It's All Gravy

The Circling with Balls activity (this site/resources/workshop handouts), is an excellent way to begin the year in first year classes because it addresses both the personalization piece and the establishment of the rules piece (see this site/posters for the most current version of the rules that I have developed over the years).
By getting to know the kids’ names, and by immediately laying down firm guidelines for how we will run our class that year, we create, in the first few moments of the year, a strong foundation for our CI based class. Discipline and personalization can then interweave themselves throughout the year in our Krashen based program in much the same way as the banks of a river keep it from overflowing.
Believe it or not, as simple as the Circling with Balls activity is to us, it is not that simple to them. Therefore, before actually beginning with the Circling with Balls activity, on the very first day of class, I do a very simple TPR roll calling activity in the very first class to prime the pump for the Circling with Balls activity. Here is how this activity works:
I take four specific structures (listed below) and mix them with calling roll in the beginning of my level one classes. We thus get two things done at the same time: 1) we learn their names and 2) we teach them the CI game via TPR.
First we teach the structures (this is done with the structures on the board and in English):
on se lève/one stands up*
on s’assied/one sits down*
[for French teachers: I have always used the third person form “on” in TPR situations. Doing so relieves later sound identification confusion with the second person “vous” form, and, much more importantly, gives immediate practice in the “on” form, so commonly used in French and yet so typically ignored in most non-CI based programs]
When the expressions are taught, we tell the whole class to stand up (no more English is used from now on in class, except to explain the rules at each infraction – they are always modeled, never “taught”). Then, with all of the students standing, we call roll, but we do it in the target language, by giving a TPR command to each kid. So, if the first kid is Alex:
Classe, Alex s’assied!/Class, Alex sits down!
You look up from calling roll and clearly see the only person who is in the act of sitting down. You say to yourself, “That’s Alex!” and make any association you can in that moment to remember his name.
Knowing that kid’s name is what you are all about right now. It is far more important than teaching the language. They don’t want to know if you are a good teacher. They don’t want to know what the class is about. They want to know if you know their name. The next kid on the roll is Sophia:
Classe, Sophia s’assied rapidement!/Class, Sophia sits down quickly!
As Sophia sits down, you have had a few moments to totally focus on putting the name with the face. The rest of the kids are waiting – they wonder what their command will be. Throw them a few curves with the TPR. Mix things up. The next kid is David:
Classe, David ne s’assied pas!/Class, David doesn’t sit down!”
(If they’ve never heard the negative structure, go to the board – Point and Pause technique – and teach it. Point and pause at anything new, but really minimize new stuff.)
To us, this is so easy. If it is not almost painfully slow for us, then we are going too fast. To them, this is big time stuff. They are making internal decisions about their ability to succeed in your class right now.
Those decisions can never be changed after about those first three days. After the first three days are over, the dye is cast. They will either think that they can do it or, if you have gone too fast and made the colossal mistake of allowing the fast processors (notice I didn’t say smart kids) to take over the classroom, you can hang it up. You only get one chance to give them the confidence they need – and it is in the first three days of class. The work they are doing in decoding in these days is far more difficult for them than we can every believe or appreciate. Bottom line? – we keep everything totally SLOW.
Stick to the four words, the two verbs and the two adverbs. Make up various combinations of them, sometimes making the sentence negative. Do not make this hard by adding new words! Different kids get different commands. If the commands repeat, so what? They haven’t heard them enough. You could call roll the entire class period for two classes in a row and it would still be new to them.
With this activity we are doing the two really important things we should be doing in the first days of class – we are learning their names (it is so much easier to see who they are when they physically sit down from the group as opposed to when they are just sitting in their desks), and the other thing we are doing is that we are using ultra simple structures that are easy for them to decode, which builds their confidence.
When their confidence goes up, because all of them are getting it easily, our own confidence goes up. We begin to like our students because they can do it. They begin to like us because they can do it. There are no stupid people in our class. The four percenters are just regular folks in this scenario. There is no invisible jockeying for the teacher’s favor when we do this. In this way we learn to teach democratically, as well as address the ugliest monster of all, the Achievement Gap.
When they leave class – and this is a very important follow up part of this activity – I get right to the door and make sure that I say each of their names as they file past me and, in English, I say to each one: “How’d I do?” “Did you understand?” “Did I go slowly enough?” “Remember, if you don’t understand it is totally my fault.” “I am responsible for your success as long as you try.” “Did I do O.K.?” “I’m really glad that you got it today!”
Nobody gets out without at least a simple “yes” response, said to my eyes. They can’t get to their next class without this contact. There is a bit of a logjam at the door, but I don’t care. It is worth it.
When they acknowledge that I went slowly enough, I feel really good. I feel like I made myself understood to them. That’s what I am supposed to do. My job is to get to know them and build inclusion in my classes and speak slowly enough so that they understand.
From that point on, it’s all gravy.



