Thursday, August 7, 2014

TPR (Total Physical Response) for the First Week of Latin 1

In Stephen Krashen's theory of Comprehensible Input, a "silent period" of active listening and of auditory language processing is needed in order for language acquisition to occur, e.g. think of how much input which babies take in before they begin to verbalize/speak. Therefore, it is not recommended for teachers to jump immediately into having level 1 students produce language right away at the beginning of the school year. As much as you may want to go around the room having students ask/tell each their names in the target language during the first week, rather consider doing Total Physical Response (TPR) with your level 1 classes instead.

TPR is essentially associating a vocabulary word with a physical action. It can be hand gestures, American Sign Language (ASL) signs or the actual physical action itself. The idea is that through enough repetitions muscle memory will aid in the acquisition process.

There are many different variations of TPR which can be used in the world language classroom, of which the most basic form is commands, where you as the teacher command a student/students to do something in the target language, and their task is simply to perform it. I will do TPR for the first 5 days of Latin 1 - I know that Bob Patrick does it for the first 10 days - and I will do it for about 20-25 minutes of class.

What kinds of words to teach? That is up to you, but for obvious reasons, the verbs need to be action words. You can pick classroom management words such as "sit down," "stand up," "shout," "be quiet," etc or words which have much action associated with them, e.g. "go," "open," "close," "pick up," "put down," "throw," etc. I usually pick 4-5 new words each day on which to focus, while continuing to recycle past words in order to get in repetitions.

The name of the game is to get in as many repetitions as possible in as many different ways! Students must hear the words in a meaningful context over and over again in order to acquire them. The number thrown around is 70 repetitions in a meaningful context in order for students to acquire vocabulary.

1) For the first 1-2 days, stick with only verbs as commands.Determine which words you will teach that day using TPR, and write the commands on the board in both the target language and in English in order to establish meaning. I usually write both the singular and plural form, because throughout the class, I will end up commanding both individuals and the class as a whole to do something.

2) When introducing a new command, I will usually "command myself' first by pointing to the word on the board in order to establish meaning and then I will demonstrate the action. I will then call upon multiple individual students to perform the action

3) Even though this is a silent period for students, the very completion of the command demonstrates comprehension and is a form of non-verbal output, i.e. it was necessary for students to understand you in order to complete the task.

4) Once students begin to understand the commands (maybe after a day or so), start introducing objects or places in the room for students now to use and with which to interact. Remember to write the nouns on the board both in the target language and in English in order to establish meaning and to point to the words and pause when you use them.

5) Feel free to introduce adverbs too, such as "slowly" and "quickly" to spice things up.

6) As students begin to acquire the language, you can also start making longer sentences, such as "Carlita, stand up and go to the table. Pick up the book slowly and bring it to me. Now go to the table, pick up a cookie and throw it to Barbara."

7) A variation is in the beginning to divide the class into groups, to give them a name (a number, animal, color, etc) and to command the different groups - this requires the class to listen, "Beatnicks, stand up! Hula Hoopers, stand up! Beatnicks, sit down! Hula Hoopers, turn around! Hula Hoopers, stop! Beatnicks, stand up! Beatnicks, walk to the Hula Hooper and sit on them!"

8) As acquisition furthers during TPR, you can start to narrate the action of a student, e.g. "Susan, walk to the door slowly. O class, Susan is walking to the door slowly (you write "is walking" on the board in the target language and in English in order to establish meaning and then point/pause). Susan, touch the door. O class, Susan is touching the door (you do the same for "is touching") In this manner, you have gone from the singular imperative to the 3rd singular present form, but don't get into a full-on grammar discussion about it just yet. If you do this enough, students will start to predict the pattern and actually say it with you.

Your first instinct may be to jump into the grammar of it all but wait for a student to say something. Usually, I will have a student ask, "Why did 'ambula' go to 'ambulat'?" and my first response is, "Even though the form of the word changed, did you understand what I said? I used 'ambulat' because I am narrating the action of Susan, not commanding her," and I will leave it at that - this is an example of pop-up grammar. The same goes for if your nouns change forms too based on their function.

