest work of listening first while I get to gab away.
By praising them at every turn, I am sending the message that they will not be criticized on even the smallest level in my class this year, and that any hostile or controlling personality they may have brought with them as protection won’t be needed.
By making constant eye contact with each of them, I send the message that this is a different way to learn and that I care if they are learning and that they count more than a book.
By giving a five minute quiz at the end of the class, I am sending the message that they will be assessed often in the form of short quizzes at the end of each class.
By choosing yes/no quiz questions that are reasonable and straightforward, I send the message that it is not my purpose to trick them on tests, but instead to grade them fairly. This motivates them.
By speaking French in such a simple and straightforward way in the first days of class, I build good will and ensure my students’ success, thus insuring myself against the October Collapse, which happens when the kids’ gas tanks of good will that were full in August are then empty because the teacher has insisted on teaching the language in an analytical and mechanical, thus boring, way.
A tip is to print the questionnaires on the back of the Circling with Balls cards. In one class, my eyes fell on "a name that you would like to be called and why” on that questionnaire – the student had written, "Her Majesty". This student’s full name actually became Her Majesty the Dancer, and I brought her into PQA and stories all year.
Building this kind of personalization into your program obviates the need to build interest in the class. It starts out interesting with the Circling with Balls activity and builds from there, because each class is about your students.
The kids can't wait until you get to their cards. After a while, they don't even notice that everything is in the target language, as per Dr. Stephen Krashen’s largely ignored statement that we learn languages when we are focused on the message and not the medium for its delivery.
Circling with Balls - A Note on Terminology
We use Point and Pause to introduce incidental non-targeted structures that occur during the Circling. We do not focus on them and we don’t test the kids on them – we are merely furthering the students’ comprehension so that we can blast away at the main structure – the information on the Circling with Balls cards.
Those incidental Point and Pause structures that we present in class can be called ”non-targeted” structures or vocabulary. Non-targeted structures may or may not be acquired by the students – we don’t care. Our focus is on the targeted structure, which, again, in the case of Circling with Balls, is each activity drawn on the card by each student. Again, we don’t test on Point and Pause non-targeted structures.
There is another term we could use – “net structures”. These are the even smaller, less noticeable parts of a sentence that get into the flow of the language because they belong there and are essential for the students to learn correct grammar, which is properly spoken language and not two dimensional as was thought in the past.
Net structures can’t be presented in a conscious, visual way like the non-targeted structures in Point and Pause, but they still occur and the kids still hear them and, eventually via repetition on a completely unconscious level, acquire them.
This is the way Krashen says it all works, unconsciously. For more on that idea, search the words “unconscious process” on this site.
Here is an example. We learn from looking at the cards that:
Randy plays soccer and Jane reads.
Now those cards, as per that last post here about a week ago on this topic, can be circled in a variety of ways like this:
Class, Randy plays soccer. (ohh!)
Does Randy play soccer? (yes)
Class, does Randy or the teacher play soccer? (Randy)
Correct, class, Randy plays soccer. (ahh!)
Does the teacher play soccer? (no)
Yes, class, the teacher plays soccer! (ohh!)
That’s right class, Randy plays soccer and the teacher plays soccer, but there is a problem! Randy plays better than the teacher! (hh!)
NNow, that last sentence has the one targeted structure (plays soccer), and then it has a few non-targeted structures that needed to be written on the whiteboard in both L2 and L1 as a Point and Pause for the students to be able to see it (better than, teacher, there is, problem), and then it had a few net structures that nobody noticed (the, a).
So, when we present comprehensible input, we must learn to focus when we speak on the big fish constantly (plays soccer), the medium size fish only incidentally via Point and Pause by writing them down (better than, teacher, there is, problem) and then completely ignoring the very small fish, leaving that part of acquisition to the students’ deeper minds which are always unconsciously trapping and processing everything in that process that we need to just stay out of (the, is, a).
We have to trust the net, as it were. It is a very tight net so nothing gets by – everything is all trapped. The net structures stick in the mind by a process that we can know nothing about. When we try to get involved with that process, we do so at great expense to our students’ confidence. There we are, rushing to explain everything in English and, even worse, testing them on net words, which is brutal.
We don’t trust the net and that is why we speak so much English, explaining everything in a way that is bewildering to our students, and yet who would acquire everything we say if we were to just let the unconscious mind alone process everything it heard that day by itself, that night in deep sleep, down there in the magical language factory of the unconscious mind.