|
|
Total Physical Response

Imagine you're with a student who doesn't speak much English, and you ask them if they like reading. They stare at you blankly because they have no idea what you just asked. 

Mockup Schule

Explore our app and discover over 50 million learning materials for free.

Total Physical Response

Illustration

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden
Illustration

Imagine you're with a student who doesn't speak much English, and you ask them if they like reading. They stare at you blankly because they have no idea what you just asked.

Now imagine you ask the same question, except this time you involve physical movement. For example, you point to the student to show you, make a heart with your fingers to show like, and make a book with your hands to show reading. Now, the student has a better idea of what they're being asked and might respond with a big thumbs-up. This is an example of total physical response (TPR).

TPR is a teaching technique common in language learning classes. If you've not heard of the term before, no worries; this article will provide a definition, a little background information, different methods and techniques, and the advantages and disadvantages of implementing TPR in the classroom.

Total Physical Response Definition

As we mentioned, total physical response is a teaching technique often utilized by second language teachers, but let's look at a more in-depth definition:

Total physical response (TPR): A teaching strategy that follows the comprehension approach, an approach that emphasizes understanding a language rather than speaking it. TPR typically involves a teacher introducing new vocabulary, giving instructions, or asking questions in the target language accompanied by a physical movement, and the students then repeating that movement.

Throughout these TESOL articles, you will see the term target language used a lot. This simply means the language that is being taught and learned.

TPR as a teaching strategy was first introduced in 1969 by psychology professor Dr. James. J. Asher.1 According to Asher, the technique is based on how children learn their first language and was designed to help students quickly recognize and remember the meaning of new vocabulary.

Although TPR is most commonly used to introduce new vocabulary and give instructions, it can also help students passively learn the structure and grammar of a language.

Using a different hand symbol for each individual word in a sentence can help students recognize where one word ends and the next begins. Additionally, using a more active action for verbs can help students recognize parts of speech and word order.

TPR is most commonly used for young learners and beginners; however, it can still be useful for adult learners and more advanced language users.

Total physical response, image of classroom, StudySmarterFig 1. Using TPR can help make instructions clearer.

Total Physical Response Method

Now we have a basic understanding of total physical response, let's look a little more at the background and principles of the method.

Dr. Asher based his TPR method on the way parents/caregivers interact with their young children. He noticed that adults and children were able to communicate without the use of complete language, and children could comprehend far more complex language structures than they could produce themselves.

Based on these observations, Asher outlined his TPR method for second language learning, which is based on the following three main principles:

  • The brain learns a language through listening. The brain best internalizes and remembers the language by responding to it with a physical response.

  • Language learning should engage the right side of the brain. The right side of the brain deals with movement, images, problem-solving, and creativity, whereas the left deals more with logic, words, and rational thought. Asher believed that physical movement would engage the right side of the brain and help students comprehend language before they used the left side of their brain to produce the language.

  • Language learning should be fun and stress-free. By adding movement into a classroom, students are less desk-bound and free to "play around" with language.

The Comprehension Approach

Total physical response is a teaching method that follows the comprehension approach — the lesser-known counterpart to the communicative approach.

The comprehension approach emphasizes that we as humans must hear and understand language before we can speak that language. On the other hand, the communicative approach focuses on getting students talking first and foremost, and comprehension will follow.

It isn't always necessary to choose between the comprehension and communicative approach; in fact, many good teachers will utilize both in the appropriate order.

Total Physical Response Techniques

Now we know all about total physical response, let's look at some techniques and how the method can be used in the classroom.

Although it is possible to base a whole lesson on TPR, the method is typically used to supplement and support a lesson. For example, a teacher might use TPR throughout an entire lesson to help them give instructions, introduce new vocabulary, or ask their students questions.

Lessons that are based solely on TPR are typically reserved for young learners or beginners. A typical TPR lesson could involve the teacher instructing the students to do something using imperative verbs (bossy verbs) or teaching new, basic vocabulary, such as feelings.

The teacher stands at the front of the class and drills some imperative verbs using actions.

