Methods in Focus: Total Physical Response Immersion

Students in Classroom

Students studying in a classroom. (Image provided by PhotosToGo.)

Total Physical Response Immersion is a language learning methodology we’d like to focus on today.

What is Total Physical Response Immersion?

This learning methodology encourages students to begin their language learning in an immersion environment.  This means that no English is used in the classroom by the teacher(s) at all, even if the students have not been exposed to the target language before.  Total Physical Response been used as a teaching methodology in Northern Cheyenne and Ho Chunk language classrooms.

Program Components

A total physical response program should include the following components:

  • Silent period: At the beginning, the teacher uses the target language and hand gestures to give commands (for example, saying “stand up” in the target language while using a hand motion inviting students to rise from their seats).  At first, students are silent and focus on comprehension, but soon they move to using the commands with their fellow students to reinforce the language.  This can be a challenging time for a language teacher, as a silent classroom requires a great amount of effort from the teacher.  Many of us also feel compelled to fill silence with words, which can confuse new learners.  Keep it simple at this stage, focusing on just the words and grammar structures students need to know to successfully complete the command.
  • Storytelling: After some time, when students have successfully learned a significant amount of vocabulary and multiple simple grammar structures, students are ready to being storytelling.  In this learning component, the teacher provides short stories using familiar vocabulary and grammar structures.  Students then act out the stories to reinforce the language.  This also allows for the retelling of the skits, where students are asked to narrate a story being acted out.  Students may also write their own scripts, once they are familiar with this learning format.
  • Activity-focused learning: Don’t spend your students’ time memorizing one sentence structure after the next.  Keeping your lessons activity-focused will better maintain your students’ interest and make the language more relevant to their daily lives, especially if you try to base lessons around topics in which your students are interested!

Do you teach with an immersion method?  Were you taught your language through immersion?  If so, we want to hear from you!  Leave a comment about your experiences, positive or negative.

*For more information about immersion language learning, download “Nurturing Native Languages” by Dr. John Allan Reyner and Octaviana Trujillo here.

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One Response to Methods in Focus: Total Physical Response Immersion

  1. Abigail says:

    My two young children are in an immersion program learning Mandarin Chinese. Neither they nor many other of their fellow students had any knowledge of the language when they entered kindergarten. By Christmas of that first year they were flourishing in their classrooms, and many were using Mandarin outside of school. I think the immersion method is the best way to learn any language and that TPR is an amazing method for making language real to students. This post does a great job of explaining the method. The emphasis on activity even makes other aspects of the curriculum come alive for young children so that being at school is more fun and learning another language just comes naturally.

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