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Preschool ESL Activities Based On TPR

Updated on December 2, 2012

The most fun ESL kids activities are those based on movement and action. These fun exercises for kids who are early second language learners make foreign language learning a positive experience. Preschool ESL activities based on TPR are perfect for early second language learning because kids get actively involved in the lesson themes, thus learning new vocabulary and other elements of a foreign language.

Movement and action-based activities
Movement and action-based activities

What is TPR in second language learning?

TPR in second language learning and teaching is a widely used foreign language teaching method, but it is also useful in the process of learning the native language – in the interaction between a parent and a child – the child answers physically to the speech of the parent.

TPR is a worldwide known abbreviation for Total Physical Response, a method, or as some linguists prefer to say, approach to teaching and learning second languages. The term is introduced by Dr. James. A. Asher (professor emeritus of psychology at the San José State University) who based TPR on the premise that the human brain has a biological program for acquiring any natural language on earth, including the sign language of the deaf.

Usage of TPR in ESL activities for kindergarten learners

ESL classroom activities often include TPR; the teacher tries to mimic the process in the ESL classroom. ELL students respond to instructions requiring physical movement. This approach can be used for practising and teaching various things; using it in ESL kids activities will be double effective. TPR can be used in ESL activities for adults, too. When used for higher levels of proficiency, it is thought restrictive because it doesn't give students the opportunity to express their own creativity.

Teaching English in a preschool ESL classroom, based on TPR, is very important and one of the basic approaches in early language teaching methodology. It doesn't really take much for the teacher to prepare TPR-based ESL activities because this approach requires basic language, universal preschool lesson themes and simple ESL kids activities.

Fun ESL activity: Simon says...

Simon says: ''Everybody dance!''
Simon says: ''Everybody dance!''
Simon says: ''Everybody jump!''
Simon says: ''Everybody jump!''
Simon says: ''Go to sleep!''
Simon says: ''Go to sleep!''
Simon says: ''Hold your hands!''
Simon says: ''Hold your hands!''
Simon says: ''Touch the ground!''
Simon says: ''Touch the ground!''
Simon says: ''Raise your hands!''
Simon says: ''Raise your hands!''

TPR-based ESL classroom activities in kindergarten:

First, a teacher should know what is the target vocabulary; some of TPR instructions could be:

  • ''sit down, stand up, line up, make a circle, turn around, stand still, walk/run around the chair, open your book, close your book, raise your hands etc.''

These instructions can be used for play as a teaching technique of the TPR approach. Children enjoy moving around and it is more interesting for them when they actually play a game: children who make a mistake in responding to a ''command'' get out of the playing circle and the last child to stay is the winner.

Another interesting game could be the one in which children learn the most simple traffic signs and about movement on the streets: the teacher can use a big piece of white material of a square shape and draw a few streets and city buildings (this requires a lot of time and imagination, or one can buy a similar teaching material). The teacher then gives the instructions:

  • ''Go to the toy shop. Turn left. Sit down in the cake shop. Buy a lolly pop in the shop. Turn right. Walk across when the traffic light shows green etc.''

In this ESL classroom situation, it is of primary importance for the children to understand the target language rather than to communicate, but in time one can see that children spontaneously reproduce the same commands as the teacher, and at this poin,t the child can switch roles with the teacher – this is also the point when communication starts.

For example, two children are instructed to sit down in the cake shop and make a short conversation:

  • ''Hello? How are you today? I would like a chocolate cake and a cup of tea...''

Believe it or not, small children aged 4-6 can understand and reproduce these ''long'' sentences. It takes time, but although they spend a lot of time listening and being quiet (and responding only physically), the day will come when they will actually surprise the teacher by simply start reproducing the language.

A helpful wide-known, famous ESL game used for TPR in teaching a second language in kindergarten is ''Simon says.'' The name of this fun ESL activity originates from the Latin game ''Cicero dicit fac hoc'' meaning ''Cicero says do this'' (Cicero was one of the most important people in the Ancient Roman Empire).

Once your early language learners acquire some of the targeted language vocabulary, they can play this ESL game easily;

  • One of the children is ''Simon.'' Simon gives instructions and other kids in the ESL classroom do what they are asked to do; for exampl, ''Simon says: jump!'' All the children jump, and those who don't respond are out of the game.

There are also many musical activities for preschool early language learners and songs helpful in TPR activities, such as: ''Head, shoulders, knees and toes'' (of course, this song is learnt while teaching and learning body parts).

We need to keep in mind that TPR is not the only approach to be used in pre-school English teaching but it is surely one of the most important ones and it should be combined with other methods and techniques. Storytelling with children is a technique often used in combination with TPR.


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    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 

      9 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      I remember using this method several (oh my goodness, 20!) years ago teaching English to young adults in Bilbao, Spain. It was such great fun.

      My instructions ended up something like; "Pick up the pencil with your right hand, walk to the green table, put the pencil on your head and sit on the floor under the table and now put the pencil between your knees." The students just loved saying mad things to their class-mates and really competed to give the silliest instructions..(often impossible).

      Thanks for reminding me about all this


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