charts


Don Cherry’s videos – Questions

Don Cherry's videos - Questions

In April 2014 Don Cherry put up some more videos on his YouTube channel.

Ever since I saw his first videos, I’ve had the project of taking very short sequences (2-3 minutes) and accompanying them with questions to help teachers new to the Silent Way “see” what the teacher and the students are doing. So far, I’ve done just one: the 3 minute sequence “Put one there” vs “Put one here” about 11:00 – 14:00 in Silent Way: “Put another one there.” (2 of 4)


  1. What does the teacher do to help the students find the rhythm of the sentence?
  2. What does the student in the brown top do – and not do – that shows she doesn’t really understand the meaning of “there”?
  3. Why doesn’t Don let her take a rod?
  4. Does she seem embarrassed or frustrated when he stops her?
  5. How do we know the student in the striped top has no idea of the contrast in meaning between “here” and “there”?
  6. The student in the light-coloured clothes makes a gesture that shows she has understood pointing is important but has a slightly erroneous hypothesis. What does she do?
  7. She then says and points correctly “Put one here.” Why doesn’t Don accept it?
  8. She then points correctly and says “Put one there.” How does Don test she really knows what she’s doing and saying?
  9. Immediately after at 13:14, we hear the student in the brown top saying something in such a way that it shows she’s realised the meaning too. What is it? How does her body language indicate understanding?
  10. Why doesn’t Don continue working on the the rhythm of the sentence during this sequence?

There are many more questions that could be asked about these three minutes of class. Would you like to try?

Writing the questions made me see a lot that I hadn’t noticed at first viewing. I’m not a Silent Way beginner teacher but there’s always more to learn.


Silent Way Articles

Subordinating teaching to learning…

… and also various ways of using Cuisenaire rods in language classes

 

Don Cherry 2009 Color Chart

Don Cherry 2009 Color Chart

One of Deborah Delin’s animations

John Pint – Finger correction

… and 4 online books

Roslyn Young and Piers Messum

Roslyn Young has written numerous articles on the Silent Way. You will find links to online versions of many of them on her site: Roslyn Young.

Piers Messum has also written many articles related to the Silent Way. You’ll find them on the Pronunciation Science downloads page.

Between them, Roslyn and Piers have written 4 books:


A Silent Way lesson on syllable stress

The teacher’s responsibility and the student’s responsibility

syllable stress
In The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages, Caleb Gattegno suggested that the aim of good teaching is to make students independent, autonomous and responsible.” Elsewhere he claimed that the role of a teacher is to force awarenesses. These two statements are in no way contradictory. A sensitive teacher who does what is necessary for a student to have new insights does not remove or replace that student’s own responsibility for his/her learning.

Sometimes it can be useful to make it clear to a student that they need to mobilise their faculties themselves.

I was very much struck with this a few years ago when I was observing a colleague, Andi Biero, teach a “false beginner” class. The teacher was trying to focus a student’s attention in such a way that an element of the language that the student was unaware of would become apparent to her. I don’t now remember the exact order in which the teacher tried different ways of doing that, but otherwise what follows is pretty faithful to what I saw.

One of the students, Danielle, had said something in which she had put the stress in “today” on the first syllable.

1) The teacher indicated that there was a pronunciation problem.

First, the teacher just said, “Pronunciation” to indicate that there was something wrong with the pronunciation of this word. This produced no response.

2) The teacher made a gesture to indicate the stress.

The teacher made a gesture in the air with her hand to indicate the stress. Danielle looked blank.

3) The teacher tapped the word on the:

Caleb Gattegno - Silent Way US English Word charts

Caleb Gattegno – Silent Way US English Word charts 1977 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Then the teacher pointed to the written word “today” (she was using the Silent Way word charts – it’s on bottom of Chart 10) and tapped lightly on “to” then forcefully on “day”. Danielle said the word again with the stress on the first syllable and also pronouncing it as “too”.

4) The teacher used the colour code on the chart to indicate the schwa pronunciation of the first syllable.

The teacher showed her (by covering up with a finger the khaki coloured “o” of ‘today” and by gesture virtually changing it to yellow, the colour for the schwa /ə/ or neutral e) that the vowel in “to” should be pronounced the same as the vowel in “the”. Danielle now said “TUHday” instead of “TOOday”.

5) The teacher tapped the rhythm on the student’s hand.

The teacher took Danielle’s hand and tapped the rhythm of the word in the palm of her hand. No result.

6) The teacher and then the student tapped the rhythm on the desk.

The teacher tapped out the rhythms “DAH di” and “di DAH” with her hand on the desk and asked Danielle to repeat each tapping. After a few attempts, Danielle was able to do this but still said “TOday”.

