TPRS® 101, Step Three: Observe a TPRS® lesson

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This is the third, very delayed, post in the series “TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple”. We just moved to a new home and I have been busy packing, unpacking, cleaning, corralling children, and trying to find things that I need. Today, I found my computer! Hooray! Only 349 unread emails…that will be fun to sort through…

Anyway, this is the third post, and hopefully the others will soon follow. Click here to read other posts in the series.

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If you are able to decipher the acronyms TPRS®, CI, and TCI, and you have a basic understanding of what the goal of a TPRS® lesson is, then I recommend that you get out and observe a TPRS® lesson before you do any further research. It wouldn’t be detrimental to read more before seeing a lesson, but because TPRS® lessons are so different than traditional world language lessons, being able to recall a lesson that you have experienced is really helpful while you are reading more about the method.

The absolute best thing to do is to observe a live lesson. You will be able to observe with all five of your senses (well, maybe not taste….hopefully the teacher will smell good…okay so with a bunch of your senses…), and, more importantly, you will be able to debrief with the teacher. To this end, I have begun to compile a list of formally trained TPRS® teachers. Click here to view the list of formally trained TPRS® teachers and find one geographically near you! If you are a formally trained TPRS® teacher and would like to be on the list, please fill out this form to submit your information.

Why ‘formally trained’? I don’t specify it to be a snooty-pants, I promise! It is my attempt to guarantee that what you see in the lesson is true, modern, TPRS®. I had a very wrong idea of what TPRS® was before I began learning about it from Michele Whaley. My idea was based on antiquated information from a methods course and my own imagination. Many teachers have observed their colleagues using TPRS® or read about it in a book or on a blog, but they have never been to a workshop in which they are coached in the essential skills of TPRS®. You would never allow a doctor that had not been to medical school to teach you how to do heart surgery, would you? Likewise, when you are learning how to teach a TPRS® lesson, you need to learn from someone that has been to TPRS® school. Now, of course there is still much margin for error, but finding a formally trained TPRS® teacher is at least some kind of a protection plan.

La crème de la crème

If you want to go straight to the top and guarantee that you are seeing TPRS® in its most pure, most lovely, most effective form, then make haste and register for one of the summer conferences. iFLT 2015 is July 14-17 in St. Paul, MN, and it only offers excellent training for both beginning and experienced TPRS®/TCI teachers AND the unique opportunity to observe master TPRS® teachers in action over the period of several days. In iFLT’s “Language Labs”, master teachers from around the country are plunked in a room with a bunch of local students for the duration of the conference, and conference attendees are able to sit in on the lessons each day to observe the classes. Afterward, attendees debrief with the teachers. It is an awesome opportunity, and one that is worth every penny that you (or your district) will spend to get there. Click here to learn more about iFLT and register today. NTPRS 2015 is July 20-24 in Reston, VA (just outside DC), and there you have the opportunity to observe the founder of the methodology, Blaine Ray. Click here to learn more about NTPRS. I will be at both conferences this year, and I would be delighted to see you at either!

Other ways to observe

If it is impossible for you to observe a lesson in person, the next best option is virtual observation. After observing a Russian lesson by Michele Whaley, she sent me home with a set of DVDs from a previous NTPRS conference to watch at home. I sat down in front of my TV with a notebook and watched them over a weekend, then jumped full-on into TPRS® on Monday. You can purchase those DVDs here. Another option is to watch the many demos available on YouTube, which I will be collecting on this TPRS®/CI Demos board on Pinterest. Please add links to demos that I need to add to the board in the comments section!!

Alright, why are you still sitting here reading this post?? Get out and find a TPRS® teacher to observe!!

TCI Training Video available online!

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If you missed the live EPC Show #15 this afternoon, have no fear! You can still access the content and engage with the presenters. View the hour-long iFLT15 preview on YouTube (click here), or check out its Google Plus event page to watch the archived show and read through the during and after-show Q&A (click here). You can continue to leave questions for Carol Gaab, Kristy Placido, Carrie Toth, and me on that page and we will do our best to check the page and respond!

