Julie asks:

Hi Ben!

Not sure if I’ll get a response before next Tuesday when here, in Canada, we have our first day of school.  I’m really excited to get going in TPRS.

One question for now:  I’ve got the cardstock sheets double-sided for the personalized question/name and fave activity — but I’m wondering when you have the kids fill out the answers to all the questions. During the first week, should I have them answer a few/day so more time can be spent on the favourite activity circling?  During a 30-40 min class, it will be tough to personally chat about a lot of kids.  Also, I don’t want all that downtime of kids doing a survey.

I teach grades 1-8 — I will be doing this with all ages, but no formal reading and writing with the touts petits.  I’ve found great activities for them, though (making a big book / slide show of each super mini story for one).

I have so many more questions!! But I’m devouring all I can on your website, especially your workshop handouts.  Thanks for all your information!


My response:

I actually don’t “circle” anymore. I just ask the next logical question. Probably too big a topic for here.

As far as when the kids fill out the questionnaires, when I used them I waited until community and trust were there, a few weeks in, after we did the cards and some one word images. If you have them fill in the questionnaires right away in the first few days they invariably consider it just another chore given by a teacher and their responses are very sloppy and not thought out at all – it is because they fill out stuff like that in their classes all the time and no one takes what they write seriously so you have to wait. I don’t even do the questionnaires anymore just bc there is no time and they can really be an ocean to dive into. But for other, like Anne who invented them, they are the entire curriculum (see below) for the first half of the year or longer. I am happy now to just start the year w the cards and one word images.

And one other detail on the cards – only work w them five or ten minutes into each class. It gets boring and all you are doing then is using the cards to build community anyway, giving the kids the important message that school in this class will be about THEM, and referring to the Classroom Rules (esp. #2). You can work with the cards all year. Don’t try to get all the kids done right away. If they are done by Christmas that is an accomplishment right there. I just made a video on how to use those cards but it is not uploaded yet (it will be on

The questionnaires are discussed in a book I wrote -here is the text:

I recommend fitting Anne Matava’s Questionnaire onto the back of the Circling with Balls cards. This puts in one place, on one card, these two powerful personalization tools. Don’t forget to color code the card stock per class.

Downloadable versions of both cards can be found at on the posters page (TPRS Resources) for your use. Click on:

Circling With Balls Template – Side A Circling With Balls Template – Side B

Once, while looking at the reverse side of the CWB card, my eyes fell on A Name That You Wish You Could Have in response to which a shy student had written Her Majesty. Instead of just being a cardboard cutout in my class, this student suddenly and wonderfully became Her Majesty (back of card) Who Dances (front of card). I felt humbled to be able to call her that, and the effect was that a previously shy student took on a kind of regal air in class. This stuff happens in comprehension based classrooms.

So the questionnaire can bring important personalized details about a student into play much earlier than when we just circle with balls in the normal way.

If you learn that another student, Catherine, has two horses, whether it is true or not, you can develop it into all kinds of imaginative personalized comprehensible input over the course of the year to greatly strengthen Catherine as an important member of the class that year.

You could ask Catherine questions about the horses: which is bigger, what are their names, what color they are, which one runs faster, which one Catherine prefers, etc. You could make them really big or really small, teeny weeny horses. You could spend a week asking Catherine questions about those two horses – she would be happy to answer all of them.

If you are a middle school teacher, expect lots of horses and cats and dogs and narwhals that are rainbow colored and whose first names are usually Bob. If you can get past that, then the Circling with Balls activity is time well spent.


Think of the Circling with Balls cards and the questionnaires, when they are placed back to back on a piece of card stock, as a sort of foundation on which you can start your year building truly personalized and meaningful classes.

Below Anne describes how she uses her questionnaire at the beginning of the year:

“I feel strongly that the language in a story script should be, at the very least, familiar to the students and already part of their repertoire. In order to build that repertoire, I do not start the year with stories per se; rather, I work intensively with material provided in the students’ responses to questions on my questionnaire. I scan the questionnaires for an interesting piece of information and spin little scenes out of it. I choose one or two students to talk about each day. In this way, I cover structures such as likes, is, wants, goes, has, eats, and plays, in the first 6-8 weeks of school. This creates a body of acquired language from which we may begin working with story scripts. It also gives me a chance to get to know the students, and communicates to them that they are important in my class. Below is an example of what one such scene, circled out of the information that ‘Chris plays bass guitar’ and ‘Big Boy sings’.”

