Staying With The Structures In TPRS Stories

Elissa asked for some thoughts on transitioning into stories. Carla or anybody – please constribute on this topic – we need to start talking about it. I am sure that there are many other blog entries on this site over the past three years that also address this topic, so if anybody finds any now is a good time to put them up here again.
So how to get from PQA and the cards and the one word images into stories? One way is to simply start extending the PQA that you have been doing a bit. Take Carl’s interest in drawing and Jenn’s interest in horseback riding and get both kids up (they get practice at acting before you actually start stories) and ask questions and see where that goes.
It may be that the class, via their cute answers to your questions, leads you into the image of Carl and Jenna riding into Starbucks and drawing on the ceiling because they are on such super big horses. Just be open to where they take you.
This extended PQA will give you the basis for working from a story script later. Always keep the images a bit bizarre and exaggerated – they catch the attention of the brain.
(Those who say that such images are too silly and have little to do with the seriousness of a “real” language classroom miss the point entirely – we are here to trick our kids into learning a language by having our students’ minds focus on a message, not the language itself, so that the learning is unconscious. This is how we learn languages, not by consciously focusing on discrete grammar rules, etc.)
Once you start stories, remember the following. Don’t forget that we use target structures to set things up as per Step One in TPRS with stories. The thing is that, in stories vs. PQA and extended PQA, we must stay with those structures
Our lessons are geared towards and around those structures. They are hurricane rods to our CI house. So we stay with them throughout the story. This is no longer extended PQA, but full blown stories, and the winds will blow hard, so we need those hurricane rods.
We go slowly and we circle. We get a hundred repetitions of the first structure via circled questions that are interesting and meaningful to the kids and that drives the story through to the next location. We move the actors.
Once we feel that the first structure has been sufficiently repeated (we know that by looking into our students’ eyes, doing hand comprehension checks, always checking for meaning), the second and third structures come into play as the action develops. They don’t necessarily come into play in a parallel way to the three locations.
(At least all of this is what I think – I am open to correction on any of this. I’m trying to get a thread going for Elissa and others who feel that it will be soon time to start stories and who feel that their kids are ready for a kick up the CI challenge ladder.)
It’s easy to forget the structures as new things develop in the CI. Just trust that, by focusing only on the structures and getting tons of repetitions on them, the little words in between the utterances of the structures get learned on a completely unconscious level. It is an amazing thing to see. Passing grades on the AP exam look suddenly possible if that’s what floats your boat.
The structures in a standard TPRS Step One/Step Two format form the central binding rods, as mentioned above, through the building of the CI. This is Blaine Ray’s genius and it works.
All that said, we must be able to grasp that the three steps, the structures, the scripts, the locations, all of that, can take many forms. There is so much room for improvisation within the three steps.
Therefore, to interpret the three steps as a formula would not be accurate – rather, they are guidelines. Blaine and Susan Gross have set out for us a set of guidelines, really.
Once we get how much leeway (to follow the seredipitous nature of comprehensible input) we have in this approach, we will feel less apprehensive about stories.
For new people just starting stories, it is all very confusing. On one hand they are told to follow a story script and follow the three steps, and on the other they are told to riff new jazz ideas from the script.
So it is jazz. It is also the art of the fugue. The only way to find out about these things, how following a script and riffing off a script are really one and the same thing, one has to play that first note in the song. And, as happens often, almost every day for awhile sometimes, one has to accept it if it is not Miles Davis.



8 thoughts on “Staying With The Structures In TPRS Stories”

