TPRS Presentation by the Witch in Agen

Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling

When I present TPRS I feel a little bit like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. She has this house made out of goodies, candy and sweets and the children start nibbling and it’s really good stuff and before they know it she has them.

Except I’m a good witch, not a wicked witch. I don’t eat the children that come nibbling at my shutters. I don’t make prisoners of them. But the funny thing is that once they’ve come into the house and visited all the corners and met the great people who live there, they fall victim to the spell of TPRS and never want to leave.

The candy and goodies that the TPRS house is made of are techniques that any teacher, using any method, can use. PQA is a fantastic way to present new vocabulary by personalizing it so students retain it. Circling is a great way to get in the repetitions that students need. Asking a story with your students gets them engaged and interested and gives them a structure that is easy to remember. Embedded Readings allow weak students to find their sea legs and progress. Pop-ups make grammar relevant and digestible. Teaching to the eyes, barometer students, pause and point, interactive communication rubrics, fluency writing, these are all techniques used by TPRS teachers that other teachers can put in their tool kits. These are the goodies.

Stephen Krashen is the wizard that casts a spell on them and retains those innocent seekers of innovation and effective new tools in the house of Comprehensible Input. Because once you’ve tasted the TPRS candies and seen how they work with your students, you start craving more and wondering why they work so well. And you start weeding out less effective techniques that use up the limited time you have with your students. And Krashen, gently, respectfully, suggests why some strategies work and some don’t. And one day you realize that you are judging every class activity by the standard of comprehensible input, that you have tossed out of your toolkit everything that does not furnish your students with comprehensible input. Gotcha!

It began with Stephen Krashen who said students learn through compelling comprehensible input. No one has yet proved him wrong. Compelling input is easy. Comprehensible is easy.  But it took Blaine Ray to imagine a method both compelling and comprehensible. TPRS was born.

Blaine Ray began by using TPR, Total Physical Response. We have all done this. Stand up! Sit down! Clap your hands! It works, up to a certain point. But how do you go beyond commands? Blaine began asking his students questions and inventing weird stories with them. A rich cow saw a homeless monkey sleeping in the street and threw water at him to stop his snoring. He called his narratives TPR Stories. Soon other teachers were trying them and some of them set up a forum, a yahoo group called moretprs so that they could exchange ideas and compare their experiences. The current form of TPRS as it is practiced by thousands of teachers has evolved from Blaine Ray’s original idea into something much more complex and functional. Susie Gross, Michael Miller, Jason Fritz, Carol Gaab, Ben Slavic and many others have all left their imprint on the work in progress. An important recent development is the embedded reading and who knows what next year will bring.

Those who want to know more about TPRS can consult the green Bible, “Fluency through TPR Storytelling,” which has been revised repeatedly in order to keep up with the developing method. The new 2012 edition is the sixth. Another good place to start is with Ben Slavic’s “TPRS in a year”, which gives new converts a step by step guide to learning the many techniques used by TPRS teachers. They can also follow the discussions on moretprs, which are often heated but always courteous as teachers share their problems, triumphs and questions. But of course the best way to learn about the method is to experience it in a workshop. Most workshops feature lessons in an unknown language using TPRS, so that teachers have a student’s vision of what goes on in class. Then there are explanations and demonstrations, but also chances to practice and be coached by more experienced teachers.

NTPRS is the National TPRS conference held every summer with teachers from every state and many different countries coming together to exchange for a full week. iFLT is organized by Carol Gaab and Diana Noonan and is also in the summer. It differs from NTPRS in that there are “language labs” where master teachers can be observed teaching students.  In Agen, France, we are holding our third annual TPRS Workshop with Sabrina Sebban-Janczak and Teri Wiechart.  Teachers are coming from the States, Canada, England, France, Spain and Germany to learn more about teaching with comprehensible input. Come and join us!

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