Keith Toda

Parkview High School

TPR – It’s More than Just Simon Says

In Stephen Krashen's theory of Comprehensible Input, a "silent period" of active listening and of
auditory language processing is needed in order for language acquisition to occur, e.g. think of
how much input which babies take in before they begin to verbalize/speak. Therefore, it is not
recommended for teachers to jump immediately into having level 1 students produce language
right away at the beginning of the school year. As much as one may want to go around the room
having students ask/tell each their names in the target language during the first week, rather
consider doing Total Physical Response (TPR) with your level 1 classes instead.

TPR is essentially associating a vocabulary word with a physical action. It can be hand gestures,
American Sign Language (ASL) signs, or the actual physical action itself. The idea is that
through enough repetitions muscle memory will aid in the acquisition process.

I. TPR – Simon Says

There are many different variations of TPR which can be used in the world language classroom,
of which the most basic form is commands, where you as the teacher command some
student/students to do something in the target language, and their task is simply to perform it. I
will do TPR for the first 5 days of Latin 1 - I know that Bob Patrick does it for the first 10 days -
and I will do it for about 20-25 minutes of class.

What kinds of words to teach? That is up to you, but for obvious reasons, the verbs need to be
action words. You can pick classroom management words such as "sit down," "stand up,"
"shout," "be quiet," etc. or words which have much action associated with them, e.g. "go,"
"open," "close," "pick up," "put down," "throw," etc. I usually pick 4-5 new words each day on
which to focus, while continuing to recycle past words in order to get in repetitions.

The name of the game is to get in as many repetitions as possible in as many different ways!
Students must hear the words in a meaningful context over and over again in order to acquire
them. The number thrown around is 70 repetitions in a meaningful context in order for students
to acquire vocabulary.

1) For the first 1-2 days, stick with only verbs as commands. Determine which words you will
teach that day using TPR, and write the commands on the board in both the target language and
in English in order to establish meaning. I usually write both the singular and plural form,
because throughout the class, I will end up commanding both individuals and the class as a
whole to do something.

2) When introducing a new command, I will usually "command myself' first by pointing to the
word on the board in order to establish meaning and then I will demonstrate the action. I will
then call upon multiple individual students to perform the action
3) Even though this is a silent period for students, the very completion of the command
demonstrates comprehension and is a form of non-verbal output, i.e. it was necessary for
students to understand you in order to complete the task.

4) Once students begin to understand the commands (maybe after a day or so), start introducing
objects or places in the room for students now to use and with which to interact. Remember to
write the nouns on the board both in the target language and in English in order to establish
meaning and to point to the words and pause when you use them.

5) Feel free to introduce adverbs too, such as "slowly" and "quickly" to spice things up.

6) As students begin to acquire the language, you can also start making longer sentences, such as
"Carlita, stand up and go to the table. Pick up the book slowly and bring it to me. Now go to the
table, pick up a cookie and throw it to Barbara."

7) A variation is in the beginning to divide the class into groups, to give them a name (a number,
animal, color, etc.) and to command the different groups - this requires the class to listen,
"Beatniks, stand up! Hula Hoopers, stand up! Beatniks, sit down! Hula Hoopers, turn around!
Hula Hoopers, stop! Beatniks, stand up! Beatniks, walk to the Hula Hooper and sit on them!"

8) As acquisition furthers during TPR, you can start to narrate the action of a student, e.g.
"Susan, walk to the door slowly. O class, Susan is walking to the door slowly (you write "is
walking" on the board in the target language and in English in order to establish meaning and
then point/pause). Susan, touch the door. O class, Susan is touching the door (you do the same
for "is touching") In this manner, you have gone from the singular imperative to the 3rd singular
present form, but don't get into a full-on grammar discussion about it just yet. If you do this
enough, students will start to predict the pattern and actually say it with you.

Your first instinct may be to jump into the grammar of it all but wait for a student to say
something. Usually, I will have a student ask, "Why did 'ambula' go to 'ambulat'?" and my first
response is, "Even though the form of the word changed, did you understand what I said? I used
'ambulat' because I am narrating the action of Susan, not commanding her," and I will leave it at
that - this is an example of pop-up grammar. The same goes for if your nouns change forms too
based on their function.

9) As noted CI/TPRS publisher and presenter Carol Gaab is fond of saying, "The brain craves
NOVELTY," so change up the commands/objects by having students do wacky and funny tasks
with different combinations of known words, e.g. "Julio, pick up the cookie and eat it slowly.
Now turn around slowly and eat the cookie loudly and slowly. Marsha, walk to the board, pick
up a pen and write 'I love Justin Bieber' on the board slowly." This is what will keep the class

After 5 days or so, students should have 25-30 words, which you specifically targeted for them,
in addition to maybe another 10-15 words which were incidental words.
10) After the 20-25 minutes of TPR, I will review the new words which were TPR'd. This is a
good time to introduce any derivatives which come from the words.

11) I sometimes give students 5 minutes at the end of class to command me around the room.
Because the words are written on the board with their English meaning, I am not asking them to
output on their own (although many will have acquired those words purely due to the massive
amount of input).

II. TPR - Gestures
When teaching vocabulary, you can also assign gestures/physical movement with particular
words/phrases. Many assign ASL signs to vocabulary, or you can ask students for suggestions.
Be sure to establish meaning in English with that vocabulary word so that all students are on the
same page with the meaning. Do not assume that the meaning of a gesture is so obvious to
students that it does not require establishing meaning – what may seem completely obvious in
meaning to you as the teacher is not always obvious to students.
Whenever you say a word which has been assigned a gesture, both you and students need to
make that gesture. It is especially important for students to gesture, because that demonstrates
comprehension on their part.
You can tell a story or read a story aloud, and have students make that gesture any time they
hear/read that particular word. Have students close their eyes and gesture along as you read it
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