Selasa, 08 November 2011

Teaching English to Kindergarten Students Using a Total Physical Response (TPR) Method: From Theory to Practice

Teaching English to Kindergarten Students

Using a Total Physical Response (TPR) Method:

From Theory to Practice

Written by:

Luh Ketut Sri Widhiasih


The purpose of this study is to observe the application of Total Physical Response in teaching English to Kindergarten students. This study is descriptive study, by observing the application of TPR in teaching English in Kartika VII-14 Denpasar Kindergarten. The subject was 25 students in K-1 class. They are studying English as foreign language. The sessions for the study occurred during four of the regular weekly classes. The result of the study showed that the students enjoyed the application of TPR. After the application of the theory, the writer found some advantages and disadvantages of TPR. Finally, it could be concluded that TPR method could improve the students’ vocabulary mastery.

Key words: teaching English, kindergarten, total physical response (TPR)


Up to now, teaching English, particularly at kindergarten in Indonesia has totally been encouraged. This attempt is geared to familiarize pupils with English at an early stage. Almost all kindergarten located in urban areas in particular conduct English teaching.

For this reason, English teachers who are concerned with teaching children should be aware of the nature of their psychology in addition to mastering all crucial components in teaching them.

So far, English teachers have been experiencing difficulty in teaching children since they are less sufficient especially in implementing appropriate teaching materials and methods. Thus, the selection of the two elements should be on the basis of learners’ age.

To successfully conduct English teaching at kindergarten, teaching materials and methods are well suited. For this reason, one method considered one of the efforts to English teaching for children, should be introduced. This method is known as Total Physical Response (TPR). The purpose of this study is to observe the application of Total Physical Response in teaching English to Kindergarten students.

Review of Theory

In learning language, children begin learning simple expressions. Broadly speaking, children learn abstract rules of language from which they listen, and even they also learn expressions that they have never heard before. It is extremely important that teachers not only get children to learn language, but they also encourage them to learn it positively. Teaching of English for Children has been of particular concerns. For this reason, in teaching children English, there are some characteristics of whom presented by Scott and Lisbeth (1992) in Widodo (2005).

TPR is one of the English teaching approaches and methods developed by Dr. James J Asher. It has been applied for almost thirty years. This method attempts to center attention to encouraging learners to listen and respond to the spoken target language commands of their teachers. In other words, TPR is a language teaching method built around the coordination of speech and action; it attempts to teach language through physical (motor) activity. Asher's Total Physical Response is a "natural method" since Asher views first and second language learning as parallel processes. He argues that second language teaching and learning should reflect the naturalistic processes of first language learning. For this reason, there are such three central processes:

(a) before children develop the ability to speak, they develop listening competence. At the early phases of first language acquisition, they are able to comprehend complex utterances, which they hardly can spontaneously produce or imitate. Asher takes into accounts that a learner may be making a mental blueprint of the language that will make it possible to produce spoken language later during this period of listening;

(b) children's ability in listening comprehension is acquired because children need to respond physically to spoken language in the form of parental commands; and

(c) when a foundation in listening comprehension has been established, speech evolves naturally and effortlessly out of it.

Asher believes that it is crucial to base foreign language learning upon how children learn their native language. In other words, TPR is designed based upon the way that children learn their mother tongue. In this respect, TPR considers that one learns best when he is actively involved and grasp what he hears (Haynes, 2004).

Imperative drills are the prominent classroom activity in TPR. They are typically geared to highlight physical actions and activity on the part of the learners. In this sense, learners play main roles: a listener and a performer. They listen attentively and respond physically to commands by the teacher. Learners need to respond both individually and collectively; they have minor influence on the content of learning inasmuch as content is determined by the teacher. At the beginning of learning, learners are also expected to recognize and respond to novel combinations of previously taught items. Such novel utterances are recombination of constituents the teacher has used directly in training. For example, the teacher directs learners with 'Walk to the table!' and 'Sit on the chair!' These are familiar to learners since they have practiced responding to them. Furthermore, learners are also to produce novel combinations of their own. Learners monitor and evaluate their own progress. They are encouraged to speak when they feel ready to speak (e.g. when a sufficient basis in the language has been internalized).

In TPR, a teacher plays an active and direct role: the director of a stage play in which the learners are the actors". It is the teacher who decides what to teach, who models and presents the new materials, and who selects supporting materials for classroom use. Therefore, the teacher ought to be well prepared and well organized so that the lesson flows smoothly and predictably.

In giving feedback to learners, the teacher is required to follow the example of parents giving feedback to their children. Similarly, the teacher needs to tolerate fewer mistakes in speech; he has to avoid too much correction in the early stages and is not required to interrupt to correct errors in that this may inhibit learners to take an action or speak out.

To sum up, in TPR, the teachers are responsible for giving commands and monitoring actions taken by the learners. On the contrary, the learners are imitators of teacher s verbal and non-verbal models. In teaching-learning process, the first phase is modeling. In this case, a teacher issues commands to learners, and performs the actions with them. In the second phase, learners demonstrate that they grasp the commands by performing them alone; the teacher monitors the learners’ actions. Above all, the interaction between a teacher and learners is signified by the teacher speaking and the learners responding nonverbally. Later on, the learners become more verbal and the teacher responds nonverbally (Rodgers, 2003).


