meaning


Creating mental images of English prepositions

Two Palettes - Jim Dine. The Collection Online. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Why native-speakers can “guess” the meaning

Words such as up, on and over each evoke a specific mental image, or series of related images, which are shared by all native speakers. This does not mean of course that native speakers can necessarily make explicit in words their exact meaning but that when they come across the word in an unfamiliar context they can spontaneously make a guess at the meaning of the total expression with a high degree of success. This is precisely what many learners of English are often unable to do. Each phrasal verb, each colloquial expression containing a preposition is treated as a new item of vocabulary to be memorised – a slow and laborious process that can never be completed because the number of such expressions is potentially infinite. Native speakers create new ones every day. The number of words such as up, on and over on the other hand, is limited and their meanings can be mastered.. For simplicity’s sake, I will call such words “prepositions” here, though most can also function as adverbs, subordinators, etc., because what I want to emphasise is their base meaning, not their grammatical function.

(Read more…)


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.


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“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.


English Verb Tenses: a dynamic presentation

…using the Cuisenaire Rods

The reasons for presenting the English verb tense system

This article describes an exercise I often do in class when I hear a student sigh, after making yet another mistake, “I never know which verb tense to use!” and I see the rest of the class nodding in agreement. These people are usually French adults whose four to eight years of school English has left them with a lot of words, but very few criteria for organising them into correct sentences. They may have a few, half remembered, over simple “rules” such as “The Present Perfect means the action began in the past and continues in the present” but generally they feel that English is a language with no grammar and getting sentences right is something mysterious which hopefully just comes with practice. Others, having had a lengthy and rigorous training in French grammar, either feel that English is somehow more primitive then French or they try to apply French grammatical concepts to English. Neither of these attitudes having led to much progress in the language, they are usually quite happy to attempt a new way of looking at English verb tenses. This new way is of course only new to them; it is one that has been accepted by most academic grammarians for over a hundred years but has yet to filter down to school textbooks. My objective in writing this article is not so much to describe or defend this theory of English verb tenses, but to show how it can be presented in class in a game-like way. I shall attempt to describe step by step, everything significant I and my students say and do in a typical presentation. Naturally, each group of students responds differently, so this is a synthesis of my experience with dozens of groups over the past 30 years during which time my own understanding of English tenses has evolved considerably.

An example of a scientific model

I introduce the activity by explaining that what I am proposing is a different model of verb tenses from that they learnt at school. I use model in the scientific sense and refer to the well-known examples of the Ptolemaic and Copernican models of the planetary system to make it clear that a model is neither true nor false, but only a more or less economic and/or useful presentation of facts. The English students were taught at school was not incorrect, but it was presented in terms of a model which was originally devised to describe the functioning of a completely different language – Latin. However adequate this model may be for explaining the complex system of declensions and conjugations expressed through suffixes in Latin, there is no reason to suppose it appropriate for English which has no such declensions and almost no conjugations.

Creating a mental image: the bubble

My first step is to create a mental image in the minds of my students. I say, “As English speakers we imagine ourselves in the centre of a bubble – something like a chewing gum bubble – which is infinitely elastic. For example…” I put a red rod near one student, Catherine, and a blue rod further away from her. “Which of these rods is ‘here’ for you and which one ‘there’?” Catherine says, “Here.” pointing to the red one and “There.” pointing to the blue one. I ask the class, “Where is the limit of Catherine’s bubble?” They gesture to indicate somewhere between the red rod and the blue one. Then I put a yellow rod beyond the blue one in relation to Catherine, and cover the red one with my hand without moving it. I say to Catherine, “Now look at the blue rod and the yellow one and say which is ‘here’ and which is ‘there’.” Catherine points to the blue rod and says ‘Here‘ and the yellow rod and says “There“. I ask the class again, “Where is the limit of Catherine’s bubble now?” and they indicate a point between the blue rod and the yellow one. Then I open the door and throw a green rod into the corridor and say to the whole class, “Everybody can play now, which rod is ‘here’ and which is ‘there’?” They have no hesitation in saying that the one in the room is “here” and the one in the corridor is “there“. When I ask, “Where is the limit of our bubble?” the students reply, “The classroom.” We continue in the same way but with virtual rods, one in the building and one in the street, the one in the street and one in London, the one in London and one on the moon, etc. until we have expanded our bubble to the size of the universe.

Then I ask,

Have the rods moved?
No.”
So what causes us to say ‘here’ or ‘there’?
“Our point of view./It’s a question of relativity.”
“This image of the bubble works not only for space but for time, too. We’ll come back to it, but first I want to ask you some questions about tenses.”

What is a tense and how many are there in English

Here I check that everyone knows the difference between time and tense because in French there is only one word. Then I ask them how many tenses there are in English. The only people I have ever found (other than English teachers, and not even all of those) who could give a rapid and confident answer were students preparing the CAPES (the French competitive examination for secondary school teachers) and those who had previously done courses with my colleagues. Usually they either say they do not know or start muttering to themselves and counting on their fingers and come up with any number between 3 and 10. My next question is about the function of tenses, “What do they do? Why do they exist?” Somebody will say something on the lines of “They situate an action in time.” I accept this for the moment. Then I ask, “How do you recognise a tense when you see or hear it?” and I will get an answer about endings or suffixes to the verb. So then I ask, “How do you recognise that a word is a verb?” This usually leads to a silence so I write “gollar” on the board and ask if anyone knows what it means – so far no one has – and then if they know if it is a verb.

Of course they do not. I then write “a gollar” and ask them again and they say,

No, it’s a noun.”
“What proves it’s a noun?”
“The ‘a’ in front.”
“What can you put in front to test if a word is a verb?”