Chris plays bass guitar in a band. Big Boy sings in the band. The band is called “Mr. Rogers’ Band”. It is a gospel band. Big Boy sings in Pig Latin. The concert is in jail. Mini-Me is in jail because he is too short. Mini-Me cries and dances the Macarena.

I asked Anne to elaborate on the above:

Q. How long do scenes like that take to create?
A. That little scene probably took about one 40-minute period, very early in the year.
Q. Do you work with two kids per class like this for three academic weeks (15 classes x 2 kids)?
A. The two kids per class thing is not carved in stone. With music, it was easy to find two kids and put them in a band. When I talk about what someone likes to eat, for example, I might make it only about them. I don’t really know going in. Normally I start each class having chosen one fact about one kid from his questionnaire. Sometimes others get added in, sometimes they don’t. Three weeks is not long enough. It’s more like four to six weeks.
Q. In other scenes, do you get into more or less detail than in the scene you described above?
A. The amount of detail is about right. Maybe more as time passes.
Q. Is it possible to get a first silly name for a kid from this activity?
A. A silly name? I never thought about it. Why not?


Notice very importantly that Anne said this: “I don’t really know going in [what will happen].”

This is huge. The teacher who succeeds with comprehensible input must be willing to give up teaching a preset body of information (always boring to kids) and instead work with information that the kids make up (always interesting to them).

Anne concluded:

“I call the use of the questionnaires my first quarter curriculum. It’s easy to write a curriculum guide with it. Students will be able to tell where they live, how old they are, what they like, etc. Sounds just like the old textbook days, doesn’t it?”

What usually happens is that the students don’t initially take the questionnaires seriously because other teachers have made similar requests of them but never used them, but when the students realize that you really want to learn about them, they ask for their questionnaires back and you get back some really interesting information.

When that happens you can then use the questionnaires to their maximum effectiveness all year, and you will know that your classroom is well on its way to becoming a strongly personalized classroom. Your interest in them sparks their interest in each other.

The kids can’t wait until you get around to them, to their cards and questionnaires, so make sure you talk about each one of them before going on to stories later in the fall! At least mention those kids who are painfully shy. They aren’t so shy as to want to be excluded from the group!

Of course, all along, the students don’t even consciously notice that everything is in the target language, as per Krashen’s statement that only when the mind of the student is focused on the meaning and not on the individual words can real acquisition happen.





3 thoughts on “Question”

  1. I think I might get them to fill in the questionnaire after 6 weeks of school. It might be a fun thing to use for an activity like Vedette de la Semaine/du Jour later on.

    I started out with calendar and weather (found a good package on Teachers Pay Teachers) and cards about what they like (and with the older kids, what they’re afraid of). I’ve just finished them and we’ve done a Write & Discuss about them. I’m thinking of doing other cards later on with a different topic.

    I highly recommend reading Ben and Tina ‘s A Natural Approach to Stories or some of their Bite-Size Books. They’re awesome!

  2. Yeah, I couldn’t ever get the questionnaire thing off and running. I found it too much info for me to handle. In fact, I could never get through all the activity cards (or Circle with Balls cards) if I had more than 20 students in a class. Oops! I get going on a good card with a good image and run with it for some 10 minutes. At this rate, I get to half the class over the span of a few weeks. Then the interest fades.

    Instead of having students fill in a questionnaire, which is too much to handle for me, my plan is to have students draw an image every month or two on a card, but instead of a favorite activity I’ll ask them to draw an image that represents a job they have, cycle through those, then another month or two later, a superpower, cycle through those, and another month or two a pet they’d like to have… and continue until the end of the year.

    1. That’s a great idea. I was already thinking today, “Man, won’t this get boring after one more class?” I have three classes with 28 kids and there’s no way I will get around to personalizing well for all. Thanks.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben