TPRS Conference in Brisbane 14-15 Jan

I was so excited and very fortunate to be one of the attendees at the first ever TPRS-CI conference at QUT, Brisbane, Australia presented by three very well-known masters of the craft, Blaine Ray, Terry Waltz and Lizette Liebold.

Here are some notes I made of the demonstrations/talks by the presenters. I hope that the notes I made may be of some use to others.

Blaine Ray

TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Story-telling) is based on ‘The Natural Approach’ written about by Stephen Krashen in the 1980s. It is based on the input hypothesis, that we learn a language through lots of Comprehensible Input. (CI)

Blaine’s Powerpoints about TPRS

The input hypothesis is based on constant repetition of new ideas. TPRS-CI takes time and practice.

Two Rules for class

  1. No social talking, using iPhone or sleeping
  2. Never say anything -ve about class

Three Procedures

  1. When I make a statement, respond with a sound ‘ooooh’. (Blaine prompts this with hand signal)
  2. If I ask a question, answer with a yes or no in the target language.
  3. If you don’t know the answer, you may guess with English names of things. Surprise me!

Blaine uses student actors. They are required to answer in whole sentences, to gauge how remainder of class is going. If they struggle, class is struggling.

Use clicking fingers, or soft clapping, to indicate you have not understood. The rest of the class needs to do this too, to support the student who has not understood. Praise the student for doing this!

Blaine began by picking out a student and saying ‘Xiao is a girl’ (in Spanish). He then circled:

Xiao is girl one. Is she girl one or two? Is she a girl or a boy? Is she happy or not happy?

He introduced a second person, Michelle Obama.

He continued:

I am happy because I have a kangaroo. I have a mini kangaroo. Xiao does not have a kangaroo. MIchelle has a kangaroo. He had all these structures on the board, and constantly referred to them by pausing and pointing. He said many times ‘If you forget, it is written right up there on the board’.

It is my kangaroo.

Xiao does not have a kangaroo and she is not happy.

Does Xiao have a kangaroo?

Does MIchelle have a kangaroo?

Michelle has a big kangaroo.

Is Michelle happy? No!

Michelle is not happy. Michelle has a big kangaroo. Michelle wants a mini kangaroo.

He often asked ‘What did I just say?’.

Always have a story where someone wants something. Blaine used 3 actors; Xiao (student from class), Michelle Obama and the big kangaroo. He interspersed Qs to the actors with Qs to the whole class.


  • constantly referred back to the board
  • used actors
  • asked actors to speak in whole sentences
  • repeated things ad nauseum (but I am a Spanish speaker – no-one else felt like that)
  • pointed and paused LOTS!
  • used grammar pop-ups (explain grammar as required or if kids ask)

Remember ALL kids are slow processors when it comes to learning a new language.

Actors are used as guides (barometer) for teacher – are they getting it?

If kids aren’t getting it, circle more and add more characters.

Blaine does not use front-loaded vocabulary (pre-taught vocab).

In years P – 2, everybody has to be an actor!

Whole class does sounds: aaaah

Blaine’s online resources

Recommended Text – Fluency through TPRS

Someone at the conference suggested having a picture for every word taught, especially to help younger students or those who need visual support. Kristy Kranz told me that she uses Boardmaker to find suitalbe images for some of those trickier words. You can access a 30 day trial at the link below. Get the super seven and any other high fluency words for no cost!

Boardmaker free 30 day download

  1. Ask a story (don’t tell!!)
  2. Make stories last as long as possible to get maximum reps.


Here is the Spanish reading (with the three steps of reading) Blaine prepared for us after our ‘class’. Translation:

The girl is Xiao. She is not happy because she doesn’t have a kangaroo. Xiao wants a kangaroo. Xiao is girl one.

Michelle Obama is girl two. Michelle is not happy. She has a kangaroo. It is a big kangaroo. She doesn’t want a big kangaroo. She wants a mini kangaroo. Michelle is not happy because she doesn’t have a mini kangaroo.

I am Blaine and I am happy. I have a mini kangaroo. I am happy because I have a mini kangaroo. My kangaroo is Barney.

