TPRS RULES: Making “Story Day” Count

One of my biggest frustrations is when teachers who are considering the big “switch” to using Comprehensible Input in their classrooms instead of text books, decide that they can’t because they are just not capable of silly, goofy, wacky TPRS. Storyasking is ONE piece of the GIANT and CI umbrella. It is NOT the only piece. I personally believe that it is an essential starting place for people who want to use CI in their classrooms because it teaches the essential questioning and circling skills needed throughout all of CI instruction. In the last month, I have received SO many emails with questions about how I use “TPRS” in my classroom. Since I am in my 6th year of teaching, I have been honest and said storyasking only happens once every month or so in my classes. This isn’t because I don’t like it, it is just because I do so many other things too! I also want it to be something exciting and special for students and not the norm. I don’t want my kids to get tired of “silly” stories or assume that is ALL we can do with our Spanish language. When they are a special treat they are VERY excited about it, and I tend to get awesome acting skills, and way more participation.


Not ALL stories rock. TONS of stories FLOP. I have seen experienced teachers, with great “skelleton” stories planned, struggle to get students to provide INTERESTING input for stories. These classes are frustrating and sometimes defeating. However, when you get a GOOD story, it is one of the most rewarding feelings ever! Students and teachers alike, feel excited, accomplished, motivated, and elated because they usually spend the majority of the class laughing.


So how do I ensure that as many of my stories as possible, end up as ROCKIN’ stories instead of FLOPPIN’ ones?! I will tell you, it is ALL in the “story rules”.

    • If I choose a student to act, they MUST freeze when I tell them to freeze. Freezing means no moving at all, whatsoever. They can’t make faces at the audience when my back is turned, they can’t adjust their positions. They must freeze. If they do NOT freeze, they are fired.
      • In ELEMENTARY it is essential you show that you are serious by firing an actor early, and getting another up to fill their place. You usually have 90% of the class (or more at the early ages,) absolutely desperate to be actors. It is easy to find and replace them. Obviously, when you fire, be gentle, and quick about it. Switch them out and make sure the class recognises it was because they didn’t freeze.
      • In MIDDLE, it can be equally important to fire early, however you need to get a good feel for how many actors you may have willing to get up in front of the class. I still have about 40-50% of kids very eager to get up and be silly. So it is good for me to fire someone early, so they know I am serious.
      • In HIGH, it is important to NOT fire too early because usually you have a smaller group of students to choose from for actors. You can grow your “actor pool” throughout the year as students recognize your class as a “safe place” where you can be wacky and not be crucified for it, but sometimes this takes time. It is important to be a little bit more flexible at first so you don’t fire someone and find yourself left with NO actors!
    • If I choose a student to be an actor I need them to do a FABULOUS job of acting. That means if I say the character cries and walks like a penguin, they will leave NO questions in the audience’s minds when I unfreeze them. They will cry dramatically, and waddle better than any penguin has ever waddled before. They know that if they do NOT, they will receive acting coaching from me (another blog coming soon) and if it doesn’t improve, they will be FIRED.
      • It is ESSENTIAL that you explain to your students that this is for THEIR enjoyment. They need to recognize that stories will be funnier, more engaging, and entertaining for EVERYONE involved, if they are FABULOUS actors. Modeling this yourself, or with a motivated student, is a great idea. Have the student do a lame example of “riding a horse romantically through a forest” and then do a FABULOUS example of it, and ask students which they enjoyed more. This really helps pull kids out of their shell. EVERYONE can be silly and make a fool out of themsleves in Spanish class. It is a SAFE place. Students will only buy into this if YOU believe it is OK and safe to be silly. They won’t take risks if you don’t model that behavior.
    • If a student chooses to give a suggestion for the story, it should be compelling and interesting. It shouldn’t be boring, because if it is boring it means the actors have to work 4 times as hard to make their boring suggestions interesting. Their suggestions should be just as FABULOUS as the acting itself.img_4707
    • Students who are sitting in the audience, at NO time, will be allowed to interfere with the actors. They cannot poke, prod, kick, trip or trick actors into thinking they will trip them. They also are not permitted to try and coerce actors into moving or laughing when they are acting because that means that they are focusing on distracting the actors instead of listening to the input of the story itself. If they DO interfere ,the audience members themselves are fired.
      • When an audience member is fired in my room (it is HARD to be fired as an audience member and it is EXTREMELY RARE), they are sent out of the classroom. They literally have to sit in the hall or the breezeway until I permit them reentry. This usually doesn’t last long but even the fear of knowing they could be sent out is enough. Students don’t want to miss seeing the stories we create and they know if they miss input that means they will probably miss a question on the exit quiz.
  1. 100% Participation 100% of the time
    • I have a 3 strikes warning when it comes to participation and stories. If I have to ask or make a comment about students participating, they get a strike against them. After three strikes, we have to stop the story. Since stories are often very silly and crazy, it is more challenging for them to focus on still answering every single question. This three strike rule ensures that they are all engaged, and still answering questions because they don’t ever want to stop seeing their friends up in tutus and wigs prancing at the front of the classroom.


