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All Right Blog Teacher Blog
What is TPR?
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What is TPR?

In this article, discover how Total Physical Response (TPR) makes learning languages fun and effective, especially for beginners, young learners, and those studying English as a second language.

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If you have any young learners or novices on your calendar, we are sure you (and they!) will benefit much from Total Physical Response. If you are not familiar with it, check out this introduction.

Developed by Dr. James Asher in the 1960s, TPR draws inspiration from the way children acquire their first language—by associating words with physical actions. This method is particularly popular in teaching second languages, and its principles have been widely applied in various educational settings.

Since very young children are not expected to speak at all—just listen and understand, or comprehend—their mother tongue is acquired rather than acquired as a second language, and the idea of TPR is to establish a neural link between speech and action

This is because when children learn their mother tongue, their parents and caregivers are very physically involved in imparting language. They demonstrate and instruct, and the child responds in kind.

Why consider TPR?

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There are several advantages to Total Physical Response, especially for beginners and younger students.

  • Effective learning is inherently linked to the combination of language and movement. 
  • This allows students to actively use both the left and right sides of their brains, improve their listening skills, and work in both small and large groups. 
  • Students are not required to speak until they are ready, so a "safe zone" is created that significantly reduces inhibitions and stress.
  • As no one is called upon individually, TPR is great for introverted students. Limited materials and planning mean it is easy for teachers to prep. Students will appreciate the change of pace and potential for humor—even teenagers will smile! 
  • Kinesthetic learners, who respond well to physical activities, and visual learners, who learn best with visual cues, will get a lot out of TPR. (This is another reason why it is important to know your students' personalities and learning types.)

TPR works well when teaching:

  • Vocabulary, particularly verbs
  • Difficult to explain actions (think wiggle, slide, launch)
  • Storytelling and narrative language
  • Imperatives and classroom language

Using TPR in the classroom

A basic implementation of Total Physical Response in the classroom looks like this: 

  • The teacher says and shows an action (e.g., "I am brushing my teeth"); 
  • be ready to exaggerate and use gestures, facial expressions, and props if needed; 
  • call on the students to repeat the action; 
  • repeat again; 
  • write the verb/phrase on the board; 
  • repeat with other verbs; 
  • and check retention regularly throughout the semester.

Applications of TPR

Early Language Education: TPR is widely used in early language education settings, where young learners benefit from the kinesthetic and interactive nature of the method. It provides a playful and engaging way for children to absorb language naturally.

ESL (English as a Second Language) Instruction: TPR has proven effective in teaching English to non-native speakers, especially in immersion programs. The method aids in building a strong foundation in listening comprehension and basic vocabulary, paving the way for more advanced language skills.

Specialized Language Training: TPR is employed in specialized language training for specific purposes, such as teaching commands to military personnel or emergency responders. The physical aspect enhances retention and quick response in real-life situations.


Touching on TPR is a tried-and-true method for successful language acquisition that you may have been utilizing in the classroom without even recognizing it. Now that you know its name, you can add it to your toolkit of resources for beginning, young learners, and adolescent teachers.

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