Total Physical Response (TPR): Practical Tips for ESL teachers

18 Sep 2023 | ESLteachers

Total Physical Response (TPR) is a powerful ESL teaching technique that help beginners master a new language. TPR aligns seamlessly with Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theory, making it an effective tool for language learning.

Watch how to teach ESL vocabulary through TPR step-by-step in this video.

TPR and SLA Theory: A Perfect Match

At its core, TPR is based on the idea that language is best learned when it’s associated with physical actions. This aligns perfectly with SLA theory, which emphasizes the importance of comprehensible input and meaningful interaction in language learning.

Here’s how TPR aligns with key SLA principles:

  • Comprehensible Input: TPR relies on commands and responses that are clear and easy to understand, making it an ideal method for providing comprehensible input to ESL learners.
  • Focus on Meaning: TPR prioritizes understanding and executing commands over analyzing grammatical rules, directly addressing the SLA principle of focusing on meaning rather than form.
  • Language Input Variation: By introducing various commands and actions, TPR exposes students to a variety of language input, helping them adapt to different language contexts, as recommended by SLA theory.
  • Interaction and Communication: TPR encourages active participation and communication as students respond to commands physically. This interaction mirrors the real-world language use emphasized in SLA theory.

Practical Examples of TPR in the ESL Classroom

Now that we’ve established the theoretical alignment, let’s dive into some practical examples of how to use TPR effectively in your ESL classroom:

1. Vocabulary Building

Use TPR to teach vocabulary words. For instance, to teach the word “jump,” demonstrate the action of jumping and have students follow suit. Repeat this with other verbs, nouns, or even adjectives, making learning more engaging and memorable.

2. Verb Tenses

Introduce verb tenses like past, present, and future using TPR. For past tense, students can act out actions they did yesterday, today for the present, and what they will do tomorrow for the future. This makes abstract concepts tangible and relatable.

3. Sequencing

Teach sequencing and storytelling using TPR. Have students physically arrange themselves in order to represent the steps in a story, reinforcing the idea of chronological order in a fun and interactive way.

4. Prepositions

Prepositions can be challenging, but TPR can make them easier to understand. Use props and gestures to show relationships between objects. For example, you can demonstrate “the book is under the table” by placing a book under a table.

5. Listening Comprehension

Improve listening comprehension with TPR by giving students directions in the target language. For example, “Touch your nose, then clap your hands, and finally, stomp your feet.” This exercise not only enhances listening skills but also reinforces vocabulary.