At my TPRS training last summer, Lynette Saint George always started her lessons by asking students how they felt, she would circulate an iPad with a slide full of faces expressing different emotions. At the time, I thought it was a very neat way of starting class. I have since then discovered it is a wonderful path to language acquisition.
I started the experiment with my very small High School French 1 class. Every day since the beginning of the year, we have been gathering around the smartboard and I have been asking each of them “Comment tu te sens?”. At first, students would simply point at the face and word that best represented their feeling. I started with three faces: exhausted, happy, and frustrated (I figured most teenagers experience one or more of these feelings every day of the week). I then started providing Comprehensible Input and circling on these words such as “you feel frustrated because there is an exam?” (“there is” is a phrase I teach early on + “exam” is a cognate). Of course, I am the one doing most of the talking but since it is about something they greatly care about, they are engaged.
Slowly, I increased the amount of faces on the slide and taught them a few easy rejoinders so that they could react to how others were feeling: “Poor Kelsey”, “Good luck”, “That’s life”, and “Hooray”. They also started asking for useful words/phrases, which I happily gave them such as “my _____ hurts”.
Our daily “How do you feel?” routine
(the author of the “How do you feel” poster (in English) is Jim Borgman, a Cincinnati native.)
We are now in the second quarter of their first year in French and my students are saying things like “I feel exhausted because I did not sleep well” or “I feel happy because there is a new One Direction song” or “I feel ecstatic because I have rowing practice”. I am now moving on to “talking” about our week-end on Monday (in the past) and on Friday (in the near future), feeling SO thankful for the “Shelter vocabulary, not grammar” TPRS advice! Finally, I have started shifting the responsibility of questioning to the students, we take turn asking the “how do you feel” question and “why”; sometimes students will ask an additional question (like when Erika said she felt happy because she was going to the movies, everyone wanted to know “Avec qui????”). Sometimes, our “How do you feel” routine takes 5 minutes, sometimes it takes 20 min. I usually just follow the students’ lead and energy.
One day, I was in a rush to get to an assessment and skipped “how do you feel?”, the students called me on it “are we not doing our therapy circle today?”. I thought I was going to cry: they don’t see it at language or classwork, they see it as therapy! This reminds me of Stephen Krashen‘s blog post, “The End of Motivation”. Krashen says: “Here is the crucial part: Jack’s Mandarin was improving, but he was not aware of it. He was only interested in the stories.” I guess I could probably say “My students’ French was improving, but they were not aware of it. They were only interested in whom Erika was going to the movies with.”
Now, I realize I am lucky to have a class of 7 students. With a much bigger class, the pace is so much slower. I cannot gather my 27 7th graders around the board, nor can I ask each and everyone one of them how they feel every day. By now, all of them can pretty much ask and say how they feel but very few can elaborate beyond “I am happy because it’s Friday”. And that’s totally OK, I just follow their pace and keep providing as much comprehensible input as possible. If anyone is successfully using a personal guiding question such as “How do you feel?” with a big class and would like to share, I would really love it!