If the Hangout left you feeling a little excited and a little overwhelmed, come to iFLT15 this summer. Each of us presented snippets from one of our sessions that are scheduled for iFLT, so you will have an opportunity to dig into each idea shared in a 60-90 minute workshop! iFLT will be an opportunity for new TCI teachers to learn basic skills and experienced teachers to learn how to hone, curate, and expand the skills that they’ve developed. Click here to view the conference page, and register before May 31 to receive the Early Bird rate!

Click on the image to visit the archived Hangout event page

Click on the image to visit the archived Hangout event page

Free TCI training TODAY (Sunday) at 6pm Central Time

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This evening–Sunday, May 17, 2015–you can attend a TCI training for FREE from the comfort of your own home. Join Paulino Brener’s Google Hangout “Educators, Performers, Creators Show #15″ at 6pm CDT to hear TCI strategies from Carol Gaab, Kristy Placido, Carrie Toth, and me! Here is the link to the Hangout:…/events/cac27nnu40brd8cggk5tj67r3ds. Click the image below to RSVP and join us and 120 of our closest PLN members (RSVPs as of Saturday night) live! You can submit questions on the Google Hangout link or tweet them with the hashtag #epcshow included.

If you’re Time Zone challenged like me, here’s the breakdown for the US:

  • Eastern: 7:00pm
  • Central: 6:00pm
  • Mountain: 5:00pm
  • Pacific: 4:00pm
  • Alaska: 3:00pm

We’ll be sharing tips on reading, content area instruction, backward planning from novels, teaching with novels, authentic resources, and more! Each of us will share some grab-and-go ideas from much longer sessions that we will be presenting at iFLT this summer in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you haven’t registered yet, there is no time like the present! Whether you are just beginning your TCI journey or a seasoned expert, you will benefit from the language labs and training sessions that you attend in St. Paul. The language labs, in particular, are unique to iFLT and allow you to see an expert teacher work with real students over the course of a week. They are awesome! Click here to learn more about the conference and register today.

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TPRS® 101, Step 2: Understand the goal of a TPRS®/CI lesson

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This is the second post in the series “TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple”. Click here to read other posts in the series.

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Once you have deciphered the acronyms ‘TPRS®’, ‘CI’, and ‘TCI’, the only thing that I’d recommend doing before heading off to watch a teacher demonstrate a TPRS® lesson is to understand the goal that the teacher will attempt to achieve. The main goal of a TPRS® lesson (or any CI lesson, for that matter) is to provide many repetitions of the target structures. Target structures are vocabulary terms or phrases that you want your students to learn, and repetitions are instances that a word or phrase is received  and understood by the students (heard or read and understood). So, if you want your students to learn the word “habla” (talks), and you say it 20 times in class and students read it 6 times in a paragraph-long reading, you’ve provided 26 ‘repetitions’ of the target structure ‘habla’. This might sound like a lot, but actually it is nowhere near enough! TPRS®/CI teachers want to provide as many as 75+ (more is always better!) repetitions of a target structure in any given class period. A target structure could be a single word, like ‘habla’ (talks), or it could be a phrase, like ‘quieres salir conmigo’ (do you want to go out with me). We’ll talk more about target structures when we break down a TPRS® lesson.

Why so many repetitions?

Our goal is not for students to memorize (‘learn’) the target structures (new vocabulary words and phrases); rather, our goal is for students to acquire them; to internalize them. This might sound like a subtle play on words, but the difference is quite significant. Learning is a process of which we are conscious: there is a goal and we try to reach it. When we try to memorize structures or learn grammatical patterns, it takes effort! We work strategically toward our goal, employing strategies that we have picked up over the years. Acquisition, on the other hand, is something that just kindof happens–it takes very little effort, and by and large we don’t even realize that it is happening. If you have children or are around young children, think about how they learn language: the majority of their language is ‘acquired’ effortlessly as they go about their lives and receive input from adults, older children, and media. The adults around them might be putting great effort into their children’s language acquisition by repeating and explaining new words, but the children themselves are blissfully unaware of the fact that their parents are trying to stuff their brains with new vocabulary.

