When was the last time you had a lesson that went completely wrong?
The kind of lesson in which even you got bored.
And it’s not that you planned it that way. In your mind everything was going to run smoothly, it was going to be really successful and extremely rewarding, but…it just didn’t feel right.
If you want to stop this from ever happening again, then you need to try TPRS and give your lessons a twist.
What Is TPRS and Why Is It Successful?
TPRS is a teaching method based on storytelling, and the main idea behind it is that students acquire languages by listening to them. It makes sense, right? When we grow up, we learn our own language by hearing people around us talking and talking. We have exposure to this language for months and years, in a wide range of situations.
The basis of TPRS is very similar: students need to be exposed to the language orally during long periods of time to start learning it in a successful way.
So, how can we engage our pupils in long sessions of listening to Spanish? The answer is, of course, storytelling.
Storytelling is the way things get glued into our long term memory. The proof of this can be found in your own classroom. Ask your students to tell you about something Spanish-related that they remember well. They won’t explain the grammar or the exercise in the book, but will instead give a detailed explanation in the form of a story, including things like when it happened, what they did, how easy or hard they found it and so on.
But TPRS is not just about coming into your lesson and telling a story. It requires planning and structure, and a successful lesson will need some consideration beforehand.
So, what are the stages of TPRS?
- Well, first of all, identify what you want to teach.
Don’t focus on too many things, as this will have a negative effect. The majority of your students will just memorize a small amount of details. Choose three key structures for your story and let the rest be random, spontaneous vocabulary.
To take one of my recent lessons as an example, I have been teaching my beginners all about family, so I chose “tengo hermanos,” “tiene hermanos” and “se llama” as our key concepts for our TPRS lesson.
- Teach the structures orally and physically.
Give pupils plenty of opportunities to listen to the structures in different sentences and situations. Get your students out in class and ask them to play different roles. Get them to answer questions to apply the language.
In my lesson, I got a couple of volunteers and we recreated an interview, focusing on asking and answering questions about their brothers and sisters. I don’t just ask these pupils, though. I will then ask the other students to answer questions about both themselves and the volunteers.
Quick tip: The two keys are to model the language before asking your students to answer questions, and to have fun with it—do silly voices, pretend you are famous people, exaggerate (“I have twenty sisters”) and turn yourself into a bit of a comedian.
- If you have time, turn the vocabulary and structures into a live story.
To keep your students engaged, make them act out different characters and turn some of your pupils into the protagonists of your tale. Ensure that they are following the story by asking them to translate certain key words, which will allow everyone to understand the plot.
Quick tip: Ask your students key questions about the story to make them personalize the tale. For example, in my tale about family, I encouraged my class to decide on the number of brothers and sisters and their names. Pose easy questions in Spanish and then model the answers for them.
- Revise everything you have done orally by giving your students a reading exercise to complete.
A good idea would be to use the story that you have just done with them, although it will lack the personalized details your class has provided. However, this activity can be part of a second lesson, which would give you enough time to incorporate the original aspects your class has introduced. Doing so will make the reading activity much more engaging!
Quick tip: Reading is always easier if you know what you are looking for, so make sure you use things in the text that have already been introduced in class orally. You can even go back to the same characters in different stories and return to previous story lines to revise vocabulary and structures from other lessons!
- From time to time, maybe once a week or once every two weeks, get your students to do some writing.
You can give them support to help them with this, and even organize your pupils in groups to develop a story together.
Quick tip: Make the writing activity an extension of the reading task. That way, your students will have a model to help them develop their written work.
When executed well, TPRS is a fantastic technique to teach Spanish. I discovered it last year and have been trying it with different classes, and the impact is shocking. Not only my students are much more engaged when learning Spanish, but I am also a lot more excited about planning and teaching these lessons.
Teaching with TPRS allows your students to transform the learning. I absolutely love all their crazy ideas and have a lot of fun during our sessions, and my relationship with the classes has improved drastically. Similarly, my pupils are more enthusiastic about Spanish, and their confidence has been significantly developed. Before, they were reluctant to use the language, whereas now they are eager to have a say on what happens during Spanish class.
