TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple

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!

And with that, I give you….

TPRS 101

STEP ONE: DECIPHER THE ACRONYMS

CI

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®

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.

TCI

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!

29 comments

  1. Perfect timing on your 101 Instructions! I am one of those teachers who will be trying TPRS and CI for the first time next year and I am super excited! Your material and lesson plans are fantastic!

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  2. A very nice description for those entering into the use of TPRS and the concept of comprehensible input. I can use this with some of my new teachers as well as students and parents.

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  3. This is great timing as I’m looking to adopt the methodology in my classroom. Thanks for your post and thanks for this great website. It’s been super helpful as I try to learn more and more about TPRS. By the way, just wanted to mention that it looks like a line of text got deleted at the end of your TPRS paragraph, before your TCI paragraph.

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  4. Thanks for this series, I’m really looking forward to reading the rest. I am one of those teachers who was introduced to the idea of TPRS through your blog and I have since been to a workshop and started using it as my main instruction method in my classroom this year. I am looking forward to reading more about strategies and ideas on how to improve. Thanks again!

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  5. Thank you! I am very much looking forward to this series of posts. I learned about the TCI world in January, and dove in blindly. I can’t recall the first source that I came across, but your site has been one of the most helpful! Thank you so much for taking the time to share.

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  6. Bravo!!!
    Those hearing about TCI/TPRS for the first time and/or those needing explanations and clarifications are in good hands with this post and upcoming blog posts on your TPRS 101 series.
    🙂

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  7. I loved the new acronym for TPRS. I am looking forward to the whole series. Thanks for all you do for our profession.

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  8. My own take on the TCI acronym: Targeted Comprehensible Input. We can make input comprehensible, yet go too wide and not get the gains in acquisition, as when we target the input of high frequency structures needed for fluency.

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  9. Thank you so much!! Even though I didn’t send you one of those comments or e-mails, I did first discover TPRS from your blog. I’ve been trying a few things here and there but still have so much more to learn! I just found out I won’t be funded to attend the conference in VA this summer so I am so so glad that I will get some super valuable information from you. 🙂

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  10. Thanks, Martina! I’m looking forward to your series. I had attempted TPRS earlier in the year after going to a conference, and I’m interested, but just didn’t have success. I’d love to read more of what you have to say.

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  11. […] TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) is a technique developed by Blaine Ray in the 1990’s. It involves the students and teacher co-creating a story together. Usually, the teacher focuses on two or three words or phrases that s/he wants the students to learn and makes sure to include those structures in the story. The teacher usually has a framework or general outline of the story in mind. The teacher tells the story to the students but also asks them some questions about the story, allowing the students to decide on some of the details. Also, the teacher usually selects a few students to be characters in the story, and those students stand up and physically act out the story while the teacher tells it. After the story has been told, the teacher types up the story (or a similar story), and the students read it. For more information on TPRS, I recommend reading Blaine Ray and Contee Seely’s book Fluency Through TPR Storytelling. Martina Bex also has a helpful series of blog posts titled “TPRS 101.” […]

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