Vortex Image

A repost:
Vortex Image
If you feel intimidated about PQA, don’t do it. You don’t have to do PQA, and you don’t even have to do stories. It’s not about PQA and it’s not about stories. It’s about comprehensible input.
Test the waters of comprehensible input instruction first before worrying about PQA and stories. Just get little scenes of a few minutes of comprehensible input going on first in your classroom. Here’s what you can do:
First, teach (translate and gesture) three phrases:
dessine – sketches
un dessin – a drawing
montre – shows
Then connect the phrases to a student in the following simple way:
Class, [a student in the class] sketches!
The key here is in the circling. It is in the circling that new details emerge. Think of a vortex/funnel cloud. You start at the top and begin circling down until it gets so tight at the bottom that no new details can fit. When you reach the bottom point of the vortex, you know it’s time to move on to the next question.*
[*credit: Blaine Ray – this vortex image is how Blaine explained to me how he conceives of circling in a story. He told me that you just go down deeper into the vortex, circling away, adding details, parking on one level of the vortex, adding another detail and dropping down another level, etc. Then, when the thing can’t be circled anymore, becomes it is too tight to add new details, you just circle something else. Later, in stories, you will learn at this point of saturation of the circling how to add in a new character or event, and with that new character or event the story will go off in a different direction.]
Don’t forget that in this vortex work you have options about what part of the sentence to circle, as explained earlier in this text. You may wish to start by circling the subject of your sentence:
Class, Jerome sketches! (ohh!) Class, does Jerome sketch? (yes)
Class, does Micky Mouse sketch? (no)
Correct, class, Mickey Mouse doesn’t sketch, Jerome sketches. (ohh!)
Class, who sketches? (Jerome)
etc.
Or you may wish to circle the verb:
Does Jerome sketch? (yes)
Does Jerome sketch or sleep? (sketch)
Does Jerome sleep? (no)
That’s right, class, Jerome doesn’t sleep. Jerome sketches! (ohh!)
Class, does Jerome vomit? (no)
No, class! Jerome doesn’t vomit! He sketches!
etc.
Just remember to change up the circling when you sense that the class understands so that you don’t bore the kids with needless circling.
So far, all you did was teach the kids a few words and circle one sentence consisting of a subject and verb. Not that challenging!
Now you could stop here or you could go to the next level – adding another sentence! This means dropping one level down in the circling vortex image given above. In so doing, you are not committing yourself to a story and all that that entails. You can bail out at anytime! Just add any sentence that might naturally follow the one just circled. Example:
Class, Jerome has a drawing!
Blaine has made it clear that every sentence should be circled to some degree, so you circle it, choosing perhaps to circle the subject first:
Class, does Jerome have a drawing? (yes)
Class, does Jerome or Anthony have a drawing? (Jerome)
Class, does Anthony have a drawing? (no)
That’s right, class, Anthony doesn’t have a drawing. Jerome has a drawing! (ohh)
etc.
Or you may wish to circle the verb:
Class, does Jerome have a drawing? (yes)
Class, does Jerome have or eat a drawing? (have)
Class, does Jerome eat a drawing? (no)
That’s right, class, Jerome doesn’t eat a drawing. Jerome has a drawing! (ohh)
etc.
Or, since this second sentence has an object, you might want to circle it as well:
Class, does Jerome have a drawing? (yes)
Class, does Jerome have a drawing or a pencil? (drawing)
Class, does Jerome have a pencil? (no)
That’s right, class, Jerome doesn’t have a pencil. Jerome has a drawing! (ohh)
Class, what does Jerome have? (drawing)
Who has a drawing? (Jerome)
etc.
Again, remember to circle enough to get a lot of repetitions but not so much that you bore the kids.
By this time, if you have circled just two sentences as suggested above, you will have shared a lot of the target language with your kids. They will have understood and responded to 25 sentences. You will have gotten 25 sentences from two.
So, if you are intimidated by the whole idea of doing a story, don’t! If PQA intimidates you, wait and do it later! But you certainly can circle a sentence or two as per the above.
You don’t have to get all bogged down with telling the kids you are using a new method. They don’t care. Just tell the kids that you want them to hear some French and start circling.
In time, you will find more and more cute little details merging into and transforming the sentences you started working with. This is an organic process. Two sentences will become three. The sentences will be cute if the students have been trained in what it means to provide cute answers into the classroom process as per the Classroom Rules. This way of teaching assumes that students were made to provide cute answers and laugh at how clever they are.
Each time you act astonished at how clever they are, they create more cute answers. In a flash, once they know what their job is in the game, they become masters of transferring your old boring adult questions into marvelous new things.
They can transform Jerome’s drawing into a drawing on the whiteboard of Michael Jackson’s face in seconds! They can do anything, if you ask them questions and encourage cute answers from them! You can set it up by stopping a few of your more conscious students in the hallway or after class and simply ask them to help you when you ask questions by making up cute answers. They can’t read your mind; they need to be told how to play the game.
And then you can see the alchemy of TPRS, without even doing any PQA or stories.

