We’ve all had that teacher’s nightmare.
We walk into a class, look over a sea of bright, eager young faces hoping to learn English and realize… we have no idea what we’re going to do.
Snap yourself out of that horrible nightmare and take a deep breath, because it’s time to create a Total Physical Response (TPR) lesson plan.
Lesson plans are essential to any classroom for a multitude of reasons, from giving teachers confidence in their activities to supporting school quality standards to achieving teaching goals and much more. When embarking on James Asher’s well-regarded style of teaching language, TPR, having a plan is the key to classroom success.
But creating these TPR lesson plans isn’t always a breeze. There are so many factors to consider. What TPR activities will work best for your ESL classroom? How should you prepare for them? How will you assess students?
We’re here to make things a little less tricky. In this post, we’ll give you a lesson plan template to craft successful TPR lessons no matter what English concepts you’re teaching or what level your students are at.
Whether you’ve never used TPR before or you’re looking for some new approaches, this template will help ensure total TPR success with your students all year (and beyond)!
What Is TPR and Why Should I Use It?
The traditional style of teaching emphasizes rote memorization and lecture-based classrooms in order to learn a second or additional language. TPR flips all of this on its head, focusing instead on physical activity that reduces stress while allowing language acquisition during a form of play.
Most of these activities come in the form of commands by the teacher, or perhaps an especially advanced student, that the other students must follow in a way that involves physical action. While some critics claim TPR is only beneficial to the very young and absolute beginner students, there’ve been multiple publications expressing clever and interesting ways to work in TPR learning with students of any possible age.
Since James Asher published “Learning Another Language Through Actions” in 1977, teachers have incorporated TPR into their classrooms either partially or completely, and especially in situations that involve introducing new vocabulary to the students.
However you choose to use it, once you begin to incorporate TPR strategies into your lesson plan, your classroom will suddenly open up to include a broad range of new and exciting activities for you and your students.
How to Plan Ahead for Successful TPR Lessons
The most important aspect to remember about TPR, as a teacher, is that it’s merely a tool to be wielded. Like any other tool controlled by people, its use in the classroom can be clever and tactical, bringing about excitement and new learning opportunities for the students—or it can be used a blunt and ineffective instrument if thought isn’t put into the process beforehand.
For this reason, creating a thought-out and well-written lesson plan before class begins can improve the process and ensure your students are getting the best experience possible from your lessons.
Of course, your very first TPR lesson plan, and a few after that, should be your most detailed plans, but then as you gain more and more experience you’ll find you can quickly and easily replicate past activities from in the classroom to be adapted to current word lists and skill levels.
Either way, a successful TPR classroom will include dozens of activities designed to engage students and utilize your lesson plan goals.
As you develop your individual TPR style, you can mix and match various strategies to see what fits your personality, age group and students the best. During this time it’s best to keep a collection of all TPR activities in a personal computer document or physical folder, with notes on what works and what could be adjusted, so you can quickly reference them when creating future lesson plans.
A final note for TPR lessons is on grammar, a topic that’s heavily covered in traditional and lecture-style classrooms. In a TPR classroom, grammar is still taught, but instead of being the classroom focus, it’s often introduced organically and as an aside, where the teacher may correct poor grammar or help create new phrases by assisting with grammar.
One great activity you can introduce into your TPR lessons is watching YouTube videos.
For instance, you could use the commands included in this video from FluentU’s English YouTube channel. Your students will feel like superheroes and will learn English at the same time!
Your students will love FluentU English and its videos because they’re mainly based on popular movies and series. These videos will help you teach them English in a fun and engaging way. Subscribe to the channel today and become their favorite teacher!
An All-in-one TPR Lesson Plan Template for ESL Teachers
It’s important to create your lesson plan in an easy-to-edit format that you can quickly refer to as you grow (and possibly travel) as a teacher.
For example, if you believe your best work comes from handwriting, you may wish to draft the lesson plan with pen and paper, but if you know you plan to work in international ESL and hope to travel to different countries, the best choice is probably to use a computer so you can easily carry all your files and documents.
Either way, your TPR lesson plan is going to be set up along the following lines:
- Begin with objectives and target vocabulary.
- Choose TPR activities to engage with the class.
- Note required preparation to be done before class begins.
- Choose methods to check for understanding with the students.
We’ll walk through these steps in more depth below so you can adapt each one to your teaching needs on any given day.
