Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, April 18, 2005

First TPR Storytelling

by AJ

Today, for the first time, I tried out a full TPR Storytelling lesson. In general, it went very well. There were some problems, but the students seemed to enjoy the lesson and they all participated. They also did an excellent job of both retelling my story and creating their own.

As a result, the practiced the present tense, the days of the week, and other vocabulary without consciously studying or drilling it. They got a lot of practice with the present tense... not in drill form, but in the way the present tense is used in conversation. Yet I never said the words "present tense" one time during the lesson. No drills or fill-in-the-blank worksheets either!!

So I was very happy with these lessons today (2 classes) and am convinced, yet again, of the superiority of TPRS compared to typical drills and textbooks.

Now for the bad news. I had many challenges. Interestingly, they were very similar to the ones that Tohru described in his recent post.

Number One: Bewiderment and Shyness
Tohru wrote
"So, I have to keep trying. I believe the student needs more time to become familiar with this method. The second is that she is very typical Japanese, who is afraid of making mistakes. As I told, she is very shy. She is not used to speaking out in English. I think it is very important for me as a teacher to encourage her to be more positive and active."

I absolutely agree. For one, this method initially strikes students as strange. They are used to textbooks, pattern drills, translation, and that sort of thing. Suddenly the teacher is telling a story and acting like an idiot. They don't know quite what to think of it at first.

Maybe they wonder, "What does this have to do with learning English?" They are trained to think that they must study and do drills to learn the language. Listening to a story probably seems like amusement than learning. They may not realize there are grammar & vocabulary points embedded in the story (in fact, ideally, they should not realize it).

Shyness and fear of mistakes is another huge problem in Japan. When my students listened to the story, they took notes and tried to memorize it. Many thought they had to retell it EXACTLY the way I did. This created anxiety, of course.

So I tried to adjust by varying the story a little each time instead of telling it exactly the same way each time. This helped send the message that they could relax.

Problem Number Two: No Personalization
Again, Tohru wrote, "However, I am not sure it was interesting enough to have students engaged in the story because there was no personalization in this story. In a sense, this storytelling is not PMS [Personalized Mini Story]. It is just MS [Mini Story]. Creating or adapting textbook to PMS is one of the most challenging when I try to adapt Textbook to TPRS lesson."

I had exaclty the same problem. I'm teaching way too many hours and so don't have much time to creaqe personalized stories. Instead, I used one from a book. Well, I got the same result as Tohru. Because the story was not personalized, it was not as interesting to them.

I now see how important it is to follow Blaine Ray's advice and make the stories exaggerated and personal... these are much more fun and interesting. I compensated by exaggerating my acting and this did hold their attention. But in the future I need to create stories using students as characters.... and events which more closely mirror their lives.

Problem Three: Not enough time

Unfortunately, I see each of my classes only one time per week. Thus, it is very difficult for me to pre-teach a lot of vocabulary with TPR or with mini-stories. If I saw the students more often, it'd be much easier to build on each lesson.

My solution was to do a lot more writing than I would normally do. I wrote notes on the board as I narrated the story. Most students read English quite well. Their reading comprehension is much higher than either their listening or speaking ability.

Thus, they may not understand a word when they hear it,... but if they read it on the board too... they get it. The danger of this is that they will try to memorize what I write and view it as a rigid script. So I tried to write only rough notes.. not complete sentences.

This time I didn't try any preteaching of vocab,... just wrote the notes on the board. But next time I think I will try to review the key vocab first: write it on the board, TPR the concrete words, let students look up the abstract ones....

And only then launch into the story. That should boost comprehension quite a bit, and hopefully minimize the memorized-script mentality.

Problem Four: The Textbook
I feel terrible, because all my students bought the recommended textbook and its horrible. I feel I should pull some lessons from it since they all spent money to buy it. But honestly, I think its a waste of time. Its obtuse. Its boring.

While they may be angry with me for having them buy it... I imagine they will prefer to listen to and tell stories rather than do boring drills in the textbook. I've given this blog address to my students, so maybe a few will comment and let me know.


To summarize, the lessons went well overall. However, I need to use personalized stories... I need to give the students time to adjust to the technique... I need to pre-teach vocabulary... and I need to forget the textbook.