TPRS Method: How to tell Great Stories Using TPR Storytelling Strategies

Have you wanted to incorporate the TPRS method of storytelling into your lessons but were unsure how to go about it?  In this blog post, I will teach you, step-by-step, how to use TPR Strategies. After reading the post and watching the videos, you will be on your way!

HISTORY OF SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION METHODOLOGY (Skip if you already know all about Dr. Stephen Krashen and Blaine Ray)

Wait! What is TPRS? It stands for “Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling.”

But let’s begin at the beginning.

Before I began teaching, I decided I had better find out how one “learns” a second language. I spent hours in the library researching (before computers were a thing), and I discovered that the target language is actually NOT learned, but acquired in much the same way as we assimilate our first language. It just sinks in naturally when we hear the new language enough times in context, with only pop-up grammar instruction (Explanation of a grammar point when it is necessary to explain meaning). For that reason, this language teaching method was called “The Natural Approach.”


The Natural Approach

The natural approach avoids the formal study of grammar rules and direct translation. Translation hinders language acquisition and is an advanced skill, difficult to master. For those reasons, it should be used sparingly in the second language classroom. (I do teach grammar, but that is a topic for another blog post.)

So, how do language teachers expose their middle and high school students to enough repetition in context for the language to stick? Through comprehensible input, i.e., any compelling spoken or written message that makes the meaning of the words understandable to the students.

In addition, the input must not be higher than L1. That means that the communication should only have a few words the students don’t understand. If there are too many words the language learners are not familiar with, they will not acquire the new words. They will hear gibberish.

There is a huge variety of techniques for providing comprehensible input, and I address that in another blog post: How to Add the Best Comprehensible Input


The TPRS Method of Storytelling

In this post, I want to focus on the TPRS method of storytelling, an effective way to give students language in context. Blaine Ray first came up with TPR Storytelling. At first, it stood for TOTAL PHYSICAL RESPONSE storytelling. The tprs teachers used physical movement to cement the ideas, acting out the vocabulary words with the students. Then they told the story, stopping often to ask questions. (More on this later.)

Later, Blaine changed it to TPRS, “Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling,” because one acquires a language through reading as well as listening.

This method of communicative language teaching was different than the traditional methods used by my former teachers. But it worked!

TPRS Method #1

BEFORE TELLING A STORY, PRE-TEACH THE VOCABULARY BY ACTING IT OUT WITH THE STUDENTS.

(I give students the new vocabulary with English next to it.  That is the only time they will see or hear English.)   Then, act out the vocabulary until you are sure they know it.  First, do the actions with them, then say the words out of order.

If you use illustrations, tell the story first while students look at the illustrations.  As you tell the story, stop occasionally to do comprehension checks, asking students to tell you which illustration you are on.  Then, tell the story with student volunteers.  Here is an example of a story in which I use illustrations: Spanish Adjectives Ser Gustar TPR Story

HERE’S AN ILLUSTRATED STORY IN FRENCH: LE MAUVAIS ÉLÈVE

If you do not have illustrations, begin by telling the story with student volunteers.  Make sure to use props.  It makes the storytelling more interesting.

ASK QUESTIONS AS YOU ARE TELLING THE STORY.

Begin with yes/no questions. Purposely make mistakes and have the students correct you.  Progress to either/or questions.  I recommend writing out the either/or options beforehand, using prewritten story scripts to help you tell the story. The deer-in-the-headlights expression on my face, my tale was stalled many times as I searched for an either/or replacement: ¿Jorge va al supermercado o la tienda? ¿Jorge va a la escuela o el…pues…pues…?

Next, ask students to finish the sentences: Jean-Luc va au…. Felipe va al…

Finally, ask, “who, what, where” type of questions. The purpose is to recycle the vocabulary as often as you can.

STRATEGY 2: MORE OPTIONS FOR RECYCLING VOCABULARY

  • Retell the TPR Story and have students draw what you are saying.
  • After telling story A, tell another story using the same vocabulary.

These SPANISH CLASSROOM OBJECTS TPR STORIES include several different stories using the same vocabulary.

Spanish TPRS for Classroom Objects Vocabulary Scissors, pens, pencils, eraser.

TPRS Method #3

After telling the story, continue to recycle language with activities, again, progressing from easy to more difficult.  To see examples of activities click on the picture below: Two stories that reinforce the vocabulary for the HOUSE AND CHORES vocabulary in Spanish.

TPRS Method, Using Activities: Spanish House and Chores Vocabulary TPRS Story Mom is handing dishes to daughter and telling her: ¡Lava los platos! She looks reluctant.

HERE IS A COMMON PROGRESSION OF QUESTIONS:

  • True / false
  • Fill in the blank
  • Put the events in order
  • Answer the questions

GOING FROM RECOGNITION TO PRODUCTION

Finally, practice telling the story with the students and have them retell the story.  I have them practice and present in pairs.

