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What do TPRS lessons look like?

Please note that I have made a couple of changes to this post after receiving a message from Martina Bex. The original video I had posted was also incorrect.


TPRS stands for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. Little known in the UK, it's the most common approach associated with the second language learning hypotheses of Stephen Krashen. These, in a nutshell, claim that the only way to develop proficiency in a second language is through comprehension, not explicitly teaching grammar and vocabulary. For more background try:

Many teachers, largely in the USA, have taken on board the TPRS methodology to produce excellent, engaging lessons for their classes. In essence the starting point of the approach is that students become proficient by being exposed to meaningful, ‘compelling’ listening and reading input. Grammar is usually taught in "pop-ups", within the context of a story being told or reenacted. Lots of input is provided before any output is expected, key vocabulary and structures are recycled and a full range of aids are used to help students grasp meaning: pictures, gestures and objects. There are elements of acting out involved, including having students dress up as characters. The approach may not suit teachers who prefer quite a formal approach to their lessons, since it helps a great deal if the teacher is prepared to act out situations, use mime, props, humour and imagination.

Some elements which TPRS has in common with other approaches are: the use of the visual aids, using all four skills, question-answer sequences called ‘circling’, acting out, doing grammar pop-ups (briefly explaining and modelling grammar structures and morphology) and using stories as a source of input. Even if you think that TPRS is a poor fit with your own syllabus or scheme of work, you might like to include features of it. Here is a typical lesson as described by Martina Bex (

"The heart of a TPRS lesson is the story which looks like this:

A character has a problem.
The character tries to solve the problem and fails.
The character tries to solve the problem in a new way and fails again.
The character tries to solve the problem in a new way and finally succeeds.

 Many teachers use "scripts", or basic story outlines in order to guide the story and/or to target specific structures(words or phrases). Other teachers make up stories based on the answers to personalised questions which they ask students. A basic story script might look like this:
(Character) wants (thing).
(Character) doesn't have (thing).
(Character) goes to (place 1) to find (thing).
There are no (things) at (place 1), only (thing 2).
There are no (things) at (place 2), only (thing 3).
 (Character) (decides that s/he no longer wants it, it's too expensive, buys it and is happy, etc."

Other teachers base stories on the answers to personalised questions asked to students.

Below is an example story script sent to me by Martina Bex, in the style of scripts written by Anne Matava. All of the underlined details in the story are "asked" to the class instead of "told" by the teacher. So the teacher might say, "While Maya was walking, she saw an animal in the distance. What animal did she see?" "Yes, she saw a frog! Maya approached the frog. When she got close to it, what did she think?" "Yes! She thought "This frog makes me hoppy!" etc. The language items in bold are the target structures to be practised.

There once was a girl named Maya, and she was walking to the park. As she walked, she saw that there was an animal in the distance. It was a squirrelShe approached the squirrel. She thought, “This squirrel is cuteI’m going to take it with me!” She grabbed the squirrel and carried it away with her.

Then, Maya walked a little more with the squirrel and saw that there was another animal in the distance. It was a cow. She approached the cow. She thought, “I want milk. I’m going to take it with me!” She grabbed the cow and carried it away with her.

Then, Maya walked a little more with the squirrel and the cow and saw that there was another animal in the distance. It was a fly. She approached the fly. She thought, “This poor fly doesn’t have friendsI’m going to take it with me!” She grabbed the fly and carried it away with her.

Maya walked a little more with the squirrel, the cow, and the flyShe thought, “I’m hungry!" Then, she looked at the animals. She looked at the cow. She said to it, “I’m sorry”. Then, she ate the cow.

How does this story turn into a lesson? Again, I'm quoting directly from Martina Bex here.

1.            Establish meaning for the guide words (target structures, key vocabulary). Most TPRS teachers establish meaning through translation on the board. Students are encouraged to not repeat the word as the teacher says it; they are encouraged to just listen. Then, the teacher gives a gesture for the word. Students mimic the gesture as the teacher continues to say the word aloud in the TL several times. Meaning is typically confirmed once or twice by asking a student in English, "What does [TL structure] mean in English?" English is used because it ensures accuracy and is efficient. Images are better in many situations, but are also subject to misinterpretation.  Most TPRS lessons target three new structures.

