What is Total Physical Response? If you’re an ESL teacher, you’ve probably heard of this method to engage learners and help them retain new information. Total Physical Response is a method in which learners use coordinated language and movement, or physical responses, to learn and retain new information, such as vocabulary.
In other words, TPR means that you do movements while you say words. After all, humans learn from experience. What better way to retain information than to actually experience the action of the term?
TPR is used by some to increase student engagement. Of course, in order to mimic sounds and movements, students have to be paying close attention.
Who invented TPR?
Dr. James Asher developed the total physical response methodology at San Jose State University in California. However, TPR builds upon various other fields, such as developmental psychology and trace theory.
How does TPR work?
TPR has been linked to multiple trace theory in the field of psychology. How it works is that students trace the concepts either by rote repetition, writing, or a physical movement. Not to mention, TPR uses gamelike movements, which actually makes learning quite fun and takes some stress off of learners.
How to use TPR?
If you want to get started using TPR in your classroom, it’s easy. It simply takes some preparation, and trial and error.
First, decide on the objective of your lesson. What vocabulary are you teaching? What is your goal for students?
An easy way to start out with TPR is to use it for vocabulary. Later, you can integrate TPR in more creative ways. To use TPR for vocabulary learning, make a list of your vocabulary terms that you’ll teach in a particular lesson. Then, plan out some actions you can do to go with each phrase. Practice the actions in front of a mirror and try to discover unique or interesting actions that will engage learners.
A more advanced level of TPR would be assigning vocabulary sets to students, who would devise their own movements, and then teach the class.
Of course, when movements are interesting or silly, this keeps students quite attentive.
Check out this TPR video by Cambridge University Press for a real life demo:
Here’s another great one from SayABC
Introducing vocabulary for your TPR lesson
It’s great to give students a vocabulary list in advance, if possible. Especially with older students, this allows them to practice the terms before class, which can reduce student anxiety.
Some teachers will make posters with vocabulary terms, or simply write them on the board. And yet some other extraordinary teachers will draw their own flashcards for students.
No matter how you introduce vocabulary to your students, be sure to allow them to see the terms written, rather than simply spoken with the accompanying movements.
How to model TPR
TPR works best when first modeled by an instructor. You model the language and the motions. Then, have students model it back to you so that you can check for understanding. This is a great time to correct any learners that need some adjustment. Of course, be sure to do so in an upbeat and objective manner, as you don’t want to single any learners out in a way that may demotivate them.
Then, have the entire group mimic the words and phrases back to you. This is the group repetition portion of TPR. Students should be speaking the word or phrase, while doing the associated movement. This is great for retention of new vocabulary.
Types of TPR
There are a few different ways to use TPR in your ESL classroom. We already mentioned allowing students to come up with their own movements in groups, but there are a few more variations.
TPR Simon Says
For example, TPR “Simon Says” is a favorite amongst younger ESL students. This is essentially just like the game Simon Says, in which the Simon (the teacher) tells students to do an action, but with one catch—they can only do so if the teacher says the words “Simon says” at the end. So, it’s just like that, except the students also need to repeat back the phrase as they do the action.
Another fun way to use TPR as a game, is to play TPR Circles. In TPR Circles, the teacher sits in a circle with students and says a phrase. Then, the last student to do that phrase is out, until there is one winner left.
The only issue with TPR Circles is what happens to the students that are out. Any teacher knows that having some students out of a game can often lead those students to be off-topic and no longer pay attention. The creative teacher knows how to manage this and will have an exercise or activity for those students.
If you want to teach phrases, TPR Storytelling is a great way to do so. In TPR Storytelling, the teacher acts as a very emotive storyteller, and students parrot back important words and phrases using the teacher’s motions.
Some teachers have short stories they use for TPR openers for their courses. Once students learn the songs, it becomes a bit like a call and response chant or cheer that loosens students up at the beginning of a class. After all, what better way to start a class than doing something you know and feel comfortable doing?
TPR Theater can be used on its own, or as an extension of TPR Storytelling. Either way, TPR Theater has a narrator, which can be either the teacher or students, and improv actors, which are usually students. However, it’s always fun to jump in as the teacher at times and surprise your students with your improv skills.
How do you use TPR?
Let us know in the comments below how you use TPR in your ESL classroom. Have you tried TPR before? Do you plan to try any of these techniques, or do you have your own special TPR lesson? We’d love it if you could share with our community of teachers.