Skip to main content

Circling

I sometimes come across teachers online who struggle with how to keep lessons in the target language. Circling is an important way of making this happen without losing the class.

I came across the term "circling" with reference to questioning technique some time ago when reading about TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) , the north American language teaching approach closely associated with naturalistic or comprehensible input style teaching. In fact, what they call circling is nothing new. It was used in its most elaborate form in the Marc Gilbert books Cours Illustré de Français back in the 1960s. Circlng is, however, a convenient term to describe that form of artificial questioning language teachers use when practising new structures or vocabulary with classes.

Most of you will know what I mean. If you were teaching prepositions to near beginners it would go something like this:

Is the book on the table?
Is the book on the table or under the table?
The book is on the table. True or false?
Is the book on the chair?
Where is the book?

If you were introducing -er verbs in French to beginners you might have a pair of pupils David and Chris up to the front to draw simple animals on the board. David draws a cat. Chris draws an elephant.

David dessine un chat ou un éléphant? (Il dessine..)
Est-ce que David dessine un chat? (Non, il dessine...)
David, tu dessines un chat? (Oui, je dessine...)
Chris tu dessines un éléphant, oui ou non? (Oui)
Chris tu dessines un chat ou un éléphant? (Je dessine...)
David, qu'est-ce que tu dessines? (Je dessine...)

Tout le monde, David dessine un lion? (Non, il dessine...)
Chris dessine un tigre ou un éléphant? (Il dessine...)
Qu'est-ce qu'ils dessinent? (gesture both of them) Ils dessinent...

(Teacher draws a cat)
Nous dessinons un chat.
David, tu dessines un chat. Moi, je dessine un chat? Nous dessionons un éléphant? (Non, nous dessinons...)

etc etc

Some teachers may dislike the artificiality of such dialogue. I understand that. The whole class knows the book is on the table, why on earth ask about it?! But it is one of the prime ways we stick to the target language whilst maintaining comprehension (pictures and gesture help a lot), thus developing listening skill, vocabulary knowledge, oral proficiency and grammatical accuracy. Some would claim that the very repetition of structures helps students "internalise" or "fix" them, so they become part of their tacit knowledge. Good "circling" covers so many bases that it would be foolish to avoid it, I believe.

The artificiality of circling can, in fact, be played around with by using an exaggerated tone of voice or disbelieving facial expression. Students will happily play along with this, realising it's a bit of a game.

Even with more advanced learners you can use quite artificial dialogue. More advanced learners will feel patronised if you ask obvious questions. But this sort of activity works well:

e.g. "I am going to give you a deliberately false and stupid statement, correct it for me."
      "I am going to give you an answer; what was the question?"
      "I am going to give you two/three different statements. Which is the right one?"

As teachers my belief is that we should not avoid these types of artificial communication in the classroom. If the long term goal of producing proficient linguists is achieved in this way, let the ends justify the means.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…