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The Language Learning Journal
ISSN: 0957-1736 (Print) 1753-2167 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rllj20
Student perceptions on the motivational pull
of Teaching Proficiency through Reading and
Storytelling (TPRS): a self-determination theory
To cite this article: Liam Printer (2019): Student perceptions on the motivational pull of Teaching
Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS): a self-determination theory perspective, The
Language Learning Journal
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09571736.2019.1566397
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Published online: 24 Jan 2019.
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Student perceptions on the motivational pull of Teaching
Proﬁciency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS): a self-
determination theory perspective
Department of Education, University of Bath, Bath, UK
This paper explores a group of secondary school students’feelings about
Teaching Proﬁciency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) using a self-
determination theory (SDT) lens. It adds to the limited, existing literature
on TPRS and is the ﬁrst to study it from a purely motivational
perspective. The paper analyses the extent to which students perceived
that TPRS satisﬁed SDT’s three basic psychological needs of autonomy,
competence and relatedness. It employs a case study approach, using
data from classroom observations, background group interviews and
focus group interviews. The ﬁndings conclude that TPRS is a decidedly
motivating and engaging method for foreign language (FL) learners. The
three needs of SDT were found to be highly interrelated with
satisfaction of one inﬂuencing positively on the others. The ﬁndings
suggest that the autonomous nature of co-creating stories with the
teacher, result in a heightened sense of personal ability and
belongingness to the group. The results reinforce conclusions from
other studies, suggesting that activities that are perceived as fun,
interesting, novel and diﬀerent are most likely to develop intrinsic
motivation in FL learners. The ﬁndings have implications for increasing
intrinsic motivation in FL classrooms around the world.
The importance of motivation for successful second language (L2) learning is widely recognised by
researchers in both social psychology and education (Gardner 1985; Noels et al. 2003). Boo et al.
(2015) note the vast surge of research surrounding L2 motivation in their meta-analysis of over
400 publications between 2005 and 2014. Nonetheless, how L2 motivation is actually fostered in
the classroom remains a highly contested and complex domain, around which there is little
Self Determination Theory (SDT) (Ryan and Deci 2000) provides a motivational lens through which
L2 motivation can be explored. SDT posits that intrinsic motivation, participating in a task out of sheer
enjoyment and interest, is enhanced when learning activities satisfy the basic needs of autonomy,
relatedness and competence. While SDT has been elaborated by various scholars (Niemiec and
Ryan 2009; Noels et al. 2003) and successfully employed in a variety of contexts such as sports, medi-
cine, coaching, and education (Muñoz and Ramirez 2015), its application in L2 motivation remains
low. Even less research exists around the construct from the students’perspectives.
© 2019 Association for Language Learning
CONTACT Liam Printer email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.liamprinter.com @liamprinter
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed at doi:10.1080/09571736.2019.1566397
THE LANGUAGE LEARNING JOURNAL
Empirical investigations focusing on motivational teaching strategies are scarce in L2 research,
with some notable exceptions (e.g. Dörnyei and Csizér 1998; Guilloteaux and Dörnyei 2008;
Moskovy et al. 2013). In their seminal work, which explored motivational teaching practices as a
whole, Guilloteaux and Dörnyei (2008) called on other L2 researchers to investigate more narrowly
deﬁned foreign language (FL) teaching methods within a motivational framework. The present
study responds to this call by investigating the motivational impact of Teaching Proﬁciency
through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) using an SDT lens. Its purpose is to consider how SDT
might inform understanding of students’L2 motivation, and, more particularly, how TPRS relates
to the theory.
TPRS is a language teaching approach developed by Blaine Ray in 1997 (Seely and Ray 1997) focusing
on acquiring language through storytelling, reading and personalisation of themes (Dziedzic 2012).
TPRS is based on Krashen’s(1981) theory of ‘comprehensible input’(CI) which hypothesises that in
order for language to be acquired, learners require vast amounts of understandable ‘inputs’(Gass
2008). Payne (2011), among other critics of Krashen’s CI hypothesis, argues that it is ﬂawed and
unpractical in the ‘real’language classroom. Nevertheless, the theory is widely known and used by
Steps in TPRS
(1) Show: First, the teacher selects three to four high frequency, target language structures as the
central component for the story. For example, a beginner or novice story may use the three
target structures: went to, forgot and gave her. Meaning is then established by gesturing,
acting and translating.
(2) Ask: In TPRS, the teacher ‘asks’rather than ‘tells’a story (Ray and Seely 2015). A pre-written script
is used as an outline, but speciﬁc details such as the characters’names and locations, are contrib-
uted by the class as the story progresses (see Appendix). A speciﬁc method of questioning, called
‘circling’, allows for repetitions of the target structures in various formats to maintain student
(3) Read: After listening and contributing to their story, students then read various versions of it and
may also write it. Students will also read other stories with a similar plot and the same target
structures as their story, but details will have changed.
