What is T.P.R.S.’ Sequence of Instruction?

Now that I have been using Adriana Ramírez’ Learning Spanish With Comprehensible Input Storytelling for 10 weeks I thought I’d show how I use the text. At any point, if there is extra time, or we are bored, we take out our novel– Berto y sus Buenas Ideas, or whatever, and we read– guided and questioned by me– for 5-15 min.

Adriana’s teacher book has the historia básica– the story version we ask– and the preguntas personalizadas, along with a short list of the grammar “points” introduced in each story.

A) Photocopy the historia básica and the preguntas personalizadas and give the kids each a copy.  I give my kids the historia básica in photocopy form because I want them to re-read a simple version of the story.  The historia extendida and the comprehension questions are in the student book.

B) establish meaning– have kids write down Spanish words and English meanings in the student books.

C) ask the story, sticking fairly close to the historia básica. Add 1-2 parallel characters. Have 1-2 actors for the main story and have the parallel characters sit at their desks (with one prop each) to identify them. The beginning is always establishing lots of details about the characters.

D) Personalised questions and answers (PQA): ask the faster processors in class (just regular kids sitting there) the questions you ask the actors. Do this AFTER each actor has said his/her answer. E.g. If you narrate “the boy wants to speak Spanish,” ask the actor “do you want to speak Spanish?” Then ask the kids “do YOU want to speak ____?” For this I use whatever I ask actors plus the preguntas personalizadas in the teacher’s book (the kids also have copies of these).

E) When done, ask a thousand comp questions. Does the boy want to own a Ferrari? Does the girl want 10 blue cats or 20? I read sentences from the historia básica aloud and ask questions, and I also throw a TON of PQA into this.  I will generally do the comp questions around the historia básica  that I’ve copied and given them– I have found that another, very simple, re-reading of more or less exactly what was asked helps a lot.

F) Spend one block (75 min) reading the historia extendida aloud, asking zillions of questions, doing PQA, etc.  This takes awhile, as the historia extendida typically has a bunch of new vocab (typically 15 or so words not in the asked/básica version of the story).

G) Do ping-pong reading of the historia extendida for about 15 min. Then give them 20 min to write the answers to the comprehension questions in the student book. I collect these and mark 3 questions/student for comprehension.

H) at this point, Adriana gives them one period to practise and perform the story– changing only names and places– but I have ditched this because the kids give me crappy output and retells do not seem to boost acquisition. Adriana is convinced it works– it definitely works for her and her kids– but I have not figured this out yet.  I’ll keep ppl posted as hopefully Adriana can walk me through this for the 37th time (I am not a smurt guyy).

This is where I do MovieTalk and PictureTalk (Ben Slavic’s “Look and Discuss”). I will picturetalk 1-3 images that support the vocab from our story, and I’ll movietalk one video that does the same.

I) for homework, they have to either draw a 12-panel comic of the story, or copy and translate the story (the historia extendida). This is “deep reading” that really focuses them in on the story.

J) I sometimes “re-ask” the basic story super-quickly at some point (much less circling).

K) Test. First, speedwrite: they must write as many words as they can in 5 min. The topic will be either 1. describe yourself or 2. describe a picture I put on the overhead (this picture will be of a person who has possessions or characteristics of a character in the story).

Then we have a 5-min brain break.

Second, relaxed write. They have 35 min to re-write the story. They need 2 characters minimum, 4 dialogues central to the story, and they have to “twist” the story after our 3rd story. For the first two, they can just re-write the story. After that, they have to substantially change the story details.

L) I then give them the vocab etc (see A) for our next story.

Test and introducing new vocab takes 1 block.


1. If the kids like whatever we are doing, or reading,nand/or PQA takes off, I’ll spend as long as I can on this. If they are in the target language, and they understand, and there are zillions of reps, they are learning. Remember what Papa Blaine said: “My goal is to never finish a story.”

2. Another AWESOME thing to throw in are fake texts– easy to generate and personalise/customise for each story– kids like the visuals and you get loads more reps on the dialogue (this is the hardest thing to do– reps on dialogue). Just google “fake text generator” or try this one for iPhone texts.

