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Total Physical Response Guidelines (TPR)

What is the actual definition of Total Physical Response? If you are an ESL teacher, you may have heard of the term used to describe the method of attracting students and helping them to retain new information. Total Physical Response is a technique in which students employ coordinated language and movement or physical response to learn and maintain further information such as vocabulary.

Total Physical Response also means that you perform movements as you utter some words. Humans usually learn from their experiences. What is the ideal way to retain any information other than participating in the action of the term itself?

Some teachers utilize this method to make their students engaged in the lesson. To imitate sounds and movements correctly, students have to pay attention in the classroom to not make any mistakes in learning new information with the technique.

Who is the Creator of Total Physical Response (TPR)?

The creator of Total Physical Response (TPR) is Dr. James Asher. He has developed the methodology at San Jose State University in California. However, the method also employs a variety of other fields such as trace theory and developmental psychology.

How Does Total Physical Response (TPR) work?

TPR has been related to multiple trace theories in the field of psychology. It works because students detect concepts either by rote repetition, writing, or physical movements. TPR also uses game-like movements, making the learning session quite fun and relieves some stress from students.

How to Employ Total Physical Response (TPR) in Learning Session?

It is pretty easy for you to start using TPR in your classroom. It only takes some preparations and trials to get used to this method of learning. First of all, you need to choose the objective of your lesson. What vocabulary do you want to teach? What is your goal for students to achieve at the end of the class?

An easy way to get started with TPR is you can use the method for teaching vocabulary. Then you can combine it innovatively. To utilize TPR for vocabulary lessons, you should list vocabulary terms that you will teach in a specific class. After that, you can decide some actions to go with each phrase. You may practice your moves in front of a mirror and try to figure out some unique or attractive actions to make your students participate in your lesson.

The most advanced TPR level is providing vocabulary sets for students and planning their movements. Even though their actions tend to be silly and hilarious, it keeps them engaged in the class.

You should check out the TPR video by Cambridge University Press for a real-life demonstration as well as another great one from SayABC.

Introduce the Vocabulary for Your Total Physical Response (TPR) Lesson

You may list vocabulary terms earlier to your students because it allows them to practice their movements before class. The idea can reduce their anxiousness to present their actions in the classroom.

Some teachers choose to make posters for vocabulary terms or write them on the whiteboard. Still, another group of creative teachers decides to draw the vocabulary terms on their flashcards.

No matter how you introduce the lesson to your students, make sure to see the written terms rather than pronounce them with the accompanying movements.

How to Demonstrate Total Physical Response (TPR) in the Classroom?

TPR works best when the teacher demonstrates the language and the motion beforehand, and then students, imitate the action afterward. This is a great chance to correct them optimistically and objectively without making them less eager to learn the lesson.

After that, you may ask the entire students to imitate words and phrases together for you to check on their comprehension. This is the group repetition portion of TPR. Students should pronounce words or phrases while doing the related movement. This is the perfect technique to maintain the new vocabulary in memory.

Children, parents, and caregivers sing and dance to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” during a morning session of Playmorning. (Marine Corps photo by Christine Cabalo)

The Variation of TPR

There are several different ways to employ TPR in your classroom. As we have mentioned before, the teacher can ask their students to create their movements in groups, but a few more variations are utilized in your lesson. 

  • TPR Simon Says

Another type of TPR called “Simon Says” is well-known among younger ESL students. This is similar to the Simon Says game in which Simon (teacher) asks students to do an action, but they can only do so when the teacher says “Simon Says” at the end. Students need to repeat the word back as they do the movement.

  • TPR Circles

Another interesting idea to use TPR as a game is to play TPR Circles. The teacher sits in a circle along with students and pronounces a phrase. The last student who says the phrase will be eliminated from the circle, and the game continues until there is only one winner left.

The only disadvantage of TPR Circles has eliminated students have nothing to do when they are out of the game, and it causes them not to pay attention to the lesson anymore. However, creative teachers will know how to handle this issue, and they will prepare another activity for those students so that they would not feel left out during the learning session.

  • TPR Storytelling

TPR Storytelling is a perfect method for teachers who want to teach phrases. The teacher has to act as an emotional storyteller, and students will repeat essential words and phrases by using the teacher’s motions.

Some teachers have short stories that they use as an opening song for their lessons. Once students learn the song, it becomes like cheers and celebrations that could relax at the beginning of the class. Anyway, what is the best way to start a class other than doing something that you know is effective and feel comfortable with it?

  • TPR Theater

TPR Theater can be utilized on its own or as a continuation of TPR Storytelling. In any case, TPR Theater has a narrator who can be either the teacher or a student and improvisational actors who are usually students. However, it is exciting to jump in as an actor and surprise your students with your improvisation skills.

How Do You Use Total Physical Response (TPR) in Your Classroom?

In the comment section below, let us know how you use Total Physical Response (TPR) in your ESL classroom. Have you tried to employ TPR in your lesson before? Do you plan to try any of these methods, or do you have your own particular TPR lesson? We would love to see it if you could share it with our community of teachers.