Top 10 reasons your TPRS story just bombed

¡Ay, ay, ay! The story bombed!

This is such a great question! When you first start TPRS, it is such a high! The kids like it, they participate, you feel like you are entertaining them, it is great! But then…one day…you fall so completely on your face that you can’t even remember what you did the other times that made it so magical.

So, first of all, let’s just have a reality check. Does the geometry teacher get upset if class is boring one day? Or the chemistry teacher? Or the American history teacher? Most other teachers just accept that class is what it is. Students are there to work, not to be entertained. Most teachers don’t even consider entertainment part of their job! So, don’t get upset because you had a bunch of good days and then you have an off day (or a bunch of off days!).

Ok, so now that we are feeling a little more grounded in reality, let’s face it, most of us sought out TPRS because we like our students and we like teaching and we want our students to think learning to speak another language is FUN! We strive for those “home run” lessons when everyone is so into it that the bell cuts you off and the kids say “Awwww, I was having fun!”

What are some possible causes of a story that bombs? Believe me when I tell you that I speak from experience! I have had a lot of success but only through lots and lots of failure with this method did I get pretty good at it!

Here is my official “Placido’s Top 10 Reasons Your Story Just Bombed”:

10. Focusing on the curriculum more than the kids.

When you stress because you didn’t include the 3rd sturcture you had planned to teach today, you start trying to “force” the story and it shows. If some of the vocab isn’t gelling, maybe just come back to those words another day. The important part of all of this is providing Compelling, Contextualize, Comprehensible Input (Not just CI, CCCI is even better! This is a Carol Gaab term and I love it!).

9. Trying to get to “cute” and making the story complicated.

Most of my best stories are completely NOT plot-driven. They are lazy little vignettes, scenarios, or character descriptions. It is ridiculous how entertaining these little scenarios can get and they have no plot whatsoever. Forget trying to create a bestseller. It isn’t happening. A better bet is to type up a cute little story based on what you and your students chatted about and use it the next day as a reading.

8. Trying to control the story too much.

If you go in to the story with it all planned out, you will end up driving the story forward too quickly. If you are new, however, this is super scary territory. One thing you might try is scripting the story out “Mad libs” style. This reminds you to let the kids create the details, while you eliminate the stress of having to be creative on the spot.

7. Not controlling the story enough.

Most inexperienced TPRS teachers cannot successfully wing it completely. I can but usually because I have taught those words many many times and I can remember what worked in the past! I recommend at least having a skeleton idea of a story in mind!

6. Allowing kids to be passive.

Coach the kids on the behavior you want to see. Make them verbally reply to your questions. Give them a signal that means “I don’t understand.” (In my class the signal is hitting your open hand with the opposite fist.) Get the kids to respond with ooohs, ahhhs, and fun catch-phrases. Perhaps designate certain kids to use certain phrases at key moments. Designate a kid to knock on the table to simulate the sound of knocking at the door, or cry like a baby, or howl like a wolf. It gives that one goofy off-task kid a job and makes the class more entertaining!

5. Getting into a rut.

Another phrase my good buddy Carol Gaab always says is “Brains crave novelty.” As a teacher I believe that. Be surprising! Do off-beat and unexpected things. Pull out ONE really weird or funny prop and plan to use it that day. Joe Neilson at Salpointe Catholic High in Tucson teaches a story about a bad baby. He has a totally creepy and disgusting looking old baby doll that he uses. It has a bit of shock value and it produces results! When my classes read “Los Baker van a Peru” I have a plastic onion that a student doodled a face on (he was being a little naughty but it was ok) that we use as a shrunken head! It gets a laugh! Try showing a quick video clip, a neat authentic resource (search #authres on twitter), or use a fun online resource like JibJab or Photopeach to create something fun really quickly.

4. Being too repetitive with structures the kids already know.

You shouldn’t be circling “There is a boy” unless it is day one of level 1. Circle the NEW structures only! Make sure you are circling ALL parts of the sentence too!

3. Failure to personalize.

Personalization is key. Talk to the kids about THEM and their friends and things they like. All day, everyday. Repeat 180 times and you’ve got happy fluent kids.

2. Not suspending your own disbelief.

You have to act like all of this crazy stuff is true. Act surprised, scared, etc. Be melodramatic. How will the kids believe it or be into it if you are not?


1.  Going too fast

Slow down and then slow down even more. Speak slowly and clearly. Pause and point. Do comprehension checks. Remind kids of the signal for “I don’t understand.” Did I mention you should slow down?

Hopefully that helps? If you are reading this and think of other factors in a story bombing, please leave me a comment!


  1. Gracias! I find my students are engaged, but not in the ways I would like. They shout in English and over each other. Then, they turn to each other and talk about their great idea in English. Also, I have the same kids giving me details over and over. How do I ensure that the less aggressive kids get to play as well? Thanks!

    1. Hello Tyork99 – I understand how you feel about the class reaction. First I would consider, what level is your language class? I don’t think that level I, or II can come up with interesting plot scene or twists. I would consider doing break up sessions as the story is going on. Have the class pair up and talk about what could happen next for 2 minutes. Then get three ideas and have the class decide on one. This way you can balance class participation, give choices to the students, and the plot is more interesting.

      In regards to the English shouting – you might want to teach expressions in the target language. This could be introduced by selecting a student to say or make a sound when a key-word or event happens. For example, you can have a loud student make a; Ah! Ah! or a Suspense melody (or words in the target language) when a key-word or phrase is mentioned. If you choose the loudest and most active students to do this, then the rest of the kids will start mimicking.

  2. I think one of the issues I had was that I was trying to get my students involved and have actors. I didn’t know if I should have them repeat what I was saying or if they should mime it. I also think I had way too many details. Finally, I think your piece about curriculum is correct. If you have a curriculum to follow, how to you meld tprs with a curriculum?

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