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