A Conversation About TPRS – 1

Pamela expressed concerns about TPRS recently in a discussion online. In the next six articles here, Tina responds to her:

Pamela: Maybe I’m not the right teacher for TPRS. I don’t know. It doesn’t work for me.

On the hand, the class is expected to create a story. On the other hand, I need to prepare a story. That’s a contradiction. They are expected to come up with creative answers, but how, when they don’t know the language? Doesn’t make sense to me – at least I don’t understand how this should work for beginners. Maybe for students who already have a decent knowledge of the language.

I made lots of copies with “fill in the blank space” exercises, so at least I can tell the parents that I tried everything I could, and their kids are just not able to understand it.

I do think that we all are able to learn a language – we already did so with our mother tongue. But maybe that’s just idealism and wishful thinking.

And my students find it exhausting and tedious to answer similar questions over and over again. in fact, I used the question that way. And it was really like “Do you think we are stupid? We did understand who did what where when and how. Stop asking that question over and over again.” Even though I know that they even don’t understand easy texts and cannot produce one single sentence without a mistake.

Tina: So if they cannot understand a simple text (of words you have used in class) then I would say that they have not acquired the ability to recognize those words and thus need more exposure to acquire. You are on the right track here.

If you are circling as Lizette wrote, then you are doing it as I used to do for nine years. Though I have pretty much stopped the practice of Circling, for reasons and in favor of things that I will explain later, there are some ways to make it better if you want to do it. Circling can be an effective way to provide repetitions on language elements you deem important for the kids to acquire in a hurry, for whatever reason. You might choose to use other ways to deliver input, but maybe you want to troubleshoot circling, so here goes:

One hint, you might need to see if you can explain that you are using Circling to give them repetitions so that they can acquire the language, and it is more like a “creativity game” and not questions to see if they “know” something. This might help them to relax and stop feeling insulted that they “already know” the fact.

Two, you want to not circle in a predictable way.

Three, you want to use a lot of emotion and make the circling seem like it is hilarious and fun.

Four, you want to use a lot of body language.

Five, you might want to pull in a parallel character (yourself, another student, a student actor portraying a fake character) and ask questions that compare and contrast.

Six, you might want to question the student actor. Imagine the thing you are circling is Lizette’s example on Super Mario Brothers (SMB). You would write the phrases “I play SMB” and “you play SMB” on the board. Then you would “interview” the actor. “Do you play SMB?” “Where do you play SMB?” “Do you play SMB or baseball?”

Seven, you want to move on when you feel that the class has had enough. There is no reason to beat a dying horse. If you are losing them then move on to a different structure.

Eight, there are ways to provide repetitions of stuff you want them to acquire that do not involve classic “Circling”.



3 thoughts on “A Conversation About TPRS – 1”

  1. Nice, Tina.

    Ninth, there are some answers that we as teachers do not remember and we need to let the students feel our lack of ignorance and faultiness of memory so as to draw them into it and provide the information that we do not know. We can also act like we do not know and get the same effect. The psychological result is that they are not being tested; they are helping our poor memories. If you have a tough time doing this, just bank it until you get into your fifties.

    Not everything is to be circled. Circling is for important, out-of-bounds phrases / structures that cannot be picked up with TPR, action words (“wants / wants to run” vs. “runs”). The goal is to make sound-meaning connections (listening) which become communicative in and of themselves, as well as, becoming the precursors for written symbol-meaning (reading). Once the sound-meaning connection is made we continue to communicating and hold off on circling until it is needed. Circling is a great tool for the right job. It can be the difference between using a hammer to set a screw and using a hammer to drive it home. It is the misapplication that backfires on us.

    1. Great points. My reservation is to ask how many teachers care enough to figure out all the angles and implications of this? Few. That’s why it hasn’t worked. TPRS reflects many classrooms in that way: a few get it, most don’t. We need to figure out a way to make comprehensible input reach all the teachers.

  2. Carol Gaab is awesome at circling. Watch her videos on Youtube of her ESL classes. I attended her session and CI Midwest and she uses “You mean to tell me…..?” as a way to slip extra repetitions in. She did a demo for us IN ENGLISH, and even though I am a native speaker of English I found her way of circling to be really entertaining and to the point that I didn’t even realize she was circling until after the session was over.

    It wasn’t until I heard Carol Gaab circling IN ENGLISH that I think that circling is starting to click for me…..

    Also, if I found I overcircled something I’ve been using “Thanks for clarifying!” (Gracias por clarificarlo.) or one of Grant Boulanger’s rejoinders and I find that the kids think it’s funny.

    I’m a beginner and by no means an expert, but I’m just sharing what seems to be working for me.

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