Teaching grammar and telling stories


It is fairly common to come across other language teachers that misinterpret Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. As a TPRS trainer and aficionado of all things related to teaching with Comprehensible Input I hear teachers say something like, “Oh you don’t teach grammar.”

I restrain myself a bit when I hear that because I realize I have to carefully and gently discuss the process and purpose of TPRS.  The purpose is to create students that can understand, process, synthesize, and use language in spontaneous ways on a variety of topics.  Doing this includes teaching grammar every single minute of every single day of every single class.  

I was recently messing around with some story ideas from BryanKandelTPRS.com. I love the way he has organized his storytelling database with grammatical features.  I really appreciate that I can see and understand what his grammar objectives are for each of his stories. This is appealing to those that are trying to figure out the relationship of storytelling and exposing grammar to students for the purpose of acquiring language.

Here is a link to Bryan’s database.  I hope you find it as helpful as I have.

Database link


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  • This is fantastic! Thanks!

    Paul 4 years ago Reply

  • Hey, everyone: I agree with Mike in that we DO teach grammar. Yes, we do. For example, in TPRS, when we plan to focus on 3 phrases, such as quiere hablar con (wants to speak with), etc., then we have a “focused” grammar lesson, but we hope the students “acquire” subconsciously those phrases (structures) rather than just “learn” the metalinguistic terms (grammar words). Following this up with “pop-up” grammar also helps us prove that we “teach” grammar (in context). BTW, Stephen Krashen, in his plenary address this summer at NTPRS suggested that someone do a classroom research study to compare what I just described above, with “targeted” structures with classes taught using comprehensible input and TPRS with “non-targeted” structures (focused vs. unfocused grammar acquisition). His hunch was, that over a year or two, all the common phrases (and high-frequency vocabulary) would be covered with both approaches. He has always argued that we need not predetermine which structures we will teach toward (but this requires skill on your feet). So, if this is true and Krashen is correct (which I suspect he is), then we DON’T even NEED to pre-select structures, PROVIDED that we supply plentiful amounts of comprehensible input that’s interesting or even compelling for our students. But, in either case, whether it’s focused or unfocused, I believe that we ARE teaching grammar. So, don’t be afraid to say so. Perhaps it’s not explicit and direct instruction (and NEVER out of context), but with an acquisition-rich environment the students DO acquire the USE (or usage) of grammar “in context”. In short, I agree. Having said all that, I concur with Mike that it needs to “look like school” to please our (perhaps) less-informed non-TPRS colleagues. Someone should put together a good presentation on “HOW TPRS does (!) teach grammar” or at least provide the classroom context in which the grammar of a language is acquired. — RJB.

    Richard Baker 4 years ago Reply

  • Of course we have to teach grammar! And we don’t need to apologize for doing so, as if it was something we shouldn’t really be doing. We should be doing it whether we’re teaching native speakers, or in ESOL. One reason lots of teachers don’t go for the grammar, is because they, as teachers, are not really very proficient on the subject. Not long ago, I was surprised to find that not one, in a group of trainee language teachers I was teaching, knew what I meant when I mentioned “apposition”…
    I wonder how many teachers, for instance, can honestly say they are familiar with all the essential vocabulary of grammar, as listed here : http://linguapress.com/grammar/list-of-terms.htm

    Pattie Laurens 2 years ago Reply

    • Sorry Pattie, but I disagree, and I’ll tell you why. Krashen is right, I’ve observed it first hand. Lately, I’ve been teaching content-area teachers (of Math, Science, English, and Social Studies, in grades 5-12) how to provide true-beginning learners of English with comprehensible input in English focusing primarily on key vocabulary and academic concepts that their students must master, guided by their academic content standards. The English learners attend regular academic classrooms. The first piece of good news that I tell the teachers is that they should NOT teach English grammar or use any meta-linguistic grammatical jargon at all with these students. By the way, none of them do, to include their regular English (literature/composition) instructors. And guess what? It is bloody amazing how quickly these Spanish-speaking kids are “acquiring” English while focusing only on learning about Math, Science, English, and Social Studies. Focus on the meaningful messages and they will INCIDENTALLY acquire English in the process. This is the primary principle of content-based instruction and I see it work every single day. Show one empirical research study that shows students “acquire” proficiency through direct, explicit, grammar instruction. I’m serious, if you find one, send it to me because I’ve looked everywhere!!! I’ve surveyed the TPRS studies and there is plenty of evidence that providing comprehensible input works, even with NO grammar instruction. There’s a difference between learning and acquistion, see Krashen’s work at http://www.sdkrashen.com. It’s also what ACTFL has advocated since 1999. ACTFL is our world language professional association. Oh, by the way, I personally LOVE grammar, but I would prefer to continue watching “acquisition” in progress. Most “learning” disappears within 90 days.

      Richard Baker 2 years ago Reply

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