Case in point, I was trying to explain to my three year old that a family friend is a chiropractor. For a couple days, every time that I talked about this friend, I said “so-and-so is a chiropractor. A chiropractor is a kind of a doctor. Doctor so-and-so is a chiropractor. A chiropractor is a doctor that helps our bones and muscles and joints. Doctor so-and-so is not a dentist, Dentist such-and-such is a dentist. Dentists help our teeth. Chiropractors help our bones and muscles and joints. Doctor so-and-so is a chiropractor…” All the while, Ellis just listened and nodded and said, “mm-hm” and asked about the nerf guns that are at Doctor so-and-so’s house. Well, after a couple days of this, Ellis started talking about how Doctor so-and-so is a chiropractor and he helps our bones and muscles and joints and he has nerf guns at his house. The word ‘chiropractor’ is now part of Ellis’ vocabulary, and he put ZERO effort into it. (Not me! I worked hard for that one!) He acquired it effortlessly because he likes to talk about our friend and our friend’s nerf guns. Acquiring the word ‘chiropractor’ was a by-product of his engagement in our conversation. Which brings us to the second, equally important goal of a TPRS®/CI lesson: engagement.

Our students are not dumb. They know that the goal of every lesson is to acquire the structures that we list on the board at the beginning of the period; in fact, we tell them that that is the goal. So how do we keep them from sitting in their seats and trying to memorize those terms, which is largely ineffective, and instead sitting back and allowing themselves to acquire the terms effortlessly? We make our classes so dang interesting that the students are distracted from the means and mesmerized by the message, that’s how! We want them to be so engaged in the content of what we are discussing that they forget that they are in a language class using terms that they don’t really know that well just yet. In the above example, I was saying “chiropractor-chiropractor-chiropractor”, but my son was focused on “nerf guns-nerf guns-nerf guns”. Our goal is for our classes to be compelling. When comprehensible input is also compelling, our students don’t stand a chance! They can’t help but acquire any target structures that we throw at them in quick succession.

How we go about making our classes compelling is the topic for another post. I think I’ve written enough for now.

To re-cap: Understand that when you see a TPRS® lesson–or a lesson being taught with any CI strategy–the goal of the teacher is to provide many, many repetitions of the new vocabulary terms in a comprehensible, compelling way such that the students are focused on the content of the lesson and acquire the terms effortlessly. [Note: We don’t forsake ‘learning’ altogether; the general rule of thumb is for students’ language proficiency to improve 90 percent by acquisition and 10 percent by learning.]

To re-cap the re-cap: When you watch a TPRS®/CI lesson, you will observe that the teacher is trying to provide many, many comprehensible repetitions of the new vocabulary terms and to engage the students in the content of the class.

And speaking of compelling, stay tuned for Step #3…it’s one of my favorites!

TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple

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In the past few weeks, I have been flooded with emails from readers that have just read about TPRS® and TCI for the first time on my blog. I am THRILLED. I have always written this blog for teachers that already use TPRS® and other Comprehensible Input strategies in their classes, and it never occured to me that teachers might hear the good news here first! This is so exciting. The only thing that could make me happier is if y’all read about Jesus here first, cause He’s the very best news I’ve got to share ;-) While He may have changed my personal life, TPRS® gave me a new professional life. After not even a year as a full-time teacher, I was discouraged by my workload and the lack of progress that I saw in my students. When I observed TPRS® for the first time in Michele Whaley’s Russian classroom, I was mesmerized. It was unlike anything I had seen before, and I had to know more!

