Turning on, Tuning in…

ImageRemember I mentioned volunteer teaching at a local language school? It’s happening and it looks like tons of fun. Now that I have plenty of free time, now that I’m bursting with energy, I feel like this teaching gig is going to work out just fine. First things first, I really want to connect deeply with my new students and show them there’s an alternative to learning a language in a classroom. I’m going to make it clear to them life itself is their best teacher. As a teacher I’ll do my utmost get out of their way as the joy and excitement of figuring out English takes them over.

I’m using Natural Approach, in particular the TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) method with my kids. It allows two of the most valuable things to happen in a classroom: personalization and comprehensible input. Language acquisition goes on naturally as these two elements blend wonderfully together, provided there’s a skillful teacher.

What I love about TPRS is the dizzying freedom and limitless variations it offers: it’s hilariously simple for people who know not to clutch at illusions of control and absolutely impenetrable for prickly, more analytical individuals who abhor any degree of uncertainty. Its deceptive chaos is its beauty. I won’t go into details here about TPRS (though I might in a later post) but I can say it perfectly fits my personality and reflects my attitude to life. I’m absolutely certain this is IT, really.

Now, the trick is I don’t tell stories in my class; instead I ask them. I let go, I trust my kids, I’m no longer fixated on having to babysit them, on being the big boss or the all-knowing parent. I don’t even need to cling to the textbook, that mind-numbing joy-killer.

Here’s the story my beginner-level kids came up with by the end of the 45-minute session:

There was a dog. His name was Bobick. He was huge like a house and bald. Bobick had a girlfriend and her name was Booblick. She was as tiny as a whiteboard marker. There was a problem: Killer joined the military and Booblick went off to Cyprus with a hairy macho dog. Bobick then hijacked a tank and drove to Cyprus. It took him five weeks. When he got there, he fell in love with the hairy macho dog. They flew off on a honeymoon together. The end.”

What I did was ask lots of easy yes/no questions while encouraging my students to come up with bizarre details to the story. I didn’t plan it out beforehand, of course. We did lots of repetitions in a fun, relaxed and meaningful context, which helped them get a feeling for the method and acquire new structures.

By no means was it a perfect lesson. I’m still learning the skill of personalization, empathy, teaching to the eyes and going with the flow, both in the classroom and in my life. In fact, I get as much as or even more than I give – and I’m grateful to my students and the very special person who allowed me to enjoy this privilege.

TPRS, like Zen, is not easy to pinpoint. Both are elusive, both can easily be misinterpreted, both require spontaneity – and that’s exactly the ecstasy and the gem of truth they are ready to hand over to someone who’s not scared of taking things easy and Just Letting Go.

Smile at strangers,



  1. Hi Alex, Interesting post. We use a text at the school I work at called “The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook.” It talks a lot about stepping back and letting the students run the class. Pretty cool.

    1. Hey Josh, I already like that handbook. Will check out out. Which school are you teaching at? Is being a lazy teacher working for you?

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