It Can Be So Easy!

We tend to dwell a lot on the difficulties of using TPRS, but Alva, who had never heard of it before last Saturday, went back to her classroom and tried it out, with great results.

I had gone to a TESOL conference in Toulouse, thanks to an invitation from Kate Kleinworth, who works hard to organize conferences there fairly often. I had the luxury of an hour and a half to present TPRS to a group of English teachers, most of whom are native speakers. What I did was ask them to role-play their own students and teach a typical TPRS lesson, explaining as I went the why behind it all. There was a good reaction and today I received this e-mail from Alva, which did my heart good.

Hi Judy,

We met at the conference in Toulouse last week, which was delightful. I really enjoyed your workshop and was immediately looking forward to trying it out. I promised I’d send you an email about how my first attempt at TPRS went.

It went great! I should mention that we don’t read or write in class, we don’t work from books and we don’t do festivals and cultural events, which I abhor! Their regular class teacher is happy to cover Halloween, Christmas and so on. We do a lot of talking and singing with actions, eliciting and so on, so they aren’t coming straight from a ‘follow the book’ format to TPRS.

First this morning I had a class of 10, aged 5-7. We have 45 minutes together each week and they are very well behaved and highly motivated. There’s two boys and eight girls. The youngest don’t have much more than colours, numbers to 20, days of the week, a few animals and so on, so not enough vocab for TPRS.

Instead, we did TPR, which of course they loved. We started with a song and ‘how are you’ as a warm-up. In TPR we did ‘go to the window, go to the door, touch your nose, touch your knees’, and a couple they already know like stand up, sit down and clap. The great advantage is that the small ones can copy the big ones. The oldest, Viola, looked at me piercingly at one stage and discerned: “‘Me’ – c’est ‘moi’. Tu disait ‘me’.”

In the second class, CE2, CM1 and CM2, we did proper TPRS – the story ended up as follows: On Saturday, Marie and Barbie garden in Fairyland. They go to see the Queen of England who is wearing a pink T-Shirt and a green skirt. Now that’s far from a Homerun story but we thought it was great. It took maybe 20 minutes for them to properly understand what was required of them, but by the end they were well on board and asking for more. They earned their Kindergarten day next time with five whole minutes without one word of French.

The nomination of Storyteller, Quizmaster, Timekeeper was FANTASTIC. Edouard, who has two teachers for parents and is confident and clever and never stops talking, was Storyteller and did a great job. What he came up with, aged 10 and never having really written in English before, was very close to what was on the board. Quizmaster Ervin, who is shy and new to the school, but good, didn’t quite get his role (I hadn’t taken enough time to explain it) and his questions were general rather than about the story, but that can be fixed. The great joy was the Timekeeper, Jean, who can be very troublesome but took his role very seriously and I never had a peep out of him. He did cheat a bit, but I let that slide: I hope that’s allowed! We gave all three a round of applause at the end, which made everyone feel good. Clementine asked if she could be Timekeeper next week, but I want Jean there again, so I invented the role of ‘Wordsmith’ for her, telling her I need her quite wide English vocabulary. Which is true: I need her engaged with the task as she is the strongest of the remaining children. The behaviour of the group was fantastic, and the structure certainly worked a dream with my mixed ages and levels.

We ended up with, on the board, the question words plus: ‘garden, Barbie, go to, fly, Fairyland, queen of England, skirt and T-shirt.’ We’ve been working on the question words the whole year, but I put them up on the board anyway which turned out to be a smart move because it reminded me what questions to ask with each new step in the story. For me, juggling plot twists, remembering to echo and check comprehension and so on took lots of effort. I need to work to my barometers and be careful of teaching to the eyes of querulous students! I also need to remember to keep pointing to out of bounds words but I’m confident that all I need is practice. It was an undoubted success, a great thing to have in my arsenal and very, very well suited to this particular class so yes, I’ll be doing it again – just after kindergarten day. Thank you so much for introducing us all to this. My students say thank you too!

Best wishes, Alva

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