TPRS, a Valid Procedure in the TEFL Classroom
José Alberto Peña Almora is a teacher at the University of Matanzas Language Center. He is interested in TEFL. His current professional interests also include developing translation and interpreting materials. Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
The objective of this paper is to share information about the use of TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Story Telling) in the EFL classroom. The author carried out an experiment involving two of his groups of students at the university. One of the groups was used as a control unit and the approach employed with them was standard, according to the regular textbook activities suggested as part of the curriculum subject. With the other group the teacher used the approach advised in TPRS, according to the teacher´s own personal view of this method. The experiment was carried out after both groups had received the Simple Past Tense content, and TPRS was used for reviewing purposes. A week after the review lesson both groups were tested on the Past Simple Tense. The results of the tests revealed that the group of students who had done TPRS activities showed higher content retention levels a week after their review lesson.
TPRS or Teaching English through Reading and Storytelling is a modification done by Blaine Ray, a professor of Spanish Language who added stories to the Total Physical Response Method created by James J. Asher. In Asher´s approach students are required to respond physically to verbal orders. TPRS is based on Stephen Krashen´s theories about language acquisition (1). In Krashen´s analysis of the process of mastering a foreign language he calls acquisition the subconscious process of learning a language by being exposed to it (2). These ideas are cornerstone in TPRS: students are exposed to material in the foreign language, and are required to respond to verbal orders. So the work in TPRS is mostly done through oral activities, ergo this is an ideal approach to use in our classrooms in order to tackle the speaking skill, which is so important for our students since it is a productive skill in nature, and should have a primary character to the development of other skills.
The author carried out an experiment involving two of his groups of students at the university. The purpose of the experiment was to determine whether TPRS was a valid method to use in the EFL classroom. One of the groups was used as a control unit and the approach employed with them was standard, that is, according to the regular textbook activities suggested as part of the curriculum subject. With the other group the teacher used the approach advised in TPRS, according to the teacher´s own personal view of this method. The experiment was carried out after both groups had received the Simple Past Tense content, and TPRS was used for reviewing purposes only, not as a means of presenting new language materials. A week after the review lesson both groups were tested on the Past Simple Tense. The tests results revealed that the group of students who had used TPRS showed higher content retention levels a week after their review lesson.
What is TPRS?
One of Stephen Krashen´s ideas upon which this method is based states that in order to teach a foreign language, teachers should give their students comprehensible input, in other words, teachers should not give their students just a list of vocabulary items to be memorized or to be used in tiring drills intended to make the students learn grammar rules. Instead teachers give their pupils the opportunity to take part in highly motivating and contextualized activities. (3) The idea behind this procedure is to use stories to provide context for the target language items the teacher has previously selected. These language items are embedded in an engaging story. So, in order to teach some specific language content items, the teacher builds a story around them. Explanations about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation were done as the need emerged during the lesson according to the students’ mistakes or doubts.
The basic steps the teacher followed to implement TPRS were:
- Selection of the language items he wanted his students to focus on.
- Creation of a story where he weaved all of these items together.
- Use of this text to do a whole group of activities, most of them oral in nature, to practice the preselected language items
The teacher´s goal was to get his students to hear and say these language items many times. The work in the TPRS classroom proved to be highly interactive, and the language content the students should have learned was addressed though many different activities.
In contrast with the textbook activities TPRS exercises produced visible changes in the classroom atmosphere and the students’ attitude toward the lesson.
For further reference to TPR and TPRS there are a number of books, articles and web sites dealing with these topics, such as:
- TPRS in a Year!
- 97 Story scripts, by Anne Matava
- Fluency through TPR Storytelling by Blaine Ray
- TPRS with Chinese Characteristics by Terry Waltz
- Tripp´s Scripts
- The power of reading by Stephen Krashen
- Pixar Storytelling (4)
Teachers interested in this approach could also visit different websites, for instance, www.helenecolinet.com (5)
The need for this experiment arose because the author had read some materials about TPRS and had used it before out of the university classroom, that is, not bound by any curriculum requirements which determine or at least influence teaching procedures in the EFL classroom. In order to validate the use of this approach with large groups full of very poorly motivated students the author set to plan, and then put into practice, the idea behind this experiment.
The experiment was carried out during the 2018/2019 course, at the University of Matanzas Language Center.
The students who took part in these lessons belonged to groups D/21 and D/22.
Group D/21, majoring in Physical Education, with a total of 21 students, was used as a control unit. These students received the content related to the Past Simple Tense from the book Face2face Starter (6). This book covers the level A1, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. (7)
As a matter of practice, in the following period of 90 minutes Group D/21 did the activities 1 and 2 in Extra Practice section number 9, as well as the activities in their workbook (8) activities 1 through 5, and they were instructed to write and hand in a 100-word text on their last exciting trip. As homework they were advised to study for an oral examination in their next lesson using the book´s multimedia.
Group D/22, also majoring in Physical Education, with a total of 24 students, did a set of oral activities devised by the teacher under the influence of the TPRS method. These students had also received the content related to the Past Simple Tense from the book Face2face Starter (6). This book covers the level A1, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, 2018) (7)
Both groups had worked with unit 9, lesson 9 A, titled ¨Amazing journeys¨, with the text Let´s go by Tuk-tuk!, doing activities 1 through 8 of that lesson in the regular period of 90 minutes assigned on their schedule. At the end of their review lesson this group was instructed to write and hand in a 100-word text on their last exciting trip. As homework they were advised to study for an oral examination in their next lesson using the book´s multimedia.
