Today, I want to talk about something that takes me back to the early days of teaching: Total Physical Response, also known as TPR.
I used to do TPR religiously for my first few years of teaching, but when I moved away from level 1, somehow I forgot all about TPR.
But not anymore!
This past year I resurrected TPR in my classroom at all levels and it felt like home!
Let’s get into it!
Going Back in Time
It's been quite a while since I last taught Level 1. I used to incorporate a lot of vocabulary teaching through gestures, or TPR, and it was highly effective.
But as time went on and I focused more on teaching higher levels, I slowly drifted away from using TPR as frequently. I can't quite pinpoint why I stopped, but it just slipped away from my teaching practice.
Then, a couple of years later, while teaching Level 2 and Level 3, I realized that my students needed a solid foundation in what I call the "Sweet 16" verbs.
These verbs are crucial for their progression to higher levels, whether it's Level 3, Level 4, or beyond. It became clear to me that I needed to go back to the basics and reintroduce TPR into my lessons.
Embracing the Sweet 16
In the final stretch of the school year, I focused on teaching the Sweet 16 verbs intensively.
I wanted to ensure that my students would carry this essential foundation with them into their next language class. Whether they were moving up to Level 3, Level 4, or staying in Level 1 for further reinforcement, these Sweet 16 verbs were vital.
So, I revisited the TPR I first encountered when I started teaching.
TPR: Then and Now
Back when I began teaching, TPR was the go-to method.
We would teach 100 words using TPR before even diving into stories. It took about four to six weeks to establish this solid vocabulary foundation.
We didn't have the Super Seven or Sweet 16 back then; it was a diverse mix of words. We focused on core vocabulary, covering a wide range of topics, including body parts and more.
The goal was to equip students with a rich vocabulary bank that would facilitate their engagement with stories. However, over time, the approach evolved.
The Transition to TPRS
Blaine Ray, the inventor of TPRS, suggested a transition from classical TPR to what is now called TPRS: Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.
This transition involved expanding the range of words associated with gestures beyond action words alone.
We introduced gestures for various words and moved from using commands to the more versatile third-person singular form of the verb.
This shift allowed us to break through the limitations of commands and explore storytelling more effectively.
What is TPR?
TPR, or Total Physical Response, involves associating words with actions or gestures, engaging both the logical and creative sides of the brain.
It helps students quickly grasp concrete vocabulary and retain it long-term.
While classical TPR focused on action words, TPRS expanded to include a broader range of words with associated gestures.
This method facilitates comprehension-based instruction, enabling students to progress from word-level understanding to short phrases and eventually to sentences.
Teaching TPR Gestures
When introducing gestures, we explain the gesture associated with each word and practice them in groups of three.
I demonstrate the gesture, associating it with the word, and the students follow along. We practice the three words together, mixing up the order to ensure their comfort and familiarity.
Through modeling and delayed responses, we reinforce the connection between words and gestures.
Gradually, we remove the modeling and encourage students to perform the actions independently.
Gestures and Ambiguity
Unlike classical TPR, where actions were concrete and obvious, TPRS involves gestures that may be more ambiguous.
It is essential to explain and clarify the gestures, ensuring students understand their meaning.
If we cannot find a specific gesture for a word, we can resort to using American Sign Language or other suitable alternatives.
The goal is to ensure students associate the correct gesture with each word, promoting comprehension and retention.
Building Fluency with TPR
TPR provides an excellent opportunity to enhance fluency.
We encourage students to incorporate the gestures while thinking about the meaning of the words. The muscle memory associated with the gestures helps solidify vocabulary retention.
As students become more fluent, they can process words in different tenses. For example, in Level 1, we focus on present tense, while in Level 2, we introduce both present and past tenses. Level 3 adds the future tense to their repertoire. This progressive approach builds fluency and comprehension.
TPR Variations and Games
Incorporating variety and playfulness into TPR lessons is crucial to keep students engaged.
You can create different versions of TPR activities, such as dividing the class into three groups and assigning different actions to each group.
Another option is to call out multiple actions and have students perform them in the order you specify.
Simon Says, Twister, and the Hokey Pokey are also great games to incorporate TPR.
By infusing these activities with TPR, we break the monotony and make the learning experience enjoyable.
When assessing TPR, we focus on informal formative assessments rather than formal quizzes.
We want to gauge how comfortable students are with the gestures and associated words.
Speed of response, accuracy of gestures, and the ability to perform them without relying on others or visual cues are some of the factors we observe.
Informal assessments such as closed-eye assessments or calling out flashcards for students to perform the actions can provide valuable insights into their progress.
Embracing a Contextual Approach
In real-life language use, vocabulary is encountered within meaningful contexts, not isolated words on a quiz.
That's why I shifted away from traditional vocabulary quizzes.
Instead, I focus on providing comprehensible input that incorporates vocabulary in sentences, stories, and real-world scenarios.
This approach allows students to interpret and use vocabulary in a more authentic way.
Final Thoughts and Resources
Total Physical Response (TPR) offers a dynamic and effective approach to language instruction that engages students' minds and bodies.
By associating words with actions or gestures, TPR taps into our natural inclination to learn through movement and embodiment. From classical TPR to expanded TPRS, this teaching method has evolved to encompass a wide range of vocabulary, allowing for comprehensive comprehension-based instruction.
By embracing TPR, we can create a vibrant and interactive classroom environment that fosters rapid vocabulary acquisition, fluency development, and a solid foundation in the target language.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.
- TPR is a powerful tool for vocabulary acquisition: TPR, or Total Physical Response, involves associating words with actions or gestures, engaging both logical and creative aspects of the brain. It is highly effective in helping students grasp concrete vocabulary quickly and retain it long-term.
- TPR evolves from classical TPR to TPRs: Over time, TPR has transitioned from focusing solely on action words to encompassing a broader range of words and associated gestures. This expansion allows for a more versatile and comprehensive approach to comprehension-based instruction.
- Gesture clarification and modeling are essential: When teaching TPR, it is crucial to explain and clarify gestures to ensure students understand their meaning. Modeling the gestures and providing delayed responses helps reinforce the connection between words and actions.
- TPR promotes fluency and comprehension: Incorporating TPR into language instruction enhances fluency by encouraging students to think about the meaning of words while performing associated gestures. As students become more fluent, they can process words in different tenses, building their overall comprehension.
- Variety and playfulness enhance TPR lessons: To keep students engaged, it's important to incorporate variety and playful elements into TPR lessons. Games, different versions of TPR activities, and incorporating popular activities like Simon Says or Twister add fun and excitement to the learning experience.
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