7) Some students tapped one of the two rhythms and others said which it was.

The teacher asked other students to tap out the above rhythms and had Danielle (and other students) say which was which. The class had fun doing this and Danielle became able to recognize the different rhythms but she couldn’t transfer this to “today”.

8) The teacher asked the student to put the stress on “to”.

The teacher asked Danielle to deliberately put the stress on “to” and then to put it on “day”. What Danielle produced was always the same.

9) The teacher wrote the work with the stressed syllable in capital letters.

The teacher wrote “TOday” and “toDAY” on the board and asked other students to say one of the two but without indicating in advance which one they were saying. Danielle (and other students) had to say which one she heard. This was obviously an enjoyable activity for the whole class and after some mistakes at first, Danielle managed to do this accurately. But she still said ” TOday”.

10) The teacher got the student to “walk” the stress.

The teacher asked Danielle to “walk” the word with her, stamping hard on the “day”. This had no result.

11) The teacher gave the student a shove between the shoulder blades on the stressed syllable

The teacher stood behind Danielle and when she (Danielle) said the word gave her a firm shove between the shoulder blades on the “day” syllable. She did this two or three times but with no result.

All this time, Danielle had co-operated with the teacher’s suggestions and remained relaxed.

12) The teacher made the “palms up” gesture.

Finally, the teacher calmly made the palms up gesture, looked at Danielle, and said gently in French (Danielle’s native language), “I’ve tried everything I know. Now, you are the only one who can do something.”

Danielle looked away from the teacher, paused, and said “toDAY”.

My conclusions

Language teachers observing a Silent Way class for the first time often feel that an inordinate amount of time can be spent on one small problem, “So what does it matter if she does have the stress wrong in today? She’ll be understood anyway?” The point of the above lesson was not principally to get Danielle to pronounce today correctly but, on one level, to help her to build up criteria for recognising and producing differences in stress – essential in English though of little significance in Danielle’s native language, French and, on another level, to gain awareness of her own actions and, therefore, control over them.

For various reasons, Danielle dropped out of this class but enrolled a few months later in a complete beginners class I happened to be teaching. She never once blocked in this way over pronunciation or anything else. Maybe during the experience described above, she had learnt more than just how to pronounce “today”.

© Glenys Hanson 2001-2015. Originally published on the Une Education Pour Demain website.


.Creative Commons License
“Working on syllable stress in a Silent Way class” by Glenys Hansonis licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Beginner Silent Way exercises using Cuisenaire rods

Some quotations from The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages:

Words can become a reality to which we can relate, but they are retained only when they trigger images, their meaning …
… we need to find ways of working that first bring the truth to the fore and then present an associated sign that can stand for that truth when consistently associated with it.
… it was found that a set of Cuisenaire rods is a very good way of achieving that end.” (1)

 

Working with situations made with the rods… The meanings come from the situations not from the words… The overall result is that there are no really difficult forms which cannot be illustrated through the proper situation involving rods and actions on them about which [students] make statements… whose associated meaning is obvious.(2)

This means that the rods can be used by the teacher to create visual situations (or tactile ones for blind students) which trigger in the students a direct understanding of the meaning and to which they can give expression through the elements of the language they already know, relying on the teacher for those items, and only those, which they lack.

On pp 35-44 of The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages Caleb Gattegno gives some examples (a red rod, two red rods, five yellow rods and two brown ones, pick up, Take a —- rod, Give it to me, Take a rod and give it to her, Take a blue rod and a black one, give the blue one to her and the black one to him, Take seven rods, put one here, two there and give me three, This rod is yellow and that one is blue, I am here, you are there, Is his rod blue?) of how to achieve this in the very first moments of learning a language. There are many other possibilities, of which a few are given below.

Some general considerations

For many of these exercises, the teacher sets out the rods on a table that can be clearly seen by all the students. If the class is large, the table can be raised and slightly tilted towards the students or the rods can be stuck on the wall with blu-tack. For other exercises the teacher may or may not distribute rods to one or more students. If the class is more than about 15 students in size, the teacher often uses the “fish-bowl technique.” That is, 2 to 6 students come to the front, take or are given rods and carry out the actions while the other students learn by proxy. Depending on the situation, the students at the front may be the only ones to speak or all the students may contribute. Naturally, the students working at the front are rotated frequently. After a structure has been presented in this way, all the students are given time to practice it in small groups.

Having set out the rods, the teacher indicates to the students by gesture that s/he is waiting for a response. In certain cases, the teacher also indicates by gesture that one or more students are expected to perform a certain action with the rods. In other cases, in addition to setting out the rods, the teacher might point to a rod or group of rods and say “Mr. Green” or “A street”.