Here I often get the answer “to” so I write “to London” and ask for a better test and usually get “I“, so I write “I gollar.” I ask if in this sentence they are sure “gollar” is a verb, so far everyone has agreed they are sure. Then I point to “a gollar” and ask,

“Is there anything here which indicates time?”
“No.”
“And in “I gollar.”, is there anything to indicate time?”

They are obliged to answer “No.” but it is often obvious that some people are not comfortable with this answer. So I say, “Let’s leave ‘gollar‘ and use a common action verb you all know ‘play‘.” and I write “I play.” on the board. “You said before that tense was a question of endings, so what endings can you put on ‘play’?” As they make suggestions I write them on the board like this:

I play.
He plays.
I played.

At this point someone always suggests ‘-ing‘ so I write: I playing. and of course they all point out that it is impossible, so I say, “Then ‘playing’ is not a verb according to our test.” Sometimes they accept this, and sometimes someone protests, “But ‘I am playing’ is the Present Continuous of ‘play’.” So I write up, “I like playing.” and ask what tense it is and if playing is the verb here. If I still feel there is resistance I might say, “In terms of the model you learned at school, you’re right. This model is different. Can you wait a bit to see what advantages there might be to looking at these words in another way?” and I rub out “I playing.” but put ‘playing‘ in brackets under the list. Then I ask them if the difference between ‘play‘ and ‘plays‘ is one of time or person and when they answer ‘person‘ I bracket them together on the board and then I ask them for the second time how many tenses there are in English and everybody agrees, some reluctantly, that there are just two.

The beginning of the presentation

For the next step I use a large piece (about 90 cm by 55 cm) of white flip chart paper on a table, eight paper clips, a box of Cuisenaire rods and two markers of different colours. I ask the students to come and sit around the table as close as possible. On the right hand side of the piece of paper (from the students’ point of view) I draw a large circle to materialise the “bubble”. I divide the bubble into four equal “boxes”. On the left hand side of the paper I also draw four “boxes”. When they have finished, the students will have laid rods on the paper so that it looks roughly like this (only roughly, because real rods are of different lengths).

English Verb Tenses: a dynamic presentation - coloured rectangles - labelled

English verb tense system – coloured rectangles – labelled

Note

For the convenience of readers here, I have labelled the boxs 1S, 1C, 1PC, 1P, 2S, 2C, 2PC, 2P. (1 = base tense, 2 = distanced tense, S = Simple, P = Perfect, C = Continuous). Naturally in the classroom situation I and the students simply point to the box concerned and say “Here”.

If I give it to the students as a handout it is not labelled and looks like this:

The colour code

Sometimes I let them choose their own colours, sometimes I direct them to using certain colours so that I can use a paper version later on as a reference. The colours I use are:

pink = any action
red = the verb be
yellow = the verb have
black = the verb do
orange = any modal verb
green = -ing
a white cube = -ed or the past marker in irregular verbs
a beige cube = the past participle (often called the -en form)

I use two slightly different coloured cubes (I take advantage of the fact that in different boxes of rods, the “white” rods can be a little different in colour) because sometimes it is useful for students to pay attention to the difference between the Past form and the Participle form, but often it is not.

Here is what the rods represent written out as sentences plus the other words the students will have written on the paper by the end of the exercise:

English Verb Tenses: a dynamic presentation - words

English verb tense system – words

English verb tense system – words (PDF)

The beginning of the exercise

I ask the students to give me the shortest form of their verb beginning with “I...” they say, “I play“. I pick up a paper clip and say “I” and then a pink Cuisenaire rod and say “play” and ask, “Inside the bubble or outside?” The students answer, “Inside” and I place them side by side in the top right hand quarter inside the bubble, 1S. Then I ask for another construction beginning with “I“. They usually say “I played” and I ask again, “Inside or outside the bubble?“, they answer, “Outside” and I pick up a paper clip, a pink rod and a small, white rod and place them, in that order, in the top right hand “box” outside the bubble, 2S. I ask for another construction; they might say, “I am playing”. I push the box of Cuisenaire rods and the paper clips towards them and say, “Now, it’s your turn to play.” They understand that they have to take a paper clip and a certain number of rods and put them on the paper. It is usually clear for them that they have to decide to put the “sentence” either inside or outside the bubble, but it is not always clear to them that they have to put it in one of the “boxes”. Neither is it always obvious to them that “-ing” should be represented by a separate rod. They discuss these questions among themselves and when eventually (it can take ten seconds or ten minutes) they agree on which rods to use and where to put them, I do not indicate whether or not I consider they are right but ask for another construction. They continue in the same way until they have found the eight constructions. If someone suggests, “I will play” I say, “Keep it till later”.

The discussion around “I have played”

A good group – I mean one that is sensitive to the problems and willing to discuss them – can spend over an hour on this. The most interesting discussions are usually about where to place “I have played“. Many French people feel that it should be half in and half out of the bubble. I insist that they choose one or the other. Only if it is clear that they have no criteria for making this choice do I intervene. I ask them which part of “I have played” (represented by a paper clip and three rods of different colours) represents the action. If they point to all three rods, I pick up the white rod and ask,

“What does this represent?”
“-ed”
“Is that an action?”
“No.”

Then I pick up the rod representing “have”, maybe a yellow one, and ask the same questions. Then I ask again which rod represents the action and they point to the pink one. My next question is, “Which rod represents the verb?” If they again point to all three rods, I point to, “I gollar.”, which is still written on the board, and ask them to remember what their criterion was for saying it was a verb and to apply the same criterion in the case of “I have played“. If they accept that the verb is “have”, they no longer have any problem in deciding whether it is inside or outside the bubble.
For a few people it can help to make them aware of why they have been taught that the verb is “have played”. I ask,

“In Latin, how many words are needed to express, ‘I have played’?”
“One.”
“So in Latin, one word expresses both the action, the verb and the subject. That’s why you’ve learned to look at several English words and call them all ‘the verb’.”

