Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Practical Matters

by AJ

And now back to practical matters. As I move on from TU, I find myself reviewing the last semester. Im combing for successes, failures, and glimpses of potential. I will focus near-future posts on this topic.... some, very likely, will be a review... but also hope to find some gems I might have overlooked.

I'll start with an undisputed champion: TPR Storytelling. This technique just keeps getting better as I work with it. The more I use it, the more I refine it-- and the more effective it becomes.

Last semester I used TPRS mostly with adult-ed community classes. Typically, these are very tough to teach. You are thrown into a room with 20 adults you've never seen, whose level you dont know... and you are stuck with them for three hours.

I used TPRS with these classes and the results were stunning. The key measures for me: Students left the class smiling, energetic, excited, and eager for more. More than any other technique, TPRS delivered the "I kick ass" feeling to students.

My use of this technique has been evolving for over a year and a half. In the beginning, I tended to tell a pre-set story. I'd act it out, and make drawings to aid comprehension. Id repeat each mini-story several times in this way. Then Id have students tell the story to each other. This worked alright, but was essentially passive (though vastly superior to passive textbook based approaches).

As I researched the technique more, I discovered that questions are vital to the technique... perhaps the most important aspect. I therefore added questions to my stories. At this point, I was still telling pre-set stories. But I peppered them with content questions:

The boy got on a bus. What did the boy do? He went to Chicago. Where did he go?

Questions helped make the classes more interactive and communicative,... but there was still something missing.

Last semester, I discovered another important piece. I stopped using pre-set stories. Instead, I "set the stage" and then students and I created a story together. To set the stage, I did two things.

1. I introduced a selection of "target vocabulary". I was required to teach "directions" for one lesson, for example, so I introduced key vocab related to this topic. I taught the vocab using classic TPR, drawings, acting, etc.

2. Once students showed mastery of the vocab, I created a situation with one or two characters and a setting. For example, "There is a guy walking on the street".

From that point on, I used questions to let the students shape the story. This dramatically increased the number of questions I asked... and the interest level of the students... and the communicative/interactive dynamics of the lesson.

For example, I might ask, "Is the guy's name AJ? Is it Bill? Is it Wat? OK, what is his name?". Once students provided an answer, I switched to content/review questions.

Ex. "Ahhh, his name is David Beckham. Is his name AJ? (NO!). Is his name Ronaldo (NO!). Then what is his name (David Beckham!!).

This questioning technique creates massive repetition of key vocab and grammar.... but in an interesting, context-rich, meaningful way. Its also fun, as the students (even the retirees) enjoy shouting out answers and shaping the story.

For use with beginner and low-intermediate level students, TPRS is the best technique I know of. Its absolutely fantastic.

With higher level students it may also be effective, but I have had less luck in this respect. I used TPRS with my Freshman at TU and it worked great. But when I tried it with upperclassmen, they seemed bored. This may simply be my error, not a flaw in the technique.... as I clearly chose stories (vocab, etc.) that were too easy for them. Id like to experiment more with upper intermediate students... see if I could achieve great results.

But for intermediate and below... there is no question. This technique kicks ass... and it helps the students kick ass. It helps students acquire vocab and grammar implicitly, effortlessly, and (in fact) involuntarily. Its tremendous fun. If used with enthusiasm, it encourages confidence and feelings of euphoria in the students.

All in all, a super-fantastic success!

Try it!