The first response from the students may not be the one anticipated by the teacher. If it is appropriate to the situation, and does not demand a level of language beyond that of the students’, the teacher can accept it and the work will continue in the direction proposed by the students. If the response is inappropriate, or would involve structures too complex to provide a do-able challenge for the students, the teacher invites the students to make other suggestions.

The students’ first propositions will usually not be wholly correct. The teacher will help the students to correct themselves in various ways such as through finger correction(3), pointing to words on the Word Charts

Caleb Gattegno - Silent Way US English Word charts

Caleb Gattegno – Silent Way US English Word charts 1977 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

and indicating pronunciation with the Sound/color rectangles chart and and/or with the Fidel (spelling charts). From time to time, the teacher may direct the students’ attention to a critical aspect of the situation they have been ignoring by a carefully worded question. The teacher can also ask students if they are sure of their answers (whether the answers are in fact correct or not) to encourage them to reflect on their criteria. The teacher’s silence is a tool, not a dogma.

American English sound-color chart

Caleb Gattegno – American English sound-color chart 1977
© Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

The teacher may have to create 2 or 3 parallel presentations with the rods before the situation becomes unambiguous to all the students. Even when most of the students have shown by their responses that they understand the situation, the teacher continues creating parallel situations to give the students time to practice the new words and structures to gain facility and fluency. These new situations can be suggested by the students and can be done in small groups. The time necessary for this practice will be very variable depending on the complexity of the new structure and the rapidity of the students.

Caleb Gattegno - American English Fidel 1967 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno – American English Fidel 1967 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

When students reply to questions, encourage them to give the shortest answers, as these are by far the most frequent in conversation. The nuances between the different possible answers can be worked on later. If you wish them to practice saying full sentences, do it in situations where it is most natural to do so, that is, in making spontaneous affirmative declarations.

At the end of a session the students can write the sentences they have said. At the beginning of the course this is best done by having several students all writing at once on the board. When they have finished their sentences, the other students are allowed to come and underline exactly (that is the exact letters, not necessarily the whole word) where they think they see a mistake. When the students have underlined all the mistakes they can see, the teacher underlines any others. At first, only the author of a given sentence is allowed to correct it. Only if s/he is unable to, can other students make corrections and only if none of them can, does the teacher, as a final resort, make gestures, ask questions, or use the wall charts to lead them to the answer. Later on, when students have developed most of the criteria they need for writing and spelling their sentences, this work can be done in small groups or set for homework.

The teacher may want to write down the students’ sentences, type them up, record them and then make them available for the students via email or an on-line site. That way students will have something to work on at home and feel they have “their” course in a tangible form. Beginners Dictations is based on such notes taken by teachers.

In what follows, the sentences in italics are said by the students only. The teacher provides unknown words by pointing to them on the word charts, on the Fidel spelling charts or on the sound-color chart
as s/he thinks appropriate. S/he may also write the word on the board if it is not on the word charts and will be used frequently during the lesson. Occasionally, the teacher will point a whole sentence, often to ask a question, but usually it is the students who are invited to point their sentences on the word charts. Pointing a sentence on the word charts is a way for the student pointing, and the others watching, to check their control and understanding of a new structure.

Have – has and I – she – he – you – we – they

The teacher gives a long rod to a student. To indicate possession, the teacher firmly closes the student’s fingers on the rod, which however remains visible to the other students.

(Later, the teacher will give one or more rods to other students.)

The teacher indicates to the students that s/he is waiting for them to speak.
(The students will probably already know “I& “you” but not necessarily the other pronouns)

Student A, “I have a blue rod.” (4) Only the student holding the rod is allowed to say this sentence.
Student B, “You have a blue rod.” This can only be said if the student speaking is speaking directly to Student A. who is holding the blue rod. It may be necessary to get the student speaking to stand up and face Student A to make this clear.
Student B, “Student A. has a blue rod.”Student B. must not look at Student A.
Student C, “She (or he) has a blue rod.”Student C. must not look at Student A. but address a third student or the teacher. Sometimes it may be necessary for the teacher to physically turn the speaker’s head to make this clear.

The teacher gives different rods to other students to create this situation:

Some students have to share rods so that “we” and “they” can be elicited:

“We have an orange rod.”
“They have a brown one
.”

too – either – neither

The desire to say “too” often comes up spontaneously without any special prompting from the teacher who can then seize the opportunity to introduce the related words “either” and “neither”.)
Student A,“I have a blue rod.”
Student B,“I have a blue rod, too.”
Student C,“Me, too.”
Student D,“I do, too.” The teacher can ask which of these last two is the more informal – in the native language or by using gestures.
Student E,“I don’t have a blue rod.”
Student F,“Me, neither.”
Student G,“I don’t, either.” The teacher can again ask which is the more informal.

do / does for questions

The teacher indicates that questions should be asked, either by saying, “Now, ask a question” or by writing a large “?” on the board.

