Why Total Physical Response (TPR) Works

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 08/03/19 •  Classroom Resources

When you start diving into the world of online teaching you’re going to hear a lot about using “TPR” in the online classroom, but what exactly is TPR? For starters, TPR is an abbreviation for total physical response.

TPR is a term was created by Dr James Asher, a psychology professor from the University of San Jose who developed it to be used as a teaching methodology. The methodology was developed from observational studies of how children learn their first language and is built upon various related works including trace theory and developmental psychology.

Language-body conversations are the fundamental basis of TPR. It is the most powerful of the linguistic tools you can leverage. It’s more effective than teaching props, speaking slowly or repetition . TPR will not solve all language learning problems, but it will prepare your students for a successful transition to reading writing and speaking in a new language.

Total Physical Response – Why It Works

Effective TPR should be from both the teacher and the student. TPR often gets conflated with “acting” because many new online teachers liken it to being some sort of clown when in reality it’s how young learners develop language.

If you want to be an effective online English teacher you need to incorporate TPR. Using body language to associate specific acts like “read, listen, walk,” and other sorts of concepts works because students can more easily associate the specific language you want to teach along with relevant movement.

TPR is not flailing your arms around wildly or giving gross exaggerated movements – it’s simply associating body movement to language. TPR works so well because it hits on different learning styles:

  • Visual
  • Audio
  • Kinesthetic

Students have preferred methodologies of learning, just like you do as an adult. Some prefer audio and instructions, others excel with video and less reading based material. The last group wall into the  kinesthetic group who learn by doing.

Visual Learners

Visual learners benefit from TPR because it make it easy to associate words and sentence structures with appropriate movements. These two elements combined allow for an online student to meet the lesson objectives with ease.

Audio Learners

TPR is not as essential for students who learn a language by listening to it repeatedly. Audio learners develop their ability for language by recognizing patters and sounds and being able to emulate and immitate. However, though a student may have a preference for audio it still does not take away the overall importance of TPR for body-language comprehension.


Children learn by doing more often than not so effective TPR can not only help develop a child’s foreign language ability, it simply make class more fun and engaging. Remember, when your student is having fun, your having fun.

Focus on the objectives of TPR

TPR does not mean to act like a clown. It’s design to prompt the student to perform a specific action be it to repeat  a sentence, read, or respond to an open ended question. This is important because you want to maintain a 50% teacher to student talk ratio.

Using TPR will allow the student to take the lead at specific points in the lesson and participate in the conversation when prompted via TPR.

Use TPR appropriate for the student level – Adjust!

If the student is conversational, make sure your TPR is appropriate for their level. If your student is a young learner with limited language ability always be paying attention to if the student is demonstrating a level of comprehension during the lesson.

It’s YOUR classroom. Don’t feel restricted to following a specific process like a robot. Your goal above anything else is to meet the lesson objectives.

Model TPR for Student Success

Modeling is a method of teaching where you say and act out a sentence structure with the primary goal of the student using the target sentence structure correctly. With modeling it takes multiple times for the student to follow along, but with enough repetition the student will be able to understand your body language in relation to what language they should use.

TPR Story Telling

Something as simple as the “itsy bitsy spider” or “row row your boat” is an example of story telling. Songs and chants are a lot of fun for young learners and it helps them associate a physical action to a word. You can already imagine how you wold model rowing a boat to an online student. That is how you incorporate TPR. To make the lesson helpful and to increase the students confidence and retention with regards to vocabulary.

Instructional TPR

Instructional TPR are classroom commands. Students are not expected to repeat commands for obvious reasons. Instructional TPR involves things like “listen, circle, stand up, what do you see?” and so forth. Instructional TPR is useful in class because it allows the student to speak and participate in the lesson more easily while also reducing teacher talk.

Educational TPR

Last is educational TPR. Education TPR is used to meet the specific lesson objectives. Educational TPR helps convey the meaning of concrete concepts using language and body so the student can build upon their previous knowledge and begin incorporating the new vocabulary into their lexicon.

Consistent and persistent

To conclude, TPR, total physical response is not something that you can implement a handful of times in a class. It’s something that has to be consistent and persistent across all your classrooms with all your students as a way to teach online effectively.

What ways do you incorporate TPR into your online classroom?

Editorial Staff

The editorial Staff at Teach and GO is a team of teachers with a broad range of experience led by David Unwin. We have been creating helpful advice, guides and tutorials for teachers since 2018.