Remember, it is ten times harder to go from recognition to production.  It uses a different part of the brain.

MORE OPTIONS FOR RECYCLING LANGUAGE.  

TPRS Method #4

  • Have students rewrite the story from the point of view of one of the characters.
  •  Have students write or rewrite the ending.   Then, what happened?
  • Use cloze stories.  After telling a story, give a cloze version to the students with words left out.  I do this often, especially when teaching verb tenses.  I leave out the verbs and students must fill in the verbs using the proper tense, conjugation, and spelling.

HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF A GOOD STORY THAT DEMONSTRATES THE USE OF “SER” AND “ESTAR” WITH A CLOZE ACTIVITY: Ser Estar TPRS Stories

Spanish Ser vs. Estar TPR Stories Twin blonde women back to back

TPRS Method #5

Rewrite the story changing the present tense to the past tense (just the preterite or the preterite and imperfect.) In the following story, students must rewrite the story changing the present tense to the preterite: Spanish Travel Vocabulary TPR Story

TPRS Method #6

Give students the story with certain parts underlined.  They must change the underlined parts.  This way they get practice writing correct grammar, syntax, and transition words but are still rewriting the story and recycling vocabulary.  The following story reinforces the irregular preterite.  After watching it and answering comprehension questions, students must rewrite the underlined parts: Irregular Preterite TPRS Story in Spanish

Here’s the same story in French: Le Passé Composé

TPR Method #7

Tell the students to write their own story using the new vocabulary.  Make sure to give them a rubric so they know exactly what is expected of them. Here is one of the rubrics I used: TPRS Student Story

TPR Strategies #8

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Tell stories using illustrated PowerPoint TPR Stories.  The illustrations make the language obvious, replacing the gestures.  Here is an example of an illustrated PowerPoint that reinforces the use of the double-object pronouns, a difficult grammar concept made easy by this captivating story: EL OSITO, SPANISH DOUBLE-OBJECT PRONOUN TPR STORY

Spanish Double Object Pronoun TPR Story Boy giving girl a teddy bear. Entonces se lo da a su novia.

Here’s the same story in French: French Double-Object Pronouns TPR Story

 One final note:  In order for TPR Storytelling strategies to work, the language must be heard.  Students cannot hear the teacher if the class is noisy.  “Discipline before instruction” is my motto and I learned it from Fred Jones.  I  highly recommend his “Tools for Teaching” workshops.  They changed my life. Here is the link to Fred Jones if you are interested:  Fred Jones

If you would like to see all my TPR Stories, click here: All my Spanish Comprehensible Input and TPR Stories Mega Bundle

This bundle includes 41 videos for all levels.

Spanish 1-4 TPRS and Comprehensible Input  girl getting married in a video, girl doing homework, girl showing her red dress. TPRS Method

Here is an example of some questions I used in my “How to” video on TPR Story Telling:

Hay un chico.  Se llama Paco.

¿Se  llama Juan?  ¿Se llama….?  ¿Cómo se llama?

Paco y Sonia son novios.

¿SON AMIGOS? ¿SON ENEMIGOS? ¿SON HERMANOS?  ¿SON AMIGOS O HERMANSO?  Paco y Sonia son….

 Paco quiere a Sonia y Sonia quiere a Paco.

¿PACO QUIERE A MARÍA?

Paco es guapo.

Sonia es guapa también.

Ellos son guapos.

¿ELLOS SON FEOS?  ¿QUIÉNES SON GUAPOS?

Los dos son trabajadores.

¿SON PEREZOSOS?  ¿SON TRABAJADORES?   ¿SON TRABAJADORES O PEREZOSOS?

Los dos son altos.

SON TRABAJADORES Y….

¿SON BAJOS?

Aquí está Alejandro.  Él es guapo también.  Pero, a veces, es malo.

¿QUIÉN ES MALO? ¿QUIENES SON GUAPOS?  ¿QUIÉNES SON TRABAJADORES?

Alejandro vive en la casa al lado de la casa de Sonia.

¿VIVE EN FRENTE?  ¿AL LADO DE LA CASA DE PACO?  ¿EN FRENTE DE O AL LADO DE?

Here is a video of me explaining and demonstrating how to tell a story using TPR Storytelling strategies.  It’s 22 minutes but when you finish, you should be a pro:

In this video I am telling a story to my Spanish Three class using TPR Storytelling Strategies:

In this video I give a short overview of TPR Storytelling Strategies:

Jump right in and start using the TPRS method of storytelling right away! You’ll enjoy teaching, your students will enjoy learning and they will acquire the language quickly.

If you would like to learn more about TPR storytelling strategies, click on the following link to read TOP 13 POSTS: THE BEST STRATEGIES FOR COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT

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