Circling – an overview

Circling is:

3 for 1
Ask a detail

Here is an example of circling:

Statement: “Class, there is a boy.”  (ohh!)
Question: “Class, is there a boy?” (yes)
[You add: That’s correct, class, there is a boy.”]
Either/Or: “Class, is there a boy or a girl?” (boy)
[You add: That’s correct, class, there is a boy.”]
Negative: “Is there a girl?” (no)
[You add: That’s correct, class, there is not a girl.  There is a boy.]
3/1:  “Is there a monkey? (no)
[You add: That’s correct, class, there is not a monkey. There is a boy.”]
What:  “Class, what is there?”  (boy)
[You add: That’s correct, class, there is a boy.”]
Who:  Class, what is the boy’s name? (Howard Ino)
[You add: That’s correct, class, the boy’s name is Howard Ino.”]

(When, Where, Why and other details are circled in only when relevant.)

All research indicates that output cannot occur without having first been preceded by massive amounts of comprehensible input (listening).  Thus, listening (CI) should be the pre-eminent focus of all foreign language instruction.  Circling is the pre-eminent feature of CI.   The astounding results gained by TPRS students would be impossible without circling.  

Some instructors focus more on the circling than on the structure, thinking that there must be a “right” way to circle.  Circling is not a formula to be blindly followed!  Rather, repetitive questioning that accentuates and repeats the structure to be learned is proper circling.  

By focusing less on the circling itself as a formula and more on the structure being circled, the structure quickly becomes comprehensible to the students.  It becomes instantly recognizable to the students when it occurs later.  Just remember that mixing up the questions and thus avoiding patterned responses is required for success. 

Once the circling pattern is understood, you then have the option of mixing it up.  This is a good way to make students process each question at a higher level, resulting in greater gains.  You have mastered this aspect of the skill when you can circle at will in random order without glancing at the chart.

A word of caution, however.  Too much random circling, though artful, can really confuse the students.  It is the old trap that many teachers fall into with TPRS: they think that because they get it, that their students naturally do as well.

Circling need not be limited to normal classroom discussion (PQA and stories).  TPR commands, including those in the Three Ring Circus (so important to teacher new to TPRS), can be circled as well.  If you command Mark to “run,” once Mark has done so the instructor can then ask the class:

Class, did Mark run? (yes)
Did Mark or Ryan run? (Mark)
Did Ryan run? (no)
Did Derek run? (no)
Did Mark run or walk? (run)
Did Mark walk? (not)
Did Mark swim? (no)
Class, who ran? (Mark)

If Mark then “ran to the left,” you can see how adding just this one simple detail greatly increases the number of questions you can ask.  Every time you add a detail to a discussion you greatly increase what you can do with circling.

Circling TPR commands and sentences in the Three Ring Circus builds great confidence in teachers new to TPRS because they are so easy to do. 

Circling drives PQA, extended PQA, TPR commands, stories, songs, retells, spin off stories, and, indeed, all comprehensible input.  It is invaluable because it drives comprehensible input so majestically. 


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