Creating TPR Lesson Plans: An All-in-one Template, with Fun Activities and Tips
Going beyond traditional textbook repetition and verb conjugation drills, TPR (Total Physical Response) has held steady as a preferred language teaching methodology.
TPR lessons involve physical and high-energy activities, which make students more engaged.
The research is clear that, if TPR is well-planned and effectively executed, it can lead to improved language acquisition, especially among younger learners.
Here’s a step-by-step template for creating Total Physical Response lesson plans that both you and your students will love.
- Engaging Activities for Your TPR Lesson Plan
- 7 Steps to Creating a Winning TPR Lesson Plan
- 1. Identify your standards and objectives.
- 2. Identify what vocabulary to teach and make a list.
- 3. List out possible TPR activities.
- 4. Prepare your materials.
- 5. Formulate an instructional sequence.
- 6. Articulate how you will check for understanding.
- 7. Finish with a simple and engaging “homework” assignment.
- Carrying Out Your TPR Lesson Plan
- Additional Suggestions for Successful TPR
Engaging Activities for 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.
You can use any combination of the activities listed below, though some are a more natural fit to be used together:
A Version of “Simon Says”
This is the perennial go-to for physical vocabulary learning. Since it’s a classic game, it makes TPR simple—students must listen to your ESL commands and move accordingly. It brings an element of competition along with quick thought into learning games.
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.
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.).
“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.
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.”
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 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.
Songs paired with action verbs are a natural way for students (and kids especially) to absorb new vocabulary! Just take a few phrases of the target vocabulary and set them to the tune of a familiar song.
A couple of great songs for TPR are “Bingo” by Super Simple Songs and “Freeze Dance” by the Kiboomers. Check out this website too for simple children’s songs in a variety of target languages.
For more material that you can incorporate into your lessons, one handy platform is FluentU. It uses engaging native audio and video clips, such as music videos, movie clips and cartoons to teach a language: This way, you can easily add song and dance into your class or even get students to act out certain scenes:
Whether it’s with their favorite cartoons or film characters, there are many great options to explore with the FluentU program and TPR method.
7 Steps to Creating a Winning TPR Lesson Plan
Now that you have an idea about what activities you can include, let’s get to planning your TPR lesson:
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.
Try to 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.
2. Identify what vocabulary to teach and make a list.
Given your lesson objective, determine what vocabulary the students will need to meet that objective successfully. Brainstorm a list of terms that you can think of initially. You can always eliminate some of them later if it seems like too much.
3. List out possible TPR activities.
Refer to the list above to find some great ideas for activities. Ideally, for a 50-minute class, you’ll have about 25 to 30 minutes of activities picked out.
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 your materials.
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 chef 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.
Make a note too of any links you’ll need to access during class (like with the songs noted above).
5. Formulate an instructional sequence.
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.) that 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.
One important note by the founder of TPR himself is to write down any and all activities you plan to use in class. 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
6. Articulate how you will 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. Typically you can plan about 15 minutes at the end of class to check
There are many ways that you can assess within the framework of TPR, such as TL questions about the story, teacher retelling with errors or a fill-in-the-blank cloze activity.
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.
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.
Carrying Out Your TPR Lesson Plan
Once you have completed all your planning and preparation, it is time to deliver. Here are some tips 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! 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.