7 thoughts on “It's All Gravy”

  1. I would be interested in what folks have the students draw on their cards for levels 3 + 4. I had heard level one is an activity, level 2 something they are afraid of (this is a HOME run – it works SO well for me) and three “I am special because” – I don’t like this one. Is anyone doing anything different?
    Also, I would be very interested in hearing about what personal and departmental goals folks are setting if anyone felt comfortable sharing….

  2. I’m planning to do this circling with pictures idea the first days of school with kids drawing a picture of someplace (real or imaginary) they went during the summer. We’re then getting lots of reps on “went” and flushing out who they went with, how they got there, etc… I think I’ll do other drawings like what they like to do – and what they are scared of (like that idea!) – later in the year. Thoughts anyone?

  3. I had a generous helping of gravy today and thought I’d share! I had to run down to the office for something during my prep and I passed classes of silent kids, heads resting on hands, listening to teachers talking about what the year will look like. they’ve been listening for two days. we didn’t go there this year in my classes. i’m so excited about this. who knew we could let that stuff go and not feel as though they are missing something?
    i started off with some vocab for “who is here” who isn’t here…george clooney, sadly, wasn’t here. attendance done and a little taste of my teaching style. someone drooped for a sec and i drew their attention to the rule 4. why????? I asked…and I demonstrated me drooping, they laughed, rule addressed and pleasantly to boot. done. BONUS…they noticed the rest of the rules….. we talked about getting to the bathroom and how they didn’t have a prayer unless they asked in french, and we gestured and played around with the vocab for that. more vocab taught…woo hoo.
    i’m collecting fees so we talked about who had 25 cents for me. they “learned” 25, has, cents, who (I thought “for me” was pushing it so didn’t go there). with the grade 9’s I snuck in the past tense.
    then the gravy (I thought) i handed out the notebooks and we got started on the questionaire. i didn’t bother with drawing. as i was walking around, amidst their excited chatter in english (gulp, oh well), the thought came to me…this is all about them! and they love it! i told them that the seating plan is up to them in one sense, that i was using this week to decide who could and couldn’t make good use of their time where they were seated. we talked about the “intent to understand” for about a minute. done. one of the questions was “an unusual talent or ability i have (however strange)…I looked across the room to see M showing a group of boys how he can levitate . . .
    we wrote a quiz, so they could understand the procedure…almost all of them scored 5/5 and there was a happy buzz in the air as we practised handing in the papers under 30 seconds. I heard one young man (a sparkler i think) say, I love this class!
    walking up the hall past classes of silent kids and teachers talking so seriously about rules and lesson plans I smiled to myself. we managed to jump right over all that and into our first lessons and the kids somehow get the idea of what is to come, what to do and not do, how to learn in this class. a miracle.
    tomorrow we’ll be circling with balls, more words up on the board. a little TPR a quiz….what a great way to start the year. i can hardly wait to see what they wrote and to get to know them. the gravy runneth over .

  4. You got into the moment. You didn’t feel like the lesson plan for that day was more important than those little episodes of impromptu personalized questions. Once they know they can play and make you laugh they start to make up goofier and goofier reasons why the kid isn’t there. The uphill CI road is suddenly pointing downhill. They’re so funny. “He’s absent because …”. The possibilities are many. All we have to do is norm the rules and be so slowly clear with them that they know that they won’t be left out. So what if it takes the entire class? Those other teachers took the entire class in English! Thanks Lynn. If anybody wants detailed descriptions of some of the stuff Lynn is referencing above, find them at handouts.

  5. I love the way the class has been personalized this way. The cards may not have been used all that much in my first year class but whenever they were people learned. It is interesting when we talk about ourselves even when what we say isn’t true. I think the one time that stands out the most was when we talked about one of us who was afraid of a coconut, “Hannah a peur a la coconut? Oui, Hannah a peur a la coconut parce que la coconut est tre grande et tre grosse.” Good times, good times. The books we read could never have the same affect as a class hard wired on laughter talking about a scary coconut. That is just too funny not to learn. That is why I love this system; it’s just all too great for words.
    IT WORKS!!!!

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