The Greatest Hits of TPR: 6 Classic ESL Activities That Elicit Total Physical Response

Getting your students moving, wiggling and laughing is a hallmark of a successful classroom.

Want them hopping on one foot, rubbing their heads with their right hands as they pat their stomachs with their left?

Running around in circles, you say? Swinging from chandeliers?

Just kidding (kind of).

Maybe a Total Physical Response (TPR) activity doesn’t need to be quite so wild and dangerous, yet these ESL activities are sure to be a crowd-pleaser with your students.

Add a little spring to your students’ steps by using TPR in as part of any well-developed, creative ESL lesson plan.

This fun and exciting method of learning will help your students process new and old English information faster, giving them the essential responses necessary in any English discussion with native speakers.

What’s the Deal with Total Physical Response?

TPR is a unique ESL technique designed in the 1960s by James Asher.

This ESL method has been in use since and the key aspects of TPR can be used as an essential part of any ESL lesson. The TPR method is exactly as the name entails, all about total physical response. TPR is used to connect English instruction with quick and immediate responses from students, completing each command as quickly as it is given.

Sample TPR Activity:

1. The students learn new material, vocabulary and verbs which will pertain to the commands.

2. You will develop a set of commands which may or may not relate to a specific scenario. They could be an assortment of random body movements, but it is still recommended to keep commands somehow linked together thematically for fluidity in your TPR lessons—for example, the theme might be “identifying body parts,” and you run through body parts to touch. Alternatively, the theme could be more situational, like grocery shopping, salsa dancing or being doctors examining patients.

3. Let’s say the command is, for example, “touch your head with your right hand” or “check your patient’s [peer partner’s] heartbeat.” Subsequently, your students will all process the English command and physically complete the task as fast as possible. The gauge for success is how rapid the response is.

TPR benefits your students in various ways. Most importantly, their brains start to connect language with real-world activities and practical uses more than ever before. The vocabulary and grammar becomes more natural and memorable, and the responses start to come reflexively.

One huge plus is that you can use this method in just about any lesson as a supplemental activity or develop a lesson that is strictly TPR is nature. Using this method, your students will begin to develop a faster response to English words and commands. There are many times your students may be asked something, but it may take them a long, awkward moment to process the question and develop a response. TPR is essentially a solution to help train your students to overcome this common ESL issue.

Developing fun and exciting lessons is often difficult, especially in certain areas of ESL, but it is never a challenge using the TPR method. TPR is anything but boring! Your students will enjoy the physical action involved in this lesson and you will have enthused students ready to learn material using the TPR method. You can even combine some aspects of grammar activities into a TPR style lesson to help spice up those past, present and future tenses all ESL students “enjoy” so much.

If you’re after another program that finds that perfect middle ground between fun and learning, then look no further than FluentU.

With video content you’ll be able to provide heaps of great context and input for your students. They’ll love the real-world application and it works very well with a TPR focused class.

The Greatest Hits of TPR: 6 Classic Activities That Elicit Total Physical Response

1. Simon Says

We all know Simon, and we all know how his game works.

Most ESL students, regardless of their nationality, have experienced some form of Simon Says during the course of their academic careers and personal lives. Not to mention, prior ESL teachers in their pasts may have used this to facilitate learning already.

You don’t need to leave it at plain old Simon Says, though—you can build on this simple activity using the TPR method.

TPR Simon Says is one of those great ESL activities that will get your students moving and it is exceptional for learning different parts of the body and physical directions like right and left. Beyond the basics, you can have them act out more elaborate scenarios and activities, like “Simon Says, make a sandwich!,” “Simon Says, go fishing!” or even “Simon Says, stir the tomato sauce!”

In TPR Simon Says, students will follow commands that will evoke a desired physical response in a quick manner, in order to stay in the game. You can divide your class into groups and make it a team game or you can keep students formed as a whole class for the activity. This, of course, depends on class size, how you want to approach the activity and if you want students to act out situations that require more than one person.

Sample Activity:

1. First things first, in order for the game to work you must introduce the necessary material for your students to follow the commands correctly. TPR activities are usually a great, fun way to end the week and solidify what was learned in class prior to the activity. Review all the vocabulary and grammar that they have recently learned, and that you want them to use in TPR.

2. Have your students clear ample space for them to move around in. Make sure the class is TPR safe, since this activity can get pretty wild when students really get enthused! Give them the room to create their responses in a safe and fun way.

3. After everyone is ready and spaced around the room, begin your commands. “Simon says, touch your nose with your left knee.” It is a great idea to start off with a few easy-to-understand and silly-to-do commands all your students will easily respond to, have fun with and giggle over. You don’t want anyone eliminated from the game until the fifth command or so, helping your students keep their confidence levels high.

4. After students begin to fall out of the game, it will continue on until there is only one student left as the victor. Make your commands challenging as the game goes on and save a few of the hardest for those final moments.

2. Drive Time

When developing your ESL TPR activity, think about what your students may need to navigate the English world they wish to experience. Experiences like giving and receiving directions are essential elements for ESL and the TPR driving activity will allow your students to master these.

You will need to get to class a bit early for this lesson, well before your students are due to arrive if possible. The reason for this, is that you will construct your classroom into a series of streets and commonly known places around a town or neighborhood.

You can label each street that winds around the room, leading to a hospital, post office, home, hotel, park and so on. You could tape papers with location drawings and names on them to the students’ desks, and make the pathways between the desks into the streets.

All of this will set the stage for the success of this exciting ESL TPR activity.

