It appears that this TPR thing is not just a passing fad.
Although other trends have come and gone, TPR (Total Physical Response) has held steady as one of the preferred language teaching methodologies, ever since it was first introduced in the 1970s.
And no wonder.
The immersive and interactive nature of TPR makes it an appealing alternative to traditional textbook repetition and verb conjugation drills, for both teachers and students.
It’s not just fun and games, either.
This is attributed to the fact that TPR most closely mirrors the way we acquire our first language from our parents at home.
The physical and high-energy nature of TPR activities also leads to increased student engagement.
And we all know that higher levels of participation and motivation in the classroom inevitably result in a better learning outcome.
Total Physical Response can be challenging to bring into your classroom if you have never been trained in it. As with any teaching methodology, TPR needs to be thoughtfully planned and mindfully executed to be truly effective.
But if the orchestrated chaos of TPR is new to you, we’ve got you covered. Here are some basic guidelines to create a lesson plan that both you and your students will love!
The Ultimate Guide to Total Physical Response Lesson Plans
Engaging Activities and Techniques to Include in Your TPR Lesson Plan
The heart and soul of a TPR lesson plan are in the activities. A good TPR lesson hums with energy and excitement, fueled by physical movement and immersive sparkle.
The good news is that most TPR activities are quite simple. Once you have mastered them, you can use them over and over.
You can use any combination of the activities listed below, though some are a more natural fit to be used together. Some suggestions are a simple pairing of words and movement, while others involve telling a story (TPRS). You can focus on just one strategy, or incorporate several. To start, try out a few different sequences and see how they work.
- A version of “Simon Says.” Good old-fashioned “Simon Says” is the perennial go-to for physical vocabulary learning. Try a new twist on this old favorite by making it into a team game.
- Songs. Songs paired with action verbs are a natural way for students (and kids especially) to absorb new vocabulary! They are easy to create: just take a few phrases of the target vocabulary and set them to the tune of a familiar song. Or check out this website for simple children’s songs in a variety of target languages.
- Improv theater. Stories are a popular and fun method of teaching TPR vocabulary. Tell a story paired with appropriate actions and gestures, and then have students act it out as you tell it again. Make it even more fun by adding things like costumes, pictures and props. You will find lots of other strategies for TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) here.
- Pop-up grammar. One common criticism of TPR is that it neglects the explicit teaching of grammar concepts. But grammar is best learned in the context of natural communication. The technique of “pop-up grammar” can be used easily in conjunction with the activities on this list, such as songs or improv theater.
Simply pause for 5 seconds (no more than that!) to explain grammar rules in the context of the conversation or story. You can ask students to point out differences they notice as these relate to things like plurals, subject-verb agreement and past tense. Or you can point out these differences once you are confident that the students have mastered the target phrases. You may think that you can’t really teach them anything in 5 seconds, but you will be surprised at how memorable these brief grammar lessons are when presented in context.
- A check for understanding with “true or false” statements. Make ten statements about a story and have students determine whether these statements are true or false. You could have students write down the answers or simply move to a different side of the room based on their answers.
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7 Steps to Creating a Winning TPR Lesson Plan
1. Identify your standards and objectives.
You can’t create a successful road map without knowing your destination first! What do you want your students to know and to be able to do by the end of the lesson? If you need help with this, check out the ACTFL standards.
2. Identify the vocabulary that will be taught and make a list.
Now that you have a lesson objective, determine what vocabulary the students will need to meet that objective successfully. Brainstorm a list of terms as you can think of initially. You can always eliminate some of them later if it seems like too much.
3. List out an array of possible TPR activities.
Refer to the list above to find some great ideas for activities. The more, the better! If you are teaching colors, prepare a simple song about the colors and practice it. If you want to use a story, create it and practice it, or find a simple story in a book and become familiar with it. Remember that you will not want your students to do the same thing for too long. The last thing you want is for your students to get bored.
4. Prepare any materials you need.
For example, if you are doing improv theater about food and cooking, you could find some play food and come up with some fun costumes such as aprons, oven mitts and/or chefs hats. If you are planning to ask questions to check for understanding, write these down. Other items you may consider finding or creating could include audio recordings or flashcards.
