Total Physical Response (TPR) is a teaching method based on the idea that a new language can be learned through actions and that movement can help students learn and understand. It was first developed by James J. Asher over 30 years ago.
We all have preferences for the sensory system we rely on to process information. Some people prefer the visual system. Others prefer the auditory system. Others still prefer the kinesthetic system and TPR is particularly relevant to these kinesthetic learners who learn best when they can participate in an activity.
It is a method that combines information and skills through the use of the movement and action. This combination of skills allows the student to assimilate information and skills at a rapid rate. As a result, this success leads to a high degree of motivation.
TPR is based on the principle that we can understand the spoken language before we develop our speaking skills. With TPR the student is not forced to speak but is allowed an individual readiness period and allowed to spontaneously begin to speak when they feel comfortable and confident in understanding and producing the utterance.
Basic TPR Technique
The teacher introduces the language through the use of commands (imperative sentences) and has students demonstrate their understanding through action responses. A typical sequence of events might go like this:
- The teacher says the command (sit down; turn the page; get your pen out; etc.) as they perform the action.
- The teacher says the command as both the teacher and the students then perform the action.
- The teacher says the command but only students perform the action.
- The teacher tells one student at a time to perform the action.
- The roles of teacher and student are reversed. Students give commands to teacher and to other students.
- The teacher and student allow for command expansion or produces new sentences.
While the initial instructions are simple within a few minutes directions can be expanded in complexity such as:
Take your exercise book out.
Open the book on page 11.
John, please sit next to Mary.
Mary share your book with John, please.
And so on. As the training advances, past tenses, future tenses, and essentially all the elements of the target language can be woven into these commands.