Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to start the year with TPRS (part 1) - TPR

I never know where to direct people when they are curious about starting using TPRS in their classroom... so here's an attempt.

First few weeks:
Many TPRS teachers would recommend that you start off the year using TPR.  If you're not familiar with TPR, it's basically getting the kids to stand up and act out what you tell them.

You choose (at the most) 9 structures each day to go over with them and repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.  I always choose 3 of the nine to teach in a cluster, then review the previous 3 as needed.  By the end of the class, I am using all 9.

There are some different techniques involved in TPR.

Here are things you can do:

  1. say command while modeling
  2. say command while delaying modeling
  3. say command while occasionally modeling incorrectly
  4. say command without modeling
  5. string 2-3 commands together

TPR is a great warm up for a teacher who will be teaching TPRS because you learn to keep the language simple while always changing it around to make it more interesting.

Here's an example of how you might start off with TPR going from simple to more complex as the students get better.

Let's say our structures for the day are:

  • touch your hand, head, foot
  • mouth, eye, dance
  • run, kiss, hit

I would start off with the first three while modeling:
The asterisk means this is the first time it's mentioned.

  • *touch your hand
  • touch your hand
  • *touch your head
  • touch your hand
  • touch your head
  • *touch your foot
  • touch your head
  • touch your foot
  • touch your hand
  • touch your head
  • touch your foot

Review as needed; say two or three and have them touch... the key is repetition!

Remember that by going slowly, the kids are trying to listen to a completely foreign language and bind these seemingly arbitrary new sound patterns to meaning... so going slow isn't a bad thing even if it is easy for you. Some kids might barely be hanging on even while you are going slowly.

  • *touch your mouth
  • touch your hand
  • touch your mouth
  • touch your foot
  • touch your mouth
  • touch your head
  • touch your mouth
  • *touch your eye
  • touch your mouth
  • touch your eye
  • touch your foot
  • touch your hand
  • touch your eye
  • touch your head

review as needed, adding other 3 structures; model; delay modeling; review words they aren't getting, change it up by touching the wrong one and letting them correct you.  have them compete with one another for "bragging rights"

On a future day, since you are going to always review the words you went over while adding new ones, any actions that you have gone over like "dance" or "kiss", you can review the body parts and then also use that action... I wouldn't recommend this on the first few days of class unless they are really getting the body parts since you're taking away the safe element of "touch"

So I might use commands like:

  • The hand kisses the foot.
  • Hug your hand / mouth / head / foot.
  • The mouth dances on the hand. (move mouth while touching hand to it)
  • Kiss your hand with your hand.
  • The hand hits the mouth.
  • The hand hits the foot.
  • The hand hits the head.
  • The head hits the hand.
  • The head kisses the hand.

The idea of these is that they are called novel commands.  These will help more kids buy into your class because they will prefer these types of commands once they are able to understand them.  Once you do these kinds of commands, you will hear something magical: laughter.  This laughter is what will transform your class as the energy is much more positive, creating a safe environment where we can learn language.
At the end of class, you can have them close their eyes and tell them you just want to see which words they know and which words they don't know yet.  This isn't for a grade, but it's so you know what to review tomorrow.  This sets the tone for class that you always have the option to learn something tomorrow you don't know yet.

This is TPR in a nutshell (or my understanding of it).

The keys are:

  • at most 9 new structures a day
  • review, review, review
  • go slowly
  • constantly assess which words kids know and do not know

Something I like to do sometimes is creating little stories when they have more words like:

  • The pencil looks at the book.  
  • The book dances with the pen.  
  • The pencil yells.  
  • The pencil walks towards the book.  
  • The pencil hits the book.  
  • The book yells at the pencil.  
  • The book hits the pencil.  
  • The pencil falls.  
  • The book jumps on the pencil. 
  • The pencil cries.  
  • The book laughs. 

Students can enjoy these little narratives because they are acting them out while you go over them with your props and their props and they are following this strange narrative because it's a somewhat logical progression.

Later on, I might also have my kids write a TPR command or two to go over that day and I have half of my lesson plan: review with their novel (or simple) commands.  Great formative assessment to see how kids are progressing!

Another neat activity is the 3-ring-circus.

My recommendation if you use TPR is to make sure to plan out your list of action verbs and nouns ahead of time so you know what all you want to teach and break it down.  I kind of lose steam with it after 2 or so weeks.  By that time though, my kids have quite a basic vocabulary for when we start storytelling.

But you might be able to do it longer.


  1. Do all of the language teachers in your school use TPRS? I'm one of three Spanish 1 teachers in my school, and the next level teachers get annoyed if our students aren't at the same place (more or less) in September.

    1. I just started at a new school with a Spanish department who is coming from a more traditional mindset. They are open to trying out TPRS and CI in addition to what they are already doing. This is a HUGE paradigm shift, but they recognize the need for input in the class!

      Before I taught in a department of 1.

      We're trying to standardized our summative assessments. So I will do as much CI as possible, but I might have to occasionally do a grammar lesson here and there just to level the playing field (even though I believe in CI more in the lower levels). ;-)

  2. Thank you! I too am beginning TPR this year! I'm excited just need to know what to teach and more of how to teach it TPR style!!