Student A to Student B,“Do you have a blue rod?”
Student B,“Yes, I do.”
Student A to Student F,“Do you have a blue rod?”
Student F,“No, I don’t.”or“No, but I have a green one”
Student E to Student F,“Does Student E. have a green rod?”
Student F,“Yes, she does.”
Student B to Student A,“Does Student G have a blue rod?”
Student A,“No, he doesn’t.”or“No, but he has a green one.”

Other possible student sentences:

“Do they have a brown rod?”
“Yes, they do.”
“No, they don’t.”
“No, but they have an orange one.”

different – same

and my – her – his – your – our – their

and mine – hers – his – yours – ours – theirs

My rod’s blue and your rod’s blue, too.
My rod’s blue and yours is, too.
Our rods are the same colour.
His rod’s blue and her rod’s green.
Their rods are different colours
.

The “same as” and “different from/than” should probably be left to another time if all this is new to the students.

For practice outside of class they can do this interactive exercise: my – your – his – her – its – our – their

some – any

(This is maybe not the best way to introduce them for the first time but is good for practice afterwards.)

The teacher gives additional rods of the same colour to each student. For example, one more blue rod to the students who already have blue ones, two or three more green rods to the students who have green ones, etc. The teacher indicates to the students that they should continue to ask questions.

“Do you have any blue rods?”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“No, but I have some green ones”
“Does he have any green rods?”
“Yes, he does.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“No, but he has some blue ones.”
“Do they have any blue rods?”
“Yes, they do.”
“No, they don’t.”
“No, but they have some red ones.”

How many… ?

The teacher ostentatiously counts out different numbers of same coloured rods to each of the students but in such a way that only the student receiving the rods knows the actual number. At least one of the students is not given any rods. The teacher indicates s/he wants a question asked.

Student A,“How many rods do you have?”
Student B,“Two.”I would accept“I have two”but ask them which is more frequent in conversation. For me,“I have five rods” is not really acceptable at this level because it is too difficult to make clear the slight difference of emphasis.
Student B,“How many rods do you have?”
Student L,“None.”or“I don’t have any.”

Long and short

The teacher lays a blue rod and a green one on the table like this:

 

The teacher makes a gesture indicating the length of the blue rod and indicates that the students should say something. If necessary, s/he points to the word “long” on the word charts.

“The blue rod’s long.”
“A long, blue rod.”

The teacher makes another gesture indicating the shortness of the green rod.

“The green rod’s short.”
“A short, green rod.”

Comparing rods

The teacher makes a gesture indicating simultaneously the lengths of the two rods. As necessary, the teacher points to “-er”, “longer” (making sure the students notice the difference in colour on the charts of the “g” in “long” and the “g” in “longer” and pronounce each correctly) and “than”. To ensure that the students pronounce “than” with the reduced schwa vowel (and not with the full pronunciation as shown on the word charts) the teacher could point it first on the sound-color chart or on the spelling charts. With the teacher’s help, the students should be able to work out for themselves how to say:

“The blue rod’s longer than the green one.”

and

“The green rod’s shorter than the blue one.”

without the teacher having to say or point on the word charts to the whole sentence.

Superlatives

Then, the teacher adds a red rod like this:

and points to “-est” on the word charts.

“The red rod’s the shortest.”
“The blue rod’s the longest.”

The teacher adds more rods, one by one, until it becomes clear that the form doesn’t change however many more rods there are.

The teacher removes all these rods and lays out the orange and blue rods side by side like this:

“The orange rod’s a little longer than the blue one.”
“The blue rod’s a little shorter than the orange one.”

Then the teacher replaces the blue rod with the red one.

“The red rod’s much shorter than the orange one.”
“The orange rod’s much longer than the red one.”

Comparing people

Having removed all the other rods, the teacher places a brown rod and a black rod upright on the table and says, “Mr Brown. Mr Black.” The students will usually spontaneously propose,

“Mr Brown’s longer than Mr Black.”

The teacher points to “tall” on the word charts (or on the sound-color charts if the pronunciation is likely to be a problem).

“Mr Brown’s taller than Mr Black.”
“Mr Black’s shorter than Mr Brown”

Unless for some reason it would be socially embarrassing, the teacher can ask two students to stand up.

