You may want to read this if you still use Circling as a TPRS/CI tool. It engages the mind in thinking about the pattern and CI is about disengaging the mind and making acquisition a completely unconscious process.
Circling was invented by someone in Blaine Ray’s circle (not exactly sure who it was, maybe Blaine himself) around 2004. I was in the front row of a training here in Denver that summer when he unveiled it.
It seemed to make sense at the time. The problem is that it conflicted with the research.
The research – over 30 years of it – showed that the most important element in making CI work was interest, not repetition. That is why Krashen called his method the Natural method, and not the Repetition method.
The idea of getting reps (via Circling) etc. in my opinion has been mismanaged by the experts, who thought that they had to take a structure or something that comes up in a story and repeat it, repeat it, repeat it in various ways before going on to something new. This intense repetition of a word or structure in real time during a story became quickly boring once the kids figured out the pattern.
Here are the points I would like to make on this topic:
1. After the first rep of the structure, if the kids understood it, a gradual decline in interest happened, just as it would in any L1 conversation. The kids don’t care about reps, they want to know what happens. To test this idea, start using Circling to speak to someone near you right now.
2. So Circling made me think that my job in my CI classroom was to teach “ran” to the class as a structure, because it was in some list that my students would be tested on. The actual fact was that I merely needed to communicate with my students to fulfill the Standard.
3. So, if the story was about a girl running to the post office, the class would hear “Class, the girl ran to the post office!” Then they would all say “Oh!” like they were interested (even though half of them didn’t understand and only said “Oh!” because I told them to, not because they understood.
4. Then I would say “Class, did the girl run to the post office?” (Yes!) and a few bright kids in the class would start to think “I know that since you just said it!” And the borefest would begin.
5. Then I would say, “Class, did the girl run to the post office or the school?” I’m thinking, “Look how clever I am getting all these repetitions on what I want them to learn!” but the kids are thinking “This is getting boring. My teacher keeps saying the same thing over and over!”
6. Then eventually the heads would start dropping on the desk and the hoodies would start to go up and the phones would come out, not because the kids are shitty kids but because they were being bored. All they wanted was to know what was going to happen!
7. So just stay on the story line and do not circle. Keep in mind that your desire to get lots of reps on a structure is not consistent with the research and thus should be avoided. It’s a teacher thing and if, over the past 15 years here sharing thoughts about language teaching with each other, we haven’t learned that the very concept of “teaching a language” is not consistent with the research (we can only provide comprehensible input), then we need to rethink how we use the research to inform our teaching.
8. Does this mean that the reps won’t happen in the non-targeted form of comprehensible input that I push on this site? Of course not. But – instead of short rapid reps happening all in a group during the story – they happen in vast amounts over more time during the Phase 4 reading options.
That stretching the reps out over time instead of in little bursts as happens in Circling hits deeper. That’s the big point of this article – that yes, we can get massive amounts of reps around the Star but NOT via the sadness and predictability of circling.
9. To repeat – the big difference between Circling and the way I get reps on the Star is that the reps when Circling is used occur in a short period of time (about 30 seconds) during the story whereas when the Star Sequence is used they (the reps) all occur during the reading phase but are spread out over 11 different activities (my reading options), and I have designed the Star with the “big deal” part of it being the Reading phase.
That is the way CI works – the kids hear it and understand the message and then they read it and bam! – they acquire. (Note: the last sentence is the most important thing I’ve ever learned about CI in 20 intense years of thinking about it 24/7.)
10. The kids in the class only want to know what happened at the post office! So a big-ass conflict happens in any class where Circling is used. The teacher wants one thing (to repeat the structure) and the class wants another thing (to know what happened).
11. Circling has therefore derailed the very intent and purpose of TPRS over the past fifteen years, gutting its effectiveness and making teachers think that CI is more hard to do than it really is. The research says nothing about getting reps and everything about sharing what happened to keep the kids’ interest high.