Total Physical Response
Jonathan Harris
Binghamton University Conference
on Foreign Language Teaching,
Who I am
• I teach K-8 at St. Gabriel Consolidated
School in Cincinnati
• K-3, Students receive instruction for 30
minutes, once per week
• Grades 4-8, students receive instruction
for 45 minutes, once per week.
• I started the Spanish program there in
2006, students in the uper grades are
progressing every year.
Basic Format
• I will first define the method, discuss how I
use it and provide examples of how I use it
in my teaching.
What is TPR?
• According to the North Carolina Course of
Study, Total Physical Response (TPR) is
“A teaching approach in which students
respond with physical activity to
increasingly complex teacher commands
What is Physical Activity?
• Physical actions used in TPR include but
are not limited to the following: pointing,
gesturing, touching and pantomime.
Why use TPR?
• According to James Asher, the founder of the
method, there are a variety of reasons. I will
provide three.
• My primary teaching objective is to promote
long-term recall, so a teaching method that
promotes that will get my attention. The reason
why long-term recall is my primary objective is
because learning a foreign language should be
a life-long skill.
Why Use TPR?
• Asher finds that any manual skill such as
swimming, bicycling and ice skating, et al,
has long-term recall. He contrasts this
with students sitting quietly, listening and
repeating the teacher with does not utilize
the student’s muscular response system.
Why Use TPR?
• The second explanation is the believability
hypothesis. He stated the students are resistant
“to the assimilation, storage, and retrieval of
information (Asher 1993:3-17). When a student
hears “Stand Up” and they have heard it several
times before, they believe in the connection
between the phrase and the action. Eventually,
they will see (using their eyes, one of the
senses) and hear (using another sense) the
phrase in Spanish:
Why Use TPR?
• Asher’s third explanation is the right brain
hypothesis. During speech, the left brain
communicates while the right brain is mute
(Asher 1993:3-18). Physical actions are
right brain activities, and by getting both
sides involved, long-term recall is more
Physical Limitations
• Students with physical limitations do what
they can do. Usually, it is raising a hand
instead of standing up or whatever they
can do. We have a curriculum night and
an open house at the beginning of the
year and most of my parents are aware
that I use this method. According to
Asher, every student can benefit from this
Why I Use It?
• My primary reason for using TPR is
shorter-term recall. Long-term can be
relative because by only having each
Kindergarten, First and Second Grade
class once a week, the vocabulary learned
must be stored long-term enough to make
it home, where the parents also receive a
copy of what was studied for additional
Why I Use TPR?
• Motions can highlight the contrast between
words. Students can visualize the
opposite quality and the definition.
• Asher’s three elements of TPR articulate
my motivation for doing it. First, the fast
and continual action. Second, TPR allows
for surprises that pique interest. Third,
students become aware that a second
language is accessible, or do-able.
How I Use TPR?
• At an early level, such as Kindergarten
through second grade, students should be
first given action verbs and concrete items
(Cantoni 1999:53). In my experience, that
has been amended to include emotions.
How I Use TPR
• The first words I teach them in
Kindergarten are stand up and sit down.
They will do this about five times each.
Every class has found this fun.
• Then I will add boys and girls. So, the
boys will stand, then the girls and vice
versa. In just a couple of minutes, they
have learned four words through actions.
When do they speak?
• In the beginning, I will do all the talking.
This gives them time to process the words.
It also allows them to hear it many times
without getting bored with hearing it.
• Eventually, a volunteer will be selected to
“lead” the class.
Other Beginning Words and
• Commands. I also teach negatives, which
is Spanish are different from affirmative
commands. For example, jump and don’t
jump (don’t jump acting ready to jump),
talk and don’t talk (quiet sign), sing, dance,
run are also fun beginning commands.
Wuzzy the Teddy Bear
• I use a teddy bear to help teach parts of
the body, and places in the room.
• Students point to the parts of the body.
Use a dice and they have to identify that
number of parts. Students are rooting for
ones and I root for sixes.
• Students give Wuzzy a tour. They will
take him to the door, window, etc.
Wuzzy and the dice
Wuzzy and the Weather
• We use Wuzzy to teach the weather.
Wuzzy will do the motions, rather
someone will do them for him.
• Rain, fingers down
• Snow, throwing (snowball)
• Windy, sway arms
• Cloudy, draw a cloud with fingers
• Sunny, wipe forehead
Places in the Room
Races, two students at a time
Tour, with Wuzzy
Actually, that list is in reverse order.
Pointing will occur first. All students will
point, so the ones who don’t understand
can follow along. Then, once most are
pointing in the correct direction, tours and
Assessment With TPR
• Notice that a quick visual is a form of
assessment. Another reason why I like
this method.
Parts of the Body
• Dice game with the bear.
• Simon says.
• Point to that part of the body, arm, nose,
Numbers, Months
• Numbers, use fingers. Many kids do this
anyway. A lot of kids can count to ten in
Spanish but struggle in identifying certain
numbers. Use fingers and have contests.
• Months: say the month and if their
birthday is in that month, stand up. Say
the month with your back to the class and
tell them to stand up before I turn around.
• Two by two contests. Two students go up
to the front. The first one to act out the
command wins. The winner stays up
there, the non-winner will select the next
student and the next word.
• Have four or five students go to the front of
the room. Every student picks a word. I
say the word. Any mistake, that student
sits down, the last student wins.
Creating Stories
• Jackie Donnelly provides a recipe for
writing a TPRS story. She suggests the
following: using two or more characters, a
desire to do something, problem or
obstacle to overcome, three places to go,
problem resolution and a healthy dose of
the exaggerated or bizarre (Donnelly
Creating Stories
• All of my stories, including the example I’ll
show, can be found on my website:
George the Squirrel
Page 2, Squirrel Story
• George eats breakfast.
• George eats bacon.
• George’s mother yells “Eat slowly, don’t
throw up!”
• George says, “I’m an animal.”
Page 3
• George eats lunch.
• George eats Spaghettios.
• George’s Mom yells “Eat slowly, Don’t
throw up!”
• George says, “I’m an animal.”
Page 4
• George eats dinner.
• George eats hamburgers.
• George’s Mom yells, “Eat slowly, don’t
throw up!”
• George says, “I’m an animal.”
Page 5
• George is sad.
• George tells his Mom, “I’m an animal.
Animals eat fast.”
• George’s Mom says, “You are right.”
• George is happy.
• George’s Mom is happy.
Page 6, Squirrel Story Vocab
Throw Up
Further Reading
• Asher, J. (1993). Language Another Language
Through Actions. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks
• Cantoni, G. P. (1999). Using TPR-Storytelling to
Develop Fluency and Literacy in Native
American Languages. In: Reyhner, J. Cantoni,
G. P., St. Clair, R. N. and Parsons Yazzie, E.
Revitalizing Indigenous Languages. Flagstaff,
AZ: Northern Arizona University. Pages 53-58.
Further Reading
• Donnelly, J. K. (2006). Active Strategies
for Strengthening and Enhancing Your
Foreign Language Program. Bureau of
Education and Research: Bellevue, WA.
• Harris, J. Website:

Total Physical Response Teaching