The Problem With Circling & Solutions For Questioning

Circling isn’t an activity (e.g., “OK class, let’s answer some circling questions”) or something you plan to last 20 minutes during the next class. It’s a strategy, and Von Ray was right. In 2017, he told a small room of TPRS workshop participants if there’s no breakdown [in processing the language], we don’t circle. The strategy was developed as part of collaborative storytelling. No wonder that’s the context in which it works best! Sure, any language learner will benefit from getting micro-exposure to a small set of words, which is what takes place during circling and during the TPRS 2.0 update of triangling (i.e., circling with 3rd, 1st, and 2nd verb persons). Yet, there are times when circling falls flat…

Recently, my student teacher and I have been noticing when and when not to circle. First of all, yes, I would consider my approach comprehension-based and communicative (CCLT), and no, circling is not always communicative. Bite me. This is school, and the classroom context is rarely 100% communicative. And that’s OK. It shouldn’t be. That’s impossible. So, when we’re reading a text, whether book in hand or from a projected version on screen, circling what’s right there in front of everyone confuses our students. Bad idea. When we did our first class story all by ear, however, circling was fantastic. Good idea. We wanted to circle more either/or questions because we noticed students struggling with responding to questions in Latin. Yet, I misapplied circling to a context it wasn’t designed for, and doesn’t work particularly well in. No biggie. But we still had a problem:

  • How to ask either/or questions…
  • …in Latin…
  • …when reading…
  • …that weren’t a scrambled version of what’s already on the page.

Contrary-to-fact conditions to the rescue!

While this is a fancy pants grammar concept in Latin, you can get the idea with this popular example: if you were an animal (but you aren’t), what animal would you be? For the language nerds out there, this condition uses an easily-formed subjunctive (i.e., imperfect tense) by adding the personal endings (i.e., -m, -s, -t, -mus, -tis, -nt) right onto the infinitive. Moving on. It dawned on me that when we come upon a character’s actions, merely asking “would you do this?” is enough to not only connect reading to students’ lives, but also provide exposure to the vocabulary by circling only if there’s breakdown. That is, once we pull the language OFF the page, then into the more familiar and personalized sphere, circling becomes effective once again. You might be thinking this sounds a lot like Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA). I wouldn’t disagree with that, but the distinction to keep the question focused on the book content by using the contrary-to-fact condition is a bit different. At least in my observation and experience, PQA is usually something like reading “she has a cat” and you ask “class, who in here likes cats? Do you have a cat?” and now the focus immediately switches to the student. That’s fine, and serves other purposes, but not ours. With contrary-to-fact conditions, we get students to evaluate the events of a story, going deeper into the narrative.

So, we’re no longer repeating exact words/phrases written in a book (e.g., “she runs”) in our questions (e.g., “Does she run? Who runs, the girl or the cat?”). Instead, we’re using a different form of the the word/phrase (e.g., “Would you run?”) in a question posed directly to the class about the situation in the book. This makes sense, too. Students must comprehend the events in the story to know what they’re being asked. If a character runs away, and the class is asked if they’d also run away, assessing their ability to respond is just as good if not better than asking a straight up comprehension question about the exact Latin in the book.

So, this got me thinking about other questions to ask. We could question a character’s actions just as easily by asking if they should do what they do (i.e., “dēbet…?”). What happens when there isn’t an action, and just description? Both questions work. For example reading “she’s sad” could prompt “would you be sad?” or “should she be sad?” And of course the follow-up “why/why not?” Those are the big ones for now. Can you think of others?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.