Find out what the five educational principles of TPR Storytelling are and how they are supported by brain research and language acquisition theory.
There is general agreement about the fact that receiving lots of rich, comprehensible input is the most important factor in language acquisition. TPRS offers the language teacher tools which allow them to offer their students a great variety of input that is comprehensible to all students. The input is mostly narrative and contains many dialogues, at first mainly between the characters of a story and between the teacher and the students, but later on also between the students themselves.
Complex language tasks
In TPRS classes, writing- and speaking assignments are complex, in the sense that students will produce complete (fictitious or real) stories. Retelling and restructuring stories or inventing stories by themselves requires at any level a flexibility in language skills, combined with higher order coginitive skills like structuring and argumentation. The many repetitions in the input that students have received before starting these tasks, allows them to accurately fulfil these complex tasks.
All researchers and language education specialists agree on the need of many repetitions of the input. The number of repetitions is still subject to discussion. Many say that 7, or 5 to 15 repetitions is enough. These numbers come from psychological research and refer to the conscious memory of facts. TPRS, however, aims for fluency, which requires a lightning fast, unconscious and automatic retrieval of language information. For that, many more repetitions are necessary. Think of 50-70 repetitions, and sometimes even as much as 150-500.
Grammar as meaning
Recent research in cognitive linguistics shows that in our brains, grammar is not stored as rules, but as generalisations of word relations. Every words is part of many different networks in which semantical information and language patterns are interrelated. When acquiring our mother tongue, our brain receives enough comprehensible input to be able to apply ‘statistics’ to the input and figure out the characteristics of each word and the possible and probable combinations it can make with other words.
In our language classes there just isn’t enough time to deliver the same amount of input, so we need to help the brain to become aware of the patterns in the language. Conscious and repeated focus on language patterns (also known as “grammatical elements”) in the context of comprehensible and compelling input appears to help the brain acquire grammatical correctness. In TPRS, this is done by telling students the meaning of a certain grammatical element in the context of the sentence at hand, and asking repeatedly for this meaning whenever the same element comes up again. This is a very accessible and non-abstract way of focusing on grammar, that has proven to be very effective.
Every handbook for language teachers speaks of making the class interesting for students by relating it to their own experience. TPRS teachers take this very seriously and focus explicitly on the lives and interests of the students. On one hand, by allowing them to add their own ideas to the class stories and, on the other hand, by having conversations with their students, showing genuine interest and asking for details. The details are what makes the conversation interesting, not only for the teacher and this student, but also for the other students, who are not just listening but taking an active part in the conversation.
The advantages of this approach are obvious: it requires automatically the vocabulary relevant to the students, who are strongly motivated to participate in a conversation that is about themselves. Also, on a language level, these conversations are a natural way of including other verb forms than the narrative part of TPRS.