You yell at the screen, “Don’t go down to that basement, dummy!”
Well, that person doesn’t hear you and they go down to the basement.
In this case, you have no say in the story line and your favorite character dies.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the directors had asked for your input?
Sometimes, we would all like a little input on how a story goes. And, guess what?
You give your students the opportunity to do just that with TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling).
It might seem a bit scary at first; you have to step out of your comfort zone and trust that you have the charisma to pull it off. And even more daunting is the thought of trying to come up with good stories to use!
You need stories captivating enough to hold the attention of your students, yet simple enough to teach them the vocabulary. It’s a pretty tall order!
But no need to worry, we won’t let this story get away from you. We’ve got some example stories to make your TPRS lesson a success!
Steps to Implementing a TPRS Session
According to Blaine Ray, the inventor of TPRS, there are three steps to telling a great TPRS story.
Begin by writing new vocabulary on the board, and then personalize it for the students by asking them questions about themselves and about each other. Make use of gestures, mnemonic devices and memory aids.
Monitor student responses to make sure that they understand the vocabulary perfectly before proceeding to the next step.
Ask the story
“Wait,” you’re saying. “Don’t you mean tell the story?” No, not exactly. “Asking” the story allows your students to be more engaged with the process.
Simply create a script with a structure that demands the repetition of key vocabulary, but leave the details (things that are not essential to the plot) to be determined by the students.
For example, your story can repeat structures for verbs like “got up,” “got dressed,” “ate breakfast,” but allow other details such as names of characters or times of day to be determined by the class.
To make vocabulary and structures more memorable to students, try using the three techniques of circling, parking and personalization. Here’s a brief explanation of each term.
- Circling — In this technique, you simply make a statement and then ask a series of questions about the statement, changing a different variable each time. (“Sarah has an apple.” “Does Sarah have an apple?” “Does Sarah have a banana?” “Does Sarah have an apple or does Sarah want an apple?” etc.)
- Parking — At a certain point in the story, you’ll need to “park.” That is, halt the progression of the story and take time just to drive home the vocabulary and structures that you’re teaching.
- Personalize — Remember to constantly “personalize” your story by building on the answers that the students give.
This takes us to our third and final step.
Read the story
There are a number of options here depending on your class and your teaching style. You can give the class the same story that was presented, although this may be boring since it won’t reflect their own contributions to the story.
You can also give them a “dictée,” in which you read them the story generated in class and ask them to write. Another possibility is to provide a reading selection that includes similar target vocabulary and structures as the story you presented and read it together, teaching unfamiliar words as you go.
Although it’s not one of the three steps, don’t forget that you always need to assess. One of the great things about TPRS is that it allows you to assess constantly by asking targeted questions to ensure that students comprehend the vocabulary.
You can also follow it up with a brief vocabulary quiz or a “free write” prompt to gain more insight into their level of understanding.
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How to Find (or Create) the Right Story
A TPRS lesson is only as good as the story it’s based on! So make sure you find just the right story to fit your students’ ability and interests, as well as your own teaching style.
Here are some considerations when searching for or creating a TPRS story.
- Make it interesting. Okay, so there’s a limit to how riveting the story will actually be, given that students have minimal attention spans and vocabulary. After all, you do have to stay within the limits of comprehensibility. But the story does need to hold their interest enough so that boredom won’t make their attention wander away.
- Make sure it’s easy enough to understand. Unlike other methods of language instruction, the goal of TPRS is always 100% comprehensibility. Limit unfamiliar words and teach them thoroughly beforehand.
- Consider a favorite children’s book in the target language. Most of your students will already be familiar with the words of these stories, making the vocabulary painless for them to learn. The repetition in P.D. Eastman’s beloved “Are You My Mother?” or “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss lend themselves perfectly to TPRS.
- Try an authentic story or legend. Legends and folktales are memorable stories that have been handed down orally and survived the test of time. What about one of Grimm’s fairy tales such as “Snow White” or “Hansel and Gretel” for your German class? Or some traditional Mexican folktales to liven up your Spanish class? You could also match this story or legend with a video including actual native speakers. For that, I recommend FluentU.
- Build the story with collaboration from the students. Remember how we said that a TPRS story may not always be the most riveting? Well, contributions from the students give it the necessary energy to hold their attention. Pause, question and solicit entertaining responses from your students frequently. Use their responses to help move the action of the story forward.
Tips to Telling a Great TPR Story
There are some other critical points to keep in mind to make your TPRS story more meaningful and memorable.
- Connect the story to the students whenever you can. Mention celebrities that they love, and even make the students themselves characters in the story.
- Keep the pace slow and deliberate. Pause often to check for understanding.
- Indulge in dramatic and exaggerated behavior. Make your gestures, movements and tone of voice slightly “over the top.” Coach the students in “overreacting” with exaggerated verbal responses (“Bravo!” “Boo!” “Oui! Oui!” [Yes! Yes!] “No! No!”).
- Believe in your story. No matter how outrageous the events of your story are, “suspend disbelief.” Include details that make the story more believable.