Teacher: Open your book. (opens book)

Students: (open their books)

Teacher: Close your books. (closes the book)

Students: (close their books)

etc.

The teacher introduces new vocabulary on emotions.

Teacher: I am happy. (makes a happy face and uses fingers to make a smile)

Students: Happy. (makes a happy face and uses fingers to make a smile)

Other ways TPR could be used in the classroom include:

  • TPR circles: A fun activity that involves students standing in a circle and copying movements from the teacher or each other. Many rules and variations can be added, such as "last student to do the action must sit down."

  • Simon Says: This is a fun and easy game that can efficiently utilize TPR.

  • TPR and Sounds: Sound effects can also be added to actions to make them more memorable.

Total physical response, image of children at school, StudySmarterFig 2. Games involving TPR can be fun and engaging.

Error Correction

Typically, not a lot of error correction occurs during a TPR lesson. The idea of TPR is to get students engaged and to begin making connections between actions, words, and meaning — too much error correction can damage the students' engagement.

Total Physical Response Examples

Let's look at the steps of an example lesson plan that uses total physical response to teach new vocabulary to young beginner learners.

  1. Decide which vocabulary words will be taught. Consider which movements you will use and prepare some supporting resources, such as images.
  2. Model the word for the students by saying it aloud with an accompanying physical action. e.g., say "elephant" while making a trunk with your arms.
  3. Students respond by repeating the action and word if/when possible.
  4. Write up the word to make connections between the sound, the action, and the word.
  5. Continue this process with several more new words (be careful not to ask too much from the students).
  6. Repeat and practice the new words.

Alternatively, for more complex vocabulary, students can be provided with a simple student-friendly definition of a word and then asked to create an action for the word themselves. This gives students a sense of autonomy and ownership over the word and hopefully makes them more likely to remember it.

Total Physical Response Advantages and Disadvantages

Let's finish with some advantages and disadvantages of using total physical response in the classroom.

Some advantages include:

  • Fun and engaging

  • Makes connections between movement and language

  • Gets students moving

  • Good for kinesthetic learners (i.e., those who learn by doing)

  • Requires little pre-planning

  • Engages the right and left sides of the brain

  • Memorable

  • A good technique for mixed-ability classes

On the other hand, some disadvantages include:

  • Shy students may get embarrassed
  • Not always suitable for older students
  • TPR actions themselves are nonstandardized, meaning one teacher may use one action for a word, and one teacher may use another
  • Should be used alongside other teaching methods
  • Best for beginners and for introducing vocabulary and instructions. It doesn't cover grammar and sentence structures.

Total Physical Response - Key takeaways

  • Total physical response (TPR) is a language teaching strategy that follows the comprehension approach. It is most commonly used for young learners and beginners.
  • Total physical response typically involves a teacher introducing the target language accompanied by a physical movement and the students repeating the movement.
  • Total physical response as a teaching strategy was first introduced in 1969 by psychology professor Dr. James. J. Asher.
  • Asher based the total physical response method on the way children learn their first language.
  • Some advantages of Total physical response include: it's engaging, it builds connections between movement and language, it utilizes both sides of the brain, and it's good for memory.

References

  1. J. Asher. The Total Physical Response Approach to Second Language Learning. The Modern Language Journal. (1969).

Frequently Asked Questions about Total Physical Response

Total physical response is a teaching method often used by teachers of a second language. The method involves accompanying vocabulary with a physical movement. 

Total physical response should be fun, engaging, and creative. Its focus is on language comprehension.

One way of using total physical response is introducing a new word accompanied by a physical action and asking students to repeat that action and word back to you.

Some advantages of TPR include:


  • Fun and engaging
  • Makes connections between movement and language
  • Gets students moving 
  • Good for kinesthetic learners (i.e., those who learn by doing)
  • Requires little pre-planning
  • Engages the right and left sides of the brain
  • Memorable 
  • A good technique for mixed-ability classes

There is no standardized version of total physical response actions to learn.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

TPR falls under which teaching approach?

TPR is best suited for which learners? Choose two.

Next
More about Total Physical Response

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Entdecke Lernmaterial in der StudySmarter-App

Google Popup

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App