CWB Question

I just got this question this morning from a teacher who is new to CI and getting ready to start her year with CWB:

Hi Ben –

I just bought many balls to begin my year with Circling with Balls.  I’m so looking forward to it.  Your video with your son was precious and since I’m a visual learner, it was very clear to understand.  Thank you.  Do you have any suggestions for a quiz for this lesson?  I’m excited about this in Pensacola!

I responded:

My position on assessment is to give lots of daily short very easy quizzes based entirely on the content of that day’s information only. Short term memory gets it in comprehension based classes. The other piece is a rubric that we have created on my online PLC that assesses in terms of the ACTFL Three Modes of Communication.

Have a superstar kid takes notes and formulate questions during class in English about the things you talk about during Circling with Balls. After five or ten questions or however you like to set up your quizzes, the kid gives you the questions and you ask them to the class with five minutes left in class.

Note importantly that each question your student writes must have an answer of either yes or no. Such tests are easier to grade and very fair to the novice learner whose egos are fragile right now. Let’s be honest – if it were you learning Russian, would you want to have to answer questions with multiple word answers in your first few hours of hearing the language? How you instill confidence in the first few days of class can make or break your year with those kids.

Build their confidence with questions like “Class, does Sarah play volleyball?” Since you just circled that slowly for five minutes during class they all write down “Oui” (they have to spell yes or no in the TL correctly or you can just use scantrons) and their confidence goes up with each question, because they listened and you made yourself totally comprehensible in class.

Note the purpose of these Quick Quizzes:

1. They save time for the real work of them hearing the target language because they are short (not the kids, the quizzes).

2. You don’t have to write the quiz (a lot of what we do is about simplifying life for the teacher), freeing your energy up for the real work of them hearing the target language and allowing you more time to mentally rest because teaching five classes a day is in my view having done it for 37 years too much.

3. The students learn that if they pay attention in class they will get a good grade. They thereby learn to trust you and see that in your class it is not about memorizing or being tricked, and they perceive that you respect that they have lives outside of class because you do not give homework or big tests involving useless memorization. You raise the child up instead of putting the child down.

4. You get a grade in the computer often. Administrators see many grades in your gradebook and leave you alone. By the end of the first three weeks of school you have at least ten grades in there, not to mention the rubric grades, and so that feeling of having to hastily manufacture grades in a few days for the mid-term reports does not happen. You just quiz in this way whenever you can, which for me is two or three times per week.

5. Classroom management improves when students figure out that in your class it is about coming to class and paying attention because of the quiz that will happen at the end of the period. If they cut class, they receive a zero and so kids come to class and you talk about them in ridiculously slow ways in the TL and they see that they understand and succeed and attendance and morale go up.

Do be aware during CWB that the kids’ minds crave novelty and so be ready to use the questions “where?” and “with whom?” freely in your slow questioning. Have the question words in your language up on the wall and laser point and pause to each one each time you use it.

Going slowly in these first few days is the most important thing you can do. Above all make yourself comprehensible, even if it means processing “Sarah plays volleball” for fifteen minutes! Do not just go around and say, “Sarah plays volleyball” and “Jimmy plays basketball” etc. Mix things up a bit with the question words.

And make it clear that if the kid is not an athlete they can draw a picture of a book or whatever. Just enjoy getting to know them and remember that right now in the first few days of school you are in a major intense period of training the kids in the Classroom Rules (found on the TPRS Resources/posters page of this site).

Bless their hearts, some kids have learned things about behavior in other classes, especially if they are coming from middle school, that just don’t fly in a language class based on comprehensible input, which is all about back and forth reciprocal interpersonal interaction that has a happy tone.

Those are just some thoughts to help you get out of the starting gate. And don’t forget that you can bail to a One Word Image or some other beginning the year activities if the balls go flat in any given class, which is going to happen. Don’t stress – the kids will see that. Just enjoy yourself and follow the energy that the discussion generates.

This is not rocket science. Our subject matter is what the kids do and are interested in. In that way, we must change the way we think to remember that the vehicle for the subject matter is the actual message (McLuhan) and we learn that vehicle by focusing on the message and not on it.

Shift to think that what you do is all about focusing on the ideas and not the words, and that when the kids are focused on the ideas, we trick them into mastering the vehicle used to deliver those ideas.



7 thoughts on “CWB Question”

  1. Largely unnoticed even among teachers who use comprehensible input is the stunning fact expressed in the last paragraph above that we trick students into acquiring the language. Students can only learn the language when they are unconscious of learning it and so we trick them into doing that. CI is our magic wand in that process.

    If we do not plan our instructional strategies around the idea of tricking them into focusing on the message and not the words used to deliver it, then we join the long line of fools who currently populate the teaching corps of our country, as they spout facts in English to their students about the language in their classrooms when they should be tricking them into focusing on meaning alone.

    When we trick students into focusing on meaning we gain command over the one true process that results in authentic language acquisition – the unconscious absorption of information directly into the unconscious mind so that the vehicle used to deliver the information is fully handed over to the only part of the brain that is capable of using it – the deeper mind, where the language acquisition system, Chomsky’s LAD, really resides.

    Why is this idea so radical? Why is Krashen so ignored? Mainly because of this one idea – it’s too much to handle by most teachers who don’t want to give up control of dissecting and picking apart the language, which they themselves were so good at in school and which drove many of them to become language teachers in the first place.

    We are soon to be joined in this PLC for a semester by a group of graduate students at the University of Georgia. Some will have trouble with the idea that we learn languages unconsciously. As moderator of this site, I want to welcome them to the discussion here and ask them to fully embrace the idea expressed here about the conscious mind being UNABLE to learn a language.

    I am aware that this position represents a complete 180 degree turn away from the old way of doing things in language classrooms. But do we really want our students to merely know about the language, its parts of speech and such? Do we really want to force them to speak years before they are capable? I think not. How has that helped in the past? Our students can do that later, after they can understand the language. It’s time for a change.

    Let’s change things in our classrooms and bring the horse around to the front of the cart so that things can finally move forward. The cart has been stopped for over a century. Once the students know the language because they have studied in the new way in CI classes, then the cart full of grammar terms can be learned, if desired. But the cart doesn’t get to be in front anymore. To present the cart to students with no horse (no comprehensible input) is a silly thing indeed.


    (To read more articles on this topic click on the category to the right of this page labeled “Unconscious”)

  2. This is perhaps going to sound a bit too practical after such a grand post and response from Ben, but I figure I’ll go ahead and put it here because it pertains to this idea of Circling with Balls (CWB). Actually, it’s a quick idea that basically combines CWB with Look and Discuss (L&D):

    Take a picture of your class sometime during the first week of school when everyone is there. I’ve seen these little keepsakes around the rooms of others, especially in elementary schools, but for us they can really serve a real pedagogical purpose. After a few weeks of mixing CWB with other stuff, you will have covered several people. At that time you can project a class’s picture up on the wall and review all the cool stuff you’ve learned about certain individuals. Each time you talk about a new person would present even more opportunities to review, compare/contrast, etc., all built around this picture you took at the beginning of the year. Hey… it actually sounds like a good way to build up a semester or final exam.

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