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9 thoughts on “Vortex Image”

  1. Ben, this is definitely a keeper. I have plans to do a workshop for the teachers of a middle school here in France sometime soon, and I’ve been thinking about how I can encourage them to try the method without overwhelming them by everything to be learned about it. You describe how it’s possible to dabble and splash about a bit and slowly get your feet wet. And I’m sure that once a teacher sees her kids dive right in with their cute answers, she’ll want to wade out further and eventually take a deep breath and start swimming herself. In the vast ocean of comprehensible input?

  2. I agree – this is great. I would tell someone new to TPRS to do this. I did not have the benefit of this suggestion when I started so it was much rougher going. I tried things here & there along with eclectical output-based teaching for two years before jumping into the CI ocean this school year. I think that giving ideas like these is really, really helpful.
    Another good activity for new teachers is to use that Mad Libs-style idea from (sorry I forgot who, recently, maybe in December?) and do “read and discuss” based on a story you create from student ideas. This is a way to develop personalization without having to do PQA.
    Another way to create a personalized story: start them out on read & discuss with your own (inevitably not so interesting) story. I’ve also used textbook dialogues for this content. Then ask the students to make it more interesting (change the activities, location, characters, time – whatever they already know). Then read & discuss it with ideas they added. The contrast to the first more boring version is really something they have liked.
    For a first attempt at using actors, I suggest re-enacting a story already read & discussed. You read it aloud dramatically, students act it out. You have a complete (yet personalized) script this way. I guess this is called Reader’s Theater? I’m not sure.

  3. Thank you Ben for introducing me to circling, and for generously giving me a copy of your ebooks on this. No idea what else I’m doing wrong or right… but I have to say asking easy “a or b” style questions works like magic at making anything easy to understand.
    It’s like you’re breaking the language down into easy logic puzzles. The students love it. They are always answering the question and they are nearly always getting it right. How cool is that? Also what I like is that they have just heard the answer so they can use their brain mainly to understand the content. And only a little has to be used to remember how to say it – cos the sound is in their short term memory.
    It is such a kind and supportive way to learn a language. And a kind and supportive way to help a new teacher deliver CI. I’m finding it feels more natural / easy to ask these circling type questions now… at first it’s hard to think of how to phrase them.
    I teach classes of 1 and 2 students etc so I can’t do this drilling down to the nth degree that you can in big classes. But I make a note of what structures / words are covering. And then in the next class I come back to it and do more circling conversation using the structure. It’s good because I can see what they’ve remembered from last time. If it’s something I taught with TPR – them having to do the action…. or they created gestures… they are pretty good at remembering.
    I also get the students to go into their imaginations. So we have a fantasy type conversation – one girl loves interesting houses and would love to be an architect. So I printed off lots of photos of weird houses and asked her to choose which she liked most. Then she had to say which is her bedroom in the house… and we go into this fantasy of it being her house and there being a party in the swimming pool downstairs.
    I think for me the next step as a newbie is to focus on particular target language and keep drilling that in – coming back to it later that lesson / next lesson / testing them on it. Because I’m doing CI – they understand me because of gestures, pictures, circling etc… but not enough repetitions to drill it in deep.