Xiao wants a kangaroo. Xiao goes to Michelle. Michelle gives the big kangaroo to Xiao. Xiao is very happy because she has a big kangaroo.

Michelle goes to Blaine. Blaine has a mini kangaroo. Blaine gives the mini kangaroo to Michelle. Michelle is very happy because she has a mini kangaroo.

I am not happy because I don’t have a mini kangaroo. It is a problem!

Use CCI – compelling, comprehensible input.

‘I remember that which I learn with pleasure’. Quote from Blaine.

As an aside, I met a girl named Winnie at the conference and loved her homework idea. She writes her simple story on a single page for her students (could include pics for  younger kids) and gives it to them to take home to read to parents. The parents have to listen. Then kids translate to parents, so they understand what story means. Finally, parents write the story in English, and sign off the homework. Love the idea! You could even get your students to do the pictures in class before taking it home.

Lizette Liebold

TPRS is story asking, not story telling!

TPRS leads to:

  • higher percentage of students reaching advanced levels of a language
  • even non-finishers of language at high school level have some fluency

Learning versus acquisition

Learning                                                                          Acquisition

result of study                                                                 how we learned L1

conscious                                                                          unconscious

effort, drills, practice                                                    no effort required

info about language                                                       S is unaware it is happening

language learning is like another subject               sounds or feels right

CI (Comprehensible Input) must be:

  • meaningful (personalize it!)
  • understood (T’s responsibility – do comprehension checks! Use gestures or images to help)
  • interesting and engaging (personalize it!)

Terry Waltz

Circling most important. Gives S time to acquire. Uses lots of repetitions. Aim for 100 – 120 reps. Some kids need more, some less. It is all about COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT!!

Ask questions kids know the answer to.


  1. Pick a sentence. Anything you say is true. eg ‘Xiao is a girl’
  2. Your sentence is true. Anything else is false. eg ‘Xiao is hungry.’ No-one else is hungry!
  3. Ask Qs about that sentence ONLY.
  4. Ask ‘YES’ questions.
  5. Ask ‘NO’ questions. S need to hear negated form.
  6. Ask either/or sentences.
  7. Ask 5 W questions: who, when, where, how, why
  8. Be unpredictable – make ’em squirm!

What do I circle?

Circle NEW language.

Circle things they are not firm on.


Terry gave us the above example to show how circling can be made more interesting and relevant to the curriculum by adding ‘shadow’ structures. She then gave us some circling cards for us to practise our circling skills with, we did this in our L1 in small groups.

Terry’s cool circling cards

Terry told us:

  • put all new stuff on the whiteboard and point and pause all the time
  • Don’t shelter grammar, shelter vocabulary! (Don’t shy away from more complex grammar, use natural speech for the situation. But DO limit the amount of new vocabulary you expose students to)

Grammar pop-up for Indonesian teachers!

benar/salah = true/false or correct/incorrect

betul is less formal = right

Terry recommended a good book for classroom management – Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones

She suggested not using Blaine’s ping-pong reading activity unless kids know the vocabulary really well.

After circling well the above, you can then add another fact by asking, ‘Where does Bob want to buy noodles?’ You can also stretch things out by saying a beautiful long answer after S gives a short one. ‘No class, absolutely not, Bob does not have a kangaroo.’

You can throw a 3-FER into the mix, that is restating the correct answer, then adding the negative, then restating the correct one. eg He met his girlfriend at the library. He didn’t meet her at the water treatment plant. He met her at the library. ( I like the way the students then get to hear ‘her’ as well as her name.

Make sure you go SLOWLY!!

Count 1 hippopotamus 2 hippopotamus after each statement/question. Or try tapping on your palm to slow yourself down. Give one S a job as Slow Policeman to ensure you are going slowly enough.

Regularly ask ‘What did I just say?’ (in L1) for a comprehension check.

Use grammar pop-ups (What does this word/part tell you?)

Put up helper words like ‘and’ ‘or’ and ‘because’ up on your board, as well as question words.

Indonesian pop-up

a masa! = no way, that’s ridiculous

The Rules of TPRS

This is what Terry uses in her classroom (print out from link above)

  1. Listen
  2. Two – can only use 2 words of English when you are stuck
  3. Stop – stop me if you don’t understand with a gesture eg clap gently
  4. Grandma – don’t say anything that my Grandma would not like
  5. Wow! We are smart, we say cool, interesting things.

Useful gestures: when you rewind, walk backwards and roll your hands backwards. ‘and’ is fists together. Always use these gestures to help kids understand.

When you are writing stuff up on the board, or getting something ready, remember that teachers are very uncomfortable with ‘dead air’ but S aren’t. They are probably using the time to take in new stuff, or having a brief rest. Pause and point OVER and OVER. Bactrack if people aren’t getting it.

Terry showed us a photo of her board. She had conjunctions across the top, question words down the side and known words down the other side.

3 Steps of TPRS

  1. Establish meaning
  2. Use the language – ask a lot of Qs, personalize, use paralle/shadow characters for more Qs and reps
  3. Read the language

Terry tends not to use actors, she works the crowd! When you point and pause – don’t move the pointer! Too distracting.

Circling a Skeleton

Skeleton is the bones of the story, meat is the details.

Teacher has the skeleton in his/her head, S add the details through asking/circling.

Let’s make a story!

  1. Establish a fact. mau beli topi = wants a hat.
  2. Go fishing – ask a Q. Who wants to buy a hat? Point and pause. SLOW. Use the magic fairy dust gesture, this indicates to S that no-one knows the answer and they need to make something up.
  3. Throw fish back NICELY. How to reject a suggestion: a. Love the answer. Give it lots of love. b. Throw it back but do it nicely. Good idea, but… Maybe… Oh, you’re thinking of (someone else)
  4. Keep the big one!
  5. What if you get no bites? Have some bait ready. Pictures on ppt of popular characters eg Harry Potter, Elsa, Mickey Mouse, sports stars. Talk to a partner about who wants a hat, when you are ready raise your hand. OR take an idea from the jar (can have prepared people jar, places jar and things jar, taken from student interest surveys) OR if kids just don’t answer, warn them they will get the worm – Barney the Dinosaur or Justin Beiber! We fish to get repetitions. Don’t take the first answer!
  6. Share the secret – Kelas, James Bond wants to buy a hat!
  7. Circle, circle, circle – point and pause every time.
  8. Fish the next fact. Fish for more detail OR the next sentence in the James Bond is in Canada.
  9. The problem. Write a script out. The first try to solve problem always fails! And sometimes the second and third try!)
  10. Free ending.

Terry used slides as in the examples above for us to practise reading the Hawaiian we learned.Most of the characters we were able to guess even though we had never seen them before, due to the comprehensible input we received while circling. The pictures helped us with the meaning. I thought this would be a great way of introducing reading to younger students, with lots of visuals as support.

Beginning Writing

Some ideas:

Give 4 pictures – write captions under the pictures

Draw a story. Students can retell the story by pointing to pictures.

You can have a parallel story about Putri at the same time as your story for cultural information.

For reading, 98% of text should be known.

We talked about the super seven.

Indonesian Super Seven

Location (to be at a place) = (pronoun) di
Existence (to exist somewhere, “there is”) = ada
Possession (to have something)  = punya
Identity (to be something or someone)  = saya/kamu/dia
Preference (to or dislike something) = suka
Motion (to go somewhere) = (pergi) ke
Volition (to feel like doing something) = mau
Get your students to learn these first. With the super seven you can make amazing stories!

Just found a cool little tool to write objectives on Terry’s website. You can find the objective writing tool link here.


Lizette Liebold, Terry Waltz, Ray Blaine and Ian Perry. Ian was the brainchild behind getting the TPRS conference in Brisbane and did so much work to get quality presenters coming to Australia! (photo taken by Sheryl Saunders at QUT Kelvin Grove)

2 thoughts on “TPRS Conference in Brisbane 14-15 Jan”

  1. Terima kashiwa Bu Anne. I was so enthralled that I didn’t have good notes. Yours are so detailed and are great reminders.


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