TPR or Total Physical Response is a method developed by Dr. James J. Asher, a professor emeritus of psychology at San José State University. The method is designed to teach students vocabulary in context through physical movement. Because the words and gestures are understood and repeated multiple times, students are able to retain the concepts learned. It is a listening, speaking, and kinesthetic activity. The actions will aide the learner with understanding the context. TPR can be used for various reasons, but for high school, we will focus on using a TPR for teaching difficult vocabulary and the steps in a process. For example, a TPR could be used to teach students how to write an expository essay, solve linear equations, or how to use the Scientific Method.

When creating a TPR, decide what you would like to teach and write the steps to the process. Create words/phrases/explanations and corresponding gestures for each step in the process. When teaching a TPR, ask the students to write down the words to step one and leave a place for either the translation or an explanation. Model the words and gestures for step one. Ask the students to stand up and repeat both the words and the corresponding gestures for step one. Then repeat the process for step two. Once the students learn step two, review step one and add step two. Each time a new set of words and gestures are added, ask the students to “start from the top” so they continue to repeat the steps from the beginning to the most recently learned step. Once the TPR is learned, it is important to apply the TPR to the process by showing the students how the TPR will help them to complete the steps in the process.
English learners are learning the language and content simultaneously. They have to do twice the amount of work to remember both. TPR helps them to memorize the names and different components of what they are learning, which establishes the knowledge base of “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Now we can help them move to higher levels of thinking by asking students to demonstrate both their understanding and application of the new learning. This enables them to actually perform the tasks we are asking of them. It also allows students to become active learners and become less apprehensive about speaking because the students are all speaking simultaneously.

Take a few minutes to explore the different teaching and learning tools on this page. The "Literacy TA Process" provides important details about how to teach the strategy. And the "Strategy Slides" can be used to learn more about "TPR." Once you are familiar with the content, think about how you might use the different elements provided on this page to enhance literacy instruction.

Checking In: What do students know about the reading strategy?

TPR is a great strategy to use to establish the “knowledge” of content.  It enables students to memorize content which in turn makes it easier to move from knowledge to comprehension. Once the students learn the TPR, the teacher should ask the students to demonstrate the TPR frequently until it is memorized. Once the students know the TPR, the teacher needs to move up the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy from knowledge to comprehension to application etc.

To check in before using a TPR, teachers could...

  • ask students what they know about the TPR strategy.
  • ask students how TPR has helped them  to be more successful on an exam or in completing assignments.
  • explain that they are expected to stand up, talk, and move their bodies.
  • explain that the TPR  will really help them to remember the content, vocabulary, and/or steps in a process.

Assessing the Skill: What have students learned about the strategy?

When assessing students' knowledge of "TPR" teachers could...

  • ask students to explain how the TPR strategy helps them to remember the content, vocabulary, and/or steps in a process.
  • ask students how they could use the TPR to be more successful on an exam or in completing assignments.
  • assess verbally what students' know about the strategy.
  • ask students to create their own TPR as a group assignment.

Assessing Content Knowledge: What do students know about the content?

If we are going to invest time teaching language support strategies, we should have some idea of how the strategy is improving students' comprehension of the content. When assessing students' knowledge of the content, teachers could...

  • quiz students on the different parts of the TPR either by short answer or multiple choice questions, to help determine what they know and what they still need to learn.
  • ask students to explain what each part of the TPR means either by explaining in easier English or translating each part in their home language. This will show if students demonstrate comprehension.
  • give short formative assessments (over time) that ask students to apply their knowledge to see if the TPR is only memorized words, or actually understood.
  • engage students in a formal conversation like a “Socratic Seminar,” assessing students' knowledge through verbal performance.
  • when taking a test, tell the students you want to see them making the gestures, so you are certain they are using the TPR.

Developing a Purpose

When developing a "TPR," teachers should think about what they would like to have students accomplish as a result of learning the "TPR." A "TPR" is very useful in introducing difficult concepts. It provides students the opportunity to remember the names and labels of content, so that they can move to comprehension and higher levels of thinking. The teacher needs to plan the words, and the corresponding gestures. The gestures should be practical in a way that they represent what is being said. The TPR should be introduced when the concept and the vocabulary are first introduced, since the "TPR" facilitates the learning.  

Pacing and Supporting the Lesson

If it is the first time you are using a TPR, it is more effective if you take the time to explain the process to the students. The students should know what a TPR is and why it is helpful. At the high school level, some teachers are apprehensive to use this strategy because they may feel it is too elementary or juvenile. If the teacher explains to the students how it will help and expects all students to try it, the students will engage in the process. Once students know the TPR, the teacher should review it a few times a week. Then the teacher should show the students how to apply the TPR. For instance, if the TPR was created to remember the steps to writing an essay, the teacher should model the thinking process as the class writes a practice essay together. The teacher should show the first part of the TPR and stop, think aloud, and then write by responding to that part of the TPR. Once students have mastered the TPR, they can effectively use it to answer test questions, respond to prompts, and deepen their understanding of the content.

Learning the Skill

When teaching students how to demonstrate their understanding of a concept through non-linguistic, physical representation, consider the following.

  • Start with simple concepts so that students can successfully learn the steps.
  • Model for students the motions and gestures for each unique "TPR."
  • Explain how the "TPR" strategy helps young learners gain access to new concepts.
  • Ask students to practice together in small groups.

Developing the Skill

As students become more familiar with this strategy, you can...

  • use "TPR" to teach more complex concepts that require multiple steps.
  • ask students to come to the front of the room and model the gestures while you review the key concepts with the class.
  • show how this strategy can be used in other content areas.

Mastering the Skill

Mastery of any strategy takes time and practice. To master "TPR," students should...

  • create their own "TPR" gestures for complex ideas.
  • perform physical responses in pairs and groups as they learn new concepts.
  • explain to the teacher (and the class) how "TPR" helps them recall essential ideas.



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  • TPR Vocabulary Chart
  • Process Through TPR

 Strategy Slides

Assessment Tools


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