The Nature of a TPRS Curriculum

Last night, I received an email from a Chinese teacher who has been wanting to try out TPRS for a while. Although she hasn’t had any official training, she has been learning everything she can online: reading blog posts as much as possible, watching teaching demos on Youtube and trying out with her students on a small scale. Her biggest challenge is not the lack of training. The most delicate aspect of her teaching is that she has to coordinate her curriculum with others in her school. Here is a part of the email I received from her:

……By the way, I would like to know: Do I need to follow the sequence of the book?
I am thinking to try TPRS with one of my classes first, but this year I still need to follow the curriculum as we planned since I am not the only teacher. Would you please let me know about the other two books, I would like to have some materials on the stories about families, three meals, ordering food, asking directions, traveling, visiting drs. I am working on applying for budgets to purchase your other books with the supporting materials.

It’s always heart-warming to receive an email like this. A teacher’s eager to offer the best for her students, and at the same time, dilemmas she faces in real teaching situations are all clearly displayed here.
In a nutshell, I want to say that TPRS materials don’t copy a typical thematic unit per say. You just can’t put all the vocabulary together and call it a story. However, a TPRS curriculum provides way more authentic communicative topics and mocking “real-life communications” than any existing materials out there. Here are few reasons.

One nature of the TPRS materials is using the high frequency words repetitively in a spiral manner. Typically, it would be best to follow the sequence in these supporting materials (mini stories), as they build on top of each other. Occasionally, if you skip one here or there, if you do lots of circling, it wouldn’t be too big of a problem.

Another nature of the TPRS materials is that it breaks thematic unit patterns. We touch on many different topics, at the same time, over and over, which is very similar to how we communicate with children.

For example, I start to introduce food right way in book 1, I Am Beibei. This topic becomes frequently revisited, in book 2, Dylan’s Birthday. Well, ask oneself, which birthday party comes with no food nor drinks? It reappears in book 5, Ms. Basil’s Thanksgiving and lastly in book 6, Feifei’s Field Trip, the book finishes with a banquet and karaoke party in a restaurant (ordering and Chinese cultural practice – karaoke).

Same with family members, the topic is first introduced in book 1, then it is brought back in book 3, Elves’ Home. However, a TPRS curriculum is much more in depth than the existing thematic unit that I have known of. In book 3, although the chapter stories are focusing on helping Elves finding his family and family members, In its mini stories, students are reading and acquiring biographical information about Yao Ming and Lang Lang. Their reading assessment is on Li Na and listening assessment is on Jeremy Lin. (A special shout out to Erika Cheung for designing the assessment.)

Currently, my Chinese II is in book 4, School Starts. This is a story unit about school life. Besides acquiring typical subjects, our students go in depth to talk about being mischievous, making friends, bullying and other social aspect of their school life. However, this same unit is revisited in Chinese III, we are using 《匆匆那年》第一集 as our movie talk topic to make cultural comparisons, how the teacher-student relationships are different from China to America? What’s the main transportation in China vs. in America? What’s the advantage and disadvantage for each mode of transportation? What’s a typical school day like in China vs. here in America? Where do you prefer? Why?… Along with few other short video clips on “bullying”. Students’ end of chapter project is an anti-bullying campaign. To Read More, Click here and this unit.

Students in level 1 acquire about directions, left, right, front, back… In Chinese II, we add in walk toward left, right… In Chinese III, we add in more. Typically, by Chinese III, kids are proficient on these topics.
Similar with visiting doctors. My kids in level 1, just begin to acquire how to express “I’m sick, my ____ hurts. I throw up or… ” In level 2, they acquire all the body parts and ___ hurts and go to a doctor. In level 3, the topic is revisited again, they acquire detail symptoms, tell personal injury stories… Everything becomes more elaborate, meaningful and personal.

Kittens’ series offer completely Teacher’s Guide and supporting materials. Each book is aided with movie talk clips and embedded readings in its supporting materials as well. I really encourage more story-writers to provide interesting and meaningful level appropriate readers for our students; more curriculum writers to supplement your materials to better support teachers.

I have not only witnessed the power of Comprehensible Input, I have experienced it and I’m living in it daily. It is my dream and passion to introduce Comprehensible Input based instruction to every Chinese teacher.

By Haiyun

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