Total Physical Response: Method & Examples

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  • 0:03 Total Physical Response
  • 0:51 Introducing TPR
  • 1:38 Explicit Instruction
  • 2:49 Pre-Teaching Vocabulary
  • 3:27 TPR Songs
  • 4:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

Movement can be an incredibly powerful method for second language acquisition. In this lesson, you'll learn about Total Physical Response (TPR), a strategy for teaching beginner second language learners.

Total Physical Response

There's an ancient Chinese proverb you might have heard that goes something like this: Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I'll understand. Perhaps psychology professor James Asher had that saying in mind when he created the teaching method known as Total Physical Response (TPR). This method, which is widely used as a second-language learning technique for beginner students, pairs verbal directions with physical actions.

When students act out instructions, they're more likely to remember the language associations. Part of what makes TPR such a good strategy is that it doesn't require students to produce language, which is a task that often leads to hesitation and frustration for beginners. Let's take a look at some strategies for incorporating TPR into your classroom.

Introducing TPR

TPR doesn't have to be taught in isolation; it can be incorporated into established routines to make students more familiar with expected actions and behaviors. For example, when it's time to leave the classroom for lunch, you could say, ''Please stand up and push in your chairs.'' Students who have high proficiency in the target language will model the behavior for students who don't. After students complete the first step, you can say, ''Now line up in front of the door.'' Eventually, all students, regardless of proficiency level, will make the connection between verbal instructions and their physical counterparts.

Instructions can become more complex as students advance in their proficiency. For example, ''Pick up the book'' might become ''Pick up the book, open to page 55, and then place your hands in your lap.''

Explicit Instruction

Using TPR as its own lesson can be helpful for students at any level of second language acquisition. Consider connecting the lesson to content being learned in class. For example, let's say you're teaching students about process or sequence writing. Ultimately, your goal is for them to write a paragraph explaining how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You can model this process with TPR.

Begin by supplying students with all necessary materials: two slices of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and plastic knives (depending on student ages). Walk students through each step of the process of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As you give each instruction, model it yourself.

Next, provide students with a written copy of the instructions so they can make connections between verbal and written language. Have a volunteer read the instructions aloud. Allow students to work with a partner to explain to one another how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Lower proficiency students can point to each instruction while modeling the action.

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