CWB is a Sport

For those working with Circling with Balls in their classrooms this week, this is a pep talk in which I compare CWB with doing a sport.

When we do Circling with Balls (CWB – see category), it is like learning to snowboard or ride a bike. All we are trying to do is not fall. It is a normal first time reaction. You just don’t want to fall. You want to get the mechanics right.

The same is true of our students as they experience being in a comprehension based classroom for the first time, Now, they must actually work very hard in class to stay focused on what you are saying. They can’t just take notes and memorize some information and take a test on it – they have to be mentally and physically involved with the comprehensible input you are providing for them. So for them it is like staying on a bike or board as well. Everybody in the room is a beginner.

What are the mechanics of CWB? They are the same as in any comprehension based instructional activity: Circling. SLOW, Staying in Bounds, etc. – all those things we have talked about here over the years as necessary to make comprehensible input work in our classrooms.

As time goes by, things will become less mechanical for you in the classroom and you will learn to think less about falling (failing with the mechanics). As you spend more time talking to the kids in the TL you well learn to enjoy it more. In much the same way as when you snowboard or ride a bike, the more time you spend doing it, the more comfortable it becomes. Over time, you learn to relax and enjoy the CWB as an athlete would enjoy her sport.

When we start to do that in CWB, or whatever beginning of the year activity we are doing using comprehensible input, we learn that teaching a language was never meant to be done in a purely mental way, like we used to when we just shared with our students the mechanics of the language and looked into their bored faces.

Would we teach a yoga class where the teacher and students all have books and the teacher reads about the pose to the kids while everybody stays seated in their desks, merely thinking about the asanas? Would we teach a photography class by taking a camera apart?

The fundamental difference that describes the beginner at a sport or similar activity and the expert is that the beginner is caught up in her mind trying to think about not making a mistake, just staying on the board or keeping the bike up, and the expert is not aware of those things at all, and is thus in a position to truly enjoy the activity.

The beginner thinks, the expert feels. The beginner worries, the expert enjoys. The beginner is caught up in the mind, the expert experiences flow through the body. The beginner tries not to be seen as new at the activity, the expert cares little of what people think about what she is doing.

The beginner picks out a path for the board and tries to control the direction of the board. The mind is in control at the beginning. The expert lets the shape of the mountain determine the direction of the board.

If you are new to CWB, you are just going to have to go through the phase of trying to remember the mechanics of Circling. SLOW, Staying in Bounds, etc. Each day you will get better at teaching using comprehensible input but you won’t be aware of it. The mechanics of comprehension based instruction are the same as the mechanics of any sport. You cannot experience flow until you have learned the mechanics – it only makes sense.

So if you feel now as school starts up that you are a klutz at CWB, it is because you are just learning how to ride the bike and stay up on the board. It is only because you are new to this that you feel that way. That is no reason to stop.

Soon, you will sense that you are more and more in your body as you teach and you will begin to experience the same kind of flow that an athlete does when doing their sport. You will not always be new to comprehension based instruction. You will not always be trying to learn how to keep the bike up, gripping the handle bars to keep from falling.

When you fall, and we all will because teaching in this way is physical, unless you get back up on the bike, you will not be able to make the leap that comprehensible input brings. You will not be able to teach in your body. You will be stuck in the claustrophobic prison of your minds, and so will your students, and that will be your profession. You and your students will all just sit there in class, like before, thinking.

On the other hand, when you get past the initial mechanical stages of using comprehensible input in your classroom at the beginning of the year, these things will happen:

  • You will circle without thinking about the order (the wheels on the bike will go ’round and ’round and you won’t have to think about the wheels).
  • You will know that speed is dangerous in sports and you will experience the beauty of SLOW in your language instruction.
  • You will learn to stay in bounds (the bike will not go off the road into the sand).

These things will happen, but if you quit now and go back to the book you will pay the price of never experiencing the sport that using comprehensible input in your classroom really is. And you won’t be an athlete when you teach. You’ll just be a spectator in your own classroom, watching things, thinking, stuck in your mind, experiencing the sadness of the traditional teacher.

Keep doing CWB. Don’t give up. When you are out of your mind with it you will know that you are doing it right. How will you know that you are out of your mind when you are doing CWB? There will be laughter, which is centered in the body. There will be a feeling of happiness, which you will experience as centered in the body. The kids will be moving around more, and look less like they are trapped in your classroom. You’ll just know.



8 thoughts on “CWB is a Sport”

  1. Thank you for this. It is great advice for me and also for my colleague who is desiring to go full-force with CI this year. I’m so happy that I made that impression on her. I’ve made my copies on card stock already and I’ve given her the books I’ve bought from you which mention CWB so she can prepare.

  2. This year, I want to start doing CWB the “right” way – with the balls. In the past, I just used the info on the cards to have the discussion with and about the kids. The reason I was hesitant to use the balls was that I didn’t know what to do with the kids who don’t draw a picture of a hobby/passion that doesn’t involve a ball, e.g. parasailing, swimming,… What do you all do in this case? I can see that one of the incentives to pay attention for the kid being talked about is to get the ball in the end. Also, to help establish meaning with the prop. Do you use pictures for any more obscure items? I’m at a loss here.

    1. I’m not an expert on CWB, but as long as the kid gets talked about, with input from the class, he/she [the kid who likes to read or play video games] seems pretty happy and feels like part of the class.

  3. I’m starting CWB today. 2 questions. What are some activities you do to round out CWB – i.e a quiz written by a kid? A few sentences about their classmates? Get up and find out about someone else?

    Also I have the kids in chairs and I don’t have card stock. Will paper on their note books suffice? I go around the room and read their survey? Pick it up?

    1. I like to give a “quick quiz” at the end of most classes, basically an exit ticket of 5-10 yes/no/easy questions about what we did that day in class. I say the questions in L2 and they listen and write yes/no on their papers in L2. Super simple and very easy to grade. That sounds like what you mean when you say “a quiz written by a kid.” It’s best if a kid writes the quiz during class.

      Do pick up the surveys so you can study them a bit before the next class.

  4. CWB really is an amazing way to start the year. Today is Day 2 for me and these cards are really getting the kids engaged in an all target language environment. I’m still a beginner with CWB. Last year was my first crack at it. I must also say that the war room this summer showed me that its ok to hang out on a word like “juega” for an extended period of time (10-15 min). In the past I thought I was boring them by not keeping things moving, but I have come to find that the learner really does enjoy the simplicity. In one class today, I spent almost 20 minutes on just three cards. Awesome! I’m eager to see how many miles I can get out of them. Thanks for the tips!

  5. This article was just what I needed. Even though I’ve taught 20 years, I feel like a beginner. I have never done CWB before this year and sometimes feel afraid. For me it is easier to have some kind of plan. I go over the cards the day before and choose 2 activities and brainstorm ideas. I always try to have at least one or two funny suggestions for when I feel that they are getting tired. Once we laugh the energy picks back up. I also am having someone be a timer by 10 minutes and this is helping.

    I am having trouble with going out of bounds so I have not used all of the question words yet. I am going to add in the question Which days of the week do you do this activity? We have used the days a lot so I think this will be in bounds. My question is how many new words are too many with Spanish 1 students?

  6. Good reminder Ben…it still feels tough. I don’t use the physical balls this year either. I tried last year, but it felt uncomfortable to me, and then I had to worry about them throwing the ball inappropriately, etc. Maybe when I feel like an expert I’ll add in the balls again.

    Melissa- I struggle with that question too. I think days of the week are ok because in German many sound similiar enough and they’ve maybe drilled those in exploratory German. If the question is too hard, I just forget that question and ask something else.

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