TPR Storytelling is a method for teaching foreign languages that was invented by Blaine Ray, a Spanish teacher in Bakersfield, California, in 1990. Concerned that his students were disinterested in the unexciting process of learning a language from a textbook, he began to use James Asher’s Total Physical Response to teach Spanish. Asher says that students acquire their second languages as they acquired their first languages. Our students learn as babies learn. Therefore, we should not expect them to produce the language before they have had an ample amount of time to listen to it. Blaine experienced great success, and the students began to be excited about his class. Although TPR has been the most effective method for acquiring a second language since it was invented in the 1960s, Blaine found that after hitting the “TPR wall,” he was unsure of what to do to move from the imperative to the narrative and descriptive modes of speech. He found that changing from commands to the third person singular allowed him to tell stories, a long-term memory technique. He found that asking the students to act out the parts of the characters in the stories preserved the highly effective physical element that had been so powerful in Classical TPR. As the technique was developed over the years, it became an all-encompassing method and methodology. The method combines Dr. James Asher’s Total Physical Response (TPR) with Dr. Stephen Krashen’s language acquisition strategies, allowing us to teach grammar, reading and writing along with vocabulary.
The TPRS Objective
As TPRS was originally developed, the objective was to create a method that would prepare students for the College Board Advanced Placement Exam from level 1. In addition, teachers report higher AP scores, with some students passing the AP exam in as few as 3 years of language study.
Although nationwide fewer than 10% of our high school students proceed to the highest levels of foreign language offered in our schools and even fewer proceed to college foreign language studies, we have seen enrollment in our programs increase by as much as 400% after TPRS programs were introduced.
TPR Storytelling begins with the introduction of vocabulary and complex structures. The teacher then
“asks” the story using a questioning technique called “circling.” The first two steps are followed up with reading. Students rapidly acquire the second language just as Dr. Krashen imagined: effortlessly and involuntarily. The method relies heavily on the five hypotheses of The Natural Approach: the acquisition hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, the affective filter hypothesis and the monitor hypothesis, which are explained in detail in Foreign Language Education the Easy Way, by Dr. Stephen Krashen.
A TPRS program is not complete without a very heavy emphasis on reading. Blaine Ray has written several easy readers for the first and second levels. We also recommend a Free Voluntary Reading program. Krashen’s research supports the assertion that children need two things in order to learn to read in any language: access to books and a quiet, comfortable place to read. We also read to our students, just as we would if they were our own small children, learning their first languages for the first time.
Why TPRS Works
The most important element of a successful TPR Storytelling program is the awareness that our focus is our students, not our book or even our story. A good relationship with students is the foundation of a TPRS program. We establish this connection by personalizing our stories. Every story is bizarre, in order to maintain the interest of our students, and personalized, because the only thing our students are truly interested in is themselves. The instructional pace should be based entirely upon an assessment by the teacher of how thoroughly the students have internalized the language. The number one, most important element in any TPRS program is the quantity and quality of the unconditional love, positive feedback, pats on the back and hearty applause provided to the students by the teacher. Most teachers feel that they have begun to implement TPRS effectively after approximately 4 workshops. Although the techniques, the 7 steps and beginning and advanced strategies for creating a phenomenal TPRS classroom can be taught and learned in workshops, it is teachers who dedicate themselves to expressing love and approval towards their students that keep their students coming back year after year to acquire enough language to become bilingual —- and that can’t be taught.
Teach to the Eyes
Throughout the entire lesson, as you are teaching, make constant eye contact with students to gauge whether or not they are achieving 100 percent comprehension.
Assessment in TPR Storytelling is ongoing. Check students’ comprehension daily by asking questions about the stories as they are being told and retold. Students who are answering are understanding. Check with pacesetter (barometer) students so that your pace isn’t too fast.
An unannounced vocabulary test assesses how well students have acquired the vocabulary. An announced vocabulary test assesses how thoroughly students have studied for the test. The first tests long-term retention. Inform students ahead of time to expect unannounced cumulative vocabulary tests. After students appear to know the words, give them an L1 to L2 matching test or write-in test using the words taught through TPR or TPR Storytelling. Because we teach for mastery in TPRS, a realistic goal is that 80 percent of the class will receive 80 percent or higher on each test. Our hope is that 100 percent of the students score between 90 and 100 percent, indicating that they have truly mastered, internalized, and acquired the vocabulary. Recycle any vocabulary not completely acquired into the next chapter.
The extra credit question
At the end of each test offer students one extra point for responding in English to the question, “Tell me what’s going on in your life.” It will provide personalized information for stories and an invaluable connection with the students.
Adapting the Textbook to TPRS
Existing English and Foreign Language textbooks can easily be adapted for use in TPR Storytelling techniques. By simply taking the words being taught, and utilizing gestures, stories, personalized mini situations and personalized questions and answers, TPRS fits seamlessly into a standard language course. Also see the article Secret Weapon Arsenal for more suggestions on adapting a standard curriculum to TPRS.
Trying to adapt your own textbook? Sign up at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/booktprs/ to share ideas with other teachers who are already adapting common texts.
The Power of Reading, Dr. Stephen Krashen
Foreign Language Education the Easy Way, Dr. Stephen Krashen
How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
The Five Love Languages of Children, Chapman and Campbell
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…After a three year study comparing the effects of traditional grammar, transformational grammar and no grammar on high school students in New Zealand, they concluded that “English grammar, whether traditional or transformational, has virtually no influence on the language growth of typical secondary students” Read Teaching Grammar: Why Bother? Stephen Krashen 1998 California English
“Teach to the eyes.”
Susan Gross, TPRS presenter, Colorado.