  4. Just to point out that what you describe above is what I think all our teaching should be. We have such a wealth of options with CI. We all love stories, but the latest from Krashen about non-targeted CI is what you describe above, and I think it may be the best CI idea of all. Because it plays to the interests of the students in a more compelling way. It’s what I wrote in response to Andrew’s question earlier, that we should maybe focus more andmore on the kids and what they think – as you are doing with that kid’s interest in home design – that may be one or the best options we have. We need to figure out and explore what this means for each of us as teachers. My point being that there has always been a little off balance dance between us and Krashen, understandably bc we work in schools, but if we could just move yet more in his direction by exploring taking any one simple word/sentence, couple it with an image, exactly the kind of thing you are doing Katherine, and lose all the formulaic old TPRS kind of bewilderingly weird ass stuff like stories, and just talk to the kids in the way you are doing, then maybe we could advance the cause of CI more down the road than it already is, make it more user friendly. Really not know what we are going to teach except start class with an image. Again, none of that may make any sense, but hey, I think what your doing down there is very important work we need to keep in touch with as you go along. Hopefully Judy comes in on this thread.

  5. Ben,
    Thanks for the practical reminder of what it looks like to circle. For a couple of weeks I’ve been telling myself that I need to circle more, but I still haven’t experienced “enough” and keep moving on to the next part of the story way too quickly. (Von made it look so easy!) I also appreciate your encouragement to step away from stories a little. They are holding less weight than a couple of months ago. Partly because they’re not new anymore and partly because I get into a rut of wanting to finish the story and plow forward, rather than going further down the vortex.

  6. I love this post! I also appreciate what Lori said…too often we want to plow through activities because we are stuck into a way of thinking that every class or lesson should have a beginning-middle-end.
    This is a great reminder that we all suffer from this way of thinking and just “hanging out” in the language serves a purpose!

  7. Lori and Michael here is a chapter from TPRS in a Year! that expands on what you have said above:
    Skill #22: Staying in the Moment
    This is my favorite skill. It requires heart. Staying in the moment means that you do not leave the moment that has been created in the story. You do not digress. You do this to keep the comprehensible input alive. The way to make sure you do this is to:
    1. teach the student and not the language.
    2. stay on the sentence until it parallels the original story – see the conclusion of this book for details on how to do this.
    3. milk in extra details via circling, making sure that the details are connected to the lives of your students.
    Staying in the moment may be the most challenging skill of all the TPRS skills because it involves going against so much of what we have all been taught as teachers, which is be in charge, drive the story, say the right thing at the right time, be funny, etc. The fact is that if the teacher is the one driving everything forward, there is no “space” for the kids to join in the game.
    Most importantly, if the details of the story are not provided by the students, they will not be interested in the story. The instructor must create spaces via artful questioning that allow for those spaces to be filled by students’ answers that are interesting to them.
    This involves staying in the moment, resting there, waiting for the right cute answer, avoiding the desire to push forward. Here is a sample of how that can be done in a story I wrote for my class:
    a dévisagé – stared at
    est monté – went up
    se sont disputés – argued
    Marcel and his girlfriend Sheila are in a car on (local street). They stop at a red light.
    Sheila looks up at a building. She sees Larry in the building looking out a window at her. Sheila stares at Larry. Larry stares at Sheila.
    Marcel is angry. He gets out of the car and goes up the elevator in Larry’s building. He argues with Larry. Sheila cries.