TPRS Activities used with Group 22 in their review lesson
TPRS is a very flexible method and the activities used as well as the order of such activities depends on many factors, such as, the language content, the students´ level and the teacher´s own preferences, among others. These are the activities the author used in his review lesson:
- While planning the lesson the teacher selected a group of language items related to the topic ¨An Amazing Journey¨, and in general with the Simple Past Tense. Using these items the teacher built a story containing such items. Objective: To review language content related to the Simple Past Tense.
- First, at the beginning of the lesson, the teacher introduced the topic by talking about an amazing journey he had done during his last summer holidays. Then the teacher explained the lesson´s objective: Objective: To introduce the lesson´s topic.
- Second, the teacher copied on the board the pre-selected items he had used in his oral introduction. Objective: To give his students a visual reference of the items they would have to work with during the lesson.
- Third, the teacher clarified the meaning of the items on the board, and advised his students to copy them. Objective: To make sure the students understood the meaning of all the items they would have to work with during the lesson.
- Then, the teacher instructed his students to close their notebooks and repeat some contextualized examples provided by the teacher. Objective: To clarify the items’ context and pronunciation.
- Later the teacher handed each student a prompt card containing one of the preselected items, e.g. an irregular verb in its past form. The student in question was asked to make a sentence using this language item in the context of his last amazing journey. Objective: To give the students some controlled practice with the items they would have to work with during the lesson.
- Dictation: The teacher dictated to his students the text he had prepared for the lesson, that is, the same text he had used during his introduction of the lesson. Objective: The students had to overcome the difficulties that arise from writing what they hear.
- Correcting the dictation: Random students are sent to the board to write a sentence each from the dictation they had taken so the rest of the class are able to check their work. Objective: The students check that they had spelled each word correctly. This is a vital step to avoid the fossilization of errors.
- Listening: The teacher focused his students on the pronunciation of the items in the text. The teacher then read aloud and the students silently followed his reading. Objective: To focus the students´ attention on the correct pronunciation of the language items in the text.
- Reading Aloud: The teacher selected random students to read aloud a sentence each from the text. While they read, the teacher took notes of their pronunciation, stress and intonation mistakes and corrected them after the students finished their task. Objective: To practice pronunciation, stress, intonation, and fluency.
- Pair work: The students were instructed to work in pairs turning each sentence into a question, and thus practiced asking and answering questions about the text. Objective: The students turn affirmative statements into interrogative statements, practicing interaction. Being able to ask questions is a far more active role that just being able to understand and answer questions, and students should receive plenty of practice in this type of skill too.
- Monologue: With their notebooks closed the students were instructed to retell the story. Objective: Through retelling the students get to practice monologues, a far more difficult -and too often neglected- skill in language production.
- Transposing the text: The teacher instructed his students to make versions of the text, e.g. changing locations, times, moments of the day, days of the week, characters, activities, etc. Objective: To give the students the opportunity to get creative and act on their own.
- Summary: The teacher summed up the day´s work and asked if there were any doubts.
- Objectives´ Assessment: Even though assessment went on all the time throughout the lesson this was an opportunity for the teacher to check if the day´s objectives had been attained, therefore, the teacher asked his students to close their notebooks and work in pairs asking and answering questions about an amazing trip they had done. While his students worked the teacher went around the classroom checking on the students’ progress.
Contents retention test
A week after their review lessons both groups were asked to talk about an amazing journey they had done. Each student had his/her turn to speak and the teacher was able to assess the students’ progress on the topic dealt with during their previous lesson.
Results of the test:
Even though both groups were able to communicate basic ideas about their experiences most of the students in group D/22 visibly felt far more at ease with the task, used far more language items, were more fluent in their speech and made considerably less mistakes than the majority of the students in group D/21. They also reported to have enjoyed their lesson far more than other ¨textbook¨ lessons. Although neither the number of subjects nor the other variables used in this experiment were in any way conclusive it is undeniable that the majority of those students using the TPRS method both enjoyed their lessons more and showed more command of the language they intended to practice and retain.
Conclusions and recommendations
It is the teacher´s belief that TPRS offers unique opportunities for use, along with other methods and approaches, in TEFL classrooms. Therefore the author highly recommends TPRS to other EFL teachers who strive to find interesting and motivating ways to help their students learn a foreign language. The author believes it is more appropriate to use TPRS for reviewing lessons where the focus lies in practicing language content in general, not in learning new items of grammar, for instance, which would probably be better addressed using a more deductive approach.
Asher, J, 1979, The Total Physical Response Approach to Second Language Learning , in The modern language journal, vol 53,no. 1 (January, 1979)pp. 3-17, in Wikipedia offline android version Kiwix 1.97)
Strazny, Ph, 2005, Encyclopedia of Linguistics, volumen 1, /ISBN 1-57958-391-1, p.5
TPRS, consulted in www.fluentu.com on December 10th, 2019
TPRS books pdf, consulted in www.fluentu.com on December 10th, 2019
What is TPRS, consulted www.helenecolinet.com on December 10th, 2019
Redston, Ch, 2016, Face2face, Starter, Student´s Book, Second Edition , Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-107-65440-2.
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Companion Volume with new descriptors/www.coe.int/lang-cefr, Council of Europe, 2018)
Redston, Ch, 2016, Face2face, Starter, Workbook with Key, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-107-61476-5
Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.
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