Summer 2023



Degree Name


Primary Advisor/Dissertation Chair

Julia Reimer

Secondary Advisor/Reader One

Steven Wicht

Peer-Reviewer/Reader Two

Ruben Cisneros Anez


This study addresses the question: how can TPR and TPRS be used in the adult ESL classroom to teach vocabulary and reading skills? Adult ELLs with limited or interrupted formal education may struggle to learn English in traditional classrooms that rely on pre-existing literacy skills they have not yet developed, such as reading or taking notes. TPR (Total Physical Response) and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) are methods of teaching language that may make use of body movements, gestures, role-play, drama and oral storytelling to make language understandable before connecting it to its written form. TPR has a long history of use in ESL classrooms, but TPRS has been studied mainly in the foreign language classroom, despite the fact that it emphasizes student engagement, a low stress environment, and the creation of learner-generated texts, which are all characteristics prior research has indicated are important for adult learners. This 10-week qualitative study examined the instructor’s teacher journal and the TPRS stories co-created by the teacher and the class to answer the research question. The study took place in a community-based education program with adult students ranging in age from 16-72, who spoke a variety of languages. Results of the study suggest that the combination of TPR and TPRS may be an effective way to teach vocabulary and reading skills to pre-literate adults. Diary entries recorded students demonstrating their understanding of target vocabulary in a number of ways including responding to commands, role-plays, asking their own questions and sharing their own stories. Observations recorded in the teacher diary also seem to indicate that students were able to begin to connect spoken English to its written form. This study also discusses limitations, implications for teachers and recommendations for further research.

Research Methodology

Observation, Diary Study


Adult Education, ESL/ ELLs, Literacy








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