Optimizing the use of TPRS novels

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At NTPRS 2016, I presented on using TPRS novel in the advanced track. The books that I have chosen to talk about are among the books that I have had the most success with. There are books out there that I will not teach with because they do not fit with my strengths and weakness as a teacher.  This was a session about what I do in the classroom with my students as we go through various TPRS novels. I want to build excitement and enthusiasm for reading and these are some ideas for how I have done it. Here is a link to level 1 TPRS novels.


Session description

Participants will be exposed to a handful of popular TPRS novellas in this session and discover creative ways to actively engage students in the reading process.  Examples from embedded reading, reader’s theater, personalized questions and answers, and read and discuss will be incorporated as several TeacherTalks (IJFLT December 2014) strategies bring stories to life.

A couple of things that I consider when selecting books:

Are the chapters short or long?  What is the word count and the unique word count?

If the book is too long and the chapters go on, students will become frustrated.  I also want them to read parts of the book without me.  I recommend looking for books that are shorter rather than longer.

Does this book emphasize more than just SLA or does it involve history or culture or some other theme that interests me and my students?

Some books like Brandon Brown wants a dog have no cultural value in my opinion. The value of Brandon Brown wants a dog is that the verb wants appears something like 97 times.  This is okay!  Not all books have to be about the target language culture. I want variety of topics and stories and so do my students.  Imagine how a student might feel of all the books are just about culture and history…

It is important to consider that TPRS has 2 parts:

1. Oral story- Majority of my classes are spent in pre-reading activities…negotiating meaning.

2. Reading-Everything we do in class is for the purpose of becoming better readers. Bi-literacy seals are such a great direction for our schools.


Jim Trelease has presented on the benefits of reading aloud for decades. I highly recommend all teachers and especially TPRS teachers to own this book. Some of the core principals of optimizing TPRS novels comes right from waht we have always known about literacy.

What reading aloud does…

  • Builds vocabulary
  • Shows how the languages “works”
  • Shows features of phonetics
  • Conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Creates background knowledge
  • Provides a reading role model
  • Plants the desire to read

       Jim Trelease’s DO’s and DON’Ts

  • With infants through toddlers, it is extremely important to include in your readings those books that contain repetitions; as they mature, add predictable and rhyming books.
  • During repeat readings of a predictable book, occasionally stop at one of the key words or phrases and allow the listener to provide the word.
  • Remember: The art of listening is an acquired one. It must be taught and cultivated gradually—it doesn’t happen overnight.
  • Vary the length and subject matter of your readings, fiction and nonfiction.
  • Follow through with your reading. If you start a book, it is your responsibility to continue it—unless it turns out to be a bad book. Don’t leave the child or students hanging for three or four days between chapters and expect interest to be sustained.
  • Avoid long descriptive passages until the child’s imagination and attention span are capable of handling them. There is nothing wrong with shortening or eliminating them. Pre-reading helps to locate such passages, and they can then be marked with pencil in the margin.
  • If the chapters are long or if you don’t have enough time each day to finish an entire chapter, find a suspenseful spot at which to stop. Leave the audience hanging; they’ll be counting the minutes until the next reading.

No one is too old for a good story, even a picture book,
and these two books will prove it with teens.

  • Use plenty of expression when reading. If possible, change your tone of voice to fit the dialogue.
  • Adjust your pace to fit the story. During a suspenseful part, slow down, and lower your voice. A lowered voice in the right place moves an audience to the edge of its chairs.
  • The most common mistake in reading aloud—whether the reader is a seven-year-old or a forty-year-old—is reading too fast. Read slowly enough for the child to build mental pictures of what he just heard you read. Slow down enough for the children to see the pictures in the book without feeling hurried. Reading quickly allows no time for the reader to use vocal expression.

Books aren’t written by machines. 
Prove it by bringing the author alive.

  • Add a third dimension to the book whenever possible. For example, have a bowl of blueberries ready to be eaten during or after the reading of Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal; bring a harmonica and a lemon to class before reading McCloskey’sLentil.

             Jim Trelease’s DON’Ts

  • Don’t read stories that you don’t enjoy yourself. Your dislike will show in the reading, and that defeats your purpose.
  • Don’t continue reading a book once it is obvious that it was a poor choice. Admit the mistake and choose another. Make sure, however, that you’ve given the book a fair chance to get rolling; some, likeTuck Everlasting, start slower than others. (You can avoid the problem by pre-reading at least part of the book yourself).

           Don’t tie everything you read to the curriculum.

Would you want everything you did all day tied to a sermon?

  • Don’t confuse quantity with quality. Reading to your child for ten minutes, with your full attention and enthusiasm, may very well last longer in the child’s mind than two hours of solitary television viewing.

Mike’s optimizing principles for TPRS novels

  1. If the chapter is boring, we personalize
  2. If the chapter is exciting, we dramatize
  3. If the chapter focuses on culture, we YouTubize

My classroom tricks for teaching novels

  1. Always stimulate multiple senses (music, visuals, props, etc).
  2. Always have students read along (when I am reading aloud, they follow).
  3. Read slowly, quickly, in different voices, accents (nothing worse than monotone).
  4. Set the classroom as the chapter scene (transform your class into something else).
  5. Repetition techniques: fake stutters, teacher forgetfulness, narcolepsy, slow writer on the board
  6. Songs, music, or other media forms (google fake iPhone generator).
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A “fake” text message conversation from La Vampirata.

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In Pobre Ana, there is a back story to Ricardo inviting Ana to dance.











7. Fake substitute day, dress a detective, super hero, or character.

8. Always try to  “to be off topic” because that is when natural and organic communication happens.






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