When learning activities fail to engage students through interest or novelty, they experience
boredom and disengagement (Collins and Halverson 2009). TPRS stories aim to be ‘compelling’,as
this intense interest helps learners focus only on the message they are hearing or reading
(Krashen and Bland 2014). Linking closely to constructivism, the co-creation and participation in
fun, interesting and bizarre stories allows students to ‘acquire’rather than ‘learn’the highest fre-
quency language structures needed for communication.
The research around TPRS, however, remains scant. Most existing studies focus on achievement
outcomes, comparing TPRS to more traditional language instruction, with little or no mention of
its role in motivation. In many cases, publications are only available in the form of non-peer-reviewed
book sections or theses and are often biased towards the approach and lacking in academic rigour
(e.g. Dziedzic 2012; Varguez 2009; Watson 2009). Foster (2011) is critical of this dearth in empirical
research, arguing that evidence supporting TPRS’s success is purely anecdotal. Lichtman’s(2015:
376) overview of all existing TPRS research, citing published descriptive articles, empirical studies
and unpublished theses, concludes that ‘TPRS is at least as eﬀective as, and often more eﬀective
than, other second language teaching methods’. Her summary, however, is descriptive in nature
and appears only as an appendix in Ray and Seely’s(2015) TPRS instructional manual. Moreover,
the synopsis cites only ﬁve published empirical studies, three publications with no control group and
seven descriptive articles. Lichtman claims only Alley and Overﬁeld (2008), which she notes is not an
empirical study, is critical of TPRS. In their chapter, the authors problematise TPRS as being overly
teacher-centred, with non-authentic stories that possess minimal cultural content.
Nonetheless, the few studies that mention TPRS’s role in motivation and engagement report posi-
tive ﬁndings. Teachers perceive TPRS to be highly motivating for students, resulting in total engage-
ment, excitement, and eager participation (Campbell 2016; Espinoza 2015). Blanton’s(2015) thesis
concludes that students score TPRS higher on all areas of motivation than the popular ‘Communica-
tive Language Teaching’approach. Despite being critical of the ‘made-up’stories themselves, he links
students’increased intrinsic motivation to the autonomy aﬀorded to them via the TPRS approach,
oﬀering support to Perna’s(2007)ﬁndings that students enjoy and like the TPRS class more than
other language classes. While not speciﬁc studies on motivation itself, Beal (2011), among others,
posits TPRS’s ability to lower what Krashen and Terrell (1983) call the ‘aﬀective ﬁlter’; the anxiety
experienced in language learning that causes inhibition, which is particularly prevalent among ado-
lescents. For Dziedzic (2012) this is largely thanks to the target language consistently being made
The active learning in TPRS appeals to learners, students report feeling validated and included as
they co-create the story with their teacher and ‘TPRS is fun’(Davidheiser 2002). Many studies high-
light its positive eﬀect on student engagement, autonomy, self-conﬁdence, and enthusiasm for learn-
ing (e.g. Bustamante 2009; Espinoza 2015; Wenck 2010). Foster (2011) highlights that the approach
emphasises the creativity of both teacher and students, making it entertaining for everyone involved.
‘Having fun’through stimulating, engaging activities has also been found elsewhere in language
learning research as an important driver of motivation (Yurtseven et al. 2015).
While dissertations and theses are valuable sources of data, the lack of published, empirical work
around TPRS in peer-reviewed journals highlights the need for further research. In addition, there is
little qualitative research relating to TPRS and its role in L2 motivation.
Several seminal publications in the ﬁeld oﬀer a detailed overview of what L2 motivation involves and
how understanding of the construct has evolved (e.g. Csizér and Magid 2014; Dörnyei and Ushioda
2011; Ushioda 2013). Nevertheless, its multifaceted nature and wide range of variables has resulted in
a surge of related research with little congruity other than an acceptance that its conceptualisation is
complex and fraught with diﬃculty (Boo et al. 2015; Muñoz and Ramirez 2015). Until recently, the
principal focus of L2 motivational studies has relied on theories developed within the ﬁeld itself, con-
centrating primarily on the internal traits of the learner (Dörnyei and Ushioda 2011). Relatively few
empirical studies have investigated the role of the learning environment and speciﬁc teaching
approaches on student motivation.
Dörnyei and Csizér’s(1998)‘Ten Commandments for Motivating [FL] Learners’, highlights the
importance of creating a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, developing good relation-
ships, increasing the learner’s self-conﬁdence, making the classes interesting, personalising the learn-
ing process and promoting learner autonomy. In the sparse studies that attempt to add to this work
by providing empirical data on the eﬀectiveness of such motivational strategies, the teacher and their
teaching practices have consistently been found to be highly inﬂuential (e.g. Cheng and Dörnyei
2007; Guilloteaux and Dörnyei 2008; Moskovy et al. 2013).