9) As noted CI/TPRS publisher and presenter Carol Gaab is fond of saying, "The brain craves NOVELTY," so change up the commands/objects by having students do wacky and funny tasks with different combinations of known words, e.g. "Julio, pick up the cookie and eat it slowly. Now turn around slowly and eat the cookie loudly and slowly. Marsha, walk to the board, pick up a pen and write 'I love Justin Bieber' on the board slowly." This is what will keep the class engaged!

After 5 days or so, students should have 25-30 words, which you specifically targeted for them, in addition to maybe another 10-15 words which were incidental words.

10) After the 20-25 minutes of TPR, I will review the new words which were TPR'd. This is a good time to introduce any derivatives which come from the words.

11) I sometimes give students 5 minutes at the end of class to command me around the room. Because the words are written on the board with their English meaning, I am not asking them to output on their own (although many will have acquired those words purely due to the massive amount of input).

I was absolutely scared the first time I ever did TPR a few years ago, because I was 100% sure that it was going to bomb. Instead, I had one of my best experiences with CI, because I was completely floored by how engaged the students were and by how much these Latin 1 students understood what I was saying (due to establishing meaning), even though I was speaking in Latin.


  1. Hi Keith--great post! I am still planning for the start of school in a little over a week, and am leaning toward doing this with Latin 1. One question on step 10--how do you review the words outside of TPR? Thanks!


  2. If it is a word which we had learned on previous days via TPR, I will review them at the beginning of the class by listing them on the board as part of a "No Pressure Refresher" - sometimes in TPR, I have "extra filler" kind of words which I use to make things more interesting, but since they are just "filler," I do not review those words.

  3. Thanks for the post. I think I'm taking the plunge and trying this out with my classes this year; this post gave me a great sense of ways to spice it up. Question - you mention doing this for the first 20-25 minutes of class. Will you work exclusively with those same vocabulary words in the rest of your class activities? What kinds of things are you doing for the rest of class time that week (aside from syllabus / class expectations)?

    1. I don't do TPR for the entire period because it can get old after awhile; 20-25 minutes seems like a good amount of time. In a 50 minute period, I will divide up the time as follows: announcements (5 minutes), review of past words (5 minutes), introduction/preview of new words (5 minutes), TPR of new words (25 minutes), review of day's new words (5 minutes). This allows me to have 5 minutes leeway at the end.

  4. I would like to see a list of the words you teach in these first days in the order you teach them. I do the same type of thing with an old list of Blaine Ray's and I think there might be a better list somewhere out there.

    1. Here is a list of words which Bob Patrick TPRs for the first 10 hours of class:

  5. Great ideas. How do you assess students?

  6. Keith, I am in the middle of starting several classes with TPR this year (and they are having so much fun! One class was even able to start ordering each other around at the end of the 4th day!)... As I draw to the end of the 5 days, I realize (a) I need some sort of graded assessment and (b) some of my students are feeling overwhelmed at the quantity of words (we will have 30 words at the end of 5 classes). I am making an effort to repeat even more the words that most often give them pause... But I still sense some stress at the thought of a quiz. Do you have any advice/suggestions? Grātiās!

    1. A formative assessment could be simply for students to complete the actions as you say them - in doing so, students will demonstrate comprehension and understanding of what you said.

    2. Thank you for your reply! I am having them do this daily (and increasing the use of words they seem to need more repetitions of)... but as I wrap up the week of TPR, I feel that I need to do something with a grade attached to it before we move on... I am worried that by calling on individual students to perform one or two commands for a grade, I would be ratcheting up the pressure and setting them up for failure. I have quite a few kiddos who put a lot of pressure on themselves to begin with, and I can see them really crumbling (even if they knew the word). Do you do any type of quiz at the end of your TPR days? Grātiās!

    3. You can also have a list of TPR commands/objects which you have been using and ask students to write their definition in English. For example, "pick 15 of these 25 words to define in English."

    4. I like the element of choice! Thank you, Keith! :)