Balance bikes. The next great thing. Lets little kids — even as young as 18 months — “ride” a bicycle, because there are no pedals and no drive train on the thing. Their feet always touch the floor. Sure, they can’t get going very fast, unless they end up heading down a big hill, and even then, well, if they get out of control, they’ll probably stop by falling down.

Why bother with pedals, anyway? Why add a complicated chain and gears that might cause problems? Why make the kids learn how to use propel that bicycle?

Because you can’t go far without it. You can bump along, but you can’t possibly go the places that riders who can pedal with both feet can go.

What do balance bikes have to do with TPRS? It has to do with The Eternal Question.

Does somebody have a story for…[insert topic, theme, activity, grammar point here]?

Let’s ignore for a moment the teachers asking for One Killer Story that Will Totally Nail The Difference Between the Preterite and the Imperfect Once And For All. Because that simply isn’t how TPRS or language acquisition works. Whether or not you believe in a “natural order”, the fact is that it takes a certain amount (fairly large) of input to get something “acquired” when that something is a broad grammar point. It’s not going to happen in a single story, song, or anything else.

So these are teachers who are actually story-asking, using scripts, but who now want…something more.

I am truly not being insensitive here. I know teachers are busy. I know no one wants to re-invent the wheel. I know there is some mystique about the “good” TPRS teachers (by which we usually mean “everybody but me” because the stories are always better in someone else’s classroom) and if we could just use Señora Amazing’s home-run story, or borrow Herr Fantastic’s unit on that great timely topic, We Could Do It Too(tm). Really, what’s the harm in asking for a story?

The harm is, most of the people who ask for stories don’t know how to — or haven’t been trained to — make story skeletons on their own. That’s why they ask. They usually say they are doing TPRS (and they are — why would they want a story, if they weren’t?) and they are not always beginners.

But being able to step through a premade story by circling is basic TPRS. Basic. Reaaaally basic. Like, one step above just teaching someone to circle and turning them loose with a textbook to circle around the timeless dialogues in Buen Viaje (al Infierno). If you have a reasonable set of story scripts, and you personalize the bejeebers out of it, this works. But then you hit that day when you need a story script about snail farming, and gosh, there isn’t one in the packet.

Not everyone needs to write a TPRS textbook. Trust me, you don’t want to write a TPRS textbook. It’s awful work. And the worst part of it is figuring out what language to include and in what order. So I sympathize with the early TPRS teacher who isn’t sure how to pick language and come up with a story about it.

But if you want to do TPRS, eventually you will most likely want to be able to ask a story with the intent of focusing on some specific piece of language.  And to do that, you need to have been taught how to do it — how to choose appropriate bits of language for your items, how to come up with a story skeleton that will work for you, how to structure your skeleton so that you know your items will be hit no matter which direction the students might choose to go in with the story.

In this case, the responsibility is split 50/50. Half is on the classroom teacher — who needs to realize that TPRS isn’t just a one-day workshop about circling. But the other half is on trainers. How many trainers are doing “more advanced” workshops and really showing people how to do story skeletons that work? How many of them have sat down and analyzed why a story works or does not work, other than just saying “that group liked it”?

If you are going to do TPRS as a teacher, you owe it to yourself to get as fully trained in the method as possible. That means more than a single workshop, or more than one trip to NTPRS. Heck, we have teachers for four weeks of residential TPRS 24/7 in Hawaii every summer and we still have teachers applying to come back for a second year.

The point isn’t really the exact number of hours you train. The point is, have you practiced the basic skills so much that circling is effortless and automatic for you, so that you can personalize without losing students, so that you can move on to the next level of TPRS?

Get off the balance bike. You’ll go farther. Or maybe this is more like the famous “give a man a fish…” proverb.

Give a teacher a story, and she can use it in a class. Teach a teacher how to outline successful stories, and she can do that her whole career.