So, wow–I’m sorry. You are probably feeling overwhelmed. There is so much to know, and there are so many posts to sort through on this blog alone–never mind the rabbit trails! Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a series called “TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple” to help you figure out where to begin. I must credit Carol Gaab over at TPRS Publishing, Inc. for the brilliant twist on the TPRS® acronym, and I am using it with her permission. My plan is for this to be a 11-post series, but we’ll see how it turns out. All of you real experts out there, please add comments to each post as it comes out!

  • Step 1: Decipher the acronyms.
  • Step 2: Understand the goal.
  • Step 3: See it in action.
  • Step 4: Debrief.
  • Step 5: Get some skills.
  • Step 6: Give it a try.
  • Step 7: Connect.
  • Step 8: Get coaching.
  • Step 9: Add more strategies.
  • Step 10: Make a plan.
  • Steps 11-infinity: Keep learning!

And with that, I give you….

TPRS 101



Stephen Krashen theorized and we testify that proficiency improves when we receive (hear or read AND understand) language that is one step above our current level of proficiency. Comprehensible Input (CI), therefore, is language that we receive (read or hear) that is comprehensible to us (we understand it). When we make sense of new language because it is contextualized in language that we already understand, we are able to acquire it. When I say that we teach with Comprehensible Input, that means that we want nearly everything that our students hear or read in our classes to be comprehensible to them.  To learn more about Comprehensible Input, check out these resources:


TPRS® stands for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. It was developed by Blaine Ray and spun off the work of James Asher, although it is now very different than its ideological father, TPR. TPRS® is a specific instructional strategy that consists of three phases: establishing meaning, storyasking, and reading. The way in which those three phases are realized varies greatly from teacher to teacher and from lesson to lesson, but the three phases are always there. We’ll talk more about the three phases later on, and for now the most important term to lodge in your memory is “storyasking”. Basically, storyasking is the process of telling a story in which some of the details are not predetermined. The storyteller storyasker (the teacher) asks the audience (the students) questions to determine the details of a story. We’ll talk more about storyasking when we talk in depth about the three phases, but for now just visualize a teacher telling a story to his or her class and allowing the students to decide some of the details. Remember, TPRS® is an instructional strategy, much like “Cooperative Learning” or “Literature Circles”. TPRS® is considered an instructional strategy that provides comprehensible input because the goal is to make sure that students understand nearly everything that they read and hear in class.


While many teachers self-identify as “TPRS® teachers”, there are extremely few (maybe none; I couldn’t say for sure) that are TPRS® purists: teachers that use TPRS® also employ a myriad of other instructional strategies that all fall under the umbrella of “strategies that provide Comprehensible Input”. Therefore, we are better dubbed “TCI” (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) teachers. Our goal is to gently stretch students to higher levels of proficiency by embedding new language within familiar language. There are many different instructional strategies that can be used to provide comprehensible input (one of which is TPRS®) and you are probably using some of them already without even knowing it! This doesn’t mean that we never provide incomprehensible input to our students or that we never provide opportunities for output; we simply use them in moderation and only when our students are prepared for them through comprehensible input.

I feel like I’ve already said too much.

Just remember, TCI teachers use TPRS® and other instructional strategies to provide their students with comprehensible input because language proficiency improves when we receive comprehensible input (read or hear language that is one step above our current level of proficiency). Stay tuned for Step 2: Understand the goal of a TPRS® lesson!

Save 30 percent at The Comprehensible Classroom

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Doesn’t it just figure. I have been waiting months for TpT to throw a site-wide sale, and I finally gave up last week and threw a sale of my own. Well…today and tomorrow (May 5 and 6), the TpT Teacher Appreciation site sale is ON! The great thing about a site-wide sale is that TeachersPayTeachers gives you an additional discount on top of the discount that I give–which means that you save 30 percent on all products in my store (20 percent from me plus 10 percent from them!). Just use the Coupon Code “ThankYou” at checkout!

sale_720_90In other news, I’ve finally begun to bundle my Spanish 1 units. The only bundle that I have ready so far is the bundle for Units 1-5, which includes the first five units of my Spanish 1 curriculum and several supplemental readings and activities. See the product listing for a detailed list of its contents. Click on the image below to purchase it today at a 30 percent discount!

