TPR: More Than Just Commands!

Despite what many people think, Total Physical Response (TPR) is not just commands. A typical TPR sequence involves a) modelling an action, b) commanding, or narrating, and c) verifying with the class what happens. You can interact with the entire class, groups of students, and the individual. When you establish a gesture for a particular word/phrase, that’s TPR! You’re also doing TPR when you coach actors and narrate a scene during a class story via Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS).

Assuming you’ve established names for two groups and the whole class (e.g. Rōma, Capua, and Italia, respectively), like what I saw Jason Fritze and Alina Filipescu do at NTPRS 2017, here’s what just two different phrases (i.e. says “oh no,” and “laughs”) can do for you:

<start by modelling actions for the class, and in the target language say…>
– The teacher says “oh no!,” and laughs.
– I say “oh no!,” then I laugh.

Whole Class:
– Italia, say “oh no!,” then laugh!
– Italia says “oh no!,” then Italia laughs.
– Italia, you said “oh no!,” then Italia laughed.
– We say “oh no!,” and we laugh!
– We said “oh no!,” and we laughed!
– Students, say “oh no!,” students, laugh!
– The students say “oh no!,” and then laugh.
– The students said “oh no!,” then laughed.

– Rōma, say “oh no!,” Capua, laugh!
– Rōma says “oh no!,” not Capua. Capua laughs.
<look at Rōma, but say…> Capua, say “oh no!”
– Gellie, Jessica, Tom say “oh no!,” Max, Claire, Bill, laugh!
– Gellie, Jessica, and Tom say “oh no!,” but Max, Claire, and Bill laugh.
– Gellie, Jessica, and Tom you said “oh no!,” but Max, Claire, and Bill, you laughed.

– Sarah, say “oh no!,” John, laugh!
– Sarah, not John, says “oh no!,” Sarah doesn’t laugh. John laughs.

Should you do all of that like a script? Definitely not, but you gotta start somewhere, right? Start to play around with the possibilities, and don’t forget to TPR some new verbs throughout the whole year, not just in September. BTW, the list of possible verb forms used above include far more than just commands:

  • imperative singular
  • imperative plural
  • 1st person singular
  • 1st person plural
  • 1st person plural past
  • 2nd person singular past
  • 2nd person plural past
  • 3rd person singular
  • 3rd person plural
  • 3rd person plural past

Also, it was stated somewhere that TPR doesn’t shelter (i.e. limit) vocabulary,* but that all depends. Even if 10 verbs are used for TPR in a single class period, the savvy teacher doesn’t consider those 10 verbs “acquired.” Instead, those verbs are more accurately “covered,” and likely require multiple exposures before students soak them up. Those 10 verbs, then, would be recycled throughout the year. Recycled vocabulary is sheltered vocabulary, even in batches of 10, not 3. It is this last aspect that is perhaps most important to the mantra “shelter vocabulary, unshelter grammar;” exposure to recycled vocab. A text with a total word count of 200 is more readable if those words occur multiple times, say 5-10 times each. However, when most of those words appear but once, or when the only words occurring 5-10 times are “is, and, no,” and “happy,” that text is going to be difficult, if not impossible for—the—novice to read. Sheltered vocabulary works for the novice, and most of us grossly overestimate when students are “ready” to read more. Just read what the Latin II student said reading Rūfus et arma ātra sometime in April/May.

*Sheltering vocabulary is a practice that for some reason has recently been called into question. Anyone advocating for exposure to a massive amount vocab, at least in the beginning, is not thinking like a typical K-12 student. However Krashen et alii’s research is being misinterpreted, the most obvious conflict is that students get frustrated when they’re overwhelmed. Lots of words do that pretty quickly.

Anyone learning a new language, even as an adult, can see the power in making input comprehensible by sheltering vocabulary. In fact, Stephen Krashen himself has expressed this after participating in learning Chinese via the use of English translation to establish meaning, and multiple exposures to a small set of words.

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