Let’s take a moment to imagine a world without language.
At first, it sounds nice, even peaceful.
But then you realize that without it, your favorite TV show would not be nearly as funny. Your favorite books would be nothing but blank pages. And your emotions and needs would be imprisoned within you forever, finding no voice.
Because language is not just words. It is songs, poetry, communication and the ability to understand others.
Without it, we don’t have much of anything.
In fact, everything your students learn outside your classroom has to be understood through the lens of language. Art, music, science and mathematics all require it to make them comprehensible.
As a language teacher, your role is important, even essential. Your responsibility is not simply to teach words and vocabulary, but to teach your students to understand and appreciate the new worlds that this vocabulary reveals to them.
That’s why TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) is a strategy that makes perfect sense. It allows students to build language skills while enjoying a few good stories.
To do this effectively, you need the right stories. Books that are too difficult, too easy or too boring will do more harm than good. Here are some ideas for choosing TPRS books that will make your students love reading even more.
How to Build Awesome Lessons with TPRS Books
When it comes to incorporating reading into your language lessons, there are generally three different ways to do it. The choice depends on your class, your teaching style and your students’ interest and level of proficiency.
Read out loud to the class
There are few students who don’t enjoy good old-fashioned “story time!” It’s a great opportunity to take a time-out from the routine and to listen to a good story. It may become something your students look forward to every day or every week. Most importantly, it offers the ability to master new vocabulary and sentence constructions together as they appear in the text.
Allow time for independent reading
This is a great choice if your class represents a variety of needs and learning styles. Students can build their skills individually by enjoying TPRS books on their own. However, this does require some extra effort on your part in matching each student with a book that is appropriate for their levels and interests.
Build themed units about novels
By teaching a novel, your students get to learn about history and culture in addition to language.
Be sure to tie it into cultural topics and vocabulary units.
Get ready to engage in some rich discussion about the story as teachable moments unfold.
Strategies for Successful TPRS Lessons
If you don’t know much about TPRS, it can be overwhelming to take on this new strategy.
But there are a few easy steps you can take to incorporate TPRS meaningfully into your classroom teaching.
- Teach the structures. You can make TPRS books more comprehensible to your students by teaching the structures of sentences. Do this by displaying a target language sentence alongside its translation. Call attention to differences in structure. In no time, your students will be applying this knowledge to their own independent reading.
- Read as many TPRS books as possible. Become familiar with all the books that are out there before choosing one to teach. You can make better choices about the right books to use if you know them well.
- Keep a library in your classroom. Make sure your library is extensive and compelling. That way, students can always find something to read if they finish a task early or have free time.
- Strike the right balance. Choose books that are comprehensible, but make sure they are engaging, too. Sometimes a book is interesting, but too difficult for your students. Other times, a book may be easy to read and understand, but has content not suitable for the age group.
So which books work the best for TPRS?
This differs with different classes. But here are some great choices to give you an idea.
The Best TPRS Books to Read Together
These books can be taught as units or read out loud to the class. Almost all of the books listed here are available in multiple languages.
This advanced beginner novel presents only 200 unique words, giving it just the right mix of comprehensibility and vocabulary enrichment.
The story takes place during Guatemala’s 36-year war, and provides some wonderful insights about living through historical turmoil.
It will be most meaningful for students who are studying Spanish, but is an enjoyable story for anyone.
“Brandon Brown Wants a Dog”
With about 140 unique words, this is an excellent book to take on with low beginners.
The story of a little boy who wants a dog against his mother’s objections is one that will resonate with young readers.
The most popular version of this book is the Spanish “Brandon Brown quiere un perro,” but it works well for students of any language.
If you need a story to inspire your sports enthusiasts, this is the perfect book.
Felipe Alou went from obscurity in the Dominican Republic to become a famous baseball player at a time when minorities had to face almost insurmountable odds.
Studying the English version of this book can give your students insights into the struggles and contributions of immigrants.
This is an easy Spanish reader telling the story of a girl whose “quinceañera” celebration coincides with her father’s involvement with a Mexican drug cartel.
The themes of navigating relationships as a teenager make this an excellent choice for your high school students.
This story is only available in Spanish.
Best TPRS Books for Independent Reading
When it comes to independent reading, students are most drawn to stories that hold a spark of familiarity.
Here are some examples of books that will allure your most reluctant readers.
Both comprehensible and humorous, “comic books” have been a staple of pleasure reading for generations. Now transformed into graphic novels, the vivid and graphic illustrations make reading fun and easy.
Some popular choices for language learners are Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese,” the classic “Asterix” series, or “Ghosts“ and “Smile“ by Raina Telgemeier.
Many of your students are naturally drawn to stories about beloved teams and athletes.
If your library includes books about sports figures that the students already know and love, the text becomes much more comprehensible for them.
For best results, find the target language version of a sports book that kids already know and love.
Classic children’s fiction
There are some books that are universally beloved, easily recognizable by young readers of all nationalities. Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket and anything by Dr. Seuss or Mercer Mayer have been household names for decades.
Because of their extreme popularity, you can find copies of these books in almost any language.
If your students already know and love a particular book or author, it gives them an edge in both comprehensibility and overall enjoyment.
Your TPRS classroom is only as good as the books you choose! But if you choose wisely, you can work magic, instilling a love of reading as well as a deeper appreciation of the language.
And these are gifts that your students can carry with them all their lives.