Asking questions in TPRS

There is something magical that happens in regards to language acquisition when we ask questions.  Questions require answers and this is an important way to engage students in classrooms.  I recently was reading an article from Bryce Hedstrom on the Basics of TPRS and adapted some of what he wrote on this topic.  Check out the complete article.  In my view, there are 4 types of questions in a TPRS classroom and they all serve a purpose to the learner. Understanding these types of questions helps inform teachers about using questioning techniques in our instruction.

1) Asking a Story                                                              3) Circling

2) Personalized Questions and Answers                    4) Comprehension check questions


Questions = Details = Interest = They learn something*

We add interest and make the story unique to the class by adding details. We add details by asking questions. Students compete to give cute, innovative, memorable answers.

How big is the OBJECT?

What color is it?

Why does CHARACTER want it?

We keep asking questions and getting more details. We train the students to compete to give good ideas. As we continue to ask questions, the high frequency verbs start showing up.

Here are some examples of questions using high frequency verbs:

  • Why does the CHARACTER want the OBJECT?
  • Does she want it or does she have to have it?
  • Should she want the OBJECT?
  • Should she have the OBJECT?
  • Does she know where LOCATION #2 is?
  • Who does she see?
  • What does “New Character” say to her?
  • Can she go to LOCATION #2 right away?
  • How does she go to LOCATION #2?


  • When she arrives at LOCATION #2, is someone there?
  • Who does she see?
  • What does she do?
  • What does “New Character #2” say to her?
  • Does she know where LOCATION #3 is?
  • Does she know how to go to LOCATION #3?
  • When she arrives at LOCATION #3, what does she do?
  • When she arrives at LOCATION #3, is there Another Character? • Who gives the OBJECT to her?

What we are striving for is interesting comprehensible input. We are using all of these verbs in context, pre-conjugated and “ready-to-wear” in a format that is more than interesting, it is compelling to students.

–They want to pay attention because the content is engaging and… –They keep paying attention because they can understand and…

–They are invested in the story because they help to create it.

No matter how it turns out, every time a story is developed in class, the students will be hearing and acquiring the basic verbs. The students continue to get repetitions of the focus structures because the teacher keeps inserting them through questioning.

  • More sophisticated language use is required of the student with each question level.
  • Questions are asked to the whole class and also to individual students.
  • We use the same story to ask questions at the level of the student

—Same story, different levels of thinking about it.

—Different expectations for different students as we get to know their abilities.

—Students with higher levels of understanding get asked higher level questions.

  • If a student does not understand the question, cannot answer adequately or cannot answer quickly, we drop back to a simpler question level to guarantee success.


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  • Here’s a Question about questions! Do you let students answer in English when asking for details to add to the story? Kids can be sooooo funny and creative, but not in the TL yet. What’s your policy there?

    Susann Shultz 3 years ago Reply

  • Great question Susann!

    I think everyone might do things the way they seem fit for their students, level, and goals. If I am “asking-a-story,” I would take suggestions in English or Spanish. You are absolutely right, they can be much more creative in their first language. After getting suggestions this is my opportunity to Establish Meaning with new words or phrases.

    If questions are delivered via PQA, I first encourage L2 (Spanish) but still will accept English if it is new language. PQA in my view is that I keep the questions very narrow. I basically am giving the answer when I deliver the question.

    Via circling, I am asking questions that also have an answer in them… I want a “yes” or “no” answer, something that I know they can output with ease. This

    Comprehension checks can be given in English or Spanish (usually in English) but this too depends on the questions, language, level, etc.

    Also english might be the crutch in the beginning as the TL is more and more used.

    Michael Coxon 3 years ago Reply

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