PQA. La Personal Especial. Comprehensible content-based teaching. One-word images. MovieTalk. Quiz time: what one method encompasses all of them?


Many people come around to Teaching with Comprehensible Input and want to start with something other than TPRS. They like MovieTalk. They just want to do La Personal Especial. They don’t want to do storytelling. So they learn the handful of skills necessary to do the activity they have in mind at that moment.

And then they find, in the classroom, that the activity they chose isn’t enough. They need another one. So they have to go back and get more and different training, or watch a bunch of videos, or go to a workshop or two. Yay! Now they can do two activities that are based on CI. But then the cycle repeats itself in a few months.

This is a very short-sighted way of going about things. If you’re only going to be teaching a language for a year or two, maybe. Why not? You’ll get through the year, even if the activities get a bit monotonous. Why bother to invest the time to learn all the skills of TPRS if you don’t plan to be in the classroom long enough to have them pay off?

Because that’s kind of like buying a cutting-edge smartphone and only learning to use it to make voice calls. There’s so much more functionality available. So many more things you can do, if only you know how.

Sure, you can learn to take digital photos using a digital camera. You can learn to time your soft-boiled eggs using one of those little timers you stick on your refrigerator with a magnet. You can learn to use a standalone GPS system. You can do math with a scrap of paper instead of using the smartphone’s calculator.

But what if there were a single device that offered all that functionality? A device that, once you learned how to use it, would let you take pictures on days you felt like doing that, would let you time your eggs and get to where you’re going and add up all the miscellaneous fees on your cable television bill. Something where one class would then equip you with a whole spectrum of skills?

That “device” is TPRS. Because TPRS is the foundation and the forerunner of all these “new” techniques used to deliver comprehensible input, it takes in all of the skills necessary to do each of them. If you look deeply at all the “offshoot” activities, you’ll find that most of them are TPRS minus something. TPRS minus personalization is MovieTalk (storyline exists already). TPRS minus story is Personalized Questions and Answers. A TPRS story minus a problem is a one-word image. All these things are simple, if you have grasped the basic skills of TPRS.

A teacher skilled in TPRS can repeat any language focus she likes almost endlessly without losing student interest, because she knows how to vary language and content without adding new language. He can engage students by talking about topics the students are passionately interested in, while still honoring a curriculum, because he knows how to stay in bounds. She can help students focus on particular grammar points through pop-ups without losing momentum as a class, because she has mastered the art of keeping students at the structural i+1 point. All these skills are things that a teacher masters in the course of learning to do good TPRS. None of the offshoot trainings can make that claim, because they focus on a subset of skills specific to a more narrow activity.

So, the question becomes: why wouldn‘t you learn TPRS first? It’s the gateway method. The method which, once mastered, opens so many other doors as well as the option to use classic TPRS — a well-established standalone method with thousands of practitioners and excellent support in curriculum and reading materials, with skilled trainers and coaches ready to help. If you enter from one of the “side doors”, you not only miss out on really useful skills, you also risk being dazzled by the increasing number of people touting the “newest thing” which is really an old thing polished up and renamed, and who can only do that “newest thing” because they have TPRS training and experience to begin with. It is the TPRS skills that allow all the offshoots to TPRS to flourish — a subset of them for each offshoot.

To get the most broadly applicable, useful set of CI skills, there’s no substitute for TPRS. It’s the gateway method to CI teaching.