On How TPR Saves ESL Classes

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) has always been a challenge to language teachers across different levels. One factor that contributes to this difficult feat is the little exposure that a learner has with the target language. The amount of experience spells the richness of one’s vocabulary, the knowledge of the rules that govern that language and the confidence of the learner to express himself/herself using the language learned.

The dearth of meaningful experience with English leads to learners who are either tight-lipped during English time or the other extreme—garrulous to the point of disrupting the class with their antics and clowning around. Then out of frustrations for the seemingly unresponsive class, the teacher resorts to translating from English to the local language. Learning a new language, then, becomes an arduous task to both teacher and students.

To address this impending distaste to learning English among students,  we can use a well-researched, language teaching technique–Total Physical Response (TPR).

James Asher, an American professor of psychology developed this teaching method. It is based on the theory that the memory is enhanced through association with physical movement.  When you pair up a sentence or any other statement with a physical action, and you do this repeatedly, would increase the likelihood of a successful recall.

TPR is most often used when giving imperatives. Instead of plainly asking your students to bring out their notebooks, raise their hands, or sit properly, couple these statements with appropriate gestures. Upon doing this, you are actually making them experience the language without explicitly teaching the grammar rules. The goal here is that they become familiar with the language and at ease hearing and responding to it.

This technique could also be used with different levels of learners too. For those who already have a considerable amount of vocabulary and a good command of the language, the students could be asked to add actions to his/her answers. For beginners, responding to imperatives is already a sign of understanding of the command or request.

TPR is best used with verbs that call for physical action, but adjectives lend also themselves to this method. For instance, brave is act out with a raised fist, fast is miming a runner with both arms swaying in an acute angle. The key here is to think of a definitive action that the children could easily associate with the given word.