How to Use TPR Methods Effectively in Your Classroom

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Incorporating TPR methods into your instruction is imperative to good teaching!  Whether you’re a virtual teacher teaching a foreign language, a traditional classroom teacher trying to teach a variety of learning levels at once, or a homeschooling mom teaching and learning along with your own kids, you need to incorporate TPR methods into your daily activities. 

TPR Methods

What is TPR?

Before we can start adding in TPR methods, we need to define TPR. 

TPR is the acronym for the phrase Total Physical Response, and according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the TPR definition is “a method of teaching a foreign language in which the teacher asks the students to do something in the foreign language, and they must react with a body movement or action.” 

Personally, I like to define it like this…

Getting your whole body involved in a conversation (aka “full body charades” or “talking with your hands”).

  • If I want my kids to focus on pronunciation or look at what I’m saying, I point to my mouth.
  • When I want them to listen to me, I cup my ear. 
  • When I want them to look at something, I point to my eyes.

These nonverbal visual cues help them attend to what I’m doing. Thus, reiterating my point. 

Why is TPR Important?

TPR is an essential component of learning a foreign language, but it is also vitally important to use in the general education classroom as well.

TPR Methods with ESL Students

TPR is hugely important when learning a foreign language.

Imagine waking up one day in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language. How would you communicate? If I had to guess, you’d probably use hand gestures or participate in a lively game of “charades” until the individual you were speaking with understood you.

As an online ESL teacher with VIPKid, my job is very similar. Using VIPKid TPR in my classroom helps facilitate the learning of my Chinese students.

Otherwise, the fact that I don’t speak Chinese (and my students are just learning English) could prove to be a teensy bit problematic.

Because my beginning learners may only know a handful of words, when I ask them a question or I want them to say something back, I can cup my ear indicating that I want a response from them.

I will also point to them while cupping my ear showing that I want them to repeat what I said. This gives them the non-verbal cue they need to move forward in the learning process which is the ultimate goal of these ESL teaching techniques.

TPR Methods in the Classroom

While the learners you teach in the classroom or in your homeschool won’t typically have a language barrier to contend with, they still need nonverbal cues to understand what you want.  

These visual cues will be helpful for all the kids you teach, but will be extremely helpful for your visual learners.  They are the kids who need to see things in order to understand them more completely. 

So, now that you understand what TPR is and why you need to use it with your specific learners, I’m going to give you 8 specific TPR actions that you can begin implementing immediately.

TPR Commands & Hand Gestures

Hand Cupping Ear

This is an effective signal when you want your students to “listen,” when you want them to repeat after you, or when you are trying to elicit a response. You simply curl your hand around the outside of your ear and turn your ear toward the person from whom you are speaking.  

Finger Pointing to Mouth

This is the TPR command for “Look closely at what I am saying or how I am saying it.”  By pointing your finger to your mouth, you instantly focus the attention of your learners on pronunciation. 

I know this one is super-effective because last year while teaching VBS, one of the teachers asked me why I pointed to my lips when I was teaching the Bible lesson.

I explained why and she laughed. She said, “Well, it works because I was hanging on every word you said.” That’s the power of TPR.

Thumbs Up

Obviously, this is the signal for “Good job.”  It’s probably the easiest of all the TPR methods simply because it is highly likely that you already use this.  I can promise you that your kids will respond well to this one.

Circles Around Eyes

This may seem obvious, but this means “look” or “see.”  Make circles with your hands and put them to your eyes like binoculars and you’ve got it!

Rubbing Your Chin

Rubbing your chin is one of the more overly dramatized TPR methods. 

Consider every character on tv who is creating a plan and you will see this method used successfully.  This is especially useful when accompanied by the obligatory “Hmmmm…”

Hand on Forehead

Think about a salute and that’s what you are doing with this TPR method.  It is a great way to indicate that you are “looking” or “searching” for something.  (This is even better when accompanied by #5-rubbing your chin.)


When you want to help your kiddos answer any question beginning with “What….,” you can simply add a shrug to the question.  Then, add the chin rub and “Hmmmm.Kids understand that you are posing a question and it works every time. 


The last of the TPR methods that I am sharing with you is simply pointing. It is amazing how often we use this and have never realized it was TPR. If you want someone to divert their attention to something, the easiest way to accomplish this goal is by pointing.

While you might have been wondering “What is total physical response?” before reading this blog post, it’s very likely that you’ve been implementing TPR methods in your daily life for a long time.

The greatest impact of using the TPR teaching strategy is that your learners will gain a deeper understanding of the things you’re trying to say simply by watching your body language.

If you want to read more about VIPKid, you can check out these posts.