All this is usually unnecessary for groups with a scientific or technical bent because they are used to playing around with different models and are willing to suspend judgement on what I am presenting until they have seen how it works.

Questions about the eight constructions

Once they have found the eight constructions and placed them in a regular way inside and outside the “bubble” as indicated in the second diagram, I ask them to look at the colours and say:

“What happens when you move from 1S to 1C?”
“You add red and green.”
“And from 1P to 1PC?”
“You add red and green.”

This is enough for many people, but for some I have to continue with 2S to 2C and 2P to 2C before they can say, “Ah, it’s the same.” Which shows me that they have had the awareness that each construction at the top has a parallel construction at the bottom. Sometimes they make it explicit,

“There are 4 constructions with “be” and “-ing” and 4 constructions without.”
Then I ask:

“And if you go from 1S to 1P?”
“You add yellow and beige.”
“And from 1C to 1PC?”
“You add yellow and beige.”

And the same with 2S to 2P and 2C to 2PC until everyone has noticed a second pattern in the constructions.

Finally for this part, and for me the most significant awareness to force here, I ask,

“And if you go from 1S to 2S?”
“You add white.”
“And from 1C to 2C?”
“You add white.”

And the same with 1P to 2P and 1PC to 2PC. For those with a mathematical background I point out that the constructions outside the bubble are a translation of those inside the bubble. (I don’t really know what this means; a mathematical student told me this years ago and every time I trot it out the mathematical types go, “Ah!” so it seems to be worth saying.)

By this point some students will have tried to use the traditional grammatical labels. I ask them if words like “preterite”, “participle” or “pluperfect” really have meaning for them. 99% of my students have declared they do not, so I suggest we give each construction a new label using words we are sure we understand. (The 1% for whom the traditional terms do have meaning are welcome to continue using them, but not to say them aloud.)

Naming the eight constructions with “time words”

I point to the 1C construction and ask them to say it aloud and add the time word that comes spontaneously. Almost without exception, they say: “I am working now.” I hand a marker to a student and ask him to write now in the 1C box. I point to the 2S construction, and without exception, they say: “I worked yesterday.” A student writes yesterday in the 2S box.

Then I say:

“If this (2S) is yesterday what is this (2P)?”

This often gets the response before yesterday, in which case they write it in the box. But just as often the answer given is, “The day before yesterday”. If this is the case I tell them I am going to use a different model, and I draw a line:

now

I ask, “If this point is now (I point to it), where is yesterday?” A student will come and add it, usually like this:

yesterday

Then I ask them to put in the day before yesterday and someone will draw this:

day-before-yesterday

Then I say, “This is perfectly logical if we’re naming days, but it’s not the logic of English tenses. If we have another reference point, we would need another tense and English only has two.

So I remove the day before yesterday to return to the second diagram, and make a sweeping gesture with my hand from the point yesterday towards the leftwards end of the line, “What’s all this?” “Before yesterday.” “How far can I continue?” and I continue the gesture along the wall beyond the board. “As far as you like.”/”To infinity.” I go back to the paper and someone writes before yesterday in the 2P box.

Then I point to 1S and ask, “What about this one?” This one, too, can take a little while. Though I accept as correct suggestions such as every day or often, I say, “For the sake of simplicity and economy we are going to use as few different words as possible. Which of the words we have already used can be used here?” With lower level groups it may be necessary for them to find a few examples before they are sure that now is also possible for 1S. Then I say:

“We have the problem of distinguishing the two “nows”. What does now mean in 1C?”
“At the moment./At this moment.”
“And what does it mean in 1S?”

I push them until they find, “in general” or “generally” and agree it is more useful as a label than every day or often. Then I say (if necessary -students often find it spontaneously),

If this is yesterday and this before yesterday, what is this (1P) if this is now (1S)?
“Before now
.”

and this becomes the label for 1P. Even if the more analytical students can make the jump for themselves, I make sure that everybody sees that 1PC is made up of the addition of 1P and 1C by temporally moving the red and green rods from 1C to 1PC and the yellow and beige ones from 1P to 1PC. Then they can label 1PC “before now and now” or “before now and at the moment,” or some similar paraphrase. In the same way, 2C is labelled at a/that moment yesterday, 2P before yesterday and 2PC before and at a/that moment yesterday.

Making examples for the eight constructions

The next step is for the students to make examples for each of the eight constructions. I insist that the examples not only be true ones, but that their truth can be verified by everyone in the classroom. This is so that the students really feel the meaning of the constructions, and are not just mechanically making sentences. Here are some of the questions I ask them during this work to help them develop criteria for using each construction and how each one corresponds to a different perception or feeling to be expressed:

Inside the bubble questions:

1.Which construction is the longest?
2. Which construction is the shortest?
3. Which one is most/least frequently used?
4. Which one gives the most/least information?
5. In 1S how many pieces of information are given?
6. In 1S is there anything which explicitly indicates time?
7. What is the meaning of the green “-ing”?
8. What is the meaning of the red “be”?
9. What is the meaning of the yellow “have”?

The “-ing” form

For the last three questions they often need some help to find the base meanings. They often think “-ing” form in itself indicates time. I write some examples on the board where this is clearly not the case:

1. Running keeps you fit.
2. I like running.
3. I wore my running shoes yesterday.

If it seems necessary for the group, it might be the moment to distinguish between an action (performed by a subject) and an activity (a general performance where the actors are not specified) by writing on the board:

1. Glenys likes to box.
2. Glenys likes boxing.

And then asking:

  • which sentence creates the ridiculous picture in their minds of elderly me in the ring, dressed in shorts and boxing gloves;
  • which sentence is compatible with me sitting comfortably in front of my television watching a match.

