Blaine Ray

Blaine Ray was born October 24, 1951, and grew up in Boise, Idaho.  In 1971-73 he was in Chile on an LDS mission.  He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1975 with a degree in Spanish Education.  He received his MA in Curriculum and Instruction from Boise State University in 1984.  Blaine taught Spanish for 25 years in Idaho, Oregon and California.

While experimenting with Total Physical Response in Oregon in about 1987, he began to develop TPR Storytelling.

He has authored or co-authored three levels of books in the Look, I Can Talk! series, as well as three books of mini-stories for the same series and the Spanish novellas Pobre Ana, Patricia va a California, Casi se muere, El viaje de su vida, Pobre Ana bailo tango, Mi propio auto, ¿Donde esta Eduardo?, El viaje perdido and !Viva el toro!  (Eight of the nine are also available in French versions, five in German, three in English and one in Russian.)

He has given workshops in all 50 states in the U.S. and in 15 other countries around the world.

For 35 years he has been married to his wife, Christy.  They have four children – Tami, Von, Shelli and Jana – as well as four grandchildren, and they reside in Arroyo Grande, California, or as of March, 2009, in Eagle Mountain, Utah.

Three key players

TPR (and TPRS) is built on the theory and research of many language acquisition specialists and continues to develop according to the findings of classroom experimentation and new brain research.  Three key players in the development of this method are worth exploring in more depth.  The following summaries by Elizabeth Skelton, in her book Putting It Together: TPRS as a Sheltering Strategy for ESL provide a more in-depth understanding of the theories of James AsherStephen Krashen, and Blaine Ray.

Click here to read the summary of the development of TPR by James Asher.

Click here to read the summary of the contributions of Stephen Krashen.

Blaine Ray developed TPRS while teaching Spanish in a California high school.  He noticed that students seemed to acquire more language, pay attention more carefully, and participate more readily in class, when he created stories about them, rather than using the text-book to teach grammar structures.  Ray began using Asher´s traditional TPR method, incorporated parts of Krashen´s Natural Approach and then added significantly to both methods in three key ways (Ray, 2004).

He realized that simple comprehensible input was not enough for students in a typical language classroom.  He noticed that students needed conscious repetition of target vocabulary and grammatical structures in order to truly acquire the language.  Students succeed in a TPRS class because the comprehensible input is contextualized, varied, interesting, repetitive, and believable.  Ray encourages TPRS teachers to repeat new vocabulary and structures in a variety of contexts 60 to 80 times during a lesson or series of lessons.

In addition to adding the necessity of contextualized repetition to Krashen´s comprehensible input hypothesis, Ray also suggests that making the input bizarre, exaggerated, and personalized helps students remember vocabulary and structures longer.  This brain-compatible practice has been shown to significantly impact long-term memory (Jensen, 2005).  Personalization is essential for learning.  If students can make personal connections to the material, they will retain the language and structures longer.

I try to personalize stories and vocabulary for the students by asking questions to help them connect to their own culture and background, relate to how they would use the words in their lives, and use the names of real people, local stores, well-known landmarks, and common products.  For English Language Learners, however, I prefer to work with unexpected story elements, rather than bizarre.  ELLs have enough bizarre events in their lives when they move to the United States or other English speaking countries.  They must deal with strange new holidays like Halloween, try to understand why Americans super-size their fries at McDonalds but order a diet Coke, and wonder why the drive-up ATM machine has Braille lettering.  When teaching ELLs in the U.S., teachers do not have to look for strange and unexpected events for their stories.  I also rarely use Ray´s trademark device of exaggeration with ELLs.  Because ELLs are faced with learning a new language, a new culture, and survival skills in a new country, I tend to use reality-based pricing, sizing, measurements, speeds, temperatures, etc., rather than exaggerations, in order to help them with this transition.

Ray´s essential contribution to TPR Storytelling is the use of stories to contextualize target vocabulary and grammatical structures.  In recent years, storytelling has been reframed as storyasking, because students are actively engaged in creating the stories through a series of leveled questions throughout the process.  Teachers engage the students with questions and use student answers to drive the development of the story.  Once the story has been developed orally, students read an extended version of the story using the same target vocabulary phrases and structures.

In adapting TPRS for K-12 and adult English Language Learners, story is defined according to Webster´s Dictionary, as “any written or spoken account describing incidents or events” or a “narrative description of past events.”  With this definition, teachers can easily apply the TPR Storytelling principles to content area knowledge as well as to fictional stories.

Reading enhances the acquisition process and has become part of the new acronym for TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling).  Although reading is a powerful tool for advancing proficiency and comprehension, TPRS can still be used effectively with pre-literate English Language Learners.  Because many ELLs in the United States have had interrupted or limited schooling in their home country, they often have low literacy skills in their native language.  Other ELLs come from languages that do not use the Roman alphabet such as Mandarin, Russian and Arabic.  Although literacy skills transfer fromt he first language to the second language, these students must still learn to decode our alphabet and make sense of our written system (Cummins, 2000).  Using the TPRS method can help students build literacy skills regardless of their level of native language literacy.

– from Elizabeth Skelton, Putting It Together


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