3. Each class begins with me circling date, day, month, time and weather for about 1 min.  This means that by end of five-month semester kids will know all weather, #s 1-30, days of the week, etc.

4. It’s crucially important to remember that you must do what works for you and your kids. Adriana and I and Natalia and everyone I know who uses this book (and T.P.R.S. in general) uses it differently. T.P.R.S. itself is now different than what Blaine Ray created– he himself continues to modify the method– so do your thing. As I told Adriana, her excellent book is a platform from which Spanish teaching launches.  Adriana does retells; I don’t; both of us do assessment slightly differently, etc.

Ok there you have it, what I do.


  1. Dear Chris,

    First of all, thank you very much for keeping TPRS on the front burner by managing this blog. It is indeed refreshing to see the excitement of new TPRS instructors like you. Your blog is incredibly useful not just for beginners like us but also for veterans on the field because you are providing us with a channel for communication and vital knowledge for our professional development.

    My name is Manabu Seki, and I have been teaching ELLs to youth and adults for just about two decades; I have also taught Spanish the traditional way. The field of Modern Languages is my passion partly because of my own struggles and frustrations learning languages the traditional way—my first language is Japanese, my second Portuguese, my third Spanish, and my fourth English which I failed when I took it as a second language in high school.

    I spent just over four months (May, June, September, October, and November 2014) in Adriana’s class, so I feel that I have a bit of an “insider’s secret” on her practice and expertise. I am humbled and honoured that I was given the opportunity to experience and witness firsthand the power of TPRS in the hands of a true professional. I hope everyone embarking on the fulfilling yet incredibly challenging TPRS road to language proficiency gets to see Adriana in action. I know I won the lottery when she let me to teach one of her Grade 9s for six weeks. Through her coaching, the class and I managed to accomplish language acquisition of the type that passionate instructors can only dream.

    “H) at this point, Adriana gives them one period to practise and perform the story– changing only names and places– but I have ditched this because the kids give me crappy output and retells do not seem to boost acquisition. Adriana is convinced it works– it definitely works for her and her kids– but I have not figured this out yet. I’ll keep ppl posted as hopefully Adriana can walk me through this for the 37th time (I am not a smurt guyy).”

    Regarding your posting titled “WHAT IS TPRS’ SEQUENCE OF INSTRUCTION?” letter “H” on “period to practise and perform the story,” I discovered that the student-generated skits and performance of their play are essential activities to the success of TPRS. In this particular stage of the cycle, students can truly improvise and be creative—students do not “[change] only names and places” but create original, entirely new versions of the stories with rich inbound words, phrases, and sentences that they have learned from earlier lessons. They also utilize first person, and yes, they make mistakes. Even “crappy output,” which is a natural element in language acquisition, needs to be taken into account as part of learning. TPRS is inherently focused on the teacher’s constant output, so student-generated skits and performance function to boost student opportunity to “output”. Adriana is convinced the activity works because it works. I have witnessed just over seventeen weeks of students steadily gaining confidence to apply their learning in front of the class via improv style—real life and real language-use requires output, even crappy ones, because that is the beginning to true proficiency. BTW, proficiency not equal perfection ☺.

    PS. It is befitting that TPRS was originally known as Total Physical Response Storytelling. Performance of stories with props and students’ actions in front of class is one of the best types of kinesthetic learning an educator can access. Talk about holistic language acquisition…

  2. When you do part L where you introduce new vocabulary for the next story, is that where they just copy it out into their book? Or is there PQA at that time too?

    1. I give them a sheet with Spanish vocab. They write down English. I sometimes do some PQA with that. I then give them the actor/PQA questions, we come up with some answers, and then into story we go

  3. How does this work with your multi level classes? If you’re using the stories in the book, do they repeat the same stories when they come back the next year? I have 2-level classes on the 75 minute semester-long block, which I think is the same as you, so I’m really interested in how you work with that.

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