7 Top TPRS Tips That’ll Change Your Spanish Class Forever
You have read everything about TPRS and it sounds great. I have managed to persuade you to try it out, right? Great! Now let’s have a look at some ideas to ensure that your first TPRS experience is a complete success.
Make sure your students are aware of the grammar structures that will be used during the lesson and have access to them at all times. Have them on the board and refer back to them as many times as you need, until your students feel comfortable with them.
2. Mastery comes from repetition.
Repeat, repeat and repeat both questions and structures. Give students enough opportunities to listen to the language and apply it themselves.
3. Use actions, pictures and props to help your students understand the language.
Acting everything out is a fantastic way to ensure that your students follow the story, and props are especially great at keeping them engaged. Are you telling a story based on the topic of clothes? Bring in a Mexican sombrero for your students to wear!
4. Use a number of narrators to explore different grammatical structures.
Don’t only talk about a fictional character, but introduce elements about your own personal life to use the “I form,” and ask students questions to model the “you form.”
5. Plan and explore the use of cognates.
When telling a story, cognates are the best way to ensure comprehension, especially for your lower ability students. Plan the cognates ahead of time by making a list of the best ones for the topic, and have them in mind at all times. If your students feel lost throughout the tale, hearing a familiar word will help them get back on the right track and will build their confidence.
6. Ask key questions.
The questions will both enable lower ability students to follow the story and encourage your class to personalize everything. Good questioning will clarify certain bits of the vocabulary, and it is also a great way to prompt your students into adapting and offering details to make the tale fun and original.
7. Get your students to be creative.
There are many great ways to do this, depending on their ages and skills. With my seven-year-olds, I like to give them booklets where they can write simple sentences to make a story and illustrate it. With some more experienced Spanish learners, you can ask them to develop their own fiction with the same characters, or pose a “what if?” scenario for them to think and write about.
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TPRS Resources to Get Your Spanish Class Started
I’m sure by this point you are eager to give TPRS a chance and you are wondering, where is the best place to start? If you are willing to try it out, my advice is to first use some ready made lesson plans and resources that will help you deliver interesting and fun TPRS sessions without out spending hours planning.
Have a look at the suggestions below! Using these materials will help you learn the keys to creating successful and engaging content for your TPRS lessons.
- Dear Zoo: This is the first TPRS story I tried with my primary school students. Introducing TPRS with younger students is the best way to build on the technique, as they will naturally be interested in any sort of storytelling you bring into class. Dear Zoo is an amazing resource that provides great scope for acting out and getting students involved, and the Power Point comes with pictures to allow your students to follow the story more effectively. You can also adapt it to your needs and change some of the structures to others that your pupils already know.
- TPRS Handouts: This is a collection of TPRS materials for you to read through and explore. There are many articles and ideas if you want to research TPRS in greater depth, as well as lesson plans and lists of stories and songs that can be used as TPRS resources.
- My generation of polyglots: Check out this great blog. It has some ready to go TPRS lessons for different levels, with videos, Power Points, reading materials and writing resources for you to use.
Teaching languages is all about innovation and experimenting, about having fun and being able to apply what you learn in real life situations. If you want your lessons to go from boring to fun, try TPRS.
You won’t go back to your textbook again!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you already love the idea of teaching with bite-sized snippets of authentic Spanish content, another option is to use FluentU. We feature tons of clips—the modern, audio-visual equivalent of short stories, if you will.
How can video clips aid Spanish teachers in class? FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
We’ve got a tremendous collection of authentic Spanish videos that people in the Spanish-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Each video has interactive subtitles. If a student comes across a word they’re unfamiliar with, they can hover their cursor over the subtitled word. That word’s definition, pronunciation and in-context usage examples will all pop up on-screen instantly. This is what your students will get after they click “watch” on a video. Clicking “learn” opens up a whole new learning experience for them.
In learn mode, all the vocabulary and grammar from the video is taught and reinforced through varied repetition (practicing the same concepts in different forms and contexts). They’ll play with flashcards, games, word matches and exercises like “fill in the blank.”
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that they’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on what they’ve already learned. Every student has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.