Master the Fine Art of Storytelling with These 3 TPR Storytelling Examples
Are you still stuck on how to create the perfect TPRS story for your class? Here are a few examples that you can adapt to fit the needs of your students.
Henry Needs to Buy a Present
Possible target-language vocabulary: to buy, store, too
This is Henry. (You can use the name of one of the students or of a celebrity.)
Henry likes a girl. The girl’s name is Lucy. (Again, use a name that will have meaning for the students.)
Henry wants to buy Lucy a present. What does he want to buy her? (Solicit answers. A puppy? A flower? A necklace? Great. A necklace.)
Henry goes to the store. He sees a big orange necklace. Does he buy it? No. He does not buy it. It is too big. It is too orange.
Parking example — The teacher might stop the progression of the story here to hit home the target vocabulary. (Where did Henry go to buy the necklace? Is school a kind of store? Is this [teacher holds up a picture of a local store] a store? Do I buy things at a store? What did Henry want to buy?)
Henry sees a small black necklace. Does he buy it? No. He does not buy it. It is too small. It is too black.
Henry sees a medium-sized pink necklace. It is a beautiful necklace. Henry buys it.
Henry gives Lucy the beautiful pink necklace. Lucy says, “Thank you. But I like big, orange necklaces better.”
There are a number of things that you can do with this story, such as getting students to act it out as you tell it.
If you want to involve more students, you can also get someone to play the part of the store clerk and include more conversation about the pros and cons of the various necklaces (or dresses, or puppies or whatever object you end up deciding on).
Remember to stop (“park”) where you see fit to ask for trivial details (or, “ask the story”), such as the time of day Henry goes to the shop, what the shop looks like on the inside, how many necklaces there are in the shop, etc.
She’s the Girl Who Can’t Find Anything
Possible target-language vocabulary: school, to need, to find
What time is it? It is 8:00 am. It’s time to go to school. Mary gets ready to go to school.
Mary gets up. Mary gets dressed. She brushes her hair. She brushes her teeth. Is she ready for school?
No, Mary is not ready for school. What does she need? (Stop and ask the students for things Mary might need. Her lunch? Her books? Her sneakers? Ok, her sneakers.)
Mary can’t find her sneakers. She looks under the bed. She looks on the bookshelf. She looks behind the door. She looks next to the window. But she can’t find her sneakers.
Parking example — This might be a good place to stop and emphasize vocabulary. (Where does Mary go? To the store? To the movies? Do I need things for school? What things does Mary need?)
So Mary asks her mother, “Where are my sneakers?” Her mother says, “They are in your closet.”
Mary gets her sneakers. She goes to school.
It’s 9:00 am. It’s time to go to math class. What does she need? (Calculator? Pencil? Notebook? Ok. Her notebook.)
Mary can’t find her notebook. She looks under the desk. She looks on the table. She looks behind the curtain. She looks next to the door. But she can’t find her notebook.
So Mary asks her friend, “Where is my notebook?” Her friend says, “It is in your locker.”
Continue the pattern as Mary loses different things needed for each place she goes (her trumpet for music class, her sandwich for lunch, etc.)
The Tale of Little Red Riding Hood
Possible target-language vocabulary: grandmother, big, wolf
This old favorite lends itself really well to TPRS because of its familiarity and repetition.
Here is Little Red Riding Hood. She is going to visit her grandmother. She carries a basket.
What is in the basket? (Get students to name off items that they think Little Red Riding Hood would be taking to her grandmother’s. Allow them to be creative with their responses.)
Little Red Riding Hood meets a big wolf. (Make this part of the story very dramatic. Drag out the words. Get a lively student to play the part of the Big Bad Wolf.)
Parking example — Who is Little Red Riding Hood going to visit? Her mother? Her aunt? What does the wolf look like? Is this a big wolf? (Hold up pictures.) Is this a big wolf?
Big Bad Wolf asks, “Where are you going?”
Little Red Riding Hood says, “I am going to visit my grandmother. I am bringing her some chocolates and some orange juice.”
Big Bad Wolf watches Little Red Riding Hood. Then he goes ahead of her. He arrives at her grandmother’s house before her, but Grandmother isn’t there! Where could she be? (Solicit suggestions as to where the grandmother might have gone. Have fun with these!)
The Big Bad Wolf puts on Grandmother’s hat. He puts on Grandmother’s dress. He puts on Grandmother’s glasses. He gets into Grandmother’s bed. He waits for Little Red Riding Hood.
Little Red Riding Hood comes in. She sees the Big Bad Wolf. She says, “Oh, Grandmother! What big eyes you have!”
“The better to see you with, my dear!”
“Oh Grandmother! What big ears you have!”
“The better to hear you with, my dear!”
“Oh Grandmother! What big teeth you have!”
“The better to eat all the chocolates in your basket!”
The Big Bad Wolf grabs the basket. Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf eat the chocolates together. And everyone lives happily ever after.
You can always do your own unique twists of the story, such as making the wolf a contestant on a reality TV show or having Little Red Riding Hood reveal herself as a secret spy for the Mafia.
The most important rule about TPRS is to have fun! And it’s a sure bet that your students will too.
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