TPR as a segue to TPRS by Emily Ibrahim

school-1665535_1280If someone would have asked me six months ago what TPR (Total Physical Response) is, I would have replied that basically, it is giving commands in the target language, with the student responding to that command physically. I mistakenly thought that simply by telling my students in the target language to stand up, sit down, or turn off the light, that I was implementing TPR in my classroom.  Though at a very basic level I was correct, after a bit of investigation, I discovered that TPR is so much more. I also discovered that it is an invaluable tool that serves as a beautiful and natural segue into TPRS.

The Basics of TPR

TPR is a great example of the teaching philosophy of “I do, we do, you do.” When teaching TPR, I put three chairs in the front of the classroom. I sit in the middle, with a student on each side.  The first “round,” the job of the entire class, including the two students sitting next to me, is to simply pay attention and watch. I say an action in the target language, then perform the action. After a series of actions, with plenty of repetitions, “round one” is over. During “round two,” the two students next to me perform the actions with me. In “round three,” I say the actions, and the two students perform the actions by themselves. The students are able to look at each other if they aren’t sure what to do, and if neither are sure what to do they can look at me for some kind of visual prompt. If neither student knows what to do, then I know that the students haven’t yet acquired the word, and need more repetitions.

Building a Vocabulary Base for TPRS

The main reason I decided to give TPR a shot this year was because I saw a need to build up an understanding of vocabulary for my students for TPRS. Though it’s not necessary to have a base of known words before beginning TPRS, it can be helpful in building creative stories if one already has a base of words in the target language from which to choose. Once we do switch over to TPRS, I know that my students and I will be creating much more exotic and wild stories than we would have if my students had jumped into TPRS cold turkey.

Building Reading Skills

Though TPR is based on listening comprehension, it can also be used to build reading skills in the target language. One of the most exciting things for me in using TPR this year has been to see my elementary-aged students reading in Spanish without any explicit teaching or written exposure to the words. After my students have mastered a set of words, instead of saying the action, I will hold up a card with the action written on it in Spanish. The students do not read the word out loud, but perform the action. They have consistently been able to perform the action when seeing the word for the very first time. This has been a confidence booster for me and for them, and gives my voice a break from saying the same words over and over.

Mini Scenes

Though TPR is traditionally done in the second person command form, I use third person singular. This makes for a very easy transition into the TPRS strategies of questioning and circling. At the end of a TPR lesson, I will describe what someone is doing, and that student must do whatever it is that I say they are doing. So if I say “Kayla cries,” then Kayla has to cry. I will then question the class about Kayla. “Is Kayla eating or crying? Is Kayla happy or sad?” Once we switch over to TPRS, my students will already be familiar with the questioning and circling strategies. This questioning time has evolved into what one might call “mini scenes.” Since Kayla is crying and sad, I may ask the class “Who will hug Kayla?” Addie volunteers to hug Kayla, and Kayla smiles. Now I can ask the class, “Is Kayla happy or sad? Why is Kayla happy now?” This interaction is in the target language, using the acquired TPR vocabulary, and a few posters that I have up on the wall of question words and feelings. The students have really taken to these mini scenes and are becoming experts in adding new details.  The mini scenes are fast-paced, much shorter than an actual story, and are perfect for keeping the attention of elementary aged children. Having only one student perform the action instead of two, or the entire class, helps me better assess where each student is. As before, if the student doesn’t know what to do, they can look to me for a visual prompt, and I know that more repetitions are needed for them to acquire the word. If I know that I want to create a more complex scene, I will use one of my stronger students as my main actor.

TPR is a fun, interactive way to build vocabulary, reading skills, and to introduce the strategies that make TPRS wildly successful in helping students acquire a new language. Every student can be successful using TPR, and just one student can participate, or the entire class can participate. When implemented properly, TPR can be the ideal introduction and segue into TPRS.

Emily Ibrahim teaches K-5 Spanish at Rock Creek Christian Academy in Louisville, KY. She has recently discovered the wonders of TPRS and both she and her little students are having a blast. 

7 Comments

  1. Mikayla

    Emily, Would you be willing to share the first few structures that you teach to your students? My high school Spanish 4 class will start teaching Spanish to 4th graders that have never taken Spanish in a few weeks and I think this method of TPR would be great for the first day.

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    1. maestraibrahim

      Mikayla, replied about a week ago, but just realized that I didn’t post it as a reply to your comment, so you may not have seen. Hope it’s not too late to be helpful! I start with basic actions like: se levanta, se sienta, camina, da la vuelta, toca, salta, para, come, llora, bebe, sonríe, mira, duerme, se despierta, baila, aplaude, se ríe, escucha. As I am teaching these actions, other words are used as well, such as rápido, lento, el calendario, la silla, la cabeza, la nariz, el brazo, la pierna, la mano, una vez, dos veces. tres veces. I only introduce 3-5 new actions per class, depending on how long the class is, how many other key words I am introducing along with the actions. I see my students for 40 minutes a week. We are now in week 8 of school, and we are still on TPR. I hope your “teacher” students and elementary students have a blast!

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  2. maestraibrahim

    Sure, Mikayla. I start with basic actions like: se levanta, se sienta, camina, da la vuelta, toca, salta, para, come, llora, bebe, sonríe, mira, duerme, se despierta, baila, aplaude, se ríe, escucha. As I am teaching these actions, other words are used as well, such as rápido, lento, el calendario, la silla, la cabeza, la nariz, el brazo, la pierna, la mano, una vez, dos veces. tres veces. I only introduce 3-5 new actions per class, depending on how long the class is, how many other key words I am introducing along with the actions. I see my students for 40 minutes a week. We are now in week 8 of school, and we are still on TPR. I hope your “teacher” students and elementary students have a blast!

    Like

  3. Reblogged this on Teaching Indonesian with TPRS and commented:
    Thought this blog was great!

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    1. maestraibrahim

      Thanks for reblogging! I hope it is useful for many people!

      Like

  4. Kirstin

    Thanks for giving me a new approach to TPR 🙂 I will be trying out the 3 chairs and am keen to attempt TPRS in the near future.

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    1. maestraibrahim

      Kirstin, I look forward to hearing how it goes with TPR and TPRS! Have fun!

      Like

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