“Have” and “be”

These frequently dismissed as mere auxiliaries with no particular meaning – which is why some students seem to use one or the other more or less at random. It can be useful for them to understand that, though it is not as easy to create a mental picture of their meaning as it is for “dance” or “ski”, they do have separate and identifiable meanings.

Be

For “be” I have yet to find an elegant way of doing this. I have tried putting a marker on a table and saying or writing, “The marker is on the table” and getting them to see that the only reason for saying a sentence like this is to situate the marker in relation to the table – for someone who was looking for the marker. The only way to situate an object in space is to situate it in relation to another object. The verb we use for situating in space is “be”. It is also used for situating in time. The only way of situating anything in time is in relation to an event, action or activity. The only way I can know myself in the present is by situating myself in some activity, “I am writing this article.” (No, I have never actually said this last sentence in class, it’s just for you, Reader.)

Have

For “have” I think I do a little better. I write the following sequence of sentences on the board. For each sentence I ask them what the relationship is between “I” and the words I have underlined:

1. I have a watch. (What I have/possess is an object)
2. I have a mother. (What I have/possess is a relationship, not the person herself)
3. I have lunch at 12 o’clock. (What I have/possess is a habit, not the lunch itself)
4. I have visited Paris. (What I have/possess is the experience of visiting Paris)

Other points I try to make clear to the students

For reasons of space, I will not write out step by step how I do these:

  1. The 1S form is the base form. They do not have to have any particular reason for using it. It is the choice by default. It is all the other constructions they need a reason for using.
  2. When the reason for using the 1C construction is to situate the subject in an activity at the present moment, in spite of its traditional label (Present Continuous) it cannot express duration. That is, phrases which express duration (“for two days”) cannot be used with it. Of course, activities take place in time and therefore have duration, but a sentence such as “I am sitting” does not express the duration of the sitting any more than the sentence, “The marker is on the table” expresses the dimensions of the table.
  3. If they wish to express duration the construction to use is 1PC.
  4. 1P and 1PC are not only used to describe recent events, “The universe has been expanding since the Big Bang.”
  5. The only reason for going outside the bubble, is because they want to attach an event or an action to a moment other than now – often referred to as dating.
  6. My decision to say, “I have had breakfast” or “I had breakfast” is not directly related to how long ago I had the meal, to objective time, but to whether I perceive the meal as inside my bubble or outside my bubble.
  7. Outside the bubble, 2S is the base form and the most frequently used one.
  8. Not only do they have to have good reasons for using 2C, 2CP and 2P (the same, mutatis mutandis, as for 1C, 2CP and 1P), but they have to be related to some other action or event often expressed by 2S, but which may also be a significant date or time.
  9. In spite of its traditional label, 2C is not used just because an action lasts a long time.

Triggers

As the students make examples, it is often useful for them to write down next to each form the time expressions particularly associated with that form. We (my colleagues at the CLA and I) call them “triggers”. For example, “How long…?” and “For…” are written, in a second colour, in 1PC.

Interrogative forms – do

Another useful exercise is to get them to turn each of the forms into questions. I get them to start with 1C. They invert the paper clip and the red rod and say, “Am I working?” or “Are you working?” – the second often comes more naturally to them. They continue with 1PC, 2C, 2PC and 2P in that order. Then I cover 2S with my hand in order to force them to move to 1P.

Then I ask them to make explicit what they have been doing to create the question form. “The pink rod, the action, has never been moved.” I let them take a black rod from the box to represent “do” and place it in IP so as to represent “Do you work?“. Then I remove my hand from 2S and say to them: “This is a trap. I’m going to catch some of you. How many rods do you need to take from the box to make this form?” They all know they want to represent “Did you work?” Up to now at least one person has always answered, “Two.” I never allow the faster people to show how it is only necessary to take one, in fact I drag it out as long as possible so that the tension of the moment will provide a high moment of energy when the realisation comes that they have to move the white cube from the pink rod to the black one to make “did“. For me, this is a good example of how to work on retention – as opposed to memorisation. I ask the students to invert the rods and paper clips back to their original positions. Some students will try and remove the black “do” from the system at this point. I suggest they switch it in the same way as the other forms, i.e. “I do work” and “I did work”. Lower level students may not even be aware these forms exist, but for me, what is now presented by the rods is the basic system in English .

(And you, Dear Reader, are you feeling some resistance to this? It is true that having invested so much of my time and energy on considering how tenses work, I find reading what others have to say about the subject a great opportunity for observing whether I can still keep myself open to different ideas or whether I meet them with my prejudices.)

I point to 1C,
“How do you say this one?”
“I am working.”
“And if you speak quickly?”
“I’m working.”
“And this one?”
and I make an emphatic gesture towards the yellow rod.
“I have been working.”
“And if you speak quickly?”
“I’ve been working”
“And this one?”
“I have worked.”
“And if you speak quickly?”
“I’ve worked.”
“And this one?”
“I do work.”
“And if you speak quickly?”
and I remove the black rod.
“I work.”

It can be important for some students to realise that “do” does not just come from nowhere in an arbitrary fashion just to form questions and negatives but is an essential part of the system. The most basic thing we can do with an action is to simply do it. It is so basic that it is almost a tautology – which is why we don’t usually feel the need to make it explicit.

