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Dip your toes in CI: Get moving with TPR

July 24, 2018

For some of us, change happens fast. We take in information, make a decision, and take action immediately. For others of us, change happens slowly. We take in information, wrestle with it, take an action step, take a step back, take in more information, wrestle some more, take a few action steps, take a step get the idea. If you are of the latter group--at least when it comes to implementing changes in your language classroom--then this post is for you. I began this "Dip your toes in CI" series last summer, and now that the weather is warm and I am swimming in lakes again, I figured it is about time to finish up the last two posts in the series ;-) Whether you are coming back from a big summer conference or have been catching glimpses of what comprehension based language teaching looks like on various social media platforms, I hope that this post will give you the confidence you need to try out something new this fall. Dip your toes in CI: Total Physical responseTotal Physical Response (TPR) is a method for teaching language that was developed by Dr. James Asher. While TPR can carry a class much further than most teachers realize, it does have its limits. TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), developed by Blaine Ray, was borne out of TPR. Blaine created TPRS as a way to expand the success of TPR by adding a new step to the process. But we aren't here to learn about TPRS--not today. Today is about TPR.


  • Using TPR can introduce a boatload of vocabulary to students very quickly. With repeated uses of commands within a TPR session or TPR sessions, you will find that students have quite a solid ability to interpret the commands and are ready to work with them in different modalities (reading, writing, speaking).
  • TPR allows students a silent period. They are not to say anything (well, unless the command given is to say something!); simply to listen. 
  • TPR focuses the learner on the MESSAGE, not on FORM. This is a key indicator that an instructional strategy leads to acquisition, not explicit learning. Language acquisition is a natural, subconscious process—a process of which anyone that learned a first language is capable of. Language learning is not nearly as equitable as language acquisition, and it quickly sorts students into high and low aptitude. TPR results in language acquisition, and it is therefore both a successful and an equitable strategy to use in class.
  • TPR reinforces the organizational structure of the class: the teacher is the authority, and the students follow the teacher’s commands. A well established and accepted organizational structure is important for the relationships between teacher-student and student-student and for the flow of the class as the year moves on. Through TPR, students become accustomed to listening to and obeying the teacher. During TPR, the commands that the students are following are fun, and compliance is usually by choice. The subliminal message is that when you follow the teacher’s commands, you are successful, have fun, and strengthen relationships. This is a good thing!
  • TPR links each target language word to a movement. This connection helps students to internalize the meaning of the new word.
  • TPR gets students moving. Movement has proven health benefits—too numerous too list.

“There are two sides to communication - interpretation and expression. A learner's job in the early stages is largely interpretation.” - Bill VanPatten

Why do you TPR? What benefits have you experienced as a teacher and a learner? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


With TPR, you will essentially be working with three factors:

  2. VERBS

TPR (total physical response)

Subjects: The class, everyone, individual students, pairs, small groups of students (named or sharing a designated quality, such as ‘boys’, ‘brunettes’, etc.)

Verbs: Primarily, verbs of movement:

  • Stand up [slowly, on a desk, five times]
  • Sit down [on the floor, quickly, in five seconds, by the door]
  • Walk [three steps, forward, with a friend]
  • Run [for 10 seconds, like a turtle, romantically]
  • Look at [a friend, the ceiling, the color red]
  • Point [to the teacher, to your foot, to something orange]
  • Jump [like a frog, backward, to the board]
  • Touch [your nose, a book]
  • Grab [your ear, a pencil]
  • Give [a high five, a pencil, a smile]
  • Lift [your finger, a book, the desk]
  • Open [your hands, your eyes, your arms]
  • Close [your fist, your mouth, your eyes]
  • Turn [to a partner, to the left, to the right, around]
  • Laugh [like Michael Jackson, like a baby, nervously]
  • Cry [quietly, dramatically, with a friend]
  • Leave [through the door, the group, with a friend]
  • Form [a group of 5, the letter A, a chain of 4]
  • Say [your name, hello, pleased to meet you]
  • Wait!
  • Listen!
  • Don’t move!
  • Freeze/Stop!


  • Quickly
  • Slowly
  • Romantically
  • Dramatically
  • Mysteriously
  • Energetically
  • Calmly
  • Enthusiastically
  • Nervously
  • Furiously
  • Timidly
  • Immediately
  • In [5] seconds
  • [5] times
  • Quietly
  • Loudly
  • With a friend
  • With a boy/girl
  • On the floor
  • On a chair
  • Backward
  • Forward
  • On a book
  • On a desk
  • On a friend
  • To the right
  • To the left

What are your favorite subjects, verbs, and adverbs to use with TPR? Share in the comments!!


