Incorporating TPR methods into your instruction is imperative to good teaching! Whether you’re a virtual teacher teaching a foreign language, a traditional classroom teacher trying to teach a variety of learning levels at once, or a homeschooling mom teaching and learning along with your own kids, you need to incorporate TPR methods into your daily activities.
What is TPR?
Before we can start adding in TPR methods, we need to know what TPR is. TPR is just the acronym for the phrase “Total Physical Response.” It means getting your whole body involved in a conversation. (You might also think of it as “full body charades” or “talking with your hands.”)
If I want my kids to focus on pronunciation or on something I’m saying, I point to my mouth. When I want them to listen to me, I cup my ear. When I want them to look at something, I point to my eyes. These nonverbal visual cues help them attend to what I am doing. Thus, reiterating my point.
TPR Methods with ESL Students
TPR is hugely important when learning a foreign language. Imagine waking up one day in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language. How would you communicate? If I had to guess, you’d probably use hand gestures or participate in a lively game of “charades” until the individual you were speaking with understood you.
As an online ESL teacher with VIPKID, my job is very similar. Using TPR in my classroom helps facilitate the learning of my Chinese students. Otherwise, the fact that I don’t speak Chinese and my students are just learning English could prove to be a teensy bit problematic.
Because my young, beginning learners may only know a handful of words, when I ask them a question or I want them to say something back, I can cup my ear indicating that I want a response from them. I will also point to them while cupping my ear showing that I want them to repeat what I said.
TPR Methods in the Classroom
While the learners you teach in the classroom or in your homeschool won’t typically have a language barrier to contend with, they still need nonverbal cues to understand what you want.
These visual cues will be helpful for all the kids you teach, but will be extremely helpful for your visual learners. They are the kids who need to see things in order to understand them more completely.
So, I am going to give you 8 specific TPR actions that you can begin implementing immediately with your learners.
8 Specific & Insanely Useful TPR Actions
Hand Cupping Ear
This is an effective signal when you want your students to “listen,” when you want them to repeat after you, or when you are trying to elicit a response. You simply curl your hand around the outside of your ear and turn your ear toward the person from whom you are speaking.
Finger Pointing to Mouth
This is the signal for “Look closely at what I am saying or how I am saying it.” By pointing your finger to your mouth, you instantly focus the attention of your learners on pronunciation. I know this one is super-effective because several weeks ago while teaching VBS, one of the teachers asked me why I pointed to my lips when I was teaching the Bible lesson. I explained why and she laughed. She said, “Well, it works because I was hanging on every word you said.” That is the power of TPR.
Obviously, this is the signal for “Good job.” It’s probably the easiest of all the TPR methods simply because it is highly likely that you already use this. I can promise you that your kids will respond well to this one.
Circles Around Eyes
This may seem obvious, but this means “look” or “see.” Make circles with your hands and put them to your eyes like binoculars and you’ve got it!
Rubbing Your Chin
Rubbing your chin is one of the more overly dramatized TPR methods. Consider every character on tv who is creating a plan and you will see this method used successfully. This is especially useful when accompanied by the obligatory “Hmmmmm…”
Hand on Forehead
Think about a salute and that’s what you are doing with this TPR method. It is a great way to indicate that you are “looking” or “searching” for something. (This is even better when accompanied by #5-rubbing your chin.)
When you want to help your kiddos answer any question beginning with “What….,” you can simply add a shrug to the question. Then, add the chin rub and “Hmmmm.” Kids understand that you are posing a question and it works every time.
The last of the TPR methods that I am sharing with you is simply pointing. It is amazing how often we use this and have never realized it was TPR. If you want someone to divert their attention to something, the easiest way to accomplish this goal is by pointing.
While it’s possible this is the first time you’ve actually heard the acronym “TPR,” it is very likely that you’ve been using TPR methods in your daily life for a long time. The greatest impact of implementing TPR in your classroom or homeschool is that your learners will gain a deeper understanding of the things you’re trying to say simply by watching your body language.
If you are interested in learning more about TPR and how to effectively use it in your VIPKID classroom, visit Nancy Taylor on YouTube. She has some fantastic videos!!