FluentU is a great one-stop source for songs, stories and other media useful for TPR activities. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. You can easily search for videos and other content by topic or vocabulary.
5. Formulate an instructional sequence that makes sense.
Each activity in the sequence should build on the previous activity. You will probably want to start by teaching high-frequency abstract phrases (“there is,” “he goes,” “she wants,” etc.) which can’t be easily acted out. Your earlier activities will focus on teaching the vocabulary, while later ones should lend themselves to practicing what students have learned. A story can provide an organic framework for an activity sequence.
6. Articulate how you will assess or check for understanding.
By the end of the lesson, you will need to have a good idea of how well the students have mastered the lesson objective. There are many ways that you can assess within the framework of TPR, such as TL questions about the story, teacher retell with errors or a fill-in-the-blank cloze activity.
7. Finish with a simple and engaging “homework” assignment.
You could perhaps avoid actually calling it “homework” (why ruin the fun?), but a simple task to do on their own can help students retain what they have learned. They could create their own stories with the new vocabulary, or you could ask them to give a simple retelling of the story to their family.
Let the Fun Begin: Carrying Out Your TPR Lesson Plan
Once you have completed all your planning and preparation, it is time to deliver. Here are some steps to follow for carrying out your TPR lesson plan.
- Consider playing some background music to help students focus better. Soft classical music is ideal for increasing attention levels in the classroom.
- Preteach abstract high-frequency phrases by writing them on the board.
- Go through your sequence of activities. Try to relax and have fun so your students will, too! With so many activities and so much speaking, it is easy to become frazzled and forget what is coming next. Consider pre-recording the sequence of events so that you won’t have any trouble remembering what you are doing next. The recording can be paused as needed, freeing you to concentrate on coaching the students.
- Assess their understanding of the lesson and their mastery of the learning objective.
- Finish by giving them a task to complete on their own at home. This task will help them practice and remember the new vocabulary they have learned.
Additional Suggestions for Successful TPR
As you present your lesson and activities, there are several important things to keep in mind.
- Like the natural acquisition of our first language during childhood, TPR takes place in a “judgment-free” zone. Don’t focus on making corrections. Your students will participate more openly if they know they can communicate in a natural, non-evaluative environment. This kind of open communication is one of the hallmarks of successful TPR.
- Also try not to teach too many words or concepts at once. Students will become overwhelmed and confused. Isolate a few details and focus on those so that they will be easy for your students to remember.
For example, once they have mastered actions in the present tense, try introducing them to the past. Use simple gestures to show the difference between past and present, and speak with emphasis on the changes in the verb.
- Don’t be afraid to have fun and be silly. Exaggerate the language and turn it into a joke whenever possible to hold interest.
Although TPR may feel strange to you at first, you will develop your own style and become more comfortable as you keep doing it.
Eventually, you will learn to tweak lessons to fit your style and your students’ needs.
Soon you will find that you love TPR… and that your students do, too.
And One More Thing…
If you and your students are digging interactive learning, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. Not only is it a great place to find material for TPR lessons, but it’s designed to get students familiar with foreign vocabulary in a fun, friendly, totally approachable way. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news, inspiring talks, cartoons and more.
With FluentU, your students will learn the real language—the same way that natives speak it. They’ll hear their new vocabulary words in context, spoken naturally and casually. Every student is guaranteed to find videos they love to watch, and you’re guaranteed to find videos that meet your teaching needs. FluentU has a very wide variety of videos, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is easily within the reach of any student, at any skill level, thanks to the interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that your students are learning. It uses that vocab to give students a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
You can organize chosen videos into “courses,” name your courses and assign them to your students for homework or in-class activities. They can each sign in using nothing but a secret password that we bestow to you, the teacher. Then you can track their progress individually and as a group. How many videos and activities have they progressed through? What percentage of the exercise questions are they getting right? You’ll be able to see all this information and more.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or from the Google Play store to access material on your Android and iOS devices.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.