  1. Start with a single command. Say it in a firm voice.
  2. Gesture the command to establish meaning—in my experience, TPR works better when students are only responsible for listening; not for reading the words as well.
  3. Repeat the command until all students follow along.
  4. Add a contrasting command.
  5. Play with the two commands, saying them back to back several times.
  6. Bring in an adverb or adverbial phrase. If possible, choose a cognate. DO show students the printed word if it is a cognate! Below is a slideshow that includes some adverb-cognates in Spanish.
  7. Slowly—very slowly—bring in new commands as students. A mantra from iFLT this last week was “Go slow to go fast”. Once you have 3-4 contrasting commands, don’t add any more! Discipline yourself to not bring in more words! See how long you can go with just those 3-4 commands, playing around with different student groups and adverbs. Keep going as long as you can maintain interest!
  8. When interest wanes or you feel like moving on, do!

Eventually, you might want to spin a story from a TPR session—but this post is about dipping toes in CI, so we will leave that for another day.

[googleapps domain="docs" dir="presentation/d/e/2PACX-1vTaa0WBxrAaVzKKyxmXNvXpXZTGuRROcvhAtKxihOqhq-RSDNEpelwYCKAMVabngmtgRLuPUHanLb7S/embed" query="start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000" width="1365" height="1053" /] Get the slideshow here!


And speaking of commands, perhaps you just want someone to tell you what to do for your first go at TPR! Don’t worry—I’ve got you covered! Use this simple starter sequence to help you try out TPR with confidence. I think you will find that you can very quickly apply the rhythm to other commands and create your own interesting, effective TPR sessions!

  1. Class, stand up (gesture for everyone to stand up).
  2. Class, sit down  (gesture for everyone to sit down).
  3. Class, stand up!
  4. Class, sit down.
  5. Class, stand up FAST (gesture to do it fast and/or show adverbs slide with translation)!
  6. Class, sit down FAST!
  7. Class, sit down (students should do a little ‘bop’ in their seats).
  8. Class, sit down (bop again).
  9. Class, stand up SLOWLY (gesture to do it slowly and/or show adverbs slide with translation!
  10. Class, sit down SLOWLY!
  11. Class, stand up SLOWLY.
  12. Class, sit down FAST.
  13. Class, stand up FAST.
  14. Class, sit down SLOWLY.
  15. [Student A, B & C], stand up!
  16. [Student D, E, & F], stand up!
  17. [Student A & D], sit down!
  18. [Student B & F], sit down!
  19. Everyone, stand up!
  20. [Student C & E], sit down!
  21. [Student G] stand up!
  22. [Student G], sit down!
  23. [Student G], stand up slowly! [Student H], stand up fast!
  24. [Student I], stand up fast!
  25. [Student J], stand up fast!
  26. [Students G & I], sit down slowly…on [Student B] *make sure that these students are all friends and you are confident that they wouldn’t mind this!
  27. Everyone, sit down [on the floor].
  28. Everyone, stand up fast!
  29. Everyone, sit down slowly.
  30. Everyone, sit down and look at (gesture look at (hands to your eyes like binoculars)) [Student A].
  31. Everyone, look at [Student C].
  32. Everyone, look at [Student D].
  33. Everyone, stand up and look at [Student H].
  34. [Student H], sit down slowly.
  35. [Student I], sit down slowly.
  36. Everyone, look at [students H & I].
  37. [Student H], look at [Student I].
  38. [Student I], look at [Student H].
  39. [Student H], look at [Student I] romantically.
  40. [Student I], don’t look at [Student H] romantically.
  41. [Student I], stand up fast.
  42. [Student I], look at [Student C].
  43. [Student C], don’t look at [Student I].
  44. [Student I], look at [Student C] romantically.
  45. [Student C], don’t look at [Student I].
  46. Don’t look at [Student I]!
  47. Quick! [Student C], look at [Student I] fast.
  48. Look away!

I had the pleasure of attending a fantastic workshop on TPR at OFLA earlier this year, presented by Teri Wiechart. Teri is an experienced teacher-trainer and coach, and I would highly recommend her services as an independent consultant for any world language program! Click here to connect with Teri!

TPR (total physical response) Get other toe-dipping ideas in these posts:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Read together
  3. Try a MovieTalk

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