When I first arrived at the NTPRS conference, I was automatically placed in the Beginner’s Workshop group, since I had not been to a TPRS conference before. Along with a big crowd of beginners, I spent the first morning with Donna Tatum-Johns and Katya Paukova and it was the perfect introduction to the week. The first half of the morning was spent with Donna reviewing some of the basic theory of and ideas behind TPRS and the second half was spent in a Russian TPRS lesson with Katya.
Donna told us that a baby is exposed to it’s native language for approximately 10 hours per day, so by the end of it’s first 6 years, it has already had about 20,000 hours of exposure or input. Keeping in mind that we only get our students for about 600 hours in a year, we need to make every minute count in the classroom! The main way to accomplish this is to focus on fluency. As TPRS teachers, we do this by focusing on the details of the story or the meaning rather than the language itself. Ideally, our students should be so involved in figuring out the story that they forget it is all happening in another language! In order promote fluency, we also need to remember to provide lots of input, however the quality of input we provide is just as important as the quantity.
First of all, input needs to be comprehensible. The number one way to make language incomprehensible is by speaking too fast, so it is very important to SLOW DOWN. Input also needs to be repetitive. There are many ways in TPRS to provide this repetitive input without boring students. Start by asking lots of repetitive questions while circling. Whenever you feel it is necessary during circling, go back and start the story over again. Keep adding new details and then circle those details. Another way to get more repetitions of structures is to add multiple characters and multiple locations to the story. Characters can be added into the main storyline or else as a parallel character. Usually in stories we also try to have at least 3 different locations. This allows for repetition of the structures and it aids students’ memories by helping them to visualize the structure in different ways. However, even if we provide lots of comprehensible, repetitious input, students still need to be paying attention and be motivated to try to understand what we are saying. That means that we also have to provide interesting input. In TPRS there are several ways of doing this. First it is important to teach students how to “play the game.” This means that they need to know how and when they are supposed to respond to our questions, and for this to happen, they need to be trained by the teacher. Sometimes the teacher can also reject the students’ answers and provide a surprise detail, which can have a comedic effect and therefore keep the students interested in the story. But the best way to keep students interested is to personalize your stories. There are many ways to personalize your classes, but Donna suggested the following:
- give students creative names which reflect their personality
- have students fill out a student inventory at the beginning of the year
- talk to students (in English) before and after class
- ask students about their likes and dislikes
- show interest in anything the students say about themselves
- find out students’ favourite song, book, movie, band, etc.
- teach to the eyes
- use PQA (personalized question/answer) everyday in class
- use current events in class discussions and find out what students think about them
- pay to the interests of the class; know what they think is funny and interesting
- differentiate your instruction to meet the needs of all students in the class
- focus on students and show interest in what they have to say
- ask follow-up questions to get more detailed information
Once you start personalizing, you can also use positive exaggeration to make your students the fastest, strongest, smartest, or all around best at whatever they do in the story. This will help to prevent students from losing interest.
Above are the three most important parts of providing input, however in a TPRS class there is a lot more you can do to engage students and promote fluency. One thing that I have heard repeated often is that teachers in every subject need to remember that we are teaching students, not curriculum. One way to remember this is to make sure you look into individual students’ eyes when teaching, not just above their heads. We must also remember to hold students accountable for their learning by checking for understanding. They should get the message that we don’t want anyone to get lost and that if one student doesn’t understand something, that is reason enough to go over it again. Thus frequent comprehension checks ensure that you always have an idea of where your students are at.
Overall, Donna did a wonderful job of going over these basic ideas and it really helped cement the basics of TPRS in my mind more firmly.
Source: Donna Tatum-Johns and Katya Paukova, NTPRS 2011, Handout