Building speciﬁcally on Dörnyei and Csizér’s(1998) and Cheng and Dörnyei’s(2007) research,
Ruesch et al. (2012) reinforce the tenet that teachers and teaching practices that emphasise the
macro-strategies of rapport, positive classroom climate and engaging tasks, will result in students
who feel more motivated in the FL classroom. Language teachers who provide stimulating and enga-
ging tasks through a fun, supportive classroom will lower language anxiety and inﬂuence the quality
of FL student motivation (Oga-Baldwin et al. 2017).
THE LANGUAGE LEARNING JOURNAL 3
In their meta-analysis of L2 motivation, Boo et al. (2015) highlight the central role of broader psycho-
logical theories of motivation in the ﬁeld. SDT is one of seven theoretical frameworks employed in
their analysis but is still relatively under-researched (see Figure 1).
Ryan and Deci’s(2000) SDT postulates that satisfying the three basic psychological needs of auton-
omy, competence and relatedness leads to enhanced intrinsic motivation and when thwarted can
result in diminished motivation. Autonomy is concerned with choice, opportunities for self-direction
and student ownership of their learning (Ryan and Deci 2000). Competence includes students’per-
ceptions about their capacity to achieve success, (Fried and Konza 2013) while relatedness refers to a
sense of belonging, support and inclusion in the classroom (Ryan and Deci 2000).
Intrinsically motivated activities are associated with positive feelings of excitement, engagement,
aptitude and self-determination (Deci and Ryan 1985). They are sought in the absence of reward con-
tingency and people choose to freely participate in them out of pure enjoyment and interest rather
than due to any external forces. Extrinsic motivation refers to motivational orientations that are
driven by factors outside the activity itself (Muñoz and Ramirez 2015).
Whilst extrinsic forms of motivation can result in desirable outcomes, intrinsically motivated stu-
dents typically elicit higher levels of self-conﬁdence, task persistence, desire towards learning and
sustained positive learning behaviours (Cerasoli and Ford 2014; Muñoz and Ramirez 2015; Niemiec
and Ryan 2009). SDT asserts that one’s position on the ‘extrinsic-intrinsic’continuum (Ryan and
Deci 2000)isﬂuid and through the process of ‘internalisation’, it is possible for students to move
towards the top of the motivation scale, which is purely intrinsic (Niemiec and Ryan 2009). By utilising
teaching approaches that satisfy SDT’s needs of competence, relatedness and autonomy, educators
can boost participation and engagement, leading students to more intrinsically motivated beha-
viours (Cerasoli and Ford 2014; Jang et al. 2016).
SDT is increasingly being selectedby FL researchers over other theories as its three psychological needs
are deemed universal and consequently, applicable across cultures and contexts (Kaplan and Madjar
2017). The intrinsic and extrinsic subtypes of SDT are increasingly being employed as a valid research
Figure 1. Overview of theoretical trends in L2 motivation research (Boo et al. 2015, 154).
tool for assessing L2 motivation (Noels et al. 2003; Oga-Baldwin et al. 2017). Researchers, however,
bemoan the lack of empirical FL research, particularly qualitative, that explores the link between the
language teacher, and their approaches, and L2 motivation (Dörnyei 2003;Oga-Baldwinetal.2017).
McEown and Takeuchi (2014) make a direct call for further research using SDT as a framework to
explore the relationship between language teachers’motivational strategies and students’L2 motivation.
Contrary to many other L2 motivation theories, SDT recognises that, within educational settings, the
catalyst for behaviour is often external to the individual (Ryan and Deci 2000). SDT therefore enables
exploration and analysis of FL teachers’motivational strategies and each student’s experience of them
(Fried and Konza 2013) and so provides a useful theoretical framework and motivational lens, through
which to explore students’perceptions of TPRS, leading to the following research questions:
(1) Do students perceive TPRS to be a motivating method for language learning?
(2) To what extent does TPRS satisfy SDT’s basic psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and
Given that the primary research aims were to explore students’feelings and experiences, a qualitat-
ive, ‘within-site’, single case study was selected, comprised of students experiencing TPRS for the ﬁrst
time. The value of a qualitative case study approach when attempting to understand phenomena in
education related to relationships and social processes is widely recognised (Denscombe 2014). Prac-
tical elements such as time constraints, working conditions and availability led to a multi-method
design with triangulation achieved through semi-structured background group interviews (BGI) fol-
lowed by classroom observations (CO) and focus group interviews (FGI).
The research design was consistent with Millward’s(2012) position that in selecting group data col-
lection methods, it is important that participants have some common characteristics and have some-
thing to say about the focus of the research. Group interviewing has been noted as an eﬀective method
of data collection in education as students challenge and extend each other’s ideas, resulting in a wider
range of responses than individual interviews (Gray 2014). This is particularly evident when a group
have been working together or towards a common goal (Cohen et al. 2011).
Context and participants
The educational setting was an English-medium international school, comprising of approximately
500 secondary students in Switzerland. Students were generally willing participants in the edu-
cational process. FL class sizes were usually between eight and 16 students. While this study was
not consistent with the typical ‘Action Research Cycle’(Denscombe 2014), the researcher was
also the teacher. At the beginning of the data collection process, I had been teaching the partici-
pants for four weeks. I was experienced with TPRS and had been using it periodically in my practice
for three years.
