Total Physical Response

Total Physical Response (TPR) is a method developed by Dr. James J. Asher, a professor emeritus of psychology at San José State University, to aid learning second languages. The method relies on the assumption that when learning a second or additional language, language is internalized through a process of codebreaking similar to first language development and that the process allows for a long period of listening and developing comprehension prior to production. Students respond to commands that require physical movement. TPR is primarily used by ESL/EAL teachers, although the method is used in teaching other languages as well. The method became popular in the 1970s and attracted the attention or allegiance of some teachers, but it has not received generalized support from mainstream educators.


According to Asher, TPR is based on the premise that the human brain has a biological program for acquiring any natural language on earth - including the sign language of the deaf. The process is visible when we observe how infants internalize their first language. It looks to the way that children learn their native language. Communication between parents and their children combines both verbal and physical aspects. The child responds physically to the speech of their parent. The responses of the child are in turn positively reinforced by the speech of the parent. For many months the child absorbs the language without being able to speak. It is during this period that the internalization and code breaking occurs. After this stage the child is able to reproduce the language spontaneously. With TPR the language teacher tries to mimic this process in class. The method also promises double efficiency in terms of rate of learning, according to several studies in the literature and referenced in the above book.

Classroom usage
In the classroom the teacher and students take on roles similar to that of the parent and child respectively. Students must respond physically to the words of the teacher. The activity may be a simple game such as Simon Says or may involve more complex grammar and more detailed scenarios.

TPR can be used to practice and teach various things. It is well suited to teaching classroom language and other vocabulary connected with actions. It can be used to teach imperatives and various tenses and aspects. It is also useful for story-telling.

Because of its participatory approach, TPR may also be a useful alternative teaching strategy for students with dyslexia or related learning disabilities, who typically experience difficulty learning foreign languages with traditional classroom instruction.

According to its proponents, it has a number of advantages: Students will enjoy getting up out of their chairs and moving around. Simple TPR activities do not require a great deal of preparation on the part of the teacher. TPR is aptitude-free, working well with a mixed ability class, and with students having various disabilities. It is good for kinesthetic learners who need to be active in the class. Class size need not be a problem, and it works effectively for children and adults.

However, it is recognized that TPR is most useful for beginners, though it can be used at higher levels where preparation becomes an issue for the teacher. It does not give students the opportunity to express their own thoughts in a creative way. Further, it is easy to overuse TPR-- "Any novelty, if carried on too long, will trigger adaptation." It can be a challenge for shy students. Additionally, the nature of TPR places an unnaturally heavy emphasis on the use of the imperative mood, that is to say commands such as "sit down" and "stand up". These features are of limited utility to the learner, and can lead to a learner appearing rude when attempting to use his new language. Of course, as a TPR class progresses, group activities and descriptions can be used which continue the basic concepts of TPR into full communication situations.

Related methods
Blaine Ray, a Spanish language teacher, added stories to TPR to help students acquire non-physical language creating the foundation of the method known as Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) built on Stephen Krashen's theories of language acquisition.