Do you want your students hanging on to your every word?
Tell great stories!
Tell exciting adventures!
How? By implementing TPRS, a language teaching approach that revolves around stories.
In this post, we dive into some TPRS books that will ensure you never run out of great stories to tell.
But before that, let’s briefly look at TPRS as a teaching method and see what it’s really all about.
What Is TPRS?
TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) or TPR Storytelling, is a teaching approach pioneered in the 1990s by Spanish language teacher Blaine Ray.
It deals with the most basic question in the language classroom: How does one teach meaning?
TPRS derives many of its core principles from the study of Dr. Stephen Krashen who believes that in order to teach a language, one has to give comprehensible input. That is, you don’t give students a dry list of vocabulary words to memorize or drill them endlessly on the different rules of grammar. Instead, you engage the class in compelling activities that provide the context for the comprehension of language.
Stories are the perfect vehicle to provide context for your target words and phrases. Embed vocabulary in an engaging story and your students won’t even realize how much they’re learning.
The general technique behind TPRS is this: To teach your students something, build a story around it.
These stories don’t teach a moral lesson, but rather a more practical lesson. Your students will learn target words and phrases that you repeatedly use in the story. That’s what TPRS is all about.
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What Does TPRS Look Like in a Language Classroom?
There are generally three steps in implementing TPRS.
1. Choose the target words or phrases that you want to focus on. Three items should be enough for one story. For example, you can have target words like “eat,” “basketball” and “always” for a beginner class.
2. Tell a story. The story is the vehicle you’ll use to hammer the vocabulary into your students’ minds over and over. Repetition is the heart and soul of this step.
3. Read and use the target words and phrases in their written form. The reading component comes in as scaffolding that bolsters class mastery of the specific words.
Let’s say you decide to teach students about the color “red.”
Build a story around it. Name your main character “Red.” (Imagine the repetition possibilities in that one alone.) Make her favorite fruits apples and strawberries. Make her faint at the sight of blood. Make the whole story about the color red. Throughout your story, constantly mention the target word(s) as often as possible, and associate them with thematically-similar items (such as “red” and “strawberries”).
Your goal is to make sure your students hear and say the word(s) many times throughout the story. You do this by asking questions like:
Who loves apples? (Class: Red!)
Who loves strawberries? (Class: Red!)
Who’s afraid of blood? (Class: Red!)
Does Red love the color green? (Class: No!)
Does Red love the color blue? (Class: No!)
What color does Red love? (Class: Red!)
Does Red love the color red? (Class: Yes!)
All of your questions are actually pronunciation rehearsals for “red.” The stories are interactive and some even offer several chances for the students to make active choices in what happens next, all while learning the target information.
By the end of your tale in this example, you’ll have already anchored not only “red” in your students’ long-term memories but also “apples” and “strawberries.”
After telling the story about red, you let your class see “red” on a piece of paper. Here are some ideas for this stage:
- Distribute printouts that contain the phrases and sentences that were used in the story.
- Come up with more examples of usage and ask students to write them down.
- Ask students to translate simple sentences and phrases involving “red.”
- Hand out worksheets which require students to fill in the blanks, encircle words or other similar activities.
This time your students can understand what “red” is and correctly pronounce the word and they also know how it’s written. You now have successfully taught comprehension, pronunciation and written form.
Why Should You Use TPRS in a Language Classroom?
The answer is really simple: It changes the atmosphere of the class and the attitude of your students.
Imagine being a student in a class which utilizes TPRS. Instead of being graded on correctly answering grammar exercises, you’re listening to a tale of a little girl who goes into a forest in the middle of the day. You really feel for this girl because she’s 10 years old, just like you, and it’s her first time in the forest alone. The teacher asks the class if Red chose to eat the apples she found on the ground. The class says “yes.” You sure hope you guys made the right choice.
You can’t wait to know what will happen next. The teacher is telling a story and this doesn’t feel like a language class at all. Sure, you now know what “red” is and what “apples” and “strawberries” are. But even though you’re in class, it feels like you’re having lunch with your friends and telling each other stories.
Who wouldn’t want their students to have that kind of experience in a language class?
That said, let’s now look at books TPRS practitioners need to get their hands on.
After that, you can take your stories to the next level by supplementing them with videos from FluentU. Using FluentU, students will be more engaged and learn better.
Not only does FluentU offer videos, but it offers scaffolding that isn’t available anywhere else; students will find authentic content approachable and within reach. An engaged student is an actively learning student!
7 TPRS Books That Belong in Every Language Teacher’s Library
1. “TPRS in a Year!”
This is your go-to book for learning how to implement TPRS in your language classroom. It features 49 different strategies and techniques that maximize your effectiveness as a teacher and minimize any friction to language learning.
For example, Skill#1 is “Signing/Gesturing,” which is crucial when you’re initially establishing the meaning of target words and phrases. Here you’ll learn how to pair a physical anchor with the sound of a word so students are gradually able to grasp its meaning. This skill helps bring out some playfulness in you so your students aren’t the only ones having fun.
The book also contains four sample stories that take you by the hand and behind the scenes in constructing that high-impact storyline for unforgettable lessons. In addition, the book’s exhaustive Q&A section gets ahead of you and tries to answer some of the questions you might have about the method.
