Circling & Scripts: Back To Them Roots (+ 59 Simple Story Starters)

Imma take a break from playing Root and get back to my teaching roots. Several recent experiences have reminded me that the most effective teaching practices are the basics, hands down. Obviously, COVID messed with us big time, but I’m afraid some of us have done a little too much adjusting that might result in lingering bad habits. Let’s face it, we pulled out all the stops on that beastly concert organ that was remote learning, and not all of what we did to make it happen could be considered even OK practices. We want good practices, and best ones whenever possible. Oh, and it’s been a while. Consider this: it will have been over two years since starting the school year with tried and true practices you’ve known to be effective. Yeah, that’s right. No one really did that in 2020, so it was August or September of 2019 when you last began the school year how you wanted. Will you remember what all those practices were? I’m not confident I will, so I’m writing this post to remind myself about them roots. Feel free to follow along…

Circling
As a student, nothing is more grounding than 100% comprehension and being able to respond without hesitation. I believe Terry Waltz coined the term “comprehended,” not just “comprehensible” input. Circling accomplishes this. When were you last a language student? For me, it was this winter learning ASL through FluencyFast with Myra Coria and Lila Venegas. I knew exactly what they were doing, and my teacher brain was being activated for sure, yet I not only welcomed the repetition, I also needed it. This is not unlike Stephen Krashen’s experience with Mandarin, where he needed the constant reference to English meanings, thus changing is stance on judicial use of native/shared language, and he needed to hear words and phrases over and over as a beginner.

You might think that Circling is over doing it, and that’s fine. The strategy provides micro bursts of sheltered vocab, maximizing exposure, so any other way to get similar exposure is fair game. I don’t know of any, though, do you? Of course, when it comes to exposure, there’s extensive reading, although very few texts contain micro bursts of sheltered vocab—in this case just a few words at a time like we get from Circling. Then again, why should we look any further if we already got Circling?! TPRS has added some new strategies, but there’s a reason Circling hasn’t been replaced. Roots.

Circling has gotten a bad rap for sure, and yes, the strategy has the potential to be totally uncommunicative and even boring if done wrong, and in a vacuum (i.e. not keeping an eye on student hesitation, or what’s been called “break down” by Blaine and Von Ray). When done well, though, it’s gold. Finally, if doing straight up Circling for a minute—yeah, like one minute—to get all students understanding is considered a complete break of actually communication, it’s still worth it. Sadly, I’ve known teachers to think of Circling as a stand-alone activity (e.g. “now let’s do some Circling”) which is dumbno Lance be nice!—which is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the strategy. Circling is actually used as a strategy during a larger communicative event, such as creating and entertainment with its roots in collaborative storytelling. Still, anything that’s being done for entertainment, creating, or learning besides storytelling can make use of Circling as a way to provide exposure during that larger communicative event. In sum, don’t worry about the less- to uncommunicative classification of Circling, git gud at it, and use it.

So, I’ll have to remember to circle the hell out of everything more until I’m convinced the slowest processor is “totally getting it.” I cannot say I maintained that in 2020, which is fine, but moving forward I want to bring that back front and center, big time. N.B. part of why it’s been so long since I’ve Circled is that 2020 marked the lowest levels of speaking Latin since I began speaking Latin in the classroom 8 years ago, and that’s fine given the situation, but isn’t an ideal environment for the learner, and must not continue.

Scripted Storytelling Is Awesome
Having a storyline to follow with predicted questions and answers is awesome. Communicatively, the purpose is entertainment, so I’m not talking about practicing language for the sake of practice or anything. Instead, anything the learner is able to use to anchor meaning and comprehension during class is fair game. Story scripts accomplish that. These otherwise cane be described as predictable routines and procedures we know work so well in education. As a teacher, a story script eliminates some of the pressure of trying to be so compelling all the time, and as a student, the plot is clear. Sure, a lot of the fun comes from being more creative while asking questions, listening to students, and using their answers. However, you might as well start with a simple script to fall back on if the creative aspect goes sideways. From recent experience, it’s kind of tough to follow a story if you can tell the teacher is making it up in the moment, contradicting themselves, or not moving along the story. We know that novel contexts are key, so it’s actually better to have many short stories that keep repeating vocab (i.e. that “exposure” word again) than it is to have like one giant year-long story. Besides, short scripts aren’t difficult to come up with at all, and maybe you just need a story starter.

59 Simple Story Starters
These aren’t long scripts. There’s just enough to get going and keep the pace moving. You can get a story, then Write & Discuss/Type & Talk in something like 20-30min, with a decent amount of repetition from Circling. Just have a character (a) with some problem (b), go to a first location (c) to fail in solving it, then a second location (d), where they resolve (or not). Choose those four details and write out a script ahead of time. Once you git gud, it’s just a matter of adding dialogue, maybe some quick qualities, etc., and elaborating on perhaps why the problem is the problem. I do recommend saving that for the typed up version (i.e. more unseen details = more reason to read the next class), but it’s helpful to change things up in real time now and then. The list of problems characters need to solve come from Jeff Brown. Read below, or check out this doc with all the Latin ready-to-go.

  • Love – in love, out of love, break up, divorce, infidelity, unrequited love, long distance relationship
  • Health – has gas, cough, sickness, tired, insomnia, broke a fingernail, needs to use bathroom
  • Food – hungry, thirsty, cooks poorly, cooks well
  • Money – wins lottery, finds money, needs money, bills, wants to buy, earns too much money, earns too little money
  • Work – too many hours, too few hours
  • School – study, has exam, cheats, instead of exam does X, wants to learn, super intelligent
  • Family – grounded, evil sibling, perfect sibling, switched at birth
  • Sports – plays well, plays sports poorly
  • Friends – too many friends, no friends
  • Weather – earthquakes, flood, too hot, too cold
  • SciFi/Fantasy – 3 wishes, vampire, evil fairy, zombie
  • Mental Health – thinks they’re an animal, afraid of, forgets everything (all the time), amnesia
  • Logistics & Random – phone dead, is lost, no car, left behind, lost something

2 thoughts on “Circling & Scripts: Back To Them Roots (+ 59 Simple Story Starters)

  1. I was writing a reflection for my teacher growth form today and had some of the same conclusions. Less time in the target language has translated to lower student proficiency in listening. More use of the language already learned is what I feel would be good.

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