TPR is a Valuable Tool!

TPR is a Valuable Tool!

by Judie Haynes

While other methods have come and gone, Total Physical Response (TPR) is still a valuable tool when teaching newly-arrived ESL students. Despite the wealth of materials available to us, nothing is more useful with a newcomer than this very direct and visual instruction.

Total Physical Response (TPR), which is an ESL methodology developed by James J. Asher, has been in use for nearly thirty years.

With the TPR method, the teacher says a single action word or phrase such as "jump" or "point to your eye" and then demonstrates the action. At first, students will only be able to follow the command. They may also be able to repeat the teacher's words as they copy the action. The next step is to proceed to more difficult language while still keeping the instruction direct and visual. I like to use simple TPR sequences in order to enlarge the students' vocabulary, teach the present continuous and past tense in context and practice English sentence structure and word order.

When I teach a TPR lesson to my beginning students, I like to tape it in advance to music. This gives me the opportunity to repeat the command, demonstrate the action, and not worry about what command I need to do next. I can be sure that I have covered all of the actions that I intended to, and it helps me keep a record of what I have done. Of course, I save the tapes and use them again with my next group of newcomers. When you tape a sequence in advance, be sure to leave enough time between commands for students to act it out.

Lesson Topic

Total Physical Response (TPR) for Beginners

Proficiency/Grade Level

Beginning, Grades 1-8

Background Information

Basic TPR commands such as : Stand up, sit down, turn, jump, hop, march, eat, walk, wash, etc. More advanced commands such as: Stretch, yawn, brush (hair, teeth)

Content Concepts and Skills

Present continuous and past tense in context; sentence structure and word order in English.

Instructional sequence

Choose background music for your TPR sequence. This is best done on a tape recorder which allows you to tape so that the music plays as a background to your words.

Write a series of actions which students can act out. An example might be "Getting Up."

Have students demonstrate their mastery of the commands by stopping the tape after each command and asking each student to act out a command or two.

This whole sequence can be repeated using the past tense once students have mastered the present tense. Even first graders can grasp the concept of "past tense" if you use a calendar to show today (October 26th) "I'm washing my face"; yesterday (October 25th) "I washed my face."

Another example of a TPR sequence is "Going to Bed."

Make up your own sequences as the need arises. With TESOL's Pre-K-12 ESL Standards, Goal 3, a new spin can be put on this older methodology. Some of the social skills which need to be taught to your ESL students can be taught uses TPR sequences and are especially good for older students. Suggestions might be "Calling up a friend on the phone," "Inviting a classmate to your house." Or you can help your students write their own short sequences.