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7.5 TPR- Total Physical Response

durenmgmail-com November 9, 2021

What is (TPR) Total Physical Response?

Total Physical Response (TPR) was initially developed by James Asher, an American psychology professor, in the 1970s.

During traditional second language learning programs, Asher had detected that there was a very high dropout rate. The professor observed that while adults were failing in their second language learning programs, children easily acquired first languages.

Based on this, he looked at developing a method of teaching the second language that children use when learning their first language.

Asher prioritized these observations and adopted the simple listen and respond technique, which plays a vital role in TPR. He noticed that children would look to the parents for commands, mainly listening to people telling them what to do: “Pick up the toy.” “Sit down.” etc., and then perform the actions that they were tasked to do. Another essential point that he saw was that comprehension was the first step to learning a language, not word production; children only needed to listen and understand.

Research has shown that it has been proven effective for teaching beginners of foreign languages. By pairing movement and language, the teacher can create a powerful learning method where children can easily acquire language without the help of textbooks.

For example:

A teacher repeats the words “¡Siéntense!” (sit down) in a Spanish class.

  • By repeatedly sitting down and saying, “Siéntense.” You can also ask the group to join you in sitting down*
  • When seeing or experiencing the act themselves, students will easily associate sitting down with siéntense.

The Values Behind Total Physical Response

Listening Before Production

In the early phase of TPR, it is not common for the teacher to lead the class to pronounce the words aloud and then force the students to repeat after him/her.

The first goal of TPR is to make sure that the students understand what the word, command, phrase, or expression means. The teacher is not required to push the student to produce the correct sounds, but they can leave it open for students to observe.

We know that babies do not start saying “Toy! Toy!” while pointing to an object. They started all quiet and silent, their innocent eyes observing and listening when their parents say “hello” and wave their hands as a way to communicate what they are saying or when they say, “Get the toy, Josh! Come on, get the toy!”

Here, your students need to listen and understand the command and respond accordingly. It is not essential for them to adequately pronounce the vocabulary.

Acquisition over Learning

Language learning is often associated with the form—the correct grammatical structures and correct pronunciation of the target language. A flashcard, grammar textbook, and vocabulary lists are examples of learning materials.

TPR is a judgment-free learning method. Students must be having fun so that their minds are unconsciously open to acquiring the language. There are no effective filters and no fear that they will fail.

If you move to a different country and speak their phrases to buy items at a store, you will point to an object you want to buy and say the word; you are not learning the language. You are acquiring it, so language acquisition is concerned with substance: the experience of using language in everyday affairs.

An important point to remember for TPR is that it favours language acquisition methods, techniques, resources, and processes over language learning.

TPR works well when teaching:

  1. Difficult to explain actions (such as wiggle, slide, launch)
  2. Storytelling and narrative language
  3. Challenging to explain actions (such as wiggle, slide, launch)
  4. Vocabulary, particularly verbs
  5. Imperatives and classroom language
  6. Storytelling and narrative language

How to use the TPR activities in the classroom

Activity 1. TPR Storytelling

During storytelling, the teacher should make sure that students use plenty of gestures and actions, which they must repeat often and can tell a story to the class in any genre: fairytale, adventure, etc.


  • The teacher can tell the story of a young Joe who travels to the city for the first time while pointing to the different parts of the body that match the story’s scenario.
  • Each time Joe speaks about the many beautiful things he saw with his eyes (i.e., buses, buildings, and aeroplanes), the teacher can emphasize the word (eyes) while at the same time pointing to his/her eyes.
  • It is also essential that the teacher widens their eyes as they point to them. Focus on movements and basic key phrases, not the story itself. The memorable words and phrases are what they want their students to remember.

There are ways teachers can employ repetition in the story without being repetitive. For example, with eyes, they can do the following:

  1. Point to their own eyes
  2. Ask the students to point to their eyes
  3. Ask students to point to the eyes of a classmate
  4. (to check if your students understand, you can point to your ears and see if your students try to correct you.)

Activity 2. Simon Says 

This activity provides a familiar process as children acquire their first language, such as adults instructing children to perform certain actions, like “throw the ball.”

  1. In this activity, the students are divided into two groups.
  2. The students can stand at the back of the class, near the wall, with their eyes fixed on the teacher.
  3. Each group sends one person that will represent the group for every round.
  4. The class will play “Simon Says,” The student who gives the correct response gets to step toward the “Finish Line.”
  5. The group that gets to the finish line first wins a point for the group. The group that gets 5 points first will win the game.
  6. The teacher will come up with creative commands and actions with which the students would have to perform.
  7. The teacher could say, “Jump two times!” or “laugh!”. The student who does the correct action gets to step toward the “Finish Line,” They will get the point; whoever reaches the finish line first wins a point for the group.

Activity 3. Action Songs and Nursery rhymes

Action songs are the perfect memory aids that can effectively embed language and movement into long-term memory and are a fun memory-enhancing tool. Songs add melody and cadence that the brain can latch on to.

  1. The teacher will pick an easy song for the students to sing and perform actions to determine the essential words in the song, which they want the students to remember. (Do not gesture out each word in the song as this may be too overwhelming.)
  2. Second, pick suitable gestures for the words of the song. The action may seem straightforward for words like” dance,” “watch,” “smile,” etc. However, try to be creative and think outside the box by using a few more advanced words each time, like “hope” or “pray.”
  3. Remember, the gestures do not need to be spot on. They only need to be an impression of the thing they signify.

Check out the resource section at the end of the course for more TPR activities.