I realise I am making it seem as if the whole lesson is a neat question and answer routine. In practice, of course, it is not really like that, it’s much messier! The students spend a lot of time discussing things among themselves (in French, if their English is not sufficient to express themselves accurately on such a topic) while I listen and wait for the appropriate moment to provide another challenge. I should, perhaps, say here for non Silent Way readers, why I ask questions rather than just explaining the system. Some people feel it is illicit and manipulative for a teacher to ask questions to which she already knows (or thinks she knows) the answers. For me, it serves two purposes. It puts the student in an “actively seeking” state of mind; when he finds the answer it is hisanswer – it is irrelevant to his learning whether or not someone else has found that answer before. It also serves to give the teacher feedback about where the student is in his process of learning so that she can decide what exercise to propose next.

The future

If they have not already done so, at about this point students will start to ask, “What about the future?” I throw the question back to them as, “Which of the forms we already have here can be used in a sentence about tomorrow?” I am always amazed at how many French people are surprised at the fact that such sentences as, “I start work at eight tomorrow” or “I’m going to New York in November” are possible. Even though the Present Tense in French is also frequently used to refer to the future, they feel that, because a Future Tense (there are suffixes which are traditionally thought to indicate future time) exists, it is not “correct” to use the Present in this way. And as for using Past forms with future reference…. I often have to give examples myself, in English and in French. So certain are many people that they cannot exist, they will not even start to look for them. If students have school English behind them (this is generally the case for the people I teach) they will already have proposed “will” several times, and each time I put them off with, “Later, later!” Even at this point I feel it is useful for them to become aware of other ways of referring to future time before considering “will” which has been drilled into them as “the Future in English”. I slide the pink rod in the 1 P form to the right, then I take another pink rod from the box and lay it next to the paper clip leaving a space between it and the first pink rod. In the space I put an arrow drawn on paper.

want to

From the work done at other times on prepositions they usually recognise the arrow as a trigger for “to”. I point to the pink rod next to the paper clip and ask the students, “Which verb could this represent?” Sometimes they have enough English to suggest “want” or “hope”, otherwise I give them the word “want” and ask them to read the new form:

“I want to work.”
I point to the two pink rods, “Are the forms of these verbs the same or different?
“The same.”
“And the real time this one refers to?” and I indicate the one representing “want”.
“The present.”
“And the real time this one refers to?”
and I indicate the one representing “work”.
“The future.”

Then I take another arrow and another pink rod and lay them to the right of the others.

“What could the sentence be now?”

They might suggest, “I want to work to earn money.” I represent “money” by any small object handy, but not a rod.

“What about the time of “earn”?
“It’s further in the future?”
“And the form?”
“It’s the same.”

I continue to add arrows and pink rods until the length becomes inelegant but not incorrect, “I want to work to earn money to buy a car to go to Paris to see a friend.” As a student recently put it, “The action on the right is the target of the action on the left.” This target is not necessarily in the future of course, it depends on the meaning of the verb. In for example, “I like to swim” though “swim” can be seen as the target of “like”, it is not in the future in relation to “like”.

After this, I take an arrow and a pink rod and lay them to the right of the 1C form.

“If I change this to another verb (I indicate the first pink rod), what could this be?”

Unless it is a very small, low level group, someone manages to find:

“I’m going to work.”
“How many actions are there in this sentence? What are they?”
“Two, go and work.”
“Are they used as metaphors or do they have a physical meaning?”
“Go is a metaphor and work is physical.”

This may be clear for some of the students but I can often see from the dubious looks on faces of others that more needs to be done. So I go and stand with my back to a wall of the room,

“Can I say I’m going physically at the moment?”
“No.”

I use mime and facial grimaces to indicate a sudden interest in something on the other side of the room, say a pen, and start to walk towards it slowly,

“Can I say I’m going physically, now?”
“Yes.”

I freeze in mid-stride and ask,

“What happened inside me when I was at the wall, just before I started to move? It’s normally something you can’t see.”
“You made a decision.”
“And what’s the pen for me?”
“Your target.”

I go and pick up the pen. Then, so that we can refer to it when they give examples, I make a simple representation on the board with lines and a stick figure something like this:

going to

Even if I could draw better, I would not make the drawing more realistic. More details are just a distraction. Then I get the students to find examples – true ones – and to make it explicit how the subject is metaphorically moving between his decision and his target. For example, Catherine says, “I’m going to walk in the mountains with some friends on Sunday.” Someone points to the blue line which represents the time when she and her friends made their plans, then points to the stick figure which represents Catherine, who though physically immobile in the classroom, is moving in time towards her objective, the red line, the time when she will be walking in the mountains with her friends. Later, the stick figure can be Bob, Mary or whoever. It can sometimes take a little while before they can let go of what they have often been taught: that the “going to” form is only used for actions in the “near future”.

Only after exploring these other ways of talking about the future, do I take an orange rod out of the box and say, “This represents will.” Then I take seven other orange rods from the box and distribute them, one each to eight students, “Now, put will into the system.” They often look quite flabbergasted at the idea that there can be eight places for will in the system. Somebody will start by putting an orange rod between the paper clip and the pink rod in 1S. I ask them to say it aloud, “I will work.” Many students feel this is the end of the story and I may need to gesture to 1C or 1P and say, “Do the same here” before they will place the orange rod after the paper clip in the other forms inside the bubble. Each time I get them to say the sentence aloud. Then I gesture to the forms outside the bubble. There are often objections: “You can’t have will in the past!” I pick up a black rod and ask: “What happened when you put do here?” and I point to 2S. “Ah!” and somebody will quickly lay down the orange rod after the paper clip in 2S and move the white cube from the end of the pink rod to the orange one. “I would work.”