Selection of participants
As a key objective was to collect data from students who had never previously been taught with TPRS,
a purposeful sampling strategy (Gray 2014) was employed. First, I conﬁrmed that no other language
teachers in the school had used TPRS in their previous classes. As it is not a widely utilised teaching
strategy, it was envisaged that students who were new to the school would also be new to TPRS. This
was not controlled for, however, as it was felt that asking students about storytelling in advance may
impact the data collection phase. Students who met the following criteria were invited to participate:
THE LANGUAGE LEARNING JOURNAL 5
(1) In Year 10 (aged 14–15) and studying Spanish with the teacher-researcher.
(2) Either new to the school or new to my classes.
Information was provided to all participants regarding the ethical standards, including assurances
of anonymity and conﬁdentiality and respect for their right to withdraw at any time. An ethical
consent form and letter outlining the scope of the study and commitment required were signed
by all participants and their parents.
A focus group of 12 students, comprising six boys and six girls, was established. This number was
consistent with the conventional focus group size whilst also accommodating the recommendation
to over-recruit so as to allow for absentees (Millward 2012). All participants had vast prior experience
of FL learning, with Spanish being their third or fourth language.
A longitudinal approach to the data collection was employed in order to explore how students felt
about TPRS at the time it was being taught and whether these feelings remained sometime after. A
two-month timeframe was used as changes in students’motivation, coming from a teacher’s motiv-
ating style, tend to stabilise after this time (Jang et al. 2016).
Stage 1: semi-structured background group interviews (BGI)
Participants were ﬁrst interviewed as a group before they had been in any TPRS classes via two 30-
minute semi-structured BGIs. The objectives were to develop an understanding of how they concep-
tualised language learning and to detect examples from previous FL classes in order to generate com-
parisons with TPRS in later interviews. Participants were encouraged to talk about their personal
histories with FL through open-ended questioning, giving them freedom to elaborate on their feel-
ings. This method was also employed to develop my rapport with the participants so as to elicit
deeper responses in discussions (Cohen et al. 2011).
Stage 2: classroom observations (CO)
To study the behaviours and actions of the student participants, four 80-minute classes, where the
participants were being taught with TPRS for the ﬁrst time, were video recorded. The eﬃcacy of
CO in educational research is well documented, particularly ‘when studying small groups’or
‘speciﬁc activities that lend themselves to being observed’(Cohen et al. 2011: 456) and when com-
bined with other qualitative methods such as interviews (Denscombe 2014). Video recorded CO
enable the researcher to look at behaviours that otherwise might have gone unnoticed (Cohen
et al. 2011) and also help to reduce ‘selective recall and perception’(Denscombe 2014).
The CO took a ‘semi-structured observation’(Gray 2014) approach as I was looking for general
signs of visual engagement, motivation and enjoyment but was not noting each behaviour quanti-
tatively through a structured, systematic observation (Flick 2009). LeCompte and Preissle’s(1993)
guidelines for observation of speciﬁc events provided a framework for the CO.
Participants, who were mixed with other non-participant students who had been taught pre-
viously with TPRS, were told the class was being recorded but no other details were given. Although
the impact the presence of a video camera can have on behaviours is noted in the literature (Borg
2006; Flick 2009), the advantage of allowing for cross comparisons between what participants said
in interviews and what they actually did outweighed the potential weaknesses.
Stage 3: semi-structured focus group interviews (FGI)
Two FGI took place after the participants had been taught using TPRS; the ﬁrst, within three days of
the TPRS classes and the second, eight weeks later. The time elapsed between the CO and ﬁrst FGI
was minimised so that feelings, perceptions and behaviours were still fresh in the participants’minds
(Borg 2006). The second FGI aimed to explore whether the emotions associated with TPRS were main-
tained over time.
FGI hold a ‘well recognised status’within the qualitative research paradigm (Morgan 1998) and their
use in educational research is growing (Cohen et al. 2011; Millward 2012). The interaction process in FGI
stimulates memories and debate meaning they often generate a more in-depth understanding of an
issue through natural conversation and discussion (Wilkinson 2003). A progressive focusing approach
was utilised (Morgan 1998). The strong positive relationships I had with the participants allowed me to
cultivate rich discussion among the group, with questioning becoming gradually more focussed
towards SDT’s psychological needs as participants felt more at ease in the process.
Although Millward (2012: 416) posits that FGI are ‘not suitable to the formal testing of hypotheses’,
Stanton et al. (1993) successfully used ‘protection motivation theory’to frame a group discussion with
adolescents about sexual risk, while Fried and Konza (2013) used FGI to study engagement in schools
through an SDT lens. Indeed, employing theory as the focusing vehicle in FGI has been found to be
highly eﬀective (Stanton et al. 1993).
