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TPRS Step 2 - Building a language story around the target words

A great TPRS story is often slow in developing mainly because the teacher spends quite a bit of time elaborating on each bit of targeted language.

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Season 1, episode 23
10 min / Published

In the practice of TPRS, the story need not be complex, in actual fact the more straightforward and to the point the better!

The reason for this is of course that it aids in comprehension, however it is also done to improve and reinforce student engagement.

The story, as we know, is merely the medium here and the true stars of the show are the words and phrases.

Personalization of the story by the students offer them the opportunity to make the story relevant to them and relatable to their lives.

Show notes

 TPRS Step 2 - Build a story around the target words

Steve Jobs once said that “the most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.” I agree with him and I will even go one step further and say that the storyteller makes or breaks the story. By this I mean that if the storyteller does a shabby job, even the most inspiring story can fail to hit the mark and have the impact it should.

In the practice of TPRS, the story need not be complex, in actual fact the more straightforward and to the point the better! What it absolutely has to be is targeted and focused on driving home the meaning, context and the understanding of the target vocabulary.

Don't get me wrong straightforward does not mean boring, not by a long-shot. It simply means that it needs to be easily understood. We have said before that the complexities of the story are often overlooked by the story-listeners, while the gist and plot are always committed to memory. It would be extremely foolish to incorporate lavish detail into the telling of the tale, only to have these elaborate elements overshadow the target phrases and vocabulary.

A great TPRS story is often slow in developing mainly because the teacher spends quite a bit of time elaborating on each bit of targeted language. The reason for this is of course that it aids in comprehension, however it is also done to improve and reinforce student engagement.

The technique is called parking and it happens when teachers momentarily stop the unfolding of events in the story. This is done to allow for checking, re-checking and solid vocabulary understanding. Time is taken to review and this often lasts for quite a bit of time. The story, as we know is merely the medium here and the true stars of the show are the words and phrases.

One aspect of the parking method that is absolutely integral to success is how the questions (to the students) are phrased. In a sense, the teacher does not so much tell the story as ask the story. The reason to ask stories instead of telling them is that it gives students increased ownership. Together they determine the characters, the setting and the details. The ask-story questions have to prompt the learners not only to answer in a certain way, but also to incorporate in the their answers, the targeted vocabulary.

It is during these pauses that extremely important developments happen. Not only is comprehension nailed down, but in the process of doing this, teachers get students to personalize the story. This personalization of the story by the students offers them the opportunity to make the story relevant to them and relatable to their lives.

The norm is that stories from movies, folklore and songs are usually set in stone, but this is not the case with TPRS stories. They develop according to the students' answers – remember it's key for them to engage. When questions are asked, the students' replies will vary and often be a bit off the beaten track. Teachers have to latch on to these twists and turns in the story and adjust their script accordingly.

By allowing the students to set the course for where the story is headed has many benefits for the learning journey, but none as great as familiarity and conviction. When they offer a plot twist and it is agreed to that the story moves in that direction, the students feel heard and incorporated. Their ideas are not strange and they have no reason to feel self conscious or silly.

Not only does the student who made the suggestion benefit from the teacher's and the story's validation of their ideas, the acknowledgment offers the other learners an opportunity to grow in confidence. They understand that creativity is rewarded and become inspired to push the boundaries of their imagination.

All of a sudden there is a certain child-like anticipation in the air and the students are recommitted (or more committed) to the process. Unlike standard narratives that are per-determined, this type or personalizing keeps the story dynamic and adaptable.

After completion of the story, the teacher has the option to retell it in a briefer form, or (and this is even better) he/she may ask the students to retell it in their own words.

When a process reaches this level of active engagement, incorporates different senses and welcomes all contributions, there can be no other logical outcome than pure enjoyment and most importantly learning.

 

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