2.            Ask personalised questions with the target structures. If the structure is "goes to sleep", you might ask, "When do you go to sleep?" "What do you need to go to sleep?" "When is it difficult to go to sleep?" etc. Discuss these questions with your students. 

3.            Ask a story” using a story script or by spinning a story out of the personalised conversation that you started after establishing meaning. Most teachers bring up actors and have them use props to make the story come to life.

4.            Read the class story. Ideally, you have typed it up so that you can project it and read it together. As you read it, use strategies such as circling, checking for comprehension and personalising. 

5.            Complete several story activities. These can include familiar tasks such as hiding the story then doing a retell from memory, answering questions from memory, doing a true-false task or matching starts and ends of sentences.

Here is Martina Bex doing a Spanish lesson:

Here is an example of "asking a story" without using a pre-prepared story. Note the "circling" technique (question-answer).

For more video extracts of lessons see YouTube (TPRS Hangout).


  1. I've seen lots of great level one/two lessons for TPRS, but not much for upper levels. How can I incorporate lessons like this in an AP setting? Merci!

  2. This might be useful. It has a lot in common with TPRS, but for advanced level Thank you for leaving a comment.

  3. Hi Steve,

    I saw this pop up on Twitter and it sparked my interest. I wanted to share a recent lesson for a French class. This lesson is essentially the oral story for a script for a MovieTalk lesson. MT is based an idea that was part of Ashley Hastings Focal Skills Movie Technique. He used these ideas as part of his ESL program and has since been adapted by many TPRS teachers.

    Here is a short video clip that is used for discussion in MovieTalk TPRS lessons. Videos can be used in any language classroom but when we 1. Establish meaning 2. Ask a Story and 3. Engage students in Read and Discuss activities we consider this part of TPRS.

    Check out the video and the script maybe it will be helpful for some of your French teachers.

    Il y a un garçon.

    There is a boy.

    You tell the class (speaking slowly and pointing to each word if needed), il y a un garçon.

    You would then "circle" that sentence (Ask yes or no, either or, questions with question words, etc).

    You would also add yourself and one other character.

    Then go onto the next sentence.

    Alex est le garçon.

    Alex is the boy.

    Circle the new sentence. (You ask these questions to the class, to the student playing Alex and to girl number 2). Est-ce qu’Alex est le garçon? Est-ce que je suis le garçon? Est-ce que je suis la fille ou le garçon? Qui suis-je? Qui est le garçon? Qu’est-ce qu’Alex est? Qui est Alex? (Keep asking the questions until the student actors answer your questions with very little hesitation.)

    Ask the boy, Est-ce que tu es le garçon ou la fille? Qu’est-ce que tu es? Qui es-tu?

    Keep asking these questions until you see confidence in your student actors.

    Then go onto the next sentence.

    Le garçon a un appartement.

    The boy has an apartment.

    Ask your student actors questions about this statement. Since you are a character, you will add information about yourself. You will also have an apartment or a house and girl number 2 will also have an apartment or a house.

    Ask all the characters various questions about the facts of that sentence. Qui a un appartement? Qui n’a pas d’appartement? Qu’est-ce que j’ai? Est-ce que tu as un appartement ou une maison? Est-ce que j’ai un appartement ou une maison? (Keep asking the different characters questions until you see confidence in your student actors).

    Alex est dans son appartement.
    Alex is in his apartment.

    Ask questions. Qui est dans son appartement? Est-ce que je suis dans mon appartement? Où est Alex? Où suis-je? Où est la fille? Ask the other student questions where he is and where you are.

    Alex a un problème. Il a de petits muscles.
    Alex has a problem. He has little muscles.

    Ask questions. Alex, est-ce que tu as un problème? Est-ce que tu as de gros ou de petits muscles? Est-ce que j’ai de gros ou de petits muscles? Alex, quelle sorte de muscles as-tu? Quelle sorte de muscles est-ce que j’ai?

    This type of communication continues throughout the video clip. Narrating, paraphrasing and speaking to students in comprehensible ways is the basis for class communication.

    I hope this helps understanding TPRS lessons. Plenty of videos on Youtube to see teachers in action with students.


    Mike Coxon

  4. Thank you Mike. I'll tweet this to my followers.

  5. Could anyone tell me some good, sinple Spanish stories/books to use as a non-native Spanish teacher. Many thanks, Gina


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