The other three forms usually pose no problem for the form, though “I would have been working” often provokes exclamations, “It’s too long”, “I don’t understand”, “I’ll never use it”, etc. With lower level groups, I do not ask them to find examples, for if the forms are outside their experience of the language, such examples can only be mechanically formed with no feeling for the meaning.

If it seems useful for the group, I ask questions to make sure they understand how modals function differently to other verbs. I point to 1S and ask:

“Do you need do to ask a question, now?”
“No.”

I pick up an arrow, “Do you need to place this between the orange and pink rods?”
“No.”
“What other words function like will/would?”

Depending on their level, they will take from a few minutes to over an hour to find and discuss can/could, (shall)/should, may/might and must (no student has ever suggested need or dare so far). As they find them, I write the modals on the board and we look for a base meaning for each of them in the same way as we did for be, have and did. As this article is already long enough, and the work does not directly involve the Cuisenaire rods, I shall not describe it here. Nor shall I describe how to demonstrate the Passive in the system. I scarcely ever do so with students as it usually takes two three-hour sessions to get this far and, by this time, they are in need of a different type of activity.

© Glenys Hanson 1996-2015

An earlier version was published in: Caleb Gattegno’s Science of Education: Ten Years After – Conference Proceedings and Related Offerings, Association for the Science of Education, New York 1999.

A shorter version of this article was published in the proceedings of the 1996 Colloquium of TESOL France: An Update on Grammar: How it is learnt – How it is taught.


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“English Verb Tenses: a dynamic presentation using the 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:


Learning to Read with Words in Color…

 … in an Inner City Neighborhood

As in every town, there’s an area where nobody would choose to live – high crime rate, high unemployment, mainly immigrants living in high-rise public housing, low expectations of what the children will achieve in school. On a cold, sunny morning in February I went to one of these neighborhoods to watch a class of six-year-olds (also some seven-year-olds who had failed to learn to read the previous year with a different method and were repeating the year) learning to read, write and do arithmetic. The teacher, Françoise Lazare, had told me that only two of the children are French in origin, the others are African, Yugoslav, Arab, Turk, Vietnamese and Portuguese, so for most of them French was their second language. Many of them suffer from gross neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse while others have already embarked on a life of crime.

The reason I had chosen to visit this class was that the teacher was using la Lecture en couleurs (the French version of Words in Color), so I was not surprised to see the Fidel charts (which group by color all the spellings of a given sound) on a board at the front of the room and the word charts

© 1998 Une Ecole Pour Demain. Lecture en couleurs - 4 des tableaux de mots

© 1998 Une Ecole Pour Demain. Lecture en couleurs – 4 des tableaux de mots

on the wall on either side of the blackboard. In every other way it was a standard French primary school classroom.

A song

After settling at their desks, the children started the morning by singing a song of several verses without accompaniment or help from the teacher until the very last verse. The song seemed to me to have a lot of words not normally within a six-year-old’s vocabulary range, but otherwise it was an unexceptional start to the school day.

Pointing sentences on the the Fidel

© 1998 Une Ecole Pour Demain. Lecture en couleurs - Fidel.

© 1998 Une Ecole Pour Demain. Lecture en couleurs – Fidel.

The reading lesson began when the teacher said, “Who’s got a sentence?” About half the children put up their hands. The teacher waited a few seconds for some more children to take their time to think of a sentence, and then named one of the children (In fact, I don’t remember her name – as nearly all the children had unfamiliar names I’ve only retained a few). The little girl said, “Daddy is at home.” The teacher gave the girl a pointer and she came to the front of the class and pointed to the graphemes (letters or combinations of letters) which spelled her sentence on the Fidel. The teacher watched and then turned to the class and asked, “Do you agree?” Several voices said, “Yes.” The teacher gave no indication that it was correct but asked for another sentence. A second child proposed, “Granny went shopping.” and was about to go and point it when another child said, “Teacher, you said we’d play a different game. We choose someone else to point our sentence.” The teacher said, “You’re right. Who do you want to point your sentence, Zara ?” The girl named another child who came and pointed and the teacher again asked the class if they agreed. This time several did not, so the teacher asked one of these to come and point something different. This second pointing still did not satisfy the class and other children came to try until everyone was satisfied with the result.

Though remaining very attentive to the children’s work, the teacher gave no indication as to whether or not the successive pointings were correct and the children did not turn towards her for answers. At this moment, her main role was to decide who should come to work on the charts. When they had finished, she asked one of the children to write the word that had caused the problem on the blackboard. It was written correctly. The class continued working in the same way for about an hour, sometimes pointing their own sentences, sometimes suggesting sentences for another child to point as they wanted.

Very occasionally, when the class saw nothing wrong with a pointing, the teacher said, “I don’t agree,” to make them realize there was an error. Two or three sentences that took the children some time to point correctly, the teacher herself afterwards wrote on the board. I write the “children” because, though only one child was allowed to point at a time, all the others were actively monitoring what was being shown and frequently proposing alternatives.

The teacher also intervened after all the first six or seven sentences had started with Mummy, Daddy (“Daddy killed a burglar.”) or Granny to suggest they try something different. This led to more varied sentences of which perhaps the most ambitious was, “The hunters killed a wild boar and cut it up so that they each had a piece.”

Learning to spell “kiwi”

One of the things that bothered me at first was the fact the teacher accepted pointings that though in the correct column of the Fidel, were not the correct spelling. I gradually came to see that she had criteria for demanding correct spelling from certain children but not others, and for certain words but not others.

One of the sentences proposed by the children that provided an interesting problem was “There are thirteen pips in the kiwi.” “Kiwi” is a foreign word that does not follow conventional French spelling rules for the consonants. The child’s first proposition was to point the first spelling, the most frequent one in French, in the /k/ column which is “c”. Another child volunteered another possibility, pointing “qu” in the same column. The teacher indicated that they could go on looking and a third child found “k” in the same column.

