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Have you just started teaching? Or perhaps you’re on your way to completing a TEFL course? You’re probably hearing a lot about total physical response, or TPR, which might leave you wondering what exactly it even is. In this article we’re going to break down what exactly TPR is, and give you a few ways you can use it in your classroom.

You’re going to love TPR because it will make your teaching more effective and help your students become more engaged. Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about TPR and more!

What is TPR?

TPR, or total physical response, is a teaching method where both the teacher and the student use movement. It’s easiest to use with younger students, but you can use TPR methods in classes with students of any age — even adults!

Why is TPR Useful?

It Helps Students Understand and Retain Language

TPR is helpful for a few reasons: first, it helps students understand what you’re saying immediately and instinctively. You don’t need a translator or long explanations if you’re able to use body language to convey your meaning. An easy example of TPR is touching your body parts when you’re teaching body parts.

It can also be used more abstractly, however. If you’re teaching a word like “sing”, for example, you can make a pose like an opera singer to illustrate singing. This way, the student can instantly understand what you’re trying to say. No matter what it is you’re teaching, you can try to think of motions to go with different concepts or words — as long as you’re consistent in them, it’ll give students a tool to help new information stick in their brain.

When you make the TPR motion you should have the student repeat the word back to you and do the motion too. You can be silly and big with your movements, and encourage your student to have similar energy. This will engage the student and keep them interested. The motion — both yours and theirs — will also help the word or phrase stick in their mind.

It Helps You Give Direction

TPR isn’t just helpful for learning words and phrases, though! You can also use it to demonstrate commands and prompt responses from students. One great TPR action is putting your hand to your mouth when you’re saying something you want your student to repeat, and then cupping it to your ear when it’s their turn to respond. This demonstrates to the child when it’s time to listen and when it’s time to speak. The meaning of your actions is pretty intuitive, so you don’t have to pause class to go into a long explanation of what you’re doing.

It Makes Class More Fun and Engaging

Young students especially need to move their bodies all the time. TPR gives them a chance to be active in class, and it engages them more in the lesson. By engaging your students’ bodies, you’re also engaging their minds. Have your students jump up and down, skip, and even run or dance to demonstrate action words! You can let them do funny walks in the classroom, touch their body parts quickly in sequence, or act out mini plays about the dialog. Anything that’s engaging your students’ bodies counts as TPR. The more of it you use, the more your students will be interested in your class – and the more they’ll take away from it.

How Can I Use TPR to Teach Older Students?

Most of these TPR methods are most useful for young learners — older students and adults will probably be much less likely or willing to skip around the classroom, they already know a lot of words that can be easily mimed, and they probably don’t need you to cup your ear to elicit a response from them. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use TPR to make your teaching more effective in an adult classroom.

Role Play Exercises

One great way to use TPR for adults and older kids — and it’s something I already mentioned using for kids, too! — is by doing role play exercises. Don’t just engage in a practice dialogue about what you’re talking about — stand up, walk around the room, get into your character! The more unabashed you are about the exercise, the more into it your students will get. Practicing language in a setting that’s closer to real life, and one that engages the body more, will help your students learn and retain information better.

You can do a role play activity with a small group, or if you’re teaching a bigger class split students into pairs to practice. You can even invite students to the front to show off their acting! Start with a more outgoing group to help others feel more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone a little bit.

Play Charades

Charades is a great way to get students using their bodies to illustrate words without feeling embarrassed — and the competition might encourage them to get into it more, too! Split students into small groups and have them act out whatever lesson material you’re teaching. The other team (or person, if you’re playing one-on-one) has to guess the answer in English. Your older students will have fun playing a game in class, and the movement will help them learn better!

Make TPR Your Own

Some people subscribe to stricter schools of how to practice TPR, but in the end what matters most is that you’re incorporating movement into your classroom in a way that engages students and enhances the material. The exact technique you’re using doesn’t matter as much as the broader strategy of encouraging a holistic classroom. By capitalizing on the mind-body connection, you’ll benefit your students and create a happier classroom!


SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!

About the Author:

Molly Oberstein-Allen
Molly Oberstein-Allen graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a philosophy degree and currently teaches English in Shenzhen, China. She enjoys travelling and meeting new friends.
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