“Student A is taller than Student B.”
“Student B is shorter than Student A.”

a lot/a few and small/large

Then the teacher places three red rods upright around Mr Brown and about twelve red rods around Mr Black. The teacher gestures to the red rods and says, “children”. If the meaning of “children” is not immediately clear to the students (if they have understood, they will laugh at the size of Mr Black’s family) the teacher can pick up a red rod and make a baby rocking movement with his/her arms.

The teacher hides Mr Brown and his family with the lid of the box to indicate to the students that they should only talk about Mr Black and his family.

“Mr Black has a lot of children.”
“He has a large family.”

Then, the teacher hides Mr Black and his family and displays Mr Brown and his family.

“Mr Brown has just a few children.”
“He has a small family.”

more/fewer

Then, the teacher shows both the families together.

“Mr Black has more children than Mr Brown.”
“Mr Brown has fewer children than Mr Black.”

Next the teacher places a lot of green rods next to Mr Brown and a few next to Mr Black and says “Apples.” If necessary, s/he draws an apple on the board.

“Mr Brown has a lot of apples.”
“Mr Black has just a few.”
“Mr Black has fewer apples than Mr Brown.”
“Mr Brown has more apples than Mr Black.

How many…?

The teacher indicates that the students should ask questions.

“Does Mr Brown have a lot of children?”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“How many children does he have?”
“Three.”

Countables and uncountables

Then the teacher puts a large lump of Blu-tack (5) near Mr Black and a small lump near Mr Brown. It is important to use something that is visibly and tangibly uncountable so that students form a clear mental image of the concept which may not exist in their native language. Blu-tack is what I’ve found easiest to carry around for this purpose.

“Mr Black has a lot of Blu-tack.”
“Mr Brown has just a little Blu-tack.”
“Mr Black has more Blu-tack than Mr Brown.”
“Mr Brown has less Blu-tack than Mr Black.”
“How much Blu-tack does Mr Brown have?”
“Just a little.”

The teacher continues to give Mr Brown and Mr Black countable and uncountable objects. At first, the rods represent only countable objects, and uncountables are things that are themselves uncountable: paper, Kleenex, money… Then, when the distinction is clear to most students, rods can also represent uncountables but are placed in neat piles whereas, when they represent countables, they are scattered about.

When there are 4-6 representations each of countable and uncountable objects on the table, one of the weakest students can be asked to sort them into two groups. To do this the teacher draws two chalk circles on the table (or virtual circles if no chalk is available) and puts some “children” in one circle and some Blu-tack in the other. Then, the teacher gives some of one of the other objects to the student and indicates he has to place it/them either with the “children” or with the Blu-tack. Only when the student has finished sorting all the objects are the other students allowed to point out any mistakes. It is important to make them wait until the end because the weak students will often correct initial errors of their own accord as they see a pattern developing. This way, they are not robbed of a chance to make the discovery on their own by those who have made it themselves just a few minutes earlier.

Superlatives

A Mr Green is added and given varying numbers and amounts of children, paper, etc.

“Mr Green has the most paper.”
“Mr Green has the least money.”
etc.

There are many more situations that can be created. Students themselves are very inventive at proposing different ideas that can be represented in similar ways.


Notes

1) The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages, Caleb Gattegno, p 35.

2) Idem, p 43

3) In “finger correction” each finger on the hand of the teacher or of the student, represents one word of the sentence the student has said. The student “reads” the sentence as the fingers are pointed to in turn. Problems are indicated, for example, by pressing two contiguous figures together to show the need for a contraction; one or more fingers are bent down to eliminate unnecessary words; two fingers are crossed to show that the position of the two words represented should be inverted. “The problem is here” is said and a particular finger or fingers are pointed to so that the student can locate the position of the problem. All these conventions are quickly developed between the teacher and the class without any need for overt explanations.
Towards the end of this article there’s an illustrated description of finger correction: Discovering the Silent Way – John and Susana Pint.

4) Or “I’ve got a rod.” However, even if this is at least equally probable in some teachers’ dialects, there may be pedagogical reasons for preferring to start with the more regular “I have a rod” form.

5) Blu-tack is what Silent Way teachers often use for fixing their charts to the wall. Blu-tack looks like a lump of Plasticine or chewing-gum and is sold under different names and colours.

© Glenys Hanson, 2015. An earlier version was published on the Une Education Pour Demain website in 2001.


Creative Commons License
“Some Silent Way exercises for beginners using Cuisenaire rods” by Glenys Hanson”is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Forcing awarenesses about “ago”

Forcing awarenesses about “ago”

What “forcing awarenesses” means in a Silent Way lesson

One objective in writing this article is to describe, step-by-step, a few minutes of a Silent Way class and to make explicit the reasons I, the teacher, had for doing what I did. It is in no way to be taken as a “model” lesson; just one teacher responding with her particular sensitivity and know-how to one individual and his language problems at that moment in his life. Another Silent Way teacher, or even the same one at another time with other students, could propose similar or different activities depending on the needs of those students.