1. Identify Objectives and Write Up Target Vocabulary
While it can easily be overlooked, establishing your class objectives can make all the difference during later evaluation to decipher what worked—and what didn’t—in the classroom. For this reason, you should always have a sub-header at the very top of your TPR lesson plan outlining the goals that you wish to accomplish by the end of class.
Next, draft a list of your target ESL vocabulary for easy reference. Remember this should be clear, surrounded by white space so you can find it easily, and it can consist of either English words or phrases depending on your students’ language level.
Then put a sub-header for “Preparation” below the objectives and leave a blank space underneath—we’ll come back to fill this out later on.
2. Choose TPR Activities to Incorporate into Your Classroom
Now to the meat of our TPR lesson plan. Ideally, for a 50-minute class, you’ll have about 25 to 30 minutes of activities picked out, and these TPR activities should follow a clear narrative sequence that you can build on and increasingly engage the students’ language skills.
There are tons of activities you can choose from, which you’ll become more familiar and comfortable with as you dive into the world of TPR—we’ll suggest several effective and versatile ones below.
- Simon Says: This classic game makes TPR simple, since students must listen to your ESL commands and move accordingly. There’s a reason it has stuck around so long as one of the best options for TPR. This game brings an element of competition along with quick thought into learning games.
- TPR song and dance activities: There are dozens of songs available online that are designed to get a physical reaction from students, whether they work through imperative commands or silly play-acting games.
For example, check out “Bingo” by Super Simple Songs. This version of the classic song is particularly suitable because it includes clear actions for each verse for the students to follow. “Freeze Dance” by the Kiboomers plays like a party game and will keep your students’ energy and physical activity up while they hop, twirl and of course freeze to the music.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one teaching platform the offers the opportunity to teach with music and get the students up and moving, then look no further than a FluentU teacher account.
It makes incorporating song and dance into your TPR classroom a breeze. Plus, there are heaps of ways to model TPR behavior with ease with a full library of engaging video content. Whether it’s with their favorite cartoons or film characters, there are many great options to explore with the FluentU program and TPR method.
- Act It Out: For a slightly more advanced classroom, encourage the students to tell a story with the new target vocabulary. The story should include physical gestures that demonstrate students’ understanding of the vocabulary (whether it’s miming nouns, demonstrating action verbs, etc.).
- Cross the River: This game brings physical activity to basic “True/False” questions.
Have all the students stand in the middle of the classroom (in the “river”) and tell them which side of the classroom indicates truth or falsehood. Then, once you make a statement, they must choose a side of the room to cross to that indicates whether they believe your statement is true or false.
For beginner or elementary classes, stick with visuals and use simple phrases such as “this is a lion” (while holding up a picture of an elephant) or “an elephant is very small.” Intermediate or advanced students can interpret more complex statements, such as “A lion must eat other animals to survive.”
3. Prepare Your Activities and TPR Commands
Once you have your activities picked out, go back to the “Preparation” section of your lesson plan. Make a note of any links you’ll need to access during class (like with the songs noted above) or classroom setup you’ll need to do before the first bell.
Now is also a good time to add the planned activities to a budding TPR resource document so you can take notes on how they worked immediately after the class.
One important note by James Asher himself is that it’s highly recommended to write down any and all commands you plan to use in class beforehand. This is because this style of classroom teaching is designed to move very quickly, and if you have to slow down to think up a new command it can bring jarring halts and take away from your students’ learning time.
4. Consider How to Check for Understanding
As with any lesson plan, you’ll need to think ahead for classroom assessment after the TPR activities. Typically you can plan about 15 minutes at the end of class to check for student understanding of the objectives.
If your students aren’t yet literate, you can assess their understanding with simple yes/no questions, or questions that they can use their bodies to respond to. For example, if you’re teaching a series of animals, you can show a picture of any animal and ask “Is this a ___?” and fill in the blank with a vocabulary word.
Be sure to get your students moving when they answer, such as standing up to indicate “yes” and sitting to indicate “no” as a response.
Another option is to use single word assessments, where students match a spoken word with a picture or written word, etc. Of course, if you’re feeling creative and your students are a bit more advanced, you can also work in clever concept-checking games like Jeopardy to keep the students motivated throughout the class.
Your lesson plan is ready to go, and all you have to do now is finalize your noted preparations and you’ll be ready to teach your first TPR classroom. Remember, especially when you first begin working with TPR, to keep careful notes right after class so you can remember what activities were successful and suggest edits to yourself for future classrooms. Soon, you’ll have a rollicking TPR classroom within which students are excited to learn.