BGI, FGI and CO were analysed following Braun and Clarke’s(2006) six-phase thematic analysis; including
transcription, coding and collating data into themes. The participants’conceptualisations of language
learning in general (from the BGI data), their stated feelings and experiences about TPRS (from the
FGI data) and their classroom interactions and behaviours (from the CO data) were compared for validity
and trustworthiness (Lincoln and Guba 1985). Given that this study took a theory-driven approach (Gray
2014), the starting point was coding for the psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and compe-
tence in SDT. The data chunks associated with these three themes were then recoded for the study’s
research questions, using a theoretical thematic analysis approach (Braun and Clarke 2006).
Employing a speciﬁc theory, however, can be problematic when the researcher drives the conver-
sation towards constructs from the model, thus inhibiting other avenues of discussion around the
topic (Gray 2014). In recognising that all qualitative research and analysis requires some degree of
interpretation and subjectivity (Cohen et al. 2011; Gray 2014), I acknowledged my ‘active’position
(Braun and Clarke 2006) in the research process, comprehending that whilst other themes might
surface, they could not merely ‘emerge’by themselves.
SDT now provides a theoretical framework and motivational lens to analyse the ﬁndings. Firstly, stu-
dents’conceptualisation of language learning oﬀers a background for examination of their feelings
and motivations regarding TPRS. Findings are then presented according to SDT’s needs of compe-
tence, autonomy and relatedness. Fictitious names are employed to denote the students’responses.
Students’conceptualisations of FL learning
Importance of speaking
FL were principally perceived as a mechanism which ‘granted communication’(Kevin BGI1) and this
in itself was a motivating factor to learn them (Amy; Kevin FGI2; Prue BGI1). While students acknowl-
edged the various forms of communication, the verbal element was widely considered as the most
important among the group. For Amy, ‘the goal of a language is to be understood by diﬀerent people
who speak’it (FGI2), while for Derek, ‘the most important part’was ‘actually speaking it’(BGI2). If
Kevin were a FL teacher, he ‘would do more speaking exercises’as ‘you don’t have to be able to
write it to be able to communicate’(FGI2). Students also aligned their competence in FL with their
THE LANGUAGE LEARNING JOURNAL 7
Gwen: If you’re able to speak it, you’re able to do much more; the vocabulary which you’ve learned from speak-
ing, you’ll be able to use it [in writing] (FGI2)
Orla: My friends [have] been learning Spanish for four years and they know all the grammar. But I notice that I can
speak just as good Spanish as them in actual conversations. (FGI2)
Participants felt ‘the most important thing [in a FL class] is just to have fun’(Steven BGI2) as ‘you
can learn through it and it helps you stay engaged and not lose your focus’(Aidan BGI2) or ‘get bored’
(Arthur BGI2). ‘Fun’activities were mainly those that were ‘active’and involved lots of speaking (BGI1;
Previous FL learning
Despite the broad consensus on the importance of speaking, the participants reported very few oral
activities in their prior FL classes. When asked to describe a ‘typical FL lesson’, Prue’s immediate
thought was a ‘ﬁll in the blanks’written exercise (BGI1). This sentiment was echoed by others
whose previous FL learning comprised ‘tons of papers’and conjugation exercises (Aidan BGI2), or
‘lists of vocabulary, quizzes and writing’(Sara BGI2). Although they were viewed as useful (Kevin;
Derek; Sara BGI2), writing exercises were widely remembered in a negative light due to their
passive, individual nature which was in direct conﬂict with the students’conceptualisation of FL as
something that had to be spoken. ‘Worksheet stuﬀ’was deemed ‘just so painful’(Amy BGI2) as ‘every-
one just sits down at their desk and writes’(Derek BGI2). For some, this emphasis on texts rather than
speaking directly impacted their motivation:
Orla: It got really boring and you really didn’t care anymore, you’d just write down the notes […] you’d stop enga-
The only previous FL speaking practice activities that were mentioned were reading written work
aloud in class (Sara BGI2) or ‘discuss with your partner’(Orla FGI1) exercises. Matt stated that ‘you
start by speaking mostly in your mother tongue’(BGI1) which Prue felt was because ‘people who
had never spoken it before wouldn’t understand’(BGI1). This importance of comprehension in FL sur-
faced frequently in the data.
Experiences of TPRS through an SDT lens
The students’self-reported experience with TPRS was overwhelmingly positive and the method was
widely acclaimed by all participants. Their feelings of satisfaction were also maintained eight weeks
after its use (FGI2). Utterances in the FGIs were backed up by the CO data that showed visible signs of
excitement, enjoyment and engagement as the storytelling unfolded. The inter-connectedness of
SDT’s three psychological needs became apparent as students repeatedly emphasised how the per-
ceived satisfaction of one need would simultaneously impact positively upon the others.
