Using TPR to Teach Spanish: 4 Simple Ways to Get Your Students Moving
Need a way to get your students out of their seats?
Want to help them prove they understand more Spanish words than they might think?
There’s a ton of research to prove that Total Physical Response (TPR) is one of the best ways to teach Spanish to new language learners, so it’s time to hop on board.
And don’t be fooled: TPR isn’t just for little kids! Here’s how—and why—you should make the most of it in your Spanish lessons.
- What Is TPR?
- 1. Do as I Say
- 2. The Weather Report
- 3. My First Verbs
- 4. Zootopia
- Why You Should Use TPR in Your Classroom
What Is TPR?
Total Physical Response (TPR) is a method of teaching language in which students use physical movement to respond to spoken words.
It’s based on the observation by psychologist Dr. James Asher that babies and toddlers can follow directions long before they can talk. He reasoned that the physical response actually plays an important role in attaching meaning to abstract sounds.
TPR mimics how we all learned our first language by connecting the parts of the brain in charge of speech and action through simple activities.
When students use their bodies to respond to words, it allows their brains to map out the meaning of each word before having to produce it. They can absorb the language naturally and build crucial listening skills without feeling any pressure to perform.
Plus, TPR works just as well for teen and adult learners as for children because everyone can benefit from harnessing these separate brain areas.
Ready to get started? Try these classic, effective TPR activities in your upcoming lessons.
1. Do as I Say
Start new language learners off right by teaching basic classroom commands before anything else. They’ll know what you expect when you give instructions in the target language, and they’ll be able to show what they know by following orders instead of speaking right out of the gate.
Ways to Play:
- Simple Modeling. Start by simply modeling the directions and having students follow suit. With any TPR activity, you should begin by having students only perform the actions—no speaking yet.
As you continue, you’ll find that students naturally repeat after you or say the word as they perform the action, and that’s ok. Allow them to speak if and when they wish during TPR modeling.
- Speed It Up. You can gradually make it more challenging by giving directions in a rapid-fire style and having students work to keep up. This makes a great refresher for a mid-session movement break later in the year as well.
- Simon Says. After you add a few more commands to the mix (things like getting materials, turning in homework, writing something down, listening, etc.), you’ll have enough material for a fun game of Simón Dice (Simon Says).
- Hola / adiós (hello / goodbye)
- Siéntate / levántate (sit down / stand up)
- Levanta la mano (raise your hand)
- Silencio (silence)
2. The Weather Report
Teaching weather doesn’t have to be dull, and it’s easy to add vocabulary as it comes up naturally on a daily basis (instead of having students memorize a list of vocabulary). Add a simple hand motion for each type of weather to solidify vocabulary.
Ways to Play:
- Daily Routine. Start each class period by asking what the weather is like and modeling the answer with the hand motion. Have all students repeat the weather and make the motion at the same time, and make sure they’re looking out the window as they answer.
Don’t worry if you end up repeating the same words—the weather will eventually change, and your students will absorb this vocabulary as part of their daily warm-up routine. Once they’re comfortable with it, you can start asking them individual questions about the weather instead of relying on group responses.
- True/False Charades. Once you’ve incorporated more words, try playing weather Charades. Have students get into pairs, and take turns guessing the weather a partner acts out. After each round, the guesser should then tell their partner whether it’s true or false for that day (a simple sí or no will do).
- Hace sol (it’s sunny) — make a circle with both hands
- Llueve (it’s raining) — use fingers to make “sprinkles” in the air
- Hace calor (it’s hot) — fan yourself with your hand
- Hace frío (it’s cold) — rub your arms as if cold
3. My First Verbs
Because TPR is based on logical actions and responses, verbs are perfect to teach using this method. Before you hand your students a list of their first -ar verbs to conjugate, have them act out new words to internalize what they mean.
It’s best to go with whole-body, realistic motions here—the bigger, the better! Before you know it, they’ll be calling out the words that go with those actions.
Ways to Play: As you did with commands, model the words and the physical action and have students imitate you. Then practice having them respond to the words you say to show they recognize the new words. You can easily add Simón Dice and Charades to the mix as well.
- Pictionary. Have students draw a picture of their verbs, or have a volunteer draw the word on the board for the class to guess. For a more involved game, print the words on a deck of cards and have students use them to play classic Pictionary in groups of four—a great rainy day activity that will only get more fun as their vocabulary expands!
- Memory Challenge. You can also try a memorization game by calling out three or four verbs in a row and then challenging students to act them out in the order you said. See who can stay in the game the longest without making a mistake!
Help your students pick up animal vocabulary quickly by having them act like the animal you say. In addition to the name of the animal, teach them the Spanish onomatopoeia for each one to add a layer of culture into your lessons.
Ways to Play: As always, introduce your vocabulary by modeling the animal’s behavior, this time adding the Spanish word for the sound it makes in the most imitative way you can. All of the games you’ve put in place (Simón Dice, Charades and Pictionary) will work here as well.
- BINGO. For even more fun, make BINGO boards with pictures of each animal and have students play first with the animal sounds and then with their names. Note that BINGO is a great bridge activity between classic TPR and speaking, and students can identify and act on your instruction without having to speak.
- Magic Wand. As you transition to having students do the speaking, try this fun game. Hand a few students a magic wand (a simple pointer will do). The magicians can move around the room and tap classmates to “transform” them into different animals by saying the word in Spanish.
The rest of the class will act like that animal until they are touched by another wand-wielding student and transformed into another animal or back into a person.
- El perro / guau guau (dog / woof woof)
- El gallo / quiquiriquí (rooster / cock-a-doodle-doo)
- El pavo / gluglú (turkey / gobble gobble)
- El pollito / pío pío (chick / peep peep)
Need more? Here are five additional TPR activities your students will love.
Why You Should Use TPR in Your Classroom
If you’re not quite sold on trying TPR yet, consider the benefits of using a lesson plan that is:
- Low-stress. New, nervous language learners can get comfortable in your classroom without the pressure to speak.
- Accessible. Kids with learning disabilities often thrive in a TPR-based setting, as they can internalize language naturally rather than academically.
- Energizing. Physical activity and movement have major benefits for the brain, and will keep your students alert and engaged throughout the lesson.
- Fun. Turning TPR into games and engaging activities will have students looking forward to your class—and that’s half the battle!
Once you get your students hooked on TPR, you’ll be able to get them excited about all sorts of Spanish vocabulary—and maybe even grammar!
When you trust in students’ ability to internalize language through action, you can spend less time on the kill-and-drill activities that turn so many budding learners off of Spanish.
So have fun, get creative, and get your students moving!