Frequently Asked Questions

What is Comprehensible Input ?
Anything which we hear or read is input. If we understand it, it’s comprehensible input. We could also call it messages that are understood. Stephen Krashen has said that languages are acquired (rather than learned) through comprehensible input. What is certain is that no one anywhere has ever learned a language without receiving messages that they understood.

What is TPRS?
Historically, it was developed in the 1990’s by a Spanish teacher in California, Blaine Ray, who began with TPR and wanted to go further, using stories. His students were so successful that other teachers began copying his method. With Contee Seely he wrote Fluency through TPR Storytelling, now in its sixth edition. The method evolved considerably when thousands of teachers on the moretprs list serve began sharing their experience and ideas. While there are other methods of furnishing Comprehensible Input to students, TPRS is one of the most effective, according to Stephen Krashen.

What are the three steps?
Today Blaine Ray defines his method with three steps.
1 – Present one to three target structures with their meanings.
2 – Ask a story using the target structures.
3 – Read a text that uses the same structures.

Why do you sometimes translate?
If the quickest and most efficient way to make a structure comprehensible is to translate, the teacher will translate it. She may also ask students to translate in order to check their comprehension. However at least 90% of the class should be in the target language.

What happened to TPR Storytelling?
Blaine Ray usually presented vocabulary and structures using TPR. However, many teachers did not and felt that what they were doing in class did not resemble TPR. So the name TPRS was registered as Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.

How can I learn more about teaching with CI?
There are two large conferences in the United States every summer and countless workshops throughout the year. NTPRS is organized by Blaine Ray and draws hundreds of participants. iFLT is equally popular and offers language labs where master teachers can be observed working with real students. In France there is the Agen Workshop which is entering its third year. Organized by Judith Dubois, it is aimed at those who teach either English or French as a foreign language. Kristin Plant and Alike Last have a large and active group in the Netherlands.
Many teachers learn about the method and how to use it by following the moretprs list serve. Ben Slavic, Bryce Hedstrom, Jason Fritze, Carol Gaab, Karen Rowan and others have sites with a wealth of material, suggestions and good advice. Perhaps the best and most active professional learning community is Ben Slavic’s. Ben has also written books to help new teachers to learn to use the method. TPRS in a Year, PQA in a Wink and Stepping Stones are well worth the investment.

What is pop-up grammar?
Some students demand grammatical explanations, even though they are not necessary for acquisition. TPRS teachers will furnish the grammatical rule if they feel it is useful, but the explanation must be very brief, less than ten seconds long. In general, the students have heard the structure repeated many times before the grammar is pointed out to them. This comforts the students who feel a need to understand the underlying mechanisms but does not hinder acquisition by the majority who could care less.

Why don’t you correct your students?
Corrections are usually perceived by students as embarrassing, even humiliating, raising the affective filter. TPRS teachers view errors as indicators that certain structures are not yet acquired and will target them for more repetition if they are high frequency structures. If they are low frequency, late acquired structures that do not hinder comprehension, it is likely that there are more urgent goals to work on.

Where are the vocabulary lists?
Vocabulary is always presented in context, where it has meaning. So there are no meaningless lists to memorize. Students will remember the vocabulary because it has been used in the context of a story that is memorable.

How do you decide what to teach?
Most Comprehensible Input teachers are guided by Frequency Lists. 300 words make up 65% of all written texts in English. These are the words that our students need to learn first.

Where’s the research that supports this method?
A few years ago there was very little. There is now a growing body of research that shows that students who have been taught using TPRS and other Comprehensible Input methods do at least as well as other students on traditional grammar oriented tests, and often much better when their ability to understand and use the spoken language is assessed.

Stephen Krashen’s website is a good source of published studies. (  The most current list of all aggregated TPRS research is that of Dr. Karen Lichtman of Northern Illinois University.
Eric Herman has also done an exhaustive study of the material which can be found here:
The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching often features articles about the latest research. “Foreign Language Education the Easy Way” , in the recent issue, is well worth reading.