A highly motivating factor of TPRS in the students’eyes was the ability to ‘contribute any idea’and
‘it’ll make this story’(Kevin FGI2). The fact that students could ‘steer the learning’(Gwen FGI2) and
‘eﬀect what would happen next’(Prue FGI2) in the stories, made them highly autonomous and
was acknowledged positively multiple times by the participants (FGI1; FGI2).
The students highlighted how TPRS allowed them to include vocabulary they were knowledgeable
about (Prue FGI2), hence increasing their perceived competence and indicating the aforementioned
inter-connectedness of the three SDT needs. For others, the autonomy to lead the story produced
heightened feelings of spontaneous satisfaction that we associate with intrinsic motivation: ‘when
you give an idea and it gets accepted you feel really good’(Donna FGI2), while others also ‘felt
better’when they could ‘add to the class’(Prue FGI1). When asked if it ‘felt good’to create the story
together there was such a positive reaction that individual student voices could not be determined.
One student announced ‘it felt amazing’while another proclaimed ‘Yes! That was me, that was me!’and
another ‘dabbed’(a movement with the arms used to show satisfaction) (FGI1).
The constructive sense of autonomy arising from TPRS was also manifested through the students’
comparisons to prior, negative FL learning experiences. In traditional FL classes, students felt there
was ‘nothing they could do to change anything’(Prue FGI2). Orla echoed this sentiment, reporting
‘feeling motivated’in the TPRS class as ‘you’re more involved and more in control of your own learn-
ing’(FGI1). For Kevin, contributing and having your own ideas accepted meant ‘you feel unique’
(FGI2). This ability to ‘control where it was going’(Prue FGI1) resulted in students reporting feelings
of excited anticipation, interest and engagement as in the stories ‘you never really know what will
happen next’(Amy FGI2):
Prue: You come into this class and you’re on the edge of your seat already and it’s like, ‘Oh goodness, what’s
going to happen now?’and it just gets you in anticipation before the class just to see how it’s going to play
As Matt recognised, ‘whoever had the craziest and the most creative idea’would be accepted as
‘that’s the one’by the teacher (FGI1). The bizarre and strange ‘plot twists’meant that ‘everyone
was really into what’s happening’and this led to perceived learning occurring (Amy FGI2).
Amy: I don’t know what’s going to happen but I know I’m going to learn something from it and it’s going to be a
lot of fun (FGI2).
The interplay between SDT’s needs was again evidenced, as the autonomous, student-directed
nature of the stories was highlighted as a key factor in their ability to recall the language structures.
This resulted in raised feelings of competence, suggesting a positive link between autonomy and
Gwen: If you’re able to control where it goes you’ll remember things better (FGI1).
Aidan: Since you’re creating the story you are remembering what you create but if it’s created for you, you might
not necessarily remember (FGI1).
Throughout the data, a key success factor of TPRS for the students was the fact ‘it was diﬀerent
from other classes’(Arthur FGI2). TPRS was perceived as highly motivating due to its novel and com-
pelling nature, arising principally from the students own ideas and autonomy during story creation.
Students recurrently stated that storytelling was ‘useful’and ‘helpful’for their learning (Prue; Aidan
FGI1; FGI2). TPRS was reported as ‘way more eﬀective’(Matt FGI1) than other methods and ‘better
than just sitting down learning vocabulary’(Diana FGI1), as it greatly improved their competence
‘for speaking’(Prue FGI1).
Matt: Since the story helps the most with speaking […] you learn more about how you would actually use it in
real life (FGI1).
As students’conceptualised FL as something that is ‘spoken’, TPRS immediately met their need of
‘competence’as it encouraged lots of oral utterances as a group. This increase of verbal activity in
the classroom led students to feel their proﬁciency was now higher.
Amy: I believe that through storytelling I improved a lot (FGI1).
Nevertheless, some contradictions emerged in their view of speaking versus writing activities. While
storytelling augmented students’perceived oral competence, Prue highlighted that you couldn’t‘just
run classes on stories because there are other things that you won’t pick up’(FGI1). This suggested
that while the prominence given to speaking in TPRS was a distinct advantage, its resultant lack of
emphasis on writing was perceived as a shortcoming given that this is how some of the participants
conceptualised ‘real’or ‘serious’learning at their age.
THE LANGUAGE LEARNING JOURNAL 9
The participants also made frequent cases for the stories being easy to remember (Gwen; Aidan
FGI1; Steven FGI2). The increase in their ability to recall information imbued a heightened sense of
perceived competence. The stories ‘helped memorise what we were going to say’(Donna FGI1).
The inter-connectedness of the three SDT needs was again apparent as students reported that it
‘felt amazing’(FGI1) when their individual ideas were inserted into the story. The fact that ‘everyone
likes contributing’(Steven FGI2) to the stories meant ‘your vocabulary gets really rich’(Prue FGI2),
suggesting that the autonomous nature of the stories resulted in increased feelings of personal
ability. This led to classes the students felt were fun, interesting, engaging but that you ‘learn some-
thing from it as well’(Steven; Amy FGI2).
