TPR In The Classroom. What Is It And Why You Should Use It!

What is TPR? How do you use it and how does it help students learn a second/foreign language? Read on to learn more!

Imagine you are in a foreign country where the people don't speak your language and you do not speak theirs. You have a question; you are hungry and are looking for something to eat. How do you communicate with those around you? How would you manage without the use of a translator? If you are thinking about communicating through body language then you must have read my mind! Body language is a powerful way to communicate thoughts and ideas when your words cannot. Certain body movements or hand gestures can be used to convey meaning. This may vary slightly culture to culture but there are many that are used universally. Take a look at the image above, based on my hand gestures what do you think I am communicating? If you guessed "I see you" then you are correct.

So what is TPR?

TPR stands for total physical response and is a teaching method developed by James Asher. TPR is essentially acting out words and phrases with your body and allows students to naturally make connections between the words you are saying and their meaning without the use of translation. Often when I am using TPR I feel like I am putting on a show; using everything at my disposal to communicate my message, including facial expressions, gestures, and body motions!

How Can I Use TPR in the Classroom?

TPR can most easily be used to communicate verbs. For example, if you are teaching the verb "to throw" you can pretend to throw something while repeating the word. You could extend and teach "you throw" by pointing to the student and then pretending to throw a ball. Even if this is the first time the student is hearing the vocabulary word they can quickly pick up on the meaning. Verbs such as "run, jump, swim, throw and dance" are probably some of the easiest words to teach using TPR since you can essentially teach it by doing the action, however, TPR can also be used to communicate nouns. For example, the word "ball" can be communicated by making a round shape with your hands and "book" could be communicated by putting your hands together to create the shape of a book. Question words can also be expressed using TPR. "Where" can be conveyed by placing a hand over your eyes while turning your head back and forth as if you are searching for something, while "what" can be communicated by raising your hands and shrugging your shoulders. The possibilities are endless!

A girl has a pencil in her mouth and is holding up 4 fingers. Beside each finger is a word that when strung together spells "This is a pencil".
TPR can be used to visually represent sentence frames.

TPR is also a helpful tool to demonstrate the length of sentence frames. By counting out words on your fingers you emphasize the individuality of each word and can help guide students to self-correct when they omit a word in a sentence.

This use of TPR can be extremely beneficial when first learning a language. At this stage, everything may be unfamiliar, including the sounds in the language. Sentences can sometimes sound like a single long drawn out word. Using TPR to visually show each word can help students understand that you are saying several individual words and that when strung together they carry meaning.

Why should I use TPR?

There are numerous benefits to using TPR. Not only does it allow you to convey meaning without the use of translation but it lets students move their bodies and have fun which increases their interest and engagement in the learning process. Learning a new language can be confusing and sometimes scary, however, when students see the teacher being silly and having fun it makes them feel more comfortable in your space and willing to try new things and possibly make mistakes. They quickly learn that however they show up in your classroom they are welcome and mistakes are part of the learning process.

TPR is not only fun but it also helps students retain new material! Pairing new vocabulary with body motions, gestures, and facial expressions help solidify the meaning of new words. This can be particularly helpful for kinesthetic learners.

If you a minimalist teacher then you are going to absolutely love TPR! You don't need a printer, craft supplies, or space to store it. All you need is your body and some creativity!

Girl sits facing her laptop while holding a whiteboard that says "welcome to class". She is sitting outside near the ocean with some tropical plants in the background.
TPR is a great technique for any language teacher!

For those of you that don't already know, I am an online English teacher for Vipkid and Cambly and in the summer of 2020, I began my journey teaching Spanish on Outschool. This means I spend a lot of my time in the classroom teaching children a second/foreign language. If you have ever tried learning a second language then you know this can be a daunting task. I conduct my language classes almost exclusively in the target language which is why I use TPR like it's nobodies business! It is a great way to limit your teacher talk time by silently prompting words and sentences and an easy way to add movement to engage students. Still, have questions about how to use TPR? Send me a message or comment below!

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