“Circling with balls” has become sort of a vital classroom management activity in order to really get your students on board with comprehensible input (CI).
“Circling” is a protocol where you ask students questions to help get the repetitions in around a particular feature or structure of a language. Instead of drill and kill, where retention wains as attention drops, you want to engage students on a personal, individualized level with customizable content that is relevant to them. We all love to talk about ourselves and our students are no different, keep them engaged by getting them to talk about themselves.
Circling with balls is essentially an activity that Ben Slavic came up with that will help draw interest from students in class who are not as naturally engaged as we would like them to be. Having an actual ball will draw their attention and their natural inclination to want to have the ball to play with is your trigger that will lure them into the kind of disposition you are hoping to instill in them for second language acquisition (SLA).
I was noticing that my students needed more reps with the various cases of the five declensions they have learned in Latin. The forms were there, but they were a bit foggy and students need to get regular work with those forms. I was thinking of a way to highlight the use of the dative case; in asking them they could tell me what the case was used for with ease. Indirect object shot back with regularity. But I want them to actually be able to call up the form on demand and use it with fluency.
I started to devise an activity where we would have to use the dative case to describe what was going on – simple, let’s toss a ball around class and have the kids talk about it.
Having had the students already establish their identities with a Roman name of their choice a few years ago, they had grown comfortable with the sound of their Roman name. This also meant that I had a way to reinforce the use of the dative as it would apply to them. What is the most beautiful sound in any language? Your name. Nothing is more alluring in getting engagement.
So, after reviewing the dative case forms with the students in an ad hoc pop up grammar, I quickly moved on to circling with the students using a ball and asking them to verify “cui pilam dō?” Marcō, Aurorae, Clementī, quickly came back and I was getting the feedback I needed to know it was working.
What was really interesting, and I wasn’t actively trying to do it at the time but it did catch my awareness, was that a couple of students who had been a little less engaged of late (senioritis is rampant) responded very well when the ball came out. I dangled it in front of a student and did my circling questions and when I teased the student with the ball, he became much more responsive. In fact, this student is usually more of a challenge to keep focused and details about story as well as grammar and vocab slip by. With the ball being used to gain his attention, the student was much more alert and able to stay engaged. In fact, this student was able to correct another student later on! A boost of confidence and we are back into the flow of learning and contributing.
Great results which also kept the energy of the entire class up. Having the ball allowed for me to free style a bit, which kept the minds of my students occupied while also getting the reps in we needed to really hone our skills with using the dative case.
Now, Spring Break is upon us. So, it is a house of cards that will most likely need to be rebuilt, but it is one that will be fun doing again.