Chris, a reader of this blog, used some of the ideas in the recent post Socrates and Teaching Foreign Language 11/2/11 ( in a college class.  His professor had some questions before giving him a grade on his paper.  He shared those questions and gave permission for me to share them here on the blog.  Here are my comments:

1.  What is the relationship between the method of “circling” and the Socratic method?

The teacher is directing the conversation with constant questioning. The teacher has an end in mind and is guiding the student toward it by means of this series of questions.  The questions direct the student into greater and greater understanding of the concept.  Especially in the beginning, many of the questions generate simple yes/no and either/or answers, there are very few informational questions just as in the model of Meno in Plato, which models the Socratic method.  In the end, the goal is for the student to be able to demonstrate understanding, just as the slave boy does in Meno.

2.  What are the key assumptions of the method of “circling”?

That we can engage students with a series of non-predictable questions and allow their answers to guide the class discussion, and that these discussions will result in a more complete understanding than if the conversation was one-sided and directed completely by teacher, as in traditional methods.

3.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of this method?  How do you compare this method to other methods?


A) It complements the natural way that humans seem to learn language.

B) It is interesting, and even compelling to students–they cannot help but pay attention because we are using language to focus on content (in this case, a story) rather than focusing on the language itself as content.  (The blog I did a couple of weeks ago on my website addressed this with an Acquisition/Learning chart–check it out, it may help you here)

C) It involves students–even reluctant students get sucked into the drama and fun in a TPRS classroom.  They wind up learning in spite of themselves.

D) It addresses more than just the visual learning modality, encompassing auditory and kinesthetic modes as well, which can help with minority students who are often orientated more that way.

E) Students can actually do some useful things when they leave a TRPS class.  They can understand and express themselves in the TL.


A) Students must be present in class and they must be engaged with the material.  They cannot daydream or ditch and expect to get it, so absent students and non-focused students are a problem.

B) Another weakness is teacher involvement.  This is not the “Pass out the worksheet and sit down” method.  The teacher is “on” a lot more than in a traditional class, which can be exhausting.

C) This difficulty makes it hard to find substitutes that can pull off the method, and

D) It can be hard for new teachers to master as well.   It takes a whole suite of high-level skills to pull off the method.   For a new teacher, that is a lot of balls be juggling at one time.

E) The teacher must be extremely fluent in the language–more so than many  college FL majors are, so the method can be intimidating.

F) Students must sometimes be coached and coaxed into accepting this engaged form of learning since they have become conditioned by our recent teach-to-the-test schooling craze–to a kid a couple of years is eternity, and we have been focused on teach-to-the-test mania for many years now in this country.

(There are more strengths and weaknesses, I’m sure, but these are the ones that I get off the top of my head today after a long day of teaching!)


There is no contest.  TPRS versus the dominant, traditional grammar/translation method is like bringing a knife to a gun fight.  It is bringing a conjugation worksheet to a proficiency fight.  Modern teaching is about proficiency, engaging students and authentic learning, not decontextualized, hypothetical words floating in a sea of meaningless worksheets.

I also mentioned in my paper how I personalized the lesson to make it more relevant to them and she asked “Is this an important goal? Why?”   ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  How would personalizing a lesson not be important?

I agree with you.  That is the oddest question I have seen in a while.  It can’t mean what it looks like it means.  There must be more behind it.