This was in contrast to their previous FL classes, when students reported a lack of comprehension
causing them to feel ‘terriﬁed’and ‘really scared’(Arthur BGI1), ‘excluded’(Orla BGI1), ‘stupid’(Aidan
BGI2) and ‘intimidated’(Donna BGI1). Others explained they would ‘just nod’as ‘it seemed like every-
body else understood’except you (Derek; Aidan BGI2). This lack of comprehension led to feelings of
low competence and had a direct impact on motivation resulting in a sense of apathy and dislike for
Matt: Once that happens enough you’re just like, ‘I don’t care about this class anymore. I don’t learn here’(BGI2).
On the contrary, TPRS’s goal of 100% comprehension meant ‘you do understand it better’(Gwen
FGI2) thus raising their feelings of proﬁciency. The fact that the stories were so well understood
resulted in their ‘affective ﬁlter’being decreased, engendering feelings of personal capability and
With TPRS, the group dynamic, or relatedness, involved in the story creation meant no-one feared
doing it ‘wrong’as ‘everybody was making mistakes and participating’(Donna FGI2). It erased their
anxiety of ‘saying the wrong thing’(Steven FGI2), thus raising students’conﬁdence by reducing their
‘aﬀective ﬁlter’, which resulted in perceived higher states of competence.
The interplay between needs was again evident as the fact that ‘everyone contributes’(Aidan;
FGI1), meant participants felt ‘they’ll be heard so their conﬁdence will really be built’(Kevin FGI1). Stu-
dents compared this to traditional FL classes which were ‘completely silent’, maintaining a feeling of
fear as you felt ‘like if you raise your hand you’re going to draw attention from everyone’and ‘if no-
one else asks then everyone else understands’(Prue FGI2). This idea that asking a question equated to
a lack of ability was in direct contrast to the open, discursive nature of TPRS classes where students’
perceived competence was augmented thanks to the safe, contributory group environment it
In addition, students reported that the compelling, unexpected element of TPRS made the classes
fun, pleasurable and enjoyable, which in turn, positively impacted their perceived competence.
Amy: You learn very quickly and very easily because of how entertaining it is (FGI1).
Matt: It’s easier to learn when you’re entertained and having a good time. When we have super-weird stories that
go oﬀon random tangents then it keeps you entertained and keeps you listening (FGI1).
Since TPRS is based on the CI hypothesis, the idea that the captivating nature of the stories kept
students engaged and ‘listening’is highly relevant. Moreover, other students argued that ‘if you’re
more entertained’you ‘feel more eager to participate’, thus also increasing perceived competence
for language output (Prue FGI1).
Students felt the vibrant nature of an entire class co-creating a story together also fostered a sense of
relatedness, both to their classmates and their teacher (FGI1, FGI2). The use of words such as ‘every-
one’,‘together’and ‘everybody’were employed repeatedly throughout the data. Once students had
experienced TPRS, the ‘one-on-one’question and answer method in a traditional, ‘quiet’, FL class was
perceived as ‘not as engaging’(Orla FGI2).
10 L. PRINTER
The fact that the stories were ‘very extroverted’meant ‘everybody feels included’(Kevin FGI1) and
‘everybody gets to participate’(Donna FGI1). By acting out roles and constructing the plot together
with the teacher, the aﬀective ﬁlter was reduced, growing their togetherness and imbuing a sense of
inclusion. It allowed students to ‘be silly’as everyone was ‘so energetic’and contributing ideas,
meaning ‘you don’t get judged’because you are ‘doing it as a group’(Prue FGI2). This increased
enthusiasm that TPRS generated helped to cultivate relationships within the group.
Orla: When you’re more motivated and excited, you tend to listen to people more so everybody builds connec-
The inter-connectedness of SDT’s needs was again apparent as participants felt that the opportunity
to co-create the stories with the teacher built connections leading to a heightened sense of perceived
Aidan: [Storytelling] is less scary because everybody is sharing their ideas and modifying them to form the story
so everybody is a part of the story (FGI2).
Kevin: Every little bit was made by somebody […] with the class. I think that’s the motivator (FGI2).
Students frequently highlighted that ‘everyone participating towards the creation of the story’(Orla
FGI1) produced a feeling of cohesion and belonging as ‘everyone was laughing and ‘really into it’(Amy
FGI1). Others recounted that ‘in storytelling’,everyonewas‘so open and talkative’(Prue FGI2), which
‘makes you more motivated and more eager to learn’(Orla FGI1). The reported feelings of comfort,
energy and enthusiasm in the TPRS classroom, were also evident in the CO data, with all students con-
tributing and showing visible signs of engagement and enjoyment as the story unfolded.