So there you have it! I hope this helps spice up the stories in your classroom! The rules certainly do it for me! However, keep in mind, that just because you have one or two or three, or 5 stories flop in a row, it doesn’t mean YOU are bad at it, it just means that the story didn’t take off. Keep trying, and remember that TPRS is not the END all BE all to Teaching with CI. It is a tiny piece of it.


Until next time,





La Maestra Loca



    1. great question. This is a blog that I have been waiting to write for quite some time. At the beginning of the year I am still doing a HUGE review of ALL core structures. But if I were introducing new vocab (3 structures in a week/week and a half in Middle school) a typical week WITHOUT a story may look like this: (again, one of the reasons I want to write a blog about this is there are tons of different things I might do on any given day not just these) I would do the first day TPR and establishing meaning with pictures and circling, Day two PQA PQA PQA, Day three telling a story with photos of people they like or find high interest, maybe have them act out some of it, Day 4 retell that in past tense using photos of them or same photos from before with their faces pasted over the characters from yesterday, Day 5 read a story, SIMILAR to the one from before but this time with different characters or different scenarios, Day 6 Some sort of writing or speaking to practice what we learned. That is where my OWL strategies come in. I hope this helps. Be on the look out for a LONG blog on this in the next month or so….

  1. Love it. Love it. Love it. We did our first story today. It went reasonably well. I quietly fired two little actors. And we were still able to finish the story just fine. You are 100% right–they all love acting. Many thanks for sharing with us!!!!!!

      1. More success today! Why!? This blogue! Today we retold the story, but we changed the where and the who. I incorporated actors “freezing.” This is so helpful for an assist with the circling and reviewing of details as needed for repetition 🙂

        Also we incorporated the three strikes rule. Wow! I had done something similar in middle school, but I had not considered the importance of a defining a limit or a ceiling for lack of student expectations regarding eyes, ears, participating/responding. ¡Muchas gracias again!

  2. Hi Maestra.
    I was introduced to TPR exactly 30 years ago, in the Basque country in Spain.It was such a revolutionary concept at that time. I eally believe I was working in the only place using the technique then. The kids loved it.
    I love your “rules” which would have worked a dream for me!
    If only we could turn back time…
    Regards. Marie.

      1. Yes, but not kids anymore 🙁

        I’m teaching British ex-patriates Spanish, when they come to the Costa del Sol in Southern Spain for retirement in the better weather.
        That means they are usually all over 60 and learning their first foreign language!!
        Now you see why I miss my kids.
        Regards. Marie.

  3. question: if you get to 3 strikes and have to stop the story, then what? I could see some of my more “difficult” wanting to stop the story and then feeling like they have “won”. Just curious what alternate activity you would move into to emphasize that they missed out..

    By the way.. I came across your blog today and just want to say THANK YOU!! I am such a visual learner and loved watching your live stream of your Valentine’s Day activities. Mil gracias!

    1. One of the reasons I do Storyasking (with actors) so rarely, is I want it to be an exciting treat that students look forward to. If they dread it, I know they will intentionally try and derail the class. Even if the MAJORITY of the class loves it, it will almost always discourage the “ruiners” from being buttheads and trying to stop it for everyone because they won’t want everyone to be furious at them for a week. I try very very hard to run my classroom on all positives. If we do hit 3 strikes, I jump into an early (and longer) exit quiz, which they really don’t like. This has almost never happened. I don’t want to threaten something either and tell them what they are doing in advance because I don’t want them to view assessment as a punishment since I frequently do exit quizzes. Sooooo I guess this answer isn’t crystal clear but I hope I am explaining that you should make sure the large majority of your students LIKE and ENJOY stories for it to be a positive and beneficial thing in your room. If they aren’t “into it”they won’t buy in at all and they will only try to derail. I hope that helps and I am glad that you found my blog!

  4. When you act out the story, is the story already established? or do you create the story and act it out as you go along? We already have a story established, would you suggest using that one or does it work better to build the story as you go?

  5. I am a new Spanish teacher. I’m using Somo right now. I would like to know if you can share the rules that you give your students for storyasking. I am finding it very hard to keep them focused and on task because all we are doing is talking. I do not want to give up but I’m getting very frustrated with the behaviors. I want to make them sit quiet for one whole class but that is counterproductive. Please Help! I want to start storyasking next week but I don’t think I’m ready.

    1. Don’t start if you don’t think you’re ready…. definitely don’t… kids sense that… take some breaths and give yourself grace… this is REALLY hard work… it is SO hard to learn… and classroom management is challenging!!! Make sure you’re going SLOW enough for them to really understand… Set VERY clear expectations for when you’re speaking. they should be at a level zero (read my latest blog) listening to you. praise praise praise them for doing that! here are my rules: Remember, you’ve got this! but it doesn’t come in a day! It takes time! 🙂

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