TPRS stands for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling and is a method of teaching foreign language based on a body of current research into linguistics, language acquisition, and the effect of movement on learning. This research shows that we learn a foreign language most easily and most thoroughly through activities that simulate the way we learned our native language. The term “comprehensible input” means language that we hear or read, and that we understand. Comprehensible input has been proven to be essential in acquiring a language. To re-create as much as possible the way students have learned their first language, TPRS teachers do the following:
expose students to as much comprehensible input in the target language as possible through listening and reading activities. What they hear and read is intentionally tailored to their level of understanding.
rely on repetition of language structure and vocabulary so that it will be stored in students’ long-term memory. Because students are not memorizing, but internalizing what they have heard, vocabulary and sentence structure is stored in their brains so that they can use it easily in new linguistic situations.
use vocabulary and grammar in context in stories and conversations so that students do not need to memorize vocabulary lists or do grammar exercises.
use gestures and pantomime, which mimic real situations and which connect action with meaning in the students’ brains.
focus first on vocabulary and meaning, giving very brief grammatical explanations when needed, saving the more involved explanations for later, when students find them easier to understand.
have students read as much in the target language as possible both in class and at home as a way of providing them with more comprehensible input.
A TPRS lesson in my class follows this cycle of steps:
Students focus on new vocabulary/structures, approximately 3, by making gestures related to them. They practice the words with gestures for a few minutes. We then focuses on the new vocabulary in a short personalized question and answer session in which students answer my questions in Spanish.
I then tells a story with the new vocabulary words or structures as a few students act it out, while the rest of the class listens, and everyone answers the many questions I ask about the story as it is being told. Students are encouraged to help create the story by adding ideas or details. The questioning provides the repetition necessary to enable students to remember the structures and vocabulary, and also allows for personalization of the material. Understanding and answering these questions is a very important part of the students’ learning. I am constantly checking through questioning whether the students understand what is being said.
During the telling (asking) of the story, I point out and explain briefly the grammar and structure which students need to know at their level of study.
A short written story that uses the new vocabulary and structures is read and translated in class. I will ask questions in Spanish and we will discuss the story, and relate it to students’ lives. I will use the reading to point out any structural, spelling, or grammatical points that need to be reinforced.
An extended reading of approximately 500-700 words that uses the vocabulary and structures in the same or different context is read in class and the same procedure as for the short story is followed.
In addition, the following activities may be done during the lesson cycle: students write a story using the focus vocabulary & structures, students do a “timed write” (writing a story of as many words possible in 10 minutes- for fluency only, not for accuracy), or retell a story to a partner or the class.
Being taught with the TPRS method will affect the way students prepare for class. Homework is not assigned on a regular basis, since comprehensible input is best achieved in the classroom. When a student does do homework, it may require a parent to listen to his or her child either tell a story in Spanish or translate a written story into English. Parent signatures will indicate that the assignment was completed. Although students can usually predict when they will have a quiz, they are not announced in advance because TPRS teachers want to know what students have truly learned, not what they can memorize the night before (short term learning). Students who are present and focused in class should not find it necessary to study at home because the acquiring of Spanish takes place in the classroom. Students are encouraged to do the following to be successful:
be absent as infrequently as possible. It is impossible to recreate the classroom learning experience at home. When absent it will become necessary to memorize the vocabulary (very hard if you haven’t heard it) introduced while absent.
pay attention (listen & focus!) every moment of the class period and participate in class in every way possible as often as possible.
keep a list of their grades.
If parents want to help work with their children they can:
ask students to tell them the current story or vocabulary items in Spanish (see web page), even though they (parents) may not understand it