James Asher developed total physical response, frequently called TPR, in the 1960s and 1970s. He believed that learning new vocabulary in conjunction with corresponding motor activity would reinforce the learning of words and expressions—especially in children, but he also advocated its use with adults. Active participation also keeps students interested. Asher also believed that the use of such commands would reduce anxiety levels and make use of the right brain.
Strategy of Total Physical Response (TPR)
English Skill Level: Beginning to Intermediate
Grade Level: Elementary to Adult (although method may need to be modified for secondary and
adult English language learners)
- The teacher gives commands such as
Open the door
Close the window
Touch your nose
Stand up, sit down
Draw a circle
Draw a square
- The student completes the action of the command.
- If the student does the command correctly, the teacher knows the student understands the command.
- The student’s understanding is reinforced by performing the action.
Applications and Examples of Total Physical Response (TPR)
- The teacher gives the following command to all the students: “Open your book.”
- Students open their books.
- The teacher gives another command such as, “Put your pencil on your desk.”
- Students put their pencils on their desks.
- The teacher gives another command such as, “Raise your hands.”
- The teacher continues to give commands related to classroom actions. The teacher may model the actions if students have not attempted such commands or actions before. The teacher may also give commands to individual students such as, “Erase the board.”
- Students may also give commands or instructions to each other.
In storytelling, TPR is used to introduce a story to students.
- The teacher should select a story with plenty of action. The teacher uses TPR commands to teach vocabulary used in the story. Students can also act out commands. Students can be put in pairs to give and act out commands.
- The teacher presents a mini-story (often part of a longer story) that students learn and retell or even revise. More mini-stories are presented and practiced.
- The teacher presents the whole story. Students then retell the story. Students may also do various exercises related to the story such as true-false, open-ended questions, writing about the characters, and so on.
- Students create their own stories. Students may write and illustrate their stories, use drama to act them out, or videotape their stories.
Strengths of Total Physical Response (TPR)
- Results in lower anxiety levels among language learners.
- An activity or movement reinforces language learning in authentic ways.
Weaknesses and Modifications of Total Physical Response (TPR)
- In its original form, TPR may be too limited to use alone. Thus, TPR is often used at the beginning levels or as part of a more complex lesson. It is also possible that commands can be lengthened into a process. For example, the teacher can say, “draw a square with a line through it. Then draw a triangle on the right side of the square,” and so on. Teachers can have students use problem-solving tasks such as showing three boxes with different pictures inside and say, “touch the box where the woman is standing.”
- Other modifications include having students take a more participatory role by giving commands or instructions to one another. TPR can also be done in a game form such as “Simon Says.” Advocates of TPR have also developed the method into TPR Storytelling.