Another objective is to try to make clear that when Silent Way teachers talk of “forcing awaresses” they are referring to practices which respect the autonomy of the learner.

The student

M.C., an adult, lower-intermediate student, was starting his first lesson, one-to-one, after an interruption of four months. G.H., the teacher is me, of course. What follows is only a small part of what M.C. worked on in two four-hour sessions. He spent the time telling me about his family and his job. I helped him to express himself correctly in English.

I suggest you read the account and notice what awarenesses I was trying to force and how I did so. For those who are new to this way of working, there follows an annotated version of this lesson including my comments on what I was doing.

________________

The beginning

On the way to the classroom, M.C. had told me in French about his hearing loss and said he would tell me about it in English. I knew he did not know the expression in English so I wrote “hearing loss” on the board.

M.C. “There are three weeks I had a sudden hearing loss three weeks ago.”

G.H. in French, “You’re saying the same thing twice.”

M.C. gave a blank look.

G.H. in English, “In this room there are three chairs, a table, a television and some papers.”
In French, “What am I doing?”

M.C. in French, “Describing the room.”

G.H. in French, “In your sentence did you want to describe something or say when something happened?”

M.C. in French, “Say when something happened.”

I made the gesture of taking “there are” from the wall charts and throwing it in the bin. In French, “You said the right word at the end of your sentence.”

M.C. gave a blank look.

I pointed to the general area on the Silent Way wall charts where “ago” is written. In French, “The word you need is here.”

M.C. “Ah! Three weeks ago. I had a hearing loss three weeks ago.”

About 1 hour later – the chalk line

M.C. in French, “I know this is wrong but I don’t know how to make it right.” In English, “There are six months we had a meeting.”

So I drew this on the board:

Ago -time line

and pointed to the vertical line marked 0 and said in French, “What’s this?”

M.C. in English, “Now.”

Then I pointed to the vertical lines marked -1, -2, -3, etc. while ostentatiously counting on my fingers. In French, “What am I doing?”

M.C. in French, “Pointing to the lines backwards.”

G.H. making the gesture of counting even more exaggerated, in French, “Yes, what am I doing?”

M.C. in French, “Counting.”

G. H. in French, “If we call them ‘years’ what can you say?”

M.C. in English, “One year ago, two years ago, three years ago.”

G.H. in French, “I’m going to put this line on the floor.”

I drew a chalk line on the floor. I put a pointer on the floor perpendicular to the chalk line. “This is zero.” I put blue rods parallel to the pointer on one side (the past) and orange ones on the other side (the future). Then I stood with my feet parallel to the pointer, facing to the “future.” I pointed to the vertical lines on the board and said, in French, “Name one of those.”

M.C. in English, “Two years ago.”

I stepped back “two blue rods” and remained there.

G.H. “Name another one.”

M.C. in English, “Three years ago.”

I returned to the pointer and stepped back “three blue rods.” I returned to my chair, sat down and said in French, “Now your turn.”

M.C. stood parallel to the pointer.

G.H. in English, “Two years ago.”

M.C. stepped back “two blue rods.”

G.H. in English, “Three years ago.”

M.C. stepped back another “blue rod” from where he was.

G.H. in English, “No.”

M.C. returned to the pointer (zero) and stepped back “three blue rods.”

G.H. “Two years before that”

MC. hesitated and then stepped back “two blue rods” from where he was.

G.H. “One year after that.” M.C., still hesitant, stepped forward “one blue rod.”

G.H. “In two years.” M.C., with no hesitation, came back to the pointer and stepped forward “two orange rods.”

G.H. “One year after that.”

M.C., with no hesitation, stepped back “one orange rod.”

G.H. repeated, “One year after that.”

M.C. in French, “Ah, of course” and redid his action correctly.

I gave 4 or 5 more instructions – M. C. made no more mistakes but had a few hesitations over “before” and “after”, never between “in” and “ago”. Then he sat down.

G.H., in English, “And your meeting?”

M.C. “We had a meeting six months ago.”

 

Next day

M.C. “My wife went to London at two years.”

G. H. “Problem.”

M.C. “My wife went to London two years ago.”

He used “ago” correctly at least three times during the rest of the four-hour session without hesitation or apparent effort.

________________

Here’s the same lesson with my comments about why I did what I did

The beginning

On the way to the classroom, M.C. had told me in French about his hearing loss and said he would tell me about it in English. I knew he did not know the expression in English so I wrote “hearing loss” on the board.

