How to Teach Using the Total Physical Response Method

 This article briefly discusses the what, why, and how of the Total Physical Response method in teaching English as a second or foreign language.

To start with, the originator of this method is Dr. James J. Asher. He developed the approach through laboratory research for a period of 30 years. It is internationally known as TPR, a stress-free approach for second language acquisition.

If you are a teacher or a student-teacher who wants to apply this approach, you need to be aware first of the goal of this method. The intention of this method is to promote an enjoyable learning experience among students with minimum stress. So, in designing a lesson, you must consider your purpose and the goal of the teaching method that you will use in the classroom. Thereafter, be aware of the characteristics of the method.

The book entitled, “Innovative Strategies in Communication Arts” has enumerated 7 characteristics of Total Physical Response Method as follows:

  1. Teachers give the command and the students do or follow it. For example, a teacher instructs students to write a note to their seatmates.
  2. Games, skits, and other fun-filled activities are given.
  3. There is an interaction between the student and the teacher or between the student and another student with the assistance of the teacher.
  4. Oral communication is given emphasis. There is a need to consider the lifestyle and the culture of native speakers.
  5. The actions executed by the students can determine if the meaning of the vocabulary, phrase, or sentence in the target language is correct.
  6. Committing errors is expected from the students especially when they begin to speak. So, teachers need not check minor errors. If there is a major error, then it can be corrected in a discreet manner.
  7. Students’ actions are observed as a form of evaluation. However, if it is a formal evaluation, the teacher may give series of commands and the students should perform them. The performance of the students can be graded individually, by pair or by group.

Now, upon reading the background of TPR, how can you apply this in teaching? Here are sample activities:

1. For vocabulary, repeat a word for at least 3 times. Students will act it out according to the command given. For example, the word is “stand”. The teacher will say:

  • Stand near the door.
  • Stand in front of the class.
  • Stand behind your classmate.
  • 2. For simple question, repeat the question but in different forms or structures. Then, the students will point their fingers to the person. For example, the question, “Who is _____?”, the teacher will say:

  • Who is noisy?
  • Who is always late?
  • Who is the most active in this class?
  • 3. For grammar with a beginning level of students, a teacher may bring some objects or use the objects inside the classroom. For example, the use of “there is” and “there are”, the students may pinpoint the object/objects and construct sentences using “there is” and “there are”.

    4. For grammar with students who are advanced, the teacher may say: “Think of two actions in which you can use the simple present tense and progressive tense. Then, students will execute the actions required.

    Originally this method is designed by Dr. Asher as an approach for second language acquisition. So, it is used in teaching English as a second language and as a foreign language as well. But I do believe that teachers from other disciplines, such as computer science, information technology, environmental science, engineering, business and others can also use this method particularly in teaching terminologies or technical words or jargon.

    So, happy teaching! For more information about this method please visit this site, Total Physical Response or TPR -World.


    Villamin, A.M., Salazar, E.L., Bala, E.C., & Sunga, N.R. (1994). Innovative strategies in communication arts. Quezon City, QC: Phoenix Publishing House, Inc.

    © 2015 January 4 M. G. Alvior


    1. Harvey October 4, 2016
      • Alvior, Mary G. March 30, 2017