Why is so much of the material in Spanish?
Blaine Ray taught Spanish and Spanish is the foreign language that most American high schools offer. But there are brilliant teachers who use the method in many other languages, including French, German, English, Chinese and Breton.

Why shouldn’t students answer with complete sentences?
The student’s responsibility is to understand and show comprehension. If a one word response shows comprehension, as it often does outside the classroom, then the teacher requires no more. The goal is communication rather than production. When students have had enough input and feel secure, output will happen. As many TPRS teachers have testified, “It falls out of their mouths.”

What is the Green Bible?
Fluency through TPR Storytelling, written by Blaine Ray and Contee Seely, now in its sixth edition.

Where can I find frequency lists?
There are many on the net. If you google “1000 most frequently used words in ………………..” you will find a list for the language you are interested in.

Do you do CI/TPRS all the time?
Few teachers do TPRS all the time. Students need variety. However, Comprehensible Input is my litmus test for all classroom activities. If students are receiving compelling comprehensible input, they are acquiring the language. If they are not getting CI, they are not acquiring it, so I cannot justify the time spent on other activities.

Does this method work with all students at all levels?
TPRS is very efficient with lower levels, A1, A2 and B1. It has proven particularly well adapted to dyslexic students and others who find traditional methods daunting. With more advanced students, all that is needed is something interesting to talk about.

How do you test your students?
Traditional tests assess what has been memorized or learned using short term memory. Long term memory governs acquisition, so teachers do not want students to prepare for tests. Thus TPRS teachers often assess with unannounced tests or quizzes. They are more interested in finding out how much students understand than in what they are able to produce.

Are there textbooks available?
Yes, although the choice is limited. Many teachers do not use manuals at all. You could say that they write their own manuals with the stories their classes invent. There is a growing selection of easy readers written specifically for TPRS students. For textbooks written specifically for the method, look at Blaine Ray’s site or Carol Gaab’s.

How can students discuss serious problems if all they do is create silly stories?
Once the structures have been acquired through “silly stories”, the same structures can be used to discuss serious problems. If students find the discussion of serious problems compelling, there is no need to use “silly stories.” Content is dictated by what the students find interesting.

Why do you ask students personal questions?
Most young people are interested in talking about themselves. TPRS teachers always present their students in a favorable light and treat them as the heroes of their stories. They never make fun of them or try to embarrass them. We try to relate the target structures to our students so that they will become memorable. If students are reluctant or shy, the teacher does not insist.

Doesn’t the teacher talk most of the time? How is this student-centered?
The teacher is usually the only person in the room that has native fluency and can serve as a model. But the conversation is centered on the students and it is a conversation. The communication is two way. Students participate throughout the lesson, showing their comprehension and sharing their ideas and opinions.

When do the students listen to authentic documents?
The students listen to authentic documents as soon as they are capable of understanding the documents. The teacher looks for and uses authentic documents that are Comprehensible. Otherwise they are mere noise.

When do the students read authentic documents?
The students read authentic documents when the teacher can find authentic documents that are comprehensible. The Embedded Reading method allows students to read texts that are progressively more difficult and the final version may be an authentic document.

Why don’t you use communicative activities?
Story asking is a communicative activity. Everything we do in class with comprehensible input is a communicative activity. What we do not do is put students in a situation where we ask them to produce language that they have not yet acquired.

Why don’t you have the students reflect on the language and grammar usage?
We do this through Pop-up Grammar. It could also be called homeopathic grammar. Homeopathic medicine uses tiny doses of medicine that could be deadly in large quantities.

Why don’t you use grammar exercises and workbooks?
Because they are not effective. How many people do you know who are incapable of carrying on a conversation in the language that they studied for seven years with grammar exercises and workbooks?

How do you grade your students?
Teachers grade their students as the administration requires them to. If students have actually acquired the language, they understand everything that is said in class and they are able to read the texts the teachers give them, so they have no difficulty with tests. In general, teachers who use Comprehensible Input methods find that their students’ grade averages improve markedly.

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