Jonathan Harris, Spanish Teacher, Grades K-8, St. Gabriel Consolidated School, Cincinnati, OH
Executive Recorder and Editor for Print Publications, OFLA
In my first grade foreign language classroom, TPR (Total Physical Response) is used with the story, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? This story was written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle, and of course the Spanish version is read in my class. This story is popular and is usually read to toddlers but many of my students remember it. It is used to review colors because the basic storyline is that a brown bear sees a yellow duck that sees a blue horse and so on. According to the North Carolina Course of Study, TPR is “a teaching approach in which students respond with physical activity to increasingly complex teacher commands (www.ncpublicschools.org).” TPR is my preferred method of instruction for many years and is a very useful teaching aid.
TPR will be the term used instead of TPRS due to the shortness of the story and the limited vocabulary. This particular lesson takes less than ten minutes. (While my examples are in Spanish, TPR can be used in teaching any second language) TPR is used for two phrases: خQué Ves? (What do you see?) and Veo (I see). These phrases show the grammatical concept of verb conjugation; noun/adjective placement is used but is not explicitly expressed. Whenever students hear خQué Ves?, they shrug their shoulders. The shrugging is done because it is a question, and as question words are later introduced there are different motions for each one. For veo, students point to their eye. During the teaching of the parts of the body, students touch the part that they are learning, so ojo (eye) is also learned by pointing to the eye.
The description of this particular lesson is limited in part to limited objectives and limited time devoted to the lesson. My objectives are to introduce two conjugations of the verb “to see,” ver in Spanish, and to reinforce the vocabulary for colors. I’ll read this story before teaching the students commands, conjugations and noun/adjective agreement.
My motivation for using TPR in general and for reading this particular story is to promote long-term recall. I want students to be able to tell their parents what they did in Spanish class. James Asher, the founder of the TPR method, provides three explanations for this long-term recall production in his book, Learning Another Language Through Actions, and the following can be found within the first seventeen pages of this book. The first explanation is called the motor skills hypothesis. Asher finds that any manual skill such as swimming, bicycling and ice skating, et al, has long-term recall. He contrasts this method with students sitting quietly, listening and repeating the skill does not utilize the student’s muscular response system. He also calls TPR “the most powerful teaching aid available (7).”
The second explanation is the believability hypothesis. He states that students are resistant “to the assimilation, storage, and retrieval of information (9).” When students hear “veo” and they have heard it several times before, they believe in the connection between the phrase and the action. Eventually, students will see (using their eyes, one of the senses) and hear (using another sense) the phrase in Spanish. They find this believable because another sense is involved and their resistance to storing that information is broken. Asher calls this breaking down the resistance a short circuit. Seeing the action adds a level of credibility to the connection that “veo” means “I see” and خQué Ves?”What do you see?” Asher uses the phrase of creating a “factual experience.” It is harder to deny a memory that you have experienced as opposed to one learned by memorization.
Asher’s third explanation is the right brain hypothesis. During speech, the left brain communicates while the right brain is mute. Physical actions are right brain activities, and by getting both sides involved, long-term recall is more likely. Physical actions used in TPR include, but not limited to the following: pointing, gesturing, touching and pantomime. Through TPR, the audio-lingual and translation are processed in the left brain while the physical motion is processed in the right brain.
This article endeavors to show an example of both how I use TPR as a primary grade teacher. The mention of research is to show why I use this teaching method in the primary grades to promote long-term recall. At my school, I teach students from grades K-8, so I have most of my students for multiple years. My eighth grade students remember the stories, activities, vocabulary and motions to words learned in first grade and kindergarten. For me at least, I have experienced and seen the long term recall. From my personal experience and from a small amount of research, I found that TPR works for me and I would encourage other primary grade teachers to use it as well.