I always try to remember to expand on stuff. If I am working with Three Ring Circus, I remember to ask, after the kids sit down, where the events happened, or other details. I expand on the details via more and varied circled questions. Each time I add a detail, I circle some more, but not to where it gets boring. If one of the questions gets a good, creative, bizarre response, I explore that. I remember that comprehensible input is easy as long as I keep leading the questioning into more and more bizarre details. That is what Blaine calls teaching students how to “play the game”.
I know that if the students get into providing silly answers to my questions (it is my job to train them into that now, not later in stories), then the ground will be prepared for good stories later. Bizarre PQA. That’s what it is. As soon as it fades in interest, I go to another kid’s card, or to another word from the list of wall words I am establishing in their minds, and just PQA it and expand on things with rich and varied circling, going for bizarre answers.
If three words from my word wall list for Aug/Sept. are yells, shows, and cries, and Billy has been yelling softly at the door, and Jena has been showing the window in the back of the room to Frank, and Aidan has been crying rapidly near the window, then I have a wealth, hours worth, of questions that I can ask:
Class, is Billy crying? (circle that)
Class, is Frank showing Jena the window? (circle that)
Class, is Aidan crying or yelling? (circle that)
As things expand via added-in new details, the Three Ring Circus becomes extended PQA, and I learn to go with which sentences have energy. I allow all of this PQA to be non-targeted. If I target it, the class instantly loses interest and energy. Why would I want to do that?
Eventually, Aidan might end up, via the circling, crying rapidly on Jena’s shoulder, while Jena cries with him. We never know where things are going to go. A big key to this, of course, is to use words already taught from the big word list, which were originally Blaine’s 64 words. That way, the kids easily understand what they are hearing, as long as we are going slowly enough.
Now for an interesting point of syntax. I don’t think that Krashen, when he says non-targeted CI, means that we can’t have a starting point (the wall words, whatever, even three structures from a story). This is just my hit on it, but I think that he means that we can start from anything and then, as the CI unfolds in natural fashion, we then don’t laboriously try to corral the CI into a certain direction around certain curricularly chosen, pre-arranged, sets of words, which really sucks. I hope the difference is clear, and, of course, this is what I see, not necessarily what he means.
When the kids hear words they have been working on for weeks repeated over and over in interesting and bizarre ways, they begin to get the language, and the ground for stories becomes more richly prepared each day.
The main thing I try to enforce on myself is no English. Yes, I write the English down using the superfine TPRS skill of Point and Pause, if needed, if they ask with the fist hitting the hand, but I never use English to explain French. If I do that, I am sending my students the strong message that French isn’t that important, and they don’t really have to listen very carefully, because, in their minds, if they don’t get it, they become disastrously trained into thinking that I will just give them the English. Using spoken English in a TPRS class to clarify meaning is a very very counterproductive thing to do. It undermines all we are working for. Note the monumental difference in doing that and in clarifying meaning through Point and Pause – because Point and Pause clarifies meaning in written form, it therefore does not interfere with the bodacious acoustic brain activity that is going on in our class when we stay in L2 the whole time.
P.S. Which is better: non-targeted, naturally occurring, randomly created, comprehensible input, or memorized, targeted, pre-planned, and rote comprehensible input?