The teacher asked the first child to point the whole word. He pointed -k-i- very confidently and then hesitated and looked at the teacher. This was one of the rare times that the teacher pointed herself saying, “Do you remember the other day we had the word “clown” and we took the “w” from here…” and she circled the “w” in the “ow” in the /u/ column. It was clear that her reason for intervening was that the children did not have enough experience of this particular spelling to find it on their own. The child who had suggested the sentence was now able to point the whole sentence correctly. The teacher then said, “I’m going to write the first spelling on the board,” and she wrote “ciwi” and asked the class to pronounce it. Many voices provided /siwi/ which showed they had correctly internalized the French spelling convention that “c” followed by “i” is pronounced /s/, without of course ever having heard such an explicit rule. She then said, “Alex proposed this…” and wrote “quioui” and the children pronounced it /kiwi/. She said, “The spelling’s not right for this word but it is for others. For example…” and the children provided examples. Then she asked a child to come and write “kiwi” correctly, which he did without hesitation.

Discipline

During this hour all the children but one followed each others’ pointings of words very attentively, competing for the privilege of being allowed to come and point suggestions when a problem arose by excitedly raising and waving their hands and even standing up in their places. Only one child, Aziz, and he only occasionally, called answers out of turn when another child was working. These were the only times when I saw the teacher take any kind of disciplinary action – she spoke to him very sharply. Most of the time he managed to control his obviously burning desire to participate actively all the time. Several times after being forced to wait in silence while a slower child looked for, and found, a solution to a problem, he would engagingly admit, “I would have made a mistake. I thought it was different.” It was obvious that the control the teacher exercised over his behavior gave him the opportunity of realizing that in spite of his intelligence, over hasty answers could lead to mistakes. It was clear too that he did not resent her remarks as he maintained a good humored attention to the work of the others.

A child with special needs

During this time Catherine was the only child who did not appear to be working. She wandered around the class, played with some toys at the back of the room and sometimes came and leaned against the teacher. She was quiet and appeared happy and relaxed. The teacher told me afterwards that this was enormous progress from when she had arrived in September and had spent the days crouching in a corner of the classroom with her hands over her mouth and eyes.

At the end of this session the teacher asked the class to propose a sentence for Catherine to point. The girl refused, “Catherine can read” and “Catherine goes to the Center” (the psychiatric unit where she goes several times a week for treatment) but she accepted, “Catherine takes a taxi.” (which she does to go to the Center). Catherine then took the pointer and walked slowly towards the Fidel. The teacher said, “Do you want me to come with you?” Catherine nodded and the teacher took a chair and sat about three feet from the Fidel. Catherine then pointed her sentence, her own name spelled correctly and the sounds of the other words in the correct columns of the Fidel.

The transformations game

The teacher then suggested a new “game”. She asked the children to close their eyes and look at the word “mouche” (fly) in their heads. It was obviously not a new game because, though her instructions were very brief, it was clear that the children were visualizing the written word. I could see that some of the children were “cheating”, some of them opened their eyes to take a quick look at the Fidel, one boy “wrote” the word with his finger on his desk. The teacher paid no overt attention to this, just waiting until all the children indicated they could “see” the word. “Now,” she said, “remove the first one with three legs and put the lazy one blowing a bubble in its place. Can you see another word?” The children knew that the rule of the game was not to shout out the word but just to say that they could “see” it. The teacher again waited for all the children to take the time to do the work and then asked one of the slower children to say what the new word was. He said, “bouche” (mouth). She asked him to come and write it on the board, which he did correctly.

I knew that when she used expressions like “letter with three legs” that this was not baby talk but a way of avoiding the confusion that using the name of a letter can cause with the sound or sounds associated with it in a given word. French, like English, is not written phonetically – most letters are used to represent several different sounds, and all sounds can be written in a number of different ways. In this example the name of the letter “m” is pronounced “em” which has two sounds: /e/ and /m/, while in the word “mouche” it represents only one sound: /m/.

(On reading over this article F. L. told me that an even more important reason is to say something that makes the children create a visual image of the letter.)

The teacher proposed several more words to be transformed by substitution in the same way. The children appeared to be confident in their powers of mental imagery and evocation. It was very impressive to see a whole classroom full of little children sitting with their eyes shut and such an air of concentration on their faces. When the teacher proposed a substitution not of a letter but of a sound, one which happens to be written with two letters, the /u/ in “coucher” to /a/. One boy said he was unable to do this. So she asked him to come to the board where, without further help, he was able to write “coucher”, rub out the “ou” and substitute “a” thus demonstrating that the powers of perception and action can be relied on when there has not been sufficient practice of a particular skill to make virtual manipulation of mental images possible.

Individual writing exercise

After ten or fifteen minutes of this “game”, the teacher said they were going to write sentences and asked the children to get out their slates. The first sentence she proposed was, “Elle a mis son pantalon rouge” (She put on her red pants). She said the sentence aloud but did not allow the children to write it down until they had counted the number of words in the sentence on their fingers. She held up her own fingers one by one as the children said the words of the sentence. She did this several times until all the children were able to raise a finger for each word of the sentence. She had to help one child of foreign origin to pronounce the first vowel sound of “pantalon” correctly. Then she let them write the sentence.

I walked around the classroom to see what the children did. About half the children wrote quickly and neatly on a (virtual) line “elle a mi son pantalon rouge” and most of the others wrote the same words but had problems with the lay out – the letters were not well proportioned and/or having started the sentence too low or too much to the right they had difficulty getting in all the words.

