Role of Circling in PQA

There is a false impression about Circling in the minds of many who practice TPRS. They think that Circling is about following a pattern in order to get repetitions on a word/structure so that the student can, by hearing the word/structure repeated in that way, acquire it. This is false.
That repetitive order of questioning that we call Circling has a deeper, much more effective, signifcance and purpose than merely focusing on the form of the process. What is it? It is the focusing on meaning over the form.
The real role of Circling in PQA is to enable the student to focus on the meaning of the word/structure being circled. After all, focusing on meaing and not form in PQA, in speech in general, is the actual and real purpose of language – to communicate ideas. That is the real purpose of language.
And we know that language that is devoid of meaning is 100% boring to the listenter. So we must set about, this year, in the PQA that we are doing in our classes, to really inject some emotion, but not false emotion, into each and every statement that we decide to turn into a series of quesions via Circling.
Krashen says that robots don’t converse. Then why would we be robotic in our speech (by focusing on the Circling process and not the personalization and fun and quid pro quo with the kids that is the real purpose of PQA?
The entire process that we call comprehensible input is about focusing on meaning. That is one of the truly important conclusions that we in TPRS have drawn from Krashen’s work – we focus on the meaning and not the words used to convey the meaning. If we want our kids to focus on the meaning of what we say, then why wouldn’t we ourselves focus on the meaning of what we are saying as well?
This point is of supreme importance if we are truly to understand the role of Circling in PQA. Our success in PQA requires that we do exactly the same that that we want our students to do. If we don’t focus on the meaning of what we say, then how can they?
Of course, this requires a change of heart, a rather dramatic one for teachers who have been taught that teaching is a thing of the mind. Nonetheless, if we want the PQA that we are doing now (which is the bedrock of everything we will do with stories later) then a change of focus from the mind to the heart when we teach is required.
If we want our PQA to have that spark, that mojo that we sometimes experience what the PQA is really crackling and moving in the classroom, then we must give up that more robotic mental kind of Circling and adapt a form of Circling that is much more centered in the heart, in feeling and, most especially, a feeling of deep respect, a kind of awe, for the fact that the person does what they do, real or imagined.
Yes, I mean that word awe. We have lost our feeling of awe for each other. We see each other as “just there”. We say the word “awesome” all the time, but it doesn’t mean anything. We have lost that sense of deep appreciation for each other. We don’t know how to talk to each other, and appreciate each other, when, ironically, the one thing that our students crave most is to be appreciated.
This year I have a welterweight boxer who spends all of his time in the gym around Federal and Kentucky in Denver, not exactly one of the best neighborhoods in Denver, one of those city kids who is going to try to fight his way out of poverty. He told me on the way out of class two days ago that he is going to quit his job in order to come to school and box, but for the next few weeks, until he quits his job, he “may be a little tired”.
No shit. I would be tired too. But that kid would have never come up to me and shared that information with me had I not just spent about fifteen minutes in class basically drawing the full energy of the class on to a total appreciation, including lots of “Applaudissez, classe!” in response to every new bit of information that I found out about Oscar, real or imagined.
Why is this so interesting to me? I will admit, it is partly because I had to box at Culver Military Academy in Indiana and get the snot beaten out of me – literally – every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. in “The Ring”. But, even if I had never boxed in high schoool, I would still have to convey that interest. That Oscar boxes must be a fact of supreme importance and interest to me, regardless of whether it is in fact of interest to me or not.
Susan Gross has said that we must believe everything we say but I think that very few people have actually heard what she really meant. This has been a point lost in the discussion about what PQA really is and how it really works and why it works. Believing what we hear in class is not an easy thing to do! But if we want our PQA to snap and crackle and pop, then we have to do it, even if we don’t feel like it on that day and in that moment. Like it or not, we have to be cheerful, because we are teachers.



11 thoughts on “Role of Circling in PQA”

  1. The talking/fun/spontaneous part of PQA is the most powerful. When I try to force a story it’s never as good as the days where I just show up and throw a verb on the board.
    After 3 full weeks I am having students answer one question: Your 1 wish. It breaks my heart to read kids writing I wish my family would come back together/I wish my parents would get married again.
    I gave the kids a heartfelt wink as I put their questionnaire down and moved on to the next. I chose the ones that would lend them selves to “go” and “wants to go” (with that damn infinitive–just when the kids know ve (sees) I need to teach va (goes) and then quiere ir (wants to go)). While continuing to focus on form I had to add the subjunctive form vaya (to go) to the board without ever mentioning it. It was necessary and real. The kids understood because they were laughing.
    A plug to your DVDs, I was at lunch talking in French with a colleague from Colombia. My department chair (Mexican) said she didn’t know I spoke French and was impressed. She asked where I learned. I said through TPRS training, reading Pauvre Anne, and not from a textbook. How good was my French actually? Good enough to be understood and to ask for clarification when I needed it. “Bon mere?” is all you need to ask “What does that mean?” So Good mother is Mother-in-Law, eh?
    This stuff really works.
    I watched Linda Li’s Chinese DVD at Fluency Fast in preparation for my trip to China last summer. Yesterday I needed to keep my Yearbook 1 class busy while my Editors were preparing to show them the cover and theme of the book. I started with “Stand up” in Chinese and I’ll be damned it Timmy Jeng turned to the class and said, he just said Stand Up in Chinese. The class shut up and stood up. I winked at Timmy, pointed to rule number 1 (he is in my Spanish class too) and he understood he wasn’t supposed to talk. I was able to keep them occupied for 10 minutes with the word “hamburger” “big” “pizza” “wants” and the question marker “ma”. I didn’t know I could circle in Chinese, but I can. The best part is that they think I speak Chinese now–hell, I think I speak Chinese now. It’s amazing how long you can spend on 4 words.

  2. The bombshell quote of the NTPRS conference for me was from Michael Miller:
    “The better I get at PQA the less I ever have to do stories”
    It was also my challenge!

    1. Skip years ago I walked in on Michael’s class in Colorado Springs (Susan Gross was still teaching then in the same school – Cheyenne Mountain Middle School). Michael didn’t even know I was coming (neither did I), but without preparation to be observed he just hung out in German with the kids for the whole class. He was the king of PQA that day. His kids were jumping under desks on command (first one to hit the floor got points), stuff like that. PQA is also a place where those who are intimidated by storytelling can hang out. PQA is good.

  3. …it’s never as good as the days where I just show up and throw a verb on the board….
    Yes. And we probably both work with that one verb and little else during the entire class. We don’t flit around from flower to flower, we stay on that verb and it is the rebar in the concrete that holds the CI together. For more on this concept of not trying to present more than just a few structures/words, search the word “rebar” on this site.

  4. Ben, I think your blog post needs a more inspired title, something like “Reclaiming Awesome.” Good stuff.
    I try to stay aware of my students feelings, how strong their drive is to be with their friends, the intensity of their relationships. Kids say things in extreme, and probably mean it: “I love her SO MUCH” or I CAN’T WAIT to hang out” etc. It’s a little window into their natural love for each other. It’s a model for me as a teacher.
    Maybe even this should be part of teacher education classes (imagine). Recovering some of that excitement we used to have about each other, recovering that awesome feeling about being close.

  5. Teachers and kids talking about cool things. Lots of trust and good will in the air. That can only come about from talking about the kids, making them the subject of the the class, the language being second, merely a delivery vehicle for the information being shared and laughed about.

  6. I’m brand new at this and don’t know what PQA is? I think it stands for personal question and answer? Can someone give me an example of how to use it in class? Thanks

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