Using TPR to Encourage Speaking

TPR or Total Physical Response: matches vocabulary/phrases with actions.  It utilizes kinesthetic learning used in combination with visual and/or auditory learning, thus producing multi-sensory learning.  TPR activities are great for language acquisition and for getting the wiggles out (when students start fidgeting in their seats in class or when online at home) of students of any age.  I have used this for my students in classes from elementary to university and adults.

How to use TPR

  • Prepare: Plan the vocabulary you want to focus on and the matching movements.
  • Teacher Modelling: The teacher does an action, both demonstrating and saying it (ex: “I’m washing my face”).  Be prepared to exaggerate, use gestures, facial expressions, and props if you have them.  For example, use a pen as a prop when you do the action and say “Write your name.”
  • Student Participation: Get your students involved!  Have all the students repeat the action and say the word or phrase together.  This is when you can see if everyone understands.  It also helps reduce part of the insecurity your students may feel speaking English.
  • Optional: Write the verb/phrase on the board or screen AFTER modeling and getting the students to do the actions with the words.  

    Not writing or having the words up earlier helps students focus on the sounds of the words and your actions, rather than the spelling of it.  Writing it down for them after helps students connect the sound and action with a written word/phrase.
  • Repeat: Repeat this for additional vocabulary.  After you have introduced all the new vocabulary or phrases be sure to review all the new words and movements with the class.

    Return to these words and phrases regularly throughout the school year to reinforce memory assisted by the TPR mnemonic device.

Read more here:

TPR and C.A.R.E.

C.A.R.E. is a mnemonic device (in this case an acronym) to help you remember the 4 main types of memory activities for English Language Learning.  

  • TPR often incorporates these 4 main types of memory activities:
    • Creating a mental linkage (connecting action to words)
    • Applying images or sounds (students hear/speak to match TPR)
    • Reviewing well (repeating TPR activities works as a mnemonic device)
    • Employing an action (this is TPR)

Read more here:

TPR: Total Physical Response activities

Simon Says

This is a great game because your students probably already know it as it has probably been used in the students’ L1.  This is a very useful activity for reviewing vocabulary from previous lessons or at the end of a complicated lesson. Simon Says is great example of an action and speaking activity tool which reinforces the language acquisition through kinesthetic learning.

“Simon says” to do something, and you do it.

If the leader doesn’t say “Simon says” first, you don’t do it.

Traditionally teachers in large classrooms typically have all of the students stand up to start.  Then throughout the game, teachers usually have students sit down if they miss a question or answer incorrectly.   However, some students will deliberately make a mistake quickly in the game so they can sit down and not have participate.  Instead of having students sit down when they get caught making a mistake divide the class into teams and when someone on one team makes a mistake award a point to the other team instead of having the student sit down.

Simon Says as a Speaking and Action Activity

For example, you’ve just taught a lesson on meeting new people (unit 1 of almost every ESL book).  You can use these phrases with actions for Simon Says.

  • Simon Says “greet your neighbor” (turn and say hello)
  • Simon Says “ask your partner about their family” (make a circle w/ hands)
  • Simon Says “ask about your partner’s job” (I’m a student)
  • Simon Says “ask about your partner’s pet“ (actions matching dog/cat)
  • “Introduce yourself” doesn’t have Simon Says in front, so speaking here is incorrect and loses a point for their team.

Group Singing

A great example of group singing with total physical response is the grade school classic, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”.  This song is not only fun for students to sing but incorporates movements that students can remember even if they can’t quite get all the words.  

Songs work as an audio, visual and physical mnemonic device.  They help students remember the words more accurately as practice or repetition combined with the tune reinforces the meaning of the words/phrases.

You can add actions use this TPR with popular songs as well.   There are often actions you can add to every line of a song that reflects the meaning of the lyrics.  Popular songs are usually catchy, repetitive, and encourage movement.  It is one reason they become popular.

Some fun songs that can be easily made into TPR songs are:

TPR can also be done in a call and response chant or song. Call & response chants are usually short and are used to get students’ attention or to reinforce and give positive stimulus.  The TPR actions can all be modified easily for online zoom classrooms.

Here are some fun examples:

Call & response chant examples

Ss = Students
T = Teacher

Teacher says:Students respond with
words and actions:

“Listen Up!”
T: Put hands facing front on both sides of your face
“Listen Up!”     
Ss: put hands facing front on both sides of their face
“Hocus Pocus!”
T: Wiggle hands as if making magic
“Everybody focus!”
Ss: wiggle hands, too, then point to the teacher
“Macaroni and Cheese!” 
T: Wave hands in the air
“Everybody Freeze!” 
Ss: put hands in the air
“If you’re happy and you know it…”
T: One hand cupping ear
“Clap your hands!” 
Ss: clap hands
“One, two, three, eyes on me!”
T: Use fingers to count, point to your eyes
and then point to yourself
“One, two, eyes on you!”
Ss: use fingers to count, point to their eyes and
then point to the teacher
“A better you!”
T: Hands out the students palms up.
“A greater us!”
Ss: make a big circle with their arms
T: One hand pointing or in a fist up high
Ss: two hands up
“Stay focused because?”
T: One hand cupping ear
“There’s great work to do!”
Ss: two hands up in power fists
“We are the movement”
T: Marching on the spot
“We are the voice!”
Ss: cup hands around mouth
T: Hands out
“Lives here!”
Ss: point down

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