This study is descriptive study, by observing the application of TPR in teaching English in Kartika VII-14 Denpasar Kindergarten. The subject was 25 students in K-1 class. They are studying English as foreign language. The sessions for the study occurred during four of the regular weekly classes.

Findings and Discussion

The following results were found in observing the application of TPR in teaching English in Kartika VII-14 Denpasar Kindergarten. At that time, the writer taught the names of body parts. The writer began the lesson by saying, “Point to your head,” as she demonstrated. She asked the students to join her touching their heads, nods, and smiles as they follow her lead. The writer then asked students to touch other parts of body. the writer repeated it for some few days until the students responds the command without copying their teacher’s motion. The writer combined those games to drawing activity. The writer began to draw a circle. She accompanies the drawing of the circle with the statement, “I am drawing a head.” Then, the writer asked volunteer to draw each of the rest of the body parts. The volunteer should draw based on the command giving by the writer. On the third meeting, the writer conducted a pair game. This game is aimed at using the names of the body parts in the students’ oral communications in the classroom; it involved students giving directions in English. The writer began the game by demonstrating. She paired the students and told them to touch heads and she demonstrated with her partner. Then, the writer asked the volunteer to give directions and others follow him. This game was played for a few minutes in a meeting for about a month to give additional volunteers a chance to be the leader. The students enjoyed the activities.

According to Muhren (2003) in Widodo (2005), the basic technique of TPR is simple. Learners act out commands given by the teacher or their fellow pupils (at a later stage). These commands, or series of commands, are simple at the beginning (stand up, sit down) but after some time they may become more complex (I want the boys to stand in a circle please). A TPR sequence can be a chain of actions relating to a compound task (take pen and paper, sit down, begin at the top of your paper, write down: Dear ...) or even contain a story-line. Most importantly, a teacher helps learners to be totally involved in TPR activities so that they can act out what they have heard. There is no pressure on them to speak the foreign language. Before any learner can commence to speak out a foreign language spontaneously as well as creatively, she must feel the inner readiness to do so. When learners are ready, they feel that the words of the language-sound and meaning integrated and combined into larger utterances -spring from within themselves. This inner readiness will develop gradually but inevitably with prolonged exposure to the sound of understood language and an active involvement in its meaning.

After the application, the writer could find some advantages and disadvantages of TPR. Its advantages include:

1) It is a lot of fun. Learners enjoy it, and this method can be a real stirrer in the class. It lifts the pace and the mood;

2) It is very memorable. It does assist students to recognize phrases or words;

3) It is good for kinesthetic learners who are required to be active in the class;

4) It can be used both in large or small classes. In this case, it is no matter to have how many students you have as long as you are prepared to take the lead, the learners will follow;

5) It works well with mixed-ability classes. The physical actions get across the meaning effectively so that all the learners are able to comprehend and apply the target language;

6) It is no need to have a lot of preparation or materials using the TPR. In this regard, as long as you are competent of what you want to practice (a rehearsal beforehand can help), it will not take a lot of time to get ready;

7) It is very effective with teenagers and young learners; and

8) It involves both left and right-brained learning;

In addition to such advantages, TPR has disadvantages. Among them are:

1) Students who are not used to such things might find it embarrassing. This can be the case initially that if the teacher is prepared to perform the actions, the students feel happier about copying. Students are in a group and do not have to perform for the whole class. This pleasure is reserved for the teacher;

2) It is only really suitable for beginner levels. Whilst, it is clear that it is far more useful at lower levels because the target language lends itself to such activities even though it can successfully be applied at Intermediate and Advanced levels. In this respect, it is essential to adapt the language, accordingly. For example, when teaching 'ways of walking' (stumble, stagger, and tiptoe) to an advanced class and cooking verbs to intermediate students (whisk, stir, and grate), TPR can be employed;

3) It is not flexibly used to teach everything, and if used a lot, it would become repetitive. This method is a fun way of changing the dynamics and pace of a lesson used in conjunction with other methods and techniques.

4) It will be a trouble teaching abstract vocabulary or expressions using TPR. As a remedy, the teacher can write the word on cards with a picture if applicable.

5) It can be ineffective if the teacher uses it for a long period of time without switching it with other activities that help teach the target language.

6) Since TPR is made up of mainly of commands, it tends to neglect narrative, descriptions, and conversation forms of language.


When TPR is applied in the classroom, a teacher is required to provide a model. The model has three vital features: 1) grasping the spoken language must come prior to speaking, 2) comprehension is developed through body movement, and 3) the period of listening period helps a learner to be ready to speak. Such a model does not force the learner to speak. It is also recommended that TPR be applied for only short periods of time because the learner will get tired of doing it.

The TPR method also emphasizes two crucial elements: the use of movement as a memory enhancer and imperatives as the only method of instruction the teacher uses commands to direct the learners. Most importantly, when applying such a method, the use of mother tongue is deemphasized. If there are abstract words, a teacher is required to write down them on the white/black boards without expressing those words. The meaning of words is comprehended generally through an action.

To sum up, TPR should best be combined with others since it needs much energy so that learners do not feel tired of learning language; and although the use of TPR in the classroom has often been effective, it does have its flaws.


Haynes, J. 2004. TPR is a Valuable Tool.

Rodgers, T. 2003. Methodology in the New Millennium. English Teaching Forum 41/4: 2-13.

Widodo, Handoyo Puji.2005. Teaching Children Using a Total Physical Response (TPR) Method: Rethinking. Politeknik Negeri Jember.

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