  1. Last year I had the textbook blues… this year, I’m still working with the textbook, but picking the most useful vocab for PQA. we’ve had little stories develop out of it. I’m still figuring it all out, but we’ve had fun with it… I have the words has/wants/can/needs/has to/should/prefers on a small poster. They add interest without adding a lot of vocab: We had one little story recently about the boy who was eating his nasty pink shirt. He wasn’t happy. Another boy had a delicious red shirt. Had it it but didn’t want to eat it. And the first boy wanted it but couldn’t eat it. Que pena. It started with the one boy very intently chewing on his shirt in class (really). It was the same boy who last week told me he rides to school on a burrito (small donkey) named Jose singing (or at least humming) “she thinks my tractor’s sexy” with his friend (the guy with the delicious shirt).
    That little phrase “goes to school” was extremely fun for us. In one class, we had a guy going to school on a fast, big, black bike named Bob that flies using pixie dust. the boy next to the guy the bike named Bob skateboards, so we did a quick story about how he was absent because he was skateboarding at Six Flags (theme park) and the dancing old guy there ran (danced) into him.
    Student generated stories worked really well for me too. I keep hearing people say how they do little TPR stories from the beginning, but my mind wouldn’t wrap around that very well… so I gave the structures to the students, and said to write for me (in spanish or english) using only words that they know in Spanish. They worked in groups of 4 for 3 min total, with small pieces of paper (thanks michele), and then I put their stories together to make a class story. We acted it out and added details together. Within classes, a lot of the stories were similar, because they talked about whatever they had heard the most. And with only 7-8 stories to choose from, I was able to include most everyone in some way, either in the live story or in the write up the next day. I think their favorite part (besides talking to each other in English) was when they recognized their story in the big story. So, the stories were almost completely comprehensible from the start and they were intrinsically interesting because they came from the students. My favorite part was when a group came up with “chuck norris touches the face (of the student) very fast with his foot” in Spanish because they didn’t know how to say roundhouse kick.

  2. So I just couldn’t help my self. I had to take the story raodster out for a spin in French 1. I saved it , but I was getting in way to deep. I need to remember to keep it simple and not go too wide. Anyway, I did discover that my barometer buddy, gives great ideas. Il y a un garcon qui saute. Comment s’appelle-t-il? Jumper Boy, of course. He goes to Michael Vick’s house to have seven of his nine legs removed so he can jump faster. I had to end it with a “big secret” The next day we read a little story. I asked them how many of them would have believed on September 13 that they would be reading French by September 30 (and I was in Florida for two days!). The only hands that went up were the few kids who had French before and opted to stay in French 1. Very interesting working with Bryce’s 100 foundational words. Thank you, Bryce. Lesson learned – take the Mini Cooper out first!! The roadster can go out after all the PQA with the cards is done.

  3. Just for the record, Jody was jerking my chain big time. Man, I should have asked somebody else. Dude. Sheesh. But it’s all for the good. When we coach each other and try to get better at this stuff, it is always good to have somebody who really acts like they don’t get it. We need to be constantly, unerringly, aware of every kid who is not getting our CI. That, as well, is part of the answer to the question on the other thread about “flat” classes. It is always worth repeating that, in any discussions about CI, we need to remember that the blank stares are no indication that they are boring kids (they’re not!), but rather that they may not fully understand. That’s not the only reason for flat classes, but it certainly is a factor, most of the time.

  4. I was not jerking your chain, Ben. I don’t speak French. When I didn’t understand (which was frequently), I gave you the sign. I was not acting. I had no idea that you didn’t know that.

  5. Then we need to rethink how we do trainings/demos of the process. With adults in the kind of training environments like we had in the CA workshop, is it the same as with real students? I got fooled in this case, once also in Texas. I wonder how effective our training sessions with each other really are. Diana and I were just talking about this today. Maybe the best labs are our classrooms.

  6. You’re probably right about classrooms making the best labs… some of us don’t have anyone local to work with on this though. I can tell you that the after conference coaching at IFLT really made the conference for me. The conference itself was good, and then the coaching sessions made it real. It brought everything to our various levels, since every teacher was working at their own level and working on the things that needed work. Then the coaches would suggest techniques/skills/ideas where they fit. In that way, everything we experienced during the conference was used to refine our actual skills. I got to see how Ben’s/Laurie’s/Jody’s style and expertise looked on me. (you know how perfume smells different on different bodies? something like that…) Watching coaching and being coached with a group of teachers has had a lasting effect on my teaching. Plus experiencing Ben’s and Laurie’s hearts, and even Martha’s… I don’t know how to express that, but it was transforming too. It would be such a loss to have them confined to only connecting with the people in Colorado/New York/Japan!

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