    I made a “car” (two chairs) in the middle of the room. I got two kids up to be Marcel and Sheila, thus instantly personalizing the story. They shuffled up to the “car” and looked at me with that expectant look they do. They shuffled too slowly, so I just yelled at them to get into the car:
    “Montez dans la voiture! (“Get in the car!”)
    I put Larry on the third floor of a “building” (actually a countertop that runs along the side of the classroom). I told Larry to look down at the kids in the car.
    With meaning of the structures clearly established, and written and translated and clearly visible and ready to be pointed at throughout the story, with three actors and a good script, all was ready for a great class! “What a great start!” I thought. Then there was that little pause, like, “O.K. what do I do next?”
    The kids weren’t laughing and the story wasn’t funny. Instead, they were giving me “the look,” as if to say, “What’s next, oh purveyor of alternative teaching methods?”
    I answered their look with my own look, “Hey, you think it is easy to just get a funny story going? I ain’t no Susan Gross! Some of us TPRS teachers actually have to WORK for a story!”
    Still the look. But I resisted the urge to yell, “I can’t do this stuff! It’s too hard! Someone help me!” I just stayed in that moment:
    Just hang in there, Ben, and explore this moment. Don’t try to drive the story forward too fast! Ask questions and listen to their responses and pick the right ones and just let this thing go forward in its own way! Circle and listen for cute answers! Trust the method and play the game and listen to them! C’mon, man, you can do it!
    The look.
    Stay in the moment! Ask the questions. Circle or die!
    The look.
    Class, where is the car? (Paris!) No, class, the car is not in Paris! How absurd! The car is in Denver! (Ohh!) Class, where in Denver? Someone yells out “Colfax Avenue!”
    Colfax Avenue is a well-known street in Denver for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its seediness. I think:
    That really is the right street. Yes! Colfax! Perfect! How could it be any other street?
    Immediately, the look was gone! The mood in the classroom had completely changed. Nobody was nervous any more. The look had been replaced by smiles and laughter. The boy who suggested Colfax was pleased with himself beyond words. It reinforced my belief that angels are all around us and sometimes we can’t even recognize them.
    There are so many stories around Colfax Avenue in Denver that I could tell that each kid was making their own association – all of a sudden what used to be a struggling story was actually alive with energy because of the mention of a street! Colfax Avenue and its reputation in Denver had united us. The idea that their friends were in a car driving around downtown, where so much crazy stuff happens, and no longer in a classroom in southwest Jefferson County, had captured their interest.
    By staying in the moment of the story until a cute answer was suggested, the story was saved. The kids were given their voice in the story. It took off from there. Had I reacted to the look by taking everything over, jumping out of the moment into something I could control, the resultant disenfranchisement of the kids would have dragged the story to a halt.
    Later in the story, I had another opportunity to stay in the moment – this time it was to wait for the right physical detail to be suggested:
    When Marcel was being jealous because Sheila was looking up out of the car into the window at Larry, I waited until I got the right answer from the class:
    Class, why is Sheila staring at Larry?
    No answer. The look. Another one of those moments where I could either rescue the story or stay in the moment and wait for the right response. What should I do? I waited. I resisted the impulse to tell the kids that Sheila was looking at Larry because she thought he was cute, which would have been my idea and not theirs.
    Then, from the left side of the classroom, just when the discomfort in the classroom was growing, a superstar blurted out in English these words in a fit of laughter while putting her hand to her nose:
    Because Larry has a big zit on his nose!!!
    Bingo! Hanging out in the moment had again paid a big dividend, well worth the discomfort that was in the room just a few seconds before. The class erupted in laughter, and my superstar had one of those big “wall to wall” smiles on her face.
    I immediately told her that this was exactly why Sheila was looking at Larry. It was obvious! She was correct! I expressed true amazement that she knew that. I sent the message that I myself could never have come up with such a cute answer. I told her how proud I was of her perfect suggestion at the perfect time in the story and I heaped the praise on. Nothing motivates like success, and my superstar had been successful because I had stayed in the moment and not rescued the story.
    Of course, sometimes we wait and nothing cute is suggested. Does that mean the students aren’t learning and that we are failures at TPRS? No. Cute answers, though wonderful and in my opinion necessary, are not the point of TPRS.
    Are the kids hearing the language? Are we speaking the target language to them in the class, and are the kids reporting in on comprehension checks at 80% or above? If so, then we are doing our jobs. Then, echoing Gilbert Gottfried, we can say with confidence, “I am intelligent, I am a good person, and gosh darn it, my students are learning!”
    So staying in the moment may produce wonderful suggestions that give sparkle to a story, but if it does not, that is just fine. We need to expect less from TPRS than all glitter and gold. Personalized comprehensible input is just fine.

  8. Ben, thank you for that inspirational story. I could so deeply relate to many of the things you said. Especially the “self-talk.” Your story reminded me of times that I went for the rescue, giving into the pressure of the looks and times that I have seen the sparkle in a student’s eyes as she has had time to think and comes up with a cute answer that fills the room with laughter.
    Mostly, I appreciate your continual reminder to all of us, that we are not in this business to entertain. The bottom line is that we are giving our kids comprehensible input. Sometimes it’s even fun and life-giving!

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