I could have given the phrase to him orally but I knew he would have trouble hearing the words and it would lead to work on the sounds of the words and prevent him from telling his story which he obviously wanted to do.

M.C. “There are three weeks I had a sudden hearing loss three weeks ago.”

In French “there is/are” and “ago” are both expressed by “il y a” so French people often put “there is/are” instead of “ago”. Here, however, it is said not instead of but in addition to “ago”.

G.H. in French, “You’re saying the same thing twice.”

I said this to make him realise that if he said “ago”, “there are” wasn’t necessary.

M.C. gave a blank look.

This showed me my first attempt had been unsuccessful because he wasn’t aware that he had used “ago” and “there are”. I had to try something else.

G.H. in English, “In this room there are three chairs, a table, a television and some papers.”

Why a Silent Way teacher speaks

Some people may be surprised at a Silent Way teaching saying a whole sentence in the target language. For M.C. there was nothing new or difficult in the sentence; I wasn’t saying it as a model or to teach him the structure or vocabulary – he’d already mastered them at one level. The problem for him was that as a French speaker the feelings inside that generated the need to express “there areness” and “agoness” did not lead to seeing the necessity to use two different words. In the same way, English speakers learning French do not immediately feel the psychological necessity for having to use two different words (connaître and savoir) to express the English “know”. All words carry a whole collection of meanings but the collection is not always made up of the same items in different languages.

G.H. in French, “What am I doing?”

M.C. in French, “Describing the room.”

G.H. in French, “In your sentence did you want to describe something or say when something happened?”

M.C. in French, “Say when something happened.”

 

Why speak in the native language

This exchange took place in French because I wanted M.C. to pay attention to what we were saying and not on how we were saying it. At his level in English, to have spoken in English would have distracted his attention from the content.

I made the gesture of taking “there are” from the wall charts and throwing it in the bin.

 

The energy impact of images and physical gestures

He had just said that he wanted to express when something happened. My action indicated in a very physical way that “there are” cannot be used for this. The physical gesture has a very different impact on the student than a verbal explanation that intellectually has the “same” content because it creates a visual image in the student’s mind. If I had felt it necessary, I could have made the energy impact even greater by getting the student to make the gesture himself and the muscular energy he would have used would have helped him feel the meaning even more strongly.

G. H. in French, “You said the right word at the end of your sentence.”

M.C. gave a blank look.

 

Language is ephemeral

It was now some minutes since he’d said his original sentence and as usually happens after a period of time he had lost contact with the words of his sentence. Language is ephemeral, and unless we have some special reason to do otherwise, as language teachers or learners, for example, we quickly forget the particular words we have used though we retain the content.

I pointed to the general area on the Silent Way wall charts where “ago” is written.

 

Recognition as a way of knowing

We are all able to recognise many more words than we can produce spontaneously. Recognition is a lower level of mastery than spontaneous production, but it is a level of knowing. By giving the student the opportunity to select the word from a group, the student uses his own energy. Therefore he is using his initiative in a way that will help him retain the word. When a student just reads a sentence because the teacher points to it, there is less personal investment and so less retention occurs.

G. H. in French, “The word you need is here.”

With hindsight, I can see that it probably wasn’t really necessary to say this.

M.C. “Ah! Three weeks ago. I had a hearing loss three weeks ago.”

His “Ah!” indicated that he’d had the awareness that the word he needed was “ago”.

 

About 1 hour later

M.C. in French, “I know this is wrong but I don’t know how to make it right.” In English, “There are six months we had a meeting.”

This shows progress. Though in a sense it is less correct than his sentence about hearing loss, because “ago” does not appear at all, his comment in French shows that he is aware that there is a problem. When he said his first sentence, he was not aware that it was incorrect.

 

Using a timeline on the board to force awareness through an image

So I drew this on the board:

Ago -time line

and pointed to the vertical line marked 0 and said in French, “What’s this?”

M.C. in English, “Now.”

This was probably not the first occasion an English teacher had used this as a model of time. Generally, French people are already familiar with timelines and they need no special presentation or explanation.

Then I pointed to the vertical lines marked -1, -2, -3, etc. while ostentatiously counting on my fingers.

G.H. in French, “What am I doing?”

M.C. in French, “Pointing to the lines backwards.”

G.H. making the gesture of counting even more exaggerated, in French, “Yes, what am I doing?”

M.C. in French, “Counting.”

 

Awareness of the meaning of “ago” – counting backwards

The purpose of this and what follows is to make M.C. aware of the mental processes behind the use of the word “ago” and to attach “ago” to the “counting” feeling, or more precisely to the “counting units backwards in time” feeling.

G. H. in French, “If we call them ‘years’ what can you say?”

M.C. in English, “One year ago, two years ago, three years ago.”