When I saw that nearly all the children had only one spelling mistake and that it was the same one, “mi” for “mis”, I realized that it was not a slip, but something that had not yet been worked on in this class. Two or three children had more serious problems – the breaks between the words were not right and words other than “mis” were misspelled.

One boy, after being made to recount the words in the sentence on his fingers – which was far from easy for him – and then the “words” on his slate – which he could do easily (which indicated that his problem was not with counting but with picking out the words), was then able to correct his work.

While the teacher was taking the time to help the weaker children in this way, the faster ones, of their own accord, turned over their slates and quietly made drawings on the back until the teacher judged that everyone had had time to write the sentence as well as they could. The teacher did not choose to make this the moment to work on developing the necessary criteria for the children to understand why it should be “mis” and not “mi” so, at the end, she simply wrote the correct sentence on the board. For some of the children – I heard their intake of breath or saw them nod – this was probably enough, others would need more work on the problem. Three or four sentences were treated in the same way.

Correcting drawings on the board

While the children were working on the last sentence the teacher made four drawings on the board and wrote a sentence next to each one. The drawings however lacked something that was in the corresponding sentence. For example, next to the sentence “There is smoke coming from the chimney of the house” there was a picture of a house but no smoke coming from the chimney. When the teacher drew the children’s attention to what was on the board, she stated the rules of the game, “When you know what’s missing in this picture (she pointed to the house), put up your hands.” As usual, half the children immediately put up their hands but the teacher waited until all had done so. The quicker children, though they waved their hands and cried excitedly “I know! I know!” kept to the rules of the game and did not shout out the answer. Finally the teacher chose one of the slower children to come to the front and gave him a piece of chalk. The boy stood uncertainly in front of the board looking at the chimney of the house which was too high for him to reach. The teacher said to him, “You need something else.” and the boy pulled up a chair, stood on it and drew in the smoke on the chimney. I realized that by not telling the boy directly to go get a chair but just directing his attention sufficiently so that he could find his own solution, the teacher was applying the same educative principles to this practical problem as she was to the academic subject matter. With another drawing one of the children made an interesting mistake. The sentence was “My car is in the garage” and there was a picture of the car but no garage. The little girl drew a garage next to the car. The teacher asked the child to say the sentence aloud which she was able to do easily and immediately the expression on her face changed indicating that she had understood the sentence and she erased her garage and redrew it around the car. I realize, writing this, that I was witness to a clear demonstration of comprehension coming from the spoken language, not the written as Caleb Gattegno had realized. None of the other sentences on the board were said aloud, proving that in those cases the children were able to create virtual spoken sentences in their minds from what they read.

Respecting conventions

The exercise was to be continued individually with sentences accompanied by drawings on a sheet of paper. The teacher was about to hand out the papers herself, when the children reminded her that it was Lionel’s turn to do this kind of job. When he gave out the papers each child politely thanked him without any prompting. This little incident brought home to me children’s sensitivity to conventions of all kinds, from the rules of football to those of spelling, and their pleasure in respecting them.

The meaning is in the oral language

The teacher again went round the class responding for requests for help. They asked me too. One little girl had a problem reading the sentence, “Cinq pommes pendent de l’arbre” (Five apples are hanging on the tree). There were only three apples in the drawing. Her first difficulty was that she was pronouncing the “c” of “cinq” as /k/ instead of /s/. By telling her it was green (the color on the Fidel) she was immediately able to say the word but I realized, too late, that I had not helped her to develop criteria for another time. I could, for example, have referred back to the earlier misspelling of kiwi as “ciwi” which might have acted as a trigger because the combination “ci” (which is always pronounced /si/ in French) had obviously been worked on before in the class. I had noticed that the teacher frequently used well known words as triggers for certain spellings “It’s the /e/ of maison”. Her second problem was that she was pronouncing the word “pendent” as two syllables /pɑ̃dɑ̃/ (which is actually another word written “pendant” meaning “while”) instead of as one syllable /pɑ̃d/. Her mistake showed that she knew that “ent” can be pronounced /ɑ̃/ (as in “dent” for example) but that she had not realized that here it is a verb ending which is never pronounced. I asked her to say the sentence very quickly which she did, “Cinq pommes /pɑ̃dɑ̃/ … ah! /pɑ̃d/ de l’arbre,” and took up her pencil to draw in the additional apples.

Catherine writes my name

At one point I happened to be standing near the Fidel charts when Catherine came up to me and asked me my name. I told her and asked her if she would like to point it on the Fidel. She nodded and pointed: g – e – and hesitated. I asked her if she would like me to point it, she nodded again so I quickly pointed it. She went to the other side of the room and started to write on the board. I went to look a few minutes later and saw she had written “glenis” demonstrating that, if she had not paid exact attention to my pointing of the fifth letter, she had criteria for knowing how the sound /i/ is usually written in French. I was surprised because until then I had not realized she could write so much. Needless to say, on the social level, I also felt extremely flattered that she had taken so much trouble with my name.

Then it was time for the break, after which they worked on arithmetic in the same way. That is with F. L. making sure, step-by-step, that each child, through having the succession of necessary awarenesses, created the appropriate mental structures for the permanent acquisition of each micro skill. Watching these children working happily and eagerly I found it difficult to see them as the victims of social deprivation and abuse (the details concerning some of them are quite horrific). For thirty hours a week at least, they were in a privileged environment, functioning as human beings in the highest sense, discovering themselves and their capacities through learning.

Note: All of the children in this class learned to read and write by the end of the school year; none of them had to repeat the year.

© Glenys HansonThe Science of Education in Questions, N° 13, September 1997, Besançon, France.

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“Learning to read with Words in Color in an Inner City Neighborhood” by Glenys Hanson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Reference