Friday, April 29, 2016

Introducing Total Physical Response

Total Physical Response (TPR) is a methodology (ie method derived from theory) that made the rounds on the TESL circuit a few years back. The theory goes that by having students actively move their bodies while doing English, they would acquire L2 skills faster and more permanently. Like many other such unorthodox approaches, such as teaching or learning styles, it resulted in lots of creative (mis)applications of the theory to classroom practices, while also failing to inspire corroborative research or large scale implementation.

That is not to say TPR is wrong or useless.

In fact, it does hit on several real gaps in L2 learner repertoires, namely

1) Many learners almost never perform, describe, or hear of physical acivity in L2, and thus are unfamiliar or unable to describe or understand activities in L2. This is a lack of vocabulary and conceptualization.

2) This unfamiliarity with physical activity in L2 is exacerbated by the sedentary nature of SLA past childhood - pantomiming 'Head, shoulders, knees & toes' is the limit to TPR activity for many learners.

To give my students TPR experience, I do the following activity:

First, I have students stand. Then, I tell them I will teach them an English game, then ask them to follow my commands. I break the activity into steps and wath students as I explain without giving any nonverbal clues.

For instance, today I taught the child's game of 'slap hands.' In the past I have used yoga postures, but slsphands requires less physical exertion and lets students in inflexible clothes also participate. I explain the game thus:

"Stand facing your partner.
Put both hands out.
The older of you puts hands palm up.
The younger puts their hands palm down over their partner's hands."

Here I stop and point out mistakes students have made following my simple commands. I explain their unfamiliarity is natural, introduce the idea of TPR, then get a student to come up and gently show them how slaphands is played.

With Set Up finished, I next explain that students will be given ten minutes to explain a Japanese game, physical activity, or movement from sport or dance. Stress that the activity must be physical, as some students may try to teach a word game.

When students have finished working in groups, have a representative of one group come up to explain an activity to you. Turn your back on the speaker so there are no nonverbal clues as to what to do. Do exactly as students tell you so they can see where their description is lacking. For instance, a student trying to make me do Jumping Jacks said "Open hands and feet," so I stood on tiptoes with my hands opened like crabclaws.

Although this is good for lightening the classroom atmosphere, it is also a direct and thought-provoking demonstration of TPR in action.

First, it is easiest to circle errors or awkward parts of student descriptions and have them work together to fix the English or find proper expressions online.

However, this reversion to sedentary language study is a waste of TPR's potential. Instead, I teach a yoga position, such as the Warrior, to students. Next, I hand out different positions to groups, have them make explanations, then let them teach the class. The explanations generated by students can be checked for errors and intelligibility, then used with a visual on vocabulary tests.

Comments or questions? Leave them below!