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What is TPR? Engaging Learners at Every Stage

Updated: Mar 29

Training 101: The Power of Demonstration: Gestures Speak Louder Than Words

Hello, I'm Coach Rob. With over 25 years of teaching and training experience, I've had the privilege of working in various settings, including private language schools, public schools and International Schools as well as the corporate world, where I helped train thousands of teachers and teacher trainers. Throughout my career, I've gained valuable insights and strategies that have shaped my approach to education. In this series of articles, I'll share these experiences and expertise to help you enhance your teaching and training skills. Join me as we explore the world of education together.

In the following article we’ll be talking about how your actions will positively or negatively affect a learner’s experience. Teachers aim to make learning a positive experience, so they use various methods to achieve this. We'll explore how demonstrating activities, modeling tasks, and asking follow-up questions can improve the learning environment for our learners.

In each post, you’ll face a situation followed by suggested actions and finish with questions to reflect on. This post will focus on improving the student’s Learning Experience.

How can I ensure that my learner's experience is enjoyable, comfortable, and successful?

In this scenario, my aim is to ensure my learner has an enjoyable, comfortable, and ultimately successful experience. I want her to retain and effectively use the Target Language. As a teacher, this requires me to be attentive, use TPR effectively and appropriately, and offer frequent praise to let her know she's successful in her efforts, whether partially or wholly. What actions should I demonstrate to ensure my learner has an enjoyable, comfortable, and successful lesson?


Actively listens to the learner at all times.

Our learners need to know that you are listening to them. This means you don’t interrupt them. If they are speaking and make a mistake, wait for them to be finished and then provide the most appropriate form of error correction.

When you ask a question, count to five and wait for a response. There are many reasons a learner doesn’t respond:

  • There’s a lag. (So, please wait.)

  • She hasn’t processed the answer yet. (Learners have many things to do to get the answer to you.

  • She doesn’t understand the question. (Wait and ask again in a different way.)

  • She doesn’t know the answer. (Provide Scaffolding. – Give clues and hints. (If they still can’t get it. Re-teach and recycle.)

Training 101: The Power of Demonstration: Gestures Speak Louder Than Words

Demonstration is accompanied by teacher-led gestures/actions/body movements.

You can convey several directions/instructions and meanings from how you move your face, hands, and other parts of your body. The expressions you make on your face, the gestures and body movements you use, can send powerful messages of how you feel and/or show what you want your learner to do. Here are some examples:

  • When it comes to facial expressions, one of the most powerful ones is your smile. When you hear a wrong answer and frown, your learner knows you're displeased. Raising your eyebrows, scratching your head, and clenching your teeth can convey a similar message as well. Let's avoid these and use the ones below more often.

  • Use positive gestures that are safe to use in the culture you're teaching. A thumbs up and a big smile are generally culturally acceptable around the globe. Whereas asking a very young or young learner to shake hands isn't going to be met with a lot of success. These are actions they haven't had much exposure to.

  • Just remember that learners learn best when the brain and body work together.

Acknowledge student attempts to speak with enthusiastic praise.

Let’s face it, when we try something new and succeed, we want to be recognized for doing a good job. It’s the same with our learners. They need to know how excited we are when they speak English. You show your excitement by:

  • Making a big deal out of the first time you hear your learner speak. (You’re out of your chair, giving the thumbs up or arms in the air and of course showing a huge smile. (Just make sure you’re showing the appropriate level of enthusiasm that fits your learner.)

  • You praise wholly or partially successful attempts to speak using appropriate error correction if needed. (Basically, you focus on the successes rather than the failures.)

  • You need to forget the following words when teaching your lesson: "No.", "That's wrong/incorrect.", "You've made a mistake." The following are words/phrases to say instead: Good, Very Good, Nice Try, and other positive words of encouragement and praise as well as actions like clapping, giving a thumb’s up, etc.

Training 101: The Power of Demonstration: Gestures Speak Louder Than Words

Use simple directions & praise words in a patterned language that you repeat each time.

A learner needs several exposures to a specific language item before she can use it effectively. (In fact, they need seven or more exposures.) So, it's in your and your learner's best interest to repeatedly use the same instructions and actions when conducting a lesson. It simply makes it easier for the learner to learn the Target Language when it's associated with a specific action related to the Target Language or instruction. This means that in every sentence you speak, you're using appropriate and effective TPR. Here are some reasons and examples of how to use it:

  • Vocabulary connected with instructions - look, listen, say, etc. (Add stills or a cartoon)

  • Imperatives/Instructions - Stand up, sit down, clap your hands, etc. (Add stills or a cartoon)

  • It works well with all learners because the physical action(s) convey the meaning effectively so that the student’s chance for success increases their ability to understand and use the target language.

  • It doesn't require a lot of preparation or materials.

Rich use of Instructional and Educational TPR at every stage of the lesson.

Total Physical Response (TPR) is a method of teaching language or vocabulary by simply mixing physical movement with verbal input. The process mimics the way that infants learn their first language, and it reduces student inhibitions and lowers stress. TPR in a nutshell is to create a neural link between speech and action. TPR works well when teaching:

  • Vocabulary, particularly verbs

  • Difficult to explain actions (think wiggle, slide, launch)

  • Storytelling and narrative language

  • Imperatives and classroom language

Remember: Like any other method, it’s not to be used in a vacuum, but as a part of a varied collection of techniques employed in any lesson.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are behaviors you can see at any stage of the lesson that clearly shows your learner was successful in learning the target language?

  2. What 2 strategies/actions will you use in your next lesson? 

  3. Why? And how will you gauge their effectiveness?

As we conclude this article, I want to express my gratitude for your interest and engagement. Teaching and training are not just professions; they are passions that drive us to make a difference. I hope the strategies and insights shared here will empower you to create even more impactful learning experiences for your learners. Remember, the journey of education is ever-evolving, and each lesson is an opportunity for growth. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your teaching journey. Our next article will be on Ensuring your learner engages with you and the material. Until next time, Happy Teaching!


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