The fact that TPRS also allowed students to develop a strong bond and relationship with their
teacher was reported as a highly motivating factor. The teacher was seen as the person who ulti-
mately ‘kept the ideas going’through questioning and maintained interest with ‘completely
random’twists to the story (Amy FGI1). Indeed, in the BGIs, participants highlighted that by being
‘personable’(Aidan; Arthur BGI2), ‘enthusiastic’(Amy; Derek BGI2) or simply by being ‘themselves’
(Kevin BGI2), FL teachers could inspire and motivate their students. TPRS allowed these traits of
the teacher’s personality to come through and this augmented students’motivation: ‘The teacher
has to be into it as well because if you’re not having fun then neither am I’(Matt FGI1). An
example of a previous motivating teacher was provided as someone who ‘told stories about
himself’(Arthur BGI2), suggesting how stories were perceived as both motivating and relationship
building between students and teachers before they had ever even experienced TPRS.
While we cannot assume direct cause and eﬀect relationships, the ﬁndings are consistent with SDT’s
theoretical prediction that increased perceptions of ability, freedom of choice and belonging are
linked to more self-determined forms of motivation. This study supports Niemiec and Ryan’s(2009)con-
clusion that teachers and tasks that are perceived as satisfying the basic psychological needs of auton-
omy, relatedness and competence, allow intrinsic motivation to ﬂourish. In addition, the results reﬂect
Noels et al. (2003)’s contention that in the FL classroom a lack of autonomy and perceived low compe-
tence are indicative of higher levels of apathy and ‘amotivation’towards FL learning.
The interdependency and connectedness between SDT’s three basic needs reported in the litera-
ture (Fried and Konza 2013; Muñoz and Ramirez 2015, Ryan and Deci 2000) is also prevalent in this
study. According to the students, TPRS instantaneously satisﬁed all three of SDT’s needs and by doing
so, each need positively impacted the others. The autonomy provided by the stories imbued student
ownership over their learning while simultaneously increasing their competence as their own ideas
were selected and used in the plot. Constructing a story together encouraged a sense of belonging
and cohesion both to their classmates and the teacher, thus satisfying all of SDT’s basic needs.
THE LANGUAGE LEARNING JOURNAL 11
This is the ﬁrst study known to apply SDT to TPRS and one of very few investigating the motiva-
tional impact of the approach rather than achievement outcomes. It provides strong corroboration
for Krashen and Bland’s(2014) argument that stories should be ‘compelling’and fun in order to maxi-
mise student engagement, allowing students to acquire language with little conscious eﬀort. Further-
more, it oﬀers support for Ryan and Deci’s(2000) contention that within an SDT framework, activities
with the appeal of novelty, challenge and interest foster the greatest intrinsic motivation.
This paper adds to the emerging body of research contending that teachers and their pedagogical
strategies play a signiﬁcant role in developing more intrinsically motivated students (Cheng and
Dörnyei 2007; Guilloteaux and Dörnyei 2008; Moskovy et al. 2013). However, for TPRS to be a
success, the data suggest that students must perceive the stories as being presented within a motiv-
ating style. TPRS allows teachers’personalities to shine and ﬂourish. It is recommended that teachers
stay true to their own, innate character, be that more introvert or extrovert, when delivering a TPRS
story, as this builds stronger bonds with the students.
This analysis aligns broadly with Muñoz and Ramirez (2015) who found that teachers’potential to
cultivate motivation is principally centred on relatedness, and without strong teacher-student
relationships, even the most motivational strategies will not promote intrinsic motivation. Although
self-determination motivation is an individual-centred process (Ryan and Deci 2000), the results
suggest that its advancement also depends on supportive social conditions, provided by the
teacher in this context.
By exploring the under-researched method of TPRS through the students’eyes, this paper makes a
timely contribution to the L2 motivation ﬁeld and broadens the limited current literature around the
use of SDT within the FL classroom. The study recognises its ‘limited generalisability’(Yin, 2009) due
to its qualitative exploratory research design. However, the value of this methodological approach is
its ability to oﬀer nuanced and detailed insights about learning FL through storytelling by the sub-
While the results here substantiate ﬁndings from studies conducted in other contexts, where TPRS
was perceived as fun, engaging and motivating (Beal 2011; Blanton 2015; Campbell 2016; Espinoza
2015; Perna 2007), it is important to note that it may be challenging to reproduce the results in a non-
Additionally, other methodological limitations must be realised. As I was the only teacher in the
school using TPRS, there was no option other than employing an ‘action research’model where
data were reported to the same teacher who was delivering the classes. While the importance of
total honesty and explanations regarding anonymity were emphasised to students, some responses
may have inevitably been eﬀected.
The implications of this study are signiﬁcant, and its ﬁndings will be of particular interest to FL
teachers working in similar international school contexts, with small classes and multilingual stu-
dents. While the results presented here suggest that students’perceptions of TPRS were overwhel-
mingly positive, cultivating feelings of ability, inclusion and contentment, it is important that the
study is replicated by external researchers rather than teachers working with their own classes.
Longitudinal studies, carried out in diverse educational contexts, focusing on TPRS and its
ability to sustain motivation for language learning over time would be a good direction for
future research in this ﬁeld.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
Liam Printer http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0726-0799
12 L. PRINTER
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