The question was recently asked on a teachers’ group:

What do you find is more beneficial for students from your experience? Typing up the class story as it is told and having student read it for step 3 or creating a similar story and have them read it?

To answer this, let’s think about what we’re trying to do through input.

The reason we do all the oral input of language is to have the students acquire it — so that they can automatically and correctly use that language for output and comprehend it without thought. To do that, we need a lot of repetitions.

But just saying the same word or phrase over and over doesn’t really do much for acquisition. Why is that? Because single words crave context (and collocations are one of those things that take time and exposure to a language to “pick up”), and grammar patterns have enormous extended families.

Acquiring a grammar pattern is like learning which 45 individuals in the city belong to one particular family. There’s a certain family resemblance, but you have to recognize it in very different people. Maybe they all have the Brown family nose (so unfortunate on the women, so rugged on the men). That nose marks all the members of that family — it means they are all Browns. But it looks slightly different on every member of the family, so it might take an outsider some time before they realize what the general concept of the “Brown family nose” is. And the newcomer would figure out what the “Brown family nose” is by seeing lots of people and being told their names.

A piece of grammar carries a particular meaning. In English if we put an -ing on the end of the a word, it means the action is continuing. If there’s an -s on the end of a verb it’s the third person singular. But a person has to encounter those things on many different words before the brain makes that automatic jump to the meaning — even if the next encounter is with a verb the person has never heard before. (This is the cool part about acquisition: any native speaker of English “knows” that the third-person singular form of the regular verb “blort” is “blorts”, even though no one has a clue what it means.)

So, back to reading.

We do oral input through story-asking. The students are answering questions easily, without hesitation. They obviously understand the story. So what is the goal in having them read after that?

Because the language they are exposed to during story-asking is only part of the Brown family. They need to meet many more of the Browns before they can generalize and immediately recognize that Brown family nose on another person they’ve never met before.

So for reading — read the same language, but different content. A different arrangement, if you will. Reading the same story that was asked in class only lets them see Ma and Pa Brown and the three kids again. Reading a different story introduces cousins.

We have kids read the same thing again for fluency. We have them read different things (all of which are still at their language level) for acquisition. (There are some acquisitional benefits to re-reading the same thing, but we get much more punch per word with different things than in repeating the same thing, in terms of acquisition. And if you’re focusing on reading skills, like recognizing characters, re-reading something that has been read is good at the early stages because it reduces the load during reading, but I still would go with reading a reading that is not identical to the class story in the first place.)

The other issue is where does that story that is identical to the class story come from? Sure, you can quickly type them out at the end of a class period. But for avoiding typos and mistakes, there’s nothing like working from a reading that’s been proofread by others, and often typing them out quickly doesn’t allow for that luxury. If you’re just getting into TPRS, it’s probably better to try to use readings that are already “set” (which means using some sort of a premade TPRS curriculum) because there is enough to learn in TPRS without trying to re-invent the wheel and take care of scope and sequence while you’re also managing a classroom, juggling multiple preps and, oh yeah, fundamentally changing the way you teach to a way that requires skills you’re still working on.

So: ask a story. Give a reading that contains the same language but isn’t the same story. Then don’t just read that reading once — use different kinds of reading techniques to really exploit it (for reading fluency as well as for acquisition).