Circling can be used by all teachers, with any method, to make their lessons more effective and to help students acquire new vocabulary and new grammatical structures.
Susan Gross, a French teacher in Colorado, developed developed the technique into a fine art in order to give her students repetitive comprehensible input while keeping them engaged in a conversation. The idea is simple. The teacher elicits a statement from the class, then asks as many questions as possible about the statement.
Katniss doesn’t want Prim to go to the Hunger Games.
Does Katniss want Prim to go to the Hunger Games?
Does Katniss want Prim to go to the HG or to go home?
Who doesn’t want Prim to go to the Hunger Games?
Why doesn’t Katniss want Prim to go?
Where doesn’t Katniss want Prim to go?
Etc., etc., etc…….
Students answer with single words or short phrases, not with complete sentences. The teacher echoes their answers by repeating the original statement with appropriate intonation.
T: Where does Katniss want Prim to go?
T: Right! Katniss wants Prim to go home.
Circling should sound like a genuine conversation with your students. If you feel it’s going stale and students are losing interest, stop immediately and move on. At first students will need time to decode your questions before they can answer. Then, as they acquire the structure you are circling, their answers will become more spontaneous. The trick is to stop just before it becomes too easy and move on to a new structure.
Circling is used intensively in beginning classes, but as students acquire more vocabulary and more structures, the teacher will use it only with new structures that students are struggling with. Laurie Clarq, who teaches Spanish in New York, has written about how to keep Circling fresh for the students on Chris Stolz’s blog, TPRS Questions and Answers.
Here are some of her suggestions:
- Ask students to visualize the scene.
- Ask your questions as if they are vital and crucial. Use your most expressive voice tones. Add pauses. React to your students’ answers with interest and expression.
- Add phrases that are natural in any conversation. Really? It’s obvious. Seriously? No!!
- Ask several students for their opinions or guesses. Are they right? Who is right?
- Add extra information to the original statement.
T: Where was Katniss when she said she didn’t want Prim to go to the Hunger Games?
Student: At the Reaping.
T: Right. At the Reaping Katniss didn’t want Prim to go to the Hunger Games. Was Katniss at the Reaping when she didn’t want Prim to go to the Hunger Games or was she in the forest?
- Make two statements, then circle the information in both sentences.
- Incorporate gestures for new words, especially verbs. (This is particularly helpful with dyslexic students.)
You can learn more about Comprehensible Input and TPRS here:
Laurie Clarq: Hearts for Teaching.
Mike Peto: A Language Teacher’s Blog.
Also read Chris Stolz’ excellent article about how he discovered TPRS.