G.H. in French, “I’m going to put this line on the floor.”

 

Using a timeline on the floor to force awareness by physical action

I drew a long chalk arrow on the floor. I put a pointer on the floor perpendicular to the chalk line. “This is zero.” I put blue rods parallel to the pointer on one side (the past) and orange ones on the other side (the future). Then I stood with my feet parallel to the line, next to the pointer, facing to the “future”. I pointed to the vertical lines on the board and said, in French, “Name one of those.”

M.C. in English, “Two years ago.”

G. H. stepped back “two blue rods” and remained there.

G.H. “Name another one.”

M.C. in English, “Three years ago.”

I returned to the pointer and stepped back “three blue rods.”
I returned to my chair, sat down and said in French, “Now your turn.”

 

A disadvantage of the one-to-one situation

If there had been other students in the class, I would have had one of them perform the actions instead of myself. And likewise, in what follows, other students would have given the directions. The teacher being obliged, in a one-to-one situation, to play the role of a virtual fellow student means that many opportunities of learning from mistakes are lost.

M.C. stood parallel to the pointer.

G.H. in English, “Two years ago.”

M.C. stepped back “two blue rods.”

G.H. in English, “Three years ago.”

M.C. stepped back another “blue rod” from where he was.

G.H. in English, “No.”

M.C. returned to the pointer (zero) and stepped back “three blue rods.”

G.H. “Two years before that”

MC. hesitated and then stepped back “two blue rods” from where he was.

G.H. “One year after that.”

M.C., still hesitant, stepped forward “one blue rod.”

G.H. “In two years.” M.C., with no hesitation, came back to the pointer and stepped forward “two orange rods.”

G.H. “One year after that.”

M.C., with no hesitation, stepped back “one orange rod.”

G.H. repeated, “One year after that.”

 

What it means to “know the meaning” of a word

This is an example of a word which had previously appeared to be perfectly acquired (because he could use it without hesitation in sentences such as “April is after May” or “After dinner I watched TV”) demanding renewed attention in a context where the reference was not directly stated but only implied by the word “that”. In a sense, the process of knowing a word is never totally complete, because we cannot foresee the potential new contexts that will create an extra dimension to a familiar word. This is true for native speakers as much as for foreign learners.

M.C. in French, “Ah, of course” and redid his action correctly.

I gave 4 or 5 more instructions – M. C. made no more mistakes but had a few hesitations over “before” and “after”, never between “in” and “ago”. Then he sat down.

 

Making a metaphor physically visible

The point of doing this physically was to make him realise that if he interpreted the words wrongly he actually found himself somewhere different in space than he should be. Time is a very elusive concept and Indo-European languages (probably others, too, but I don’t actually speak any) have often chosen to describe time in terms borrowed from spatial relationships. Recreating in the student’s own body the basis of the metaphor aids understanding and retention.

G.H., in English, “And your meeting?”

M.C. “We had a meeting six months ago.”

Next day

M.C. “My wife went to London at two years.”

G. H. “Problem.”

The desire to express “agoness” was no longer triggering “there are” but the right word was not yet automatic. The word he chose, though wrong, was not arbitrarily so. “At” is also used to fix a point in non-present time, ex: “My wife went to the bank at two o’clock.”

M.C. “My wife went to London two years ago.”

 

Proof of internal criteria

His progress was evident from the fact that he demonstrated that he now had sufficient criteria to monitor his own sentence and correct it. Just saying “Problem” was now enough outside help..

He used “ago” correctly at least three times during the rest of the four-hour session without hesitation or apparent effort.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had another opportunity to work with him since then, so I am unable to say if “ago” has become a permanent acquisition for this person or not.

___________

As I wrote at the beginning of the article, this should not be read as a recipe for teaching “ago”. I often draw timelines on the board in this context, but I don’t always do so; neither do I always draw attention to the counting aspect. On the other hand, I sometimes draw more attention to this aspect – by getting the students to come and count the marks on the board, by getting them to mime counting on their fingers each time they use the word, etc. I didn’t do all that with M.C. because it didn’t seem to me to be necessary. It is true that I use some techniques over and over again; others I have only used once with one particular student because it felt right for them. Each time I use my judgement, my experience, my intuition and my observation of the students in front of me to guide me as to what is appropriate to force the necessary awareness at that moment.

© Glenys Hanson, 2015. An earlier version was published on the Une Education Pour Demain website in 2001.


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“A Silent Way Lesson: forcing awarenesses about “ago”” by Glenys Hanson”is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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Here are some of Fanny Passeport‘s students using the same technique of a pointer and rods on the floor to learn time expressions in French: