What is TPRS?

Students in Lotus Chinese Learning classes who are at least elementary-aged learn Mandarin Chinese through TPRS. TPRS stands for teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling. It is a teaching method that has widespread grassroots support amongst teachers and researchers. In brief, students in TPRS classes create stories (with strong guidance and support from a teacher) in the target language. For Lotus Chinese Learning classes, this means that students create a stories in Mandarin Chinese. Students work on the stories orally and then they read them, withe support from their teacher.

How do Students Create Stories in TPRS?

Teachers use “story-asking” to help students create stories. They supply the correct target language and they ask questions to move the plot of the story forward. A teacher might ask “Leticia wants to eat something, does she want to eat hamburgers or hot dogs?” The class would answer “hot dogs” and the group continues from there. The key to story creation in TPRS is to repeat the language many times. In teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling, this is called circling. Students need to hear “Leticia wants to eat hot dogs” over and over in order to fully absorb the vocabulary and the structure. More information on why repetition is important in language classes is available here. With kids, a TPRS story inevitably ends up with talking puppies eating pizza on Mars. This is perfectly acceptable, and even part of the fun of TPRS. It does not really matter what the story is about as long as the students are engaged and care about the meaning.

Objections to TPRS

Some parents and administrators object to TPRS because it looks too “teacher-centered.” As a graduate of a teacher preparation program, I can tell you that that a “teacher-centered” classroom is the great boogeyman of modern education trends. Yes, in a TPRS class, a teacher is often at the front of the room, talking to the kids. This does not mean that the class is teacher-centered. On the contrary, every word and phrase the teacher utters is tailored to making sure that the students can grasp the meaning of the story and can increase their ability to speak Mandarin. And let’s be honest, if a teacher were really at the center of a TPRS class, she would probably not be creating a story about a talking puppy who eats pizza on Mars. More responses to objections to TPRS are here (outside link).


I’ve taught and been in classes that use traditional teaching methods. I learned very little. If you have taken a language class and after a dozen class hours of instruction can only say something ridiculous like “el mono es curioso,” then on some level you know that traditional teaching methods don’t work. Students in TPRS classes can understand and use more of the target language than students in traditional classes. As TPRS teachers often say “your worst day of a TPRS class is better than any day of traditional methods.” I know it works because my students can create, understand and read aloud stories like the ones pictures below. They can do this after less than 10 hours of class time. I have not seen results like that in “teach and practice” type classes.

photo of story from TPRS for Mandarin Chinese class
My students created this story just hours after beginning a TPRS-style class. They can read what they wrote too!


TPRS story 2
Another example of what kids can do in very little class time with TPRS

More info on TPRS for Chinese here (outside link).

Have questions about TPRS? Use the contact page to ask a question or email mary [at] lotuschineselearning.com. A real human will respond to your message within 24 hours (excluding weekends).

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