Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein (RNP) enzyme that maintains the ends of linear eukaryotic chromosomes and whose activation is a hallmark of 90% of all cancers. This RNP minimally contains a reverse transcriptase protein subunit (TERT) that catalyzes telomeric DNA synthesis and an RNA subunit (TER) that has templating, architectural and protein-scaffolding roles. Telomerase is unique among polymerases in that it synthesizes multiple copies of the template on the 3 end of a primer following a single binding event, a process known as repeat addition processivity (RAP). Using biochemical assays and single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) experiments on Tetrahymena thermophila telomerase, we now directly demonstrate that TER contributes to template positioning within the active site and to the template translocation required for RAP. We propose that the single-stranded RNA elements flanking the template act as a molecular accordion, undergoing reciprocal extension and compaction during telomerase translocation.