Sample Activity:

1. After you have constructed your little classroom town with streets and important places, have your students stand in various areas of the town using commands. This will be the first stage of this TPR activity. For example, “Tom, go stand by the post office.” Student Tom will follow the command and walk to the post office.

2. Next, you will instruct a few students to get into their imaginary cars and command them to move about the room as you instruct. For example, “Jane, go pick Tom up at the post office.” Jane will then go and pick up Tom.

3. Another layer to this activity is to give and receive directions. Have Student A give Student B directions to a certain area of the classroom town and see if Student B can complete the task without knowing the final destination. This promotes discussion and communication between students, a great ESL sub-skill for your students to work on.

3. Your Morning Routine

This TPR activity is a wonderful way to group together a list of commands under a specific time of the day, or to simulate a routine that is commonly carried out every day.

The TPR morning routine activity focuses on the essential actions we perform every morning. This activity is excellent for students to act and it is fun and very good for creating the quick physical response you are looking for in your students.

Sample Activity:

1. Before you get started on the activity, it is a good idea to go over the different morning routines that you may use in the TPR activity. This can be done the day of or it could be the material your students have been learning throughout the week and the activity can act as a review or test.

2. For added competition, break your class into two groups. For each specific morning routine command, the group will select a representative to respond to the command. Group A will choose Tom for the first command and Group B will choose Jane.

3. Tom and Jane will stand at the head of the class and you will give a command to each. “Tom, wake up and get up from your bed. Jane, put on your robe and slippers.” Tome and Jane should be able to respond to your commands quickly and any long period of hesitation could be considered as “no point.” For each correct response, the group gets a point and the game continues with new student representatives for each question.

4. The group with the most points at the end is the victor and you can develop some sort of reward system for winning performances.

4. Your Evening Routine Activity

The ESL TPR evening routine activity is very similar to the morning routine activity.

You will develop a series of commands for your students to act out regarding common evening routines that are essential to learn in English. You can vary this activity by allowing your students to all participate together.

This activity can be used in a theater-like performance your students will enjoy and it will not only further their understanding of the material, but also add a fit of fun to a long week of ESL learning.

Sample Activity:

1. Remember, it is essential to review the different evening routines you may use in the TPR activity. This can be done the day of or it could be the material your students have been learning throughout the week and the activity can act as a review or test.

2. Have each student pick a card from a standard deck of cards. Each card will represent a specific evening routine, so you should make a list for reference prior to class. For example, the two of clubs will represent washing dishes, and the ace of spades will be mopping the floor. Each student with the two of clubs will have to complete this task during the activity. The catch here? The students will not know what their card represents until everyone is in front of the room.

3. You will designate areas of the classroom as specific areas of the home. The left corner will be the kitchen, the right front corner the bathroom and so on. You will explain each area to your students before the activity, but not after it begins, making response related to places as well as activities.

4. Next, begin telling students what each card represents. They will then go to that specific area of the room to respond to their command. Depending on how well they listen and remember the commands, you may find a few students washing dishes in the bedroom.

Overall, this is a great memory and response activity within ESL TPR and your students will remain enthused and excited about doing more of this activity in class, learning and having fun.

5. The Teacher Walkabout

The TPR teacher walkabout activity is your chance to stump your students with every move you make around the classroom. This TPR activity focuses on the sudden, quick response time your students will need to have when navigating an English world abroad.

In the teacher walkabout activity, you will slowly float around the classroom and suddenly command a student you are near to respond to your command within seconds. It is almost like a more extensive and educational version of duck, duck, goose. Your students never know when your command will come and you can even use names to command them from across the room.

Sample Activity:

1. Have your students seated with their eyes looking straight ahead, towards the front of the classroom. They can chat a bit amongst themselves in English, but not too much or too loudly.

2. Begin your stroll around the room and let the tension build before picking your first student out by tapping on his or her shoulder or desk. You will send your command at this moment as they jump from their seat and respond. For example, “Tom, stand up and turn your desk around, facing backwards.” Tom should be able to quickly respond to this task by processing your command and the key words like stand up, turn, desk, backwards.

3. After Tom completes his task, you continue floating around the room searching for your next unsuspecting TPR victim.

4. The activity continues and you can reward each student with candy after they respond and correctly complete the command. At the end of the TPR activity you can give everyone candy, not leaving anyone out.

6. Charades

Charades has been used in teaching for decades and this activity is an exceptional ESL TPR activity that will get your students hopping and moving. Charades is the cornerstone of the TPR method, pure, energetic, physical response in the form of student enthusiasm.

You can separate your class into groups for this activity or it can be a classroom exercise as well. Below will discuss a group charades activity, allowing your students to build discussion and teamwork, an important ESL sub-skill.

Sample Activity:

1. Before starting this activity, it is important to go over a few of the commands or key words that you will use during the activity. This is essential for student success and confidence building. You don’t want all your students sitting quietly, unsure what their partner is doing in front of the group.

2. Next, separate your class into groups and have each group discuss the rules of the activity and how they can build a strategy for their team’s success.

3. Once the groups are ready to begin, ask each group for one actor or representative. Group A will go first and you will tell the representative for Group A a command quietly. He or she will begin acting out the command and Group A will try to guess the correct answer.

4. If Group A fails to produce an answer or correct answer, Group B can give it a try for a point. This repeats and the group with the most points is crowned the victor.


Well, there we have it. The greatest hits of TPR!

We guarantee this is a playlist you will want to put on repeat for the rest of the semester.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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