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Cinco for El Cinco

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Here are five great Cinco de Mayo resources that I’ve found around the Web. Coming off of a lively #authres conversation during #langchat (that I read post-facto), I want to clarify what makes a ‘great resource’ in my mind:

  1. It’s engaging [or it can be made engaging]

That’s it. If it’s engaging, I’ll find a way to make it comprehensible, which is what really matters. I don’t care whether a resource is authentic or not. I love authentic resources–love, love, love, love. They are powerful, they are engaging, they are real. But you know what? I also love many non-authentic resources–love, love, love, love. The definition of an authentic resource is incredibly narrow, and I think that we would be crazy to use authenticity as the criterion by which we include or exclude something for use in our classes. I think that we would be crazy to never rarely use authentic resources, and I think that we would be crazy to not ‘comprehensify’ (make comprehensible) the powerful, engaging authentic resources that we choose to use in our classes. If you’re coming to iFLT this summer in St. Paul (you must come!), you’ll have another chance to walk with me through the three-step lesson plan that I use with all authentic resources:  Introduce – Interact – Investigate. If not, you can check out this post (and the links it contains) to find the materials from my presentation.

Here are some Cinco de Mayo resources that I’ve shared in the past:

And here are five Cinco de Mayo resources that I love:

Cinco for el cinco

  1. I love this Spanish-language reading about La Batalla de Puebla, especially because it comes with audio! Although this reading is not an #authres because it was written for native speakers of English, it’s a great opportunity for students to listen to speech from a native speaker. You could print out the article and white out some of the words, creating a CLOZE passage for your students to complete as they listen. For beginning Spanish students, you could write 1-2 sentence comprehensible summaries of each paragraph and have students match the summary with the original text. For upper level classes, they could write their own summarizing paragraphs. There are zillions of possibilities!
  2. This Six Degrees of Separation video shows how the history of the Piñata is connected to other countries. I love it! This authentic resource (Oui! C’est authentique!) is perfect for a MovieTalk introduction: simply prepare for the MovieTalk by listening to the video yourself, then use MovieTalk to present the content to your students in comprehensible language. After students have a comprehensible introduction to the resource and content, then you can let them watch the video a second time using one of these Interact techniques. [For more six degrees of separation fun, check out my saber/conocer lesson plans!)
  3. This Jarabe de tapatío tutorial is pretty boring and there is no music, but I love that it goes slow enough and you can see the feet clearly enough to follow along. Introduce the dance with a comprehensible description and its history in Spanish, show this video, and then play an upbeat, catchy tune for students to practice their new moves!
  4. In this Cinco de Mayo infograph, students can read some fast facts about El Cinco de Mayo in Spanish without being overwhelmed by large amounts of text. Match the task to their language ability, and it makes for an easy, fast, low-prep activity to squish in on El Cinco. The infograph itself? Not engaging…but it has the potential to be engaging because it is accessible. So your challenge as a teacher is to make the activity engaging. Perhaps turn it into a competition–ask a question to partners of students and see who can find the answer first. Or use the ‘Numbered Heads Together’ structure.You’ve got options.
  5. ‘La Batalla’ Trailer in HD is a great way to make the Battle of Puebla engaging to students. Let’s face it. Most of our students are not fascinated by war history. But this….now this they can get into (there is one inappropriate word in the subtitles right at the end).

Whatever you do, make sure that you take the time to personalize the content in class discussion. Remember that personalization doesn’t have to mean relating it to students’ lives; discussing students’ own ideas is personalized discussion, even if they aren’t sharing information about themselves.

Happy Cinco!