TESOL in China







Total Physical Response, known as TPR, was designed by language instructors to build a connection between words and the concrete reality that they represent.

TPR is a way to get students to express language without having to usethe productive skills of speaking and writing as students ‘act’ out orrespond in movement to the instructions or vocabulary used by the teacher in the activity.


Total Physical Response is a method of teaching language that was introduced by James Asher. This method encourage the use of   physical movement to react to verbal input, as this helps reduces student inhibitors and lower their affective filter. This also enables students to react to language without thinking too much, facilitates long term retention, and lowers students anxiety levels. In order for teachers to use TPR effectively, it is important for them to plan regular sessions that progress in a logical order, and keep several principles in mind.

Asher's Total Physical Response is a "natural response" since Asher believes first and second language learning as parallel processes. He argues that second language teaching and learning should reflect the naturalistic processes of first language learning. There are three main processes:

a)   Before a child develop a ability to speak, they develop a listening competence. At the early stages of first language acquisition, they are able to understand complex utterances, which is difficult for them to imitate or produce spontaneously. Asher takes into account that a student may be making a 'mental blueprint'   of the language that will make it possible to produce spoken language later during the period of listening.

b)   Children ability in listening comprehension is gained because children needs to respond physically to spoken language in the form of parental command

c)   when a foundation in listening comprehension has been established, speech envolves naturally and effortlessly out of it.

Asher believes that it is vital to base foreign language learning upon how children learn their native language, especially TPR is designed based upon how children learn their mother tongue. This method also considers an individual to learn best when he is actively involved and grasp what he hears.

Characteristics of the Method

  • Imperative drills are useful classroom activity in TPR

  • Learners plays main roles. One is a listener, while the other is a performer. They listen attentively and respond physically to the teachers command

  • Learners need to respond individually as well as collectively, as they have minor influence on the content of learning. This content will be decided mainly by the teacher

  • At the beginning of learning, students are expected to recognise and respond to novel combinations of previously taught items. These novel utterances are recombinations of constituents the teacher used for direct training

For example, in the classroom, students will follow the teacher. The teacher directs students with "Walk to the table!"   and "Sit on the chair!". These are familiar with students since they have practiced responding to them. Moreover, students are also to produce novel combinations of their own.

With this method, the teacher plays an active and direct role. The director of the stage play in which the students are the actors.

Theories of TPR

  • Krashen language acquisition theory

Children who are exposed to a huge number of language input before speaking. Language Learners can also be benefited from following this 'natural progression' from comprehension and production, instead of a more normal situation where these learners are asked to produce instantly.

  • Krashen's affective filter theory (lower stress, anxiety, thus lower affective filter)

Students learn more when they are relaxed. This is due to their affective filter, which acts as a mental barrier between the students and information is raised, that makes these students nervous and easily (painless) corrected by the teacher. Language is remember easily and can be store in the long term.

Advantages of TPR and disadvantages of TPR


  • The TPR instruction is easy to implement and no translation. It helps both students and teacher make the transition to an English Language Environment

  • No disadvantage for academically weak students: TPR does not depend on the "left or right brained", as it gives all students a chance to shine in a new environment

  • Lowers students affective filter and stress level: TPR does not require a spoken response from students. Also, if this was carried out effectively, students always understand what is happening during the Total Physical Response method, which results in increasing their confidence level and lowering their affective filter.

  • The repetition acts as a disguise, where there will be more effective input. A skillful use of Total Physical Response allows us to drill language targets repeatedly without losing students interests


  • Students who did not use these things may find it embarrassing. This may be the case, where the teacher prepared students to do some actions, the students feel happier about copying

  • This method is suitable for beginner learners, where it is clear that TPR is suitable for children at the lower level because of the target language lends itself in the activities. It is also used for the intermediate and advanced learners. For example, when teaching "how to walk" (stumble, tiptoe, and stagger), and teach cooking verbs to the Intermediate students. (stir, grate, and etc)

  • When teacher uses TPR, they will have trouble teaching abstract vocabulary or expressions

The Application of TPR in the classroom

These kinds of activities allow students to participate in the languageclassroom without fear of making mistakes. Games like ‘Simon says’ and ‘Twister’ are good examples of TPR, as students participate byphysically showing they understand the spoken instructions. TPR is used mainly for very low-level students, such as beginner and elementary, but can also be useful in certain games or specific activities.

TPR can be used to teach and practice many things as :

  • vocabulary connected with actions ( smile, crop, headache, and wriggle)

  • teaching grammatical items ( tenses, past/present/ future) and continuous aspects   (Every morning I clean my teeth, I make my bed, I eat breakfast)

  • classroom language (Open your books)

  • instructions (Stand up and touch your nose)  


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