Even the TPRS method’s creator has praised the book’s author, Ben Slavic. When you’re a language teacher whose top five French students are all national placers in a language contest, you do deserve all the accolades.
2. “97 Story Scripts”
You might ask, “What if I run out of stories?” You won’t if you have this book.
Anne Matava has been teaching French and German by telling stories since 2006. As the name implies, “97 Story Scripts” contains her collection of pre-structured stories that you can follow. These stories contain certain points where you can ask students for input. It works very much like improv, with details coming from the audience.
For example, if a story is about Tim who walks to school everyday, you might ask the class to yell out some of the things he sees along the way. You’ll be faced with a cacophony of answers. Pick the suggestion that best suits the discussion. With this method you can supplement your own targeted words and phrases with words volunteered by the students.
Using this book you can build the stories with the class, so students are invested in the result. This is a two-way, interactive TPRS method that gets students hanging onto every twist and turn, all while learning a thing or ten about the target language.
3. “Fluency Through TPR Storytelling”
If you want to get deep into the rationale and motivation for TPRS, you might as well get it from the man who created the method himself.
In this starter book, Blaine Ray gets you up to speed on the personal and pedagogical underpinnings of TPRS. If you, like him, ever wondered why even in the advanced age of bitcoins and nanobots very few language classes churn out students who are truly fluent in the target language, then do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book. You’ll understand why the method eschews grammar practice and rote learning in favor of this more creative approach.
There’s no shortage of techniques, strategies and best practices for the TPRS practitioner here. Beyond those, and perhaps even more important, is the deeper understanding of language acquisition this book brings. After reading “Fluency Through TPR Storytelling,” you’ll not only be able to adapt the tools provided to best fit your language class, you’ll also be more confident in creating your very own.
If there’s a TPRS Bible, this could very well be it.
4. “TPRS with Chinese Characteristics”
As the title states, this book was originally a guide for teachers of the Chinese tonal languages. But as testament to its superb content as a whole, the book has also proven valuable for other languages—especially those languages that aren’t based on the Latin alphabet like Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Russian. This book also has excellent sections on reading and writing pictographs.
In truth, even teachers of Spanish, French, German or Italian will benefit from the sections on comprehensible inputs. Think about it: If the book has proven successful for teaching Chinese, a language that’s not only tonal but has a distinct writing system, how much more can it do for Latin-based languages?
If you want to teach in way that’s approachable and clear, and if you want your students to learn with ease and come out of the course fluent in the target language, follow the instructions in this book. The author, Dr. Terry Waltz, walks the talk by explaining TPRS concepts in a simple and concise style that’s eminently practical. You won’t be the same after the last page.
5. “Tripp’s Scripts”
Included are 40 storytelling structures that are constructed in the tradition of Anne Matava’s “97 Story Scripts.” They’ve been tried and tested by the author to capture the interest of your students—especially teenagers.
The book provides teachers with the framework of an engaging story. Certain details are left out to be filled in during class through student participation. For instance, if your class wants some celebrity to star in your story, that’s entirely possible. (You maintain control on the direction of the plot by choosing suggestions that you think are funny, interesting or appropriate.)
Like Anne Matava’s stories, each script has three different locations, or three different incidents, where you can hammer on your target words or phrases. What makes this book different is that the scripts provide options to extend the stories, which is perfect if you want to add more target words or if you’re teaching advanced classes.
Don’t worry if you don’t finish a longer story in a single session. There’s always tomorrow! Just make sure that you’re always repeating your target words and phrases throughout.
6. “The Power of Reading”
The other books we have featured here so far focused on the “storytelling” part of TPRS. This one takes care of the “reading” element of the approach.
“The Power of Reading” delves into the tremendous advantages reading brings to those who invest time into it. It’s written by Dr. Stephen Krashen, whose research and theories on language learning have been pivotal in developing TPRS.
If you think reading is just a passive activity or a way to kill time when you’re done with the day’s lesson, this book will dispel such misconceptions and many others. Dr. Krashen cites numerous studies that provide overwhelming evidence of the importance of reading to learners of a second language. (It might even be more important than direct language instruction!)
This book will teach you to look at a book or a selected reading with a newfound respect.
7. “Pixar Storytelling”
The inclusion of “Pixar Storytelling” on this list isn’t coming out of left field.
Pixar movies have been grossing in the hundreds of millions of dollars because the people behind it know how to tell a good story. Young and old both get their imaginations utterly tickled and captivated by Pixar’s tales.
You know that the creators of “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters, Inc.” and many other beloved titles know what they’re doing because they have the numbers to back it up.
In this book, you’ll learn how to create compelling characters that your students not only relate to, but also care deeply about. You’ll learn how to immerse your characters in struggles that highlight their fundamental flaws. You’ll be able to create drama and conflict that will be talked about by your students during lunch breaks and on Facebook.
Your students will indeed be hanging onto your every word and eating out of the palm of your hand. And yes, it’s still a language class! But this one will take your TPRS game to a whole new level.
So there you have it!
Seven great resources that will make your students never want to miss a single moment in class.
Put the lessons, the techniques and the scripts to heart and you’ll not only be a great storyteller, you’ll be an awesome language teacher who produces fluent students—one story at a time.
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