When I first started using TPRS with my adult ESL students, I was a little worried about whether it would work and how it would be received by the students. And I didn’t have many examples to go off of; when I googled “TPRS in adult ESL,” I only found one, sole article. That article was the only trace I could find of TPRS being used in any adult ESL classroom. But I was determined to try out TPRS, so I mostly just learned from reading about and watching YouTube videos of TPRS in K-12 classrooms, and I figured out where I needed to make adjustments for my own students.
In hopes of helping other adult ESL teachers who want to try out TPRS, I’m going to share some of the special considerations and the adaptions of “typical” TPRS that I use in my classroom. (By the way: if you are completely new to TPRS, the best way to learn about it is by reading Blaine Ray and Contee Seely’s book Fluency Through TPR Storytelling. Bryce Hedstrom also has a great article on “The Basics of TPRS.”)
I am starting a series of blog posts on how to use TPRS in the adult ESL classroom. This is the first post in the series, on the topic of age.
The age of the students is obviously one of the main differences between TPRS in a K-12 setting and TPRS in an adult ESL classroom. TPRS usually entails creating silly stories with the students, and when I first started exploring TPRS, I worried that my students would think the stories were too juvenile or dumb. But I quickly discovered that my adults really enjoyed the funny stories, and many of them seemed to like adding silly details. Of course, TPRS doesn’t require the stories to be silly at all; it’s perfectly fine for stories to be serious. It’s totally up to the students in your class to decide on the tone of the stories. And even though the TPRS stories I create with my students are usually somewhat funny, they definitely aren’t as bizarre and whacky as some of the TPRS stories I’ve heard some K-12 teachers talk about—like stories about Ariana Grande eating Justin Bieber’s toenails or something. And that’s totally fine! Adults often have a different sense of humor than children, so it makes sense that the humor in their stories would be a little different. And, of course, the type of humor often differs from class to class, and it might also differ based on the cultural backgrounds of your students. Last semester, in one of my classes, almost every single story we did involved a character drinking alcohol—usually in excessive amounts. But in another class I had, nobody ever even mentioned alcohol. (Which reminds me of one of the big benefits of teaching adults, which is that we don’t have to worry as much about the appropriateness of certain plot lines. A character drinks 10 margaritas? Sure!)
I have also found that it does sometimes take some time for my adult students to catch on to the “game” of TPRS. When I start TPRS with a new class, I tell them that they can suggest funny ideas for our stories. But for the first few weeks, they often seem very hesitant to do so and often only suggest very realistic, practical ideas for the stories. I think that some adults are so used to thinking of the classroom as a serious place that they don’t really know how to act differently. But after a few weeks, when the students become more comfortable with me and with each other and when they see that I act silly in class sometimes and when they see me encouraging them to let loose and have fun in class, then they start becoming more relaxed and are more willing to suggest funny ideas.
I try to just go with the flow during story-asking and determine what story lines or what details would be most engaging for my particular class of students. Personally, I usually prefer creating silly stories, so I tend to model and encourage that for my students. But if they’re not into that, I adjust.
Overall, I don’t think that the age of the students really matters too much in TPRS. As long as I’m paying attention to what my students find interesting, and as long as I am providing comprehensible input that is compelling to the students in that particular class, my students will make progress in acquiring the language—and they will have a good time while doing it.
Click to read the next two posts in the series:
Part 2: Translation