What is Total Physical Response?

In the January 1969 edition of the Modern Language Journal, San Jose State University emeritus professor of psychology James J. Asher wrote an article introducing a brilliant new method of foreign language teaching known as total physical response. This method was novel in that it was based upon the principle that physical gestures, and not just words, should play a part in teaching a new language. The TPR approach also views listening as the primary way in which language is learned. Grammar is not taught explicitly because a good listener can easily detect grammatical patterns. This article will explain how to apply TPR techniques to the teaching of ESL.

While TSR can be used on students who are at any level of proficiency, it is most effective with those who know little or no English. The use of facial expressions and gestures is especially important here, and up to a point the students are not required to speak at all.

The first stage of the TPR process involves the teaching of simple commands like sit down, stand up, go there, run, jump, stop and so forth. Then you can move on to more complex commands that involve interacting with one another and handling the various objects in the room.

Eventually, the students can be taught to speak English. At this point, have them give you and each other the commands they have learned.

This is a technique that works really well with young students who have little to no knowledge of spoken English.

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