TPRS Workshop/Conference season is upon us and with that, many of us will be learning new skills, techniques, and strategies to bring comprehensible input into our classrooms. Undoubtedly, we will learn a lot, but remembering what we learned and implementing it in our classrooms come fall, is another story!

Let's review the basic 3 steps of TPRS

  • Establish meaning.
  • Ask a story.
  • Read.

TPRS - Establishing Meaning.

When we establish meaning, we use TPR, pictures, or vocabulary lists to define our focus structures. We must use a variety in order to address all the different types of learners in your class.

Remember when we are setting up our lessons, three short phrases that contain a specific structure is our goal. More than that is cognitive overload and less than that doesn't allow for much creativity.

Using TPR is a great way to help students remember the structures. Be sure to pick a gesture that is either obvious or that the class chooses to represent it. Use the gesture often in class whenever the structure occurs in class.

Pictures are another great way to get meaning across, though beware that many pictures may have different interpretations by the students in your class, so accompany the pictures with a quick translation to make them clear.

Finally, a good ol' vocabulary list is a very concise way to establish meaning. Having students write down the vocabulary list in their own hand triggers the brain to pay attention.

Once we have established our meaning it is best to practice the structures by engaging students in personalized questions. Just asking questions with the structures included is insufficient and will quickly bore your students. To truly engage them in the practice, the questions have to be about them. Think of this activity as mingling at a party. Choose a student, ask them a question using one of your structures and then follow up going deeper. As you learn more about the student through this questioning, share out to the class as if they didn't hear the conversation. Ask scaffolded, differentiated questions about the answers the student provides. Keep going deeper and reviewing with the class until there is a lull in the conversation. It's at this point that you move on to another student and ask a similar question and compare and contrast with the first student, or choose a different structure and a new student to ask. This back and forth and reviewing with the class goes on until all structures have been practiced and generally lasts between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the structures and student responses. PRO TIP: If the convo is going strong and there's high interest, see how long you can keep it going. The student and class engagement is much more important than working the vocabulary.

TPRS - Ask a story.

Asking the story is the heart of TPRS.

You want to use the target vocabulary to co-create a story with your students.You can either start with a pre-written story and change out some key information from the story with ideas from your students (great way to get your feet wet as you are in complete control of the story), or you can go in cold and ask leading questions to develop a story from scratch (this is scarier, but often elicits the highest engagement).

If you're going with a pre-written story, be sure to highlight the sentences with your target structures and to underline or circle parts of the story that can be swapped with the ideas from your students. When you ask the story in class, you'll ask leading questions to get the answers to your underlined/circled parts and the rest you'll read directly from the story one sentence at a time.

When we are doing TPRS in our classroom, we teach one sentence at a time. That doesn't mean that we are practicing a sentence until they memorize it, but it does mean that we practice a sentence until the students are comfortable with the structure contained in that sentence.

We practice a sentence by asking scaffolded, differentiated questions about the sentence. The key to this process is that it should sound natural. We don't question a sentence or the students to death. We work the questions in naturally, move on to a new sentence, ask a few questions, go back and review a previous sentence, etc. There should be no obvious pattern or a particular order. The secret to questioning is to ask the right student the right question at the right time.

The main difference between TPRS with lower levels and TPRS with upper levels is that with upper levels, you're not asking questions about every sentence. Rather, you're only asking questions about sentences containing new structures, more difficult structures, or where structures have been forgotten. If you question too much on the basics in the upper levels, your students will quickly bore and acquisition will be more difficult.

TPRS - Read.

After you have established meaning and asked a story, you'll want to read with your students.

What to read? Start with a written version of the story you co-created with your students. Because this story is familiar, it is appropriately scaffolded for your low-level students. PRO TIP: I often create a similar story with the same structures to keep my upper students from being bored and to show the same structures in different contexts.

For beginning levels, you will read a chunk in the target language while pointing at the words as you say them. This allows students to begin to associate the sounds of the language with how they are spelled. After reading a chunk of text, have your students chorally translate the text as you point at each word. This is important because it brings all students, low and high, together making sure everyone understands the text. PRO TIP: Have your students translate word for word exactly how it is written in the text. This allows for students to feel the pain of the syntax of the language. Once you have read and translated, the next step is to ask scaffolded, differentiated questions about the content of the reading. These are who, what, where, when questions about what was just read. In upper levels, you might want to also ask prediction questions. In the lower levels, they need to really focus on the meaning of the text and asking these types of questions can distract from that.

As you read, you'll want to point out grammatical functions with 15-second or less explanations. Don't talk about the grammar rules; focus on how the grammar changes the meaning.

Lastly, you may want to scaffold more difficult readings for your students to make them more accessible. These are called embedded readings. I'll talk about them in a future post, but in the meantime, you can check out Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley's wonderful embedded reading site.

TPRS - Targeted Questions

I'll talk more about targeted questions in an upcoming post, but for now, let me say that in order to get the language in students' heads, we must use scaffolded, differentiated questioning about the sentences we teach.

These questions are scaffolded because they come in four phases.

  • yes/no questions
  • either/or questions
  • simple question-word questions: who, what where, and when
  • harder question-word questions: how and why

These same questions are differentiated because your lower kids get the yes/no and either/or questions, your mid kids get who, what, where, and when questions, and your top kids get the how and why questions. In this way, you're differentiating on a daily basis without creating separate lesson plans for each tier of student in your classroom.

Now, the most important thing about questioning is it must sound natural. You don't want to question to the point that it hurts us or the students. Ask a few questions, tell the next sentence of the story, ask a few more questions, go back and review asking even more questions. Don't follow any particular pattern. If you do, your students will predict the pattern and not demonstrate true comprehension.

Whew! That was a lot of information! Want some help remembering it?

Why don’t you download our TPRS Cheat Sheet.

You can always keep it close at hand when you need a refresher!