Why stories?

Why stories?

TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) is one method of world language instruction that falls under the umbrella of Comprehensible Input (CI), but why is story telling so powerful?  What do teachers and students worldwide find so engaging in this method?

Here is a quick video on the history of TPRS, and its founder Blaine Ray:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jczglmpEvSE

Current research is finding that our brains are wired for storytelling.  We learn through stories; stories have been at the heart of civilization since we began communicating with one another.  When we use a second language to tell stories, the students become engaged in the story and forget about the language.  As long as we are being comprehensible, they will literally lose themselves in our story.  If we can incorporate the students into our story, they become even more engaged because after all who doesn’t like to hear a story about themselves!  We activate multiple areas of the brain through stories and engage their emotions all while allowing them to subconsciously absorb the language.  Here is an article for reference.

So how do you tell a story to/with students?  You can either have a story planned, using key vocabulary and grammar structures, and simply insert kids from your class or ask them to provide the background details of the characters.  What are their names, where are they from, how old are they, where do they live, are they nice?  You might even allow them to insert details into the story as you go.  

Or you can simply have set of structures or vocabulary that you want to target and begin with “There was a boy or a horse or a girl…..” and allow the students to create the story from there, while you ask strategic questions to incorporate the targets you have set.  This second model is sometimes referred to as “story asking.”  The key to language learning in this process is a skill called “circling.” (Short lesson on circling by Terry Waltz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXwD9jdcRlI )  You want to stop your story and circle around key information to ensure comprehension but also to recycle the key vocabulary and/or structures that you are highlighting in your story.  In the early levels, circling occurs after each new fact that is introduced into your story but as proficiency increases, circling will decrease in frequency.  The complexity of the plot can be as simple or as complex as you and your students wish it to be, the key is that it is interesting and engaging to the students.  This is a skill that requires some training and a lot of practice.  

Reading is also a component of TPRS and is vital to solidifying the language in the learners’ brains.  Again through stories that are engaging and compelling, we capture the students’ attention and allow their brains to open up to the language being poured into them.  They are seeing and hearing the language in an authentic and real form.  New additions to TPRS include strategies such as MovieTalk, embedded reading, Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), One Word Images, and many other innovative and engaging ideas.  

Check out YouTube for some amazing examples of TPRS use in classrooms around the world.




Stories capture our imagination, they tap into our emotions, and the trigger our senses.  A good story really is worth a thousand words.  

Post by Lynne Hendrick

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