I have presented about TPRS in the Methods of Teaching Foreign Languages classes at two large regional universities lately. These are some sharp students. Makes me very hopeful for the future of our profession. Their professors are doing a good job with them, judging by the interaction in class.  Several of the college students have also been observing my classes lately and have had some good questions about TPRS.  Feel free to add your input to my answers.

Rachel writes:

First of all, I wanted to thank you again for welcoming me into your class today!  I had a wonderful experience and truly enjoyed myself!

I was wondering about the allocation of time for students vs. teacher talk.  In my understanding of T.P.R.S. the student is never forced to speak until he or she feels that they are “ready” to speak.  This means that the allocation of time when it comes to the students vs. the teacher talking may seem off, but this is simply a result of pedagogical differences.  Is this right?


It was my pleasure. You are welcome any time.

You are correct that I did most of the talking in the lessons that you observed. Students sometimes speak a lot in a TPRS class, but in this lesson they were not required to speak all that often.  This was an example of teaching with comprehensible input–that is how students acquire language, not by production. They were not passive, though and they all were required to show understanding.  They lesson was constructed as one big comprehension check. During the two lessons that you observed they may not have seemed to speak much due to both the level and to the nature of the lesson.

The two class you observed were both Spanish I classes.  This was a simple lesson that absent students could “study” on their own and get caught up.  The vocabulary was concrete, easy to understand, and was a limited set of words: the colors.  This was not a typical TPRS lesson, but I planned it this way because it was homecoming week and also the beginning of elk hunting season. I knew that several students would be gone from each class and there would also be constant interruptions during each class period all week.  Welcome to real-life teaching!

Another atypical TPRS element to this lesson was that the vocabulary was not all high frequency words.  Some of the color words are used very infrequently.

I stagger the teaching the day before your observation so that you could see the progression of the big lesson from one day to the next and get a better idea of the sequence. In the first class, the words for the colors were introduced. This was also unusual for a TPRS lesson. In a normal TPRS class, complete sets of vocabulary are not all introduced at once.  We normally would not introduce big lists of foods or clothing all at once, for example.  In this instance, the students had already heard and used some of the color words before.  They know a song that includes lyrics about green eyes and brown hair, and they had also used the words “red” and “white” before.

I asked a lot of questions and the whole class answered. Some of the questions were simple, some required higher level thinking.  I brought them from passive to active use of the vocabulary and combined it with lots of previous vocabulary, especially the verbs that we have been using.  During the lessons in the two classes you saw the students go from demonstrating understanding to simple production. None of the activities were listen and repeat and none were mere translation. The production was simple, but the students had to think at higher levels at the end.  At first, they were just lifting the colors as I said them, toward the end they were saying what secondary colors were created by combining the primary colors that I mentioned.  I also had them say the colors associated with local high schools and professional sports teams as well as holidays.  At the end they were explaining how there could be two answers for the question, “What is a combination of all the colors?” (the answer depends on if it is paint or light that is being mixed and the students were required to figure it out–they did), “What is an absence of all colors?” (again, it depends whether paint or light is being discussed).  All of this was in the target language and I think it qualifies as higher level thinking.

We finished with a story about two colors that the students acted out on their desks with color squares.  The colors were purple and orange because those two are a bit harder for students to remember for some reason.  In the story, a cute color (orange) that was pestering an irritable color (purple) and got treated poorly as a result.  they students acted the story out on their desks as I told it and answered questions about it as I reviewed it, including questions about possible reasons for the behavior of each color.

At the end, students in the second class (second day of the sequence) answered 65 questions from reading.  Many of the questions were similar to the ones they had heard before in the class–they needed to access prior knowledge and think a bit, rather than simply repeat forms.  In this two day lesson the students used all of the language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.  They were also asked to do some higher level thinking and pull in knowledge from other content areas.  The cultural piece in this lesson was admittedly weak–just a mention that there are different words for brown hair and eyes and for other things that are brown colored.

You are correct though that speaking was limited in this particular lesson.  Please come back to observe again and you will likely wee more speaking from the students. Thanks for the good question.