Developing Listening Skills and Vocabulary by Implementing the TPR Approach (Study)

Total Physical Response (TPR) is considered both a teaching technique and an approach of language teaching which was developed by Dr. James J. Asher, a remarkable professor in psychology in the 1960s. It is based on the coordination between language and physical movements and this is the reason for implementing it among young learners.

This method has become widely used in the acquisition of a second language as the studies conducted by Asher and others have demonstrated its effectiveness in improving students’ listening comprehension and vocabulary retention over traditional learning methods (e.g., Asher, 1966). In addition, the positive learning outcomes of TPR seem to transfer to reading, speaking, and writing skills as well (Glisan,1993). The present study focuses on the benefits the method brings in the EFL classroom with students at a young age with special attention to developing listening skills and vocabulary related to body parts through the song “The touch your eyes song”.
Description of the teaching context

The children have been studying English for two years with a specialized teacher at ‘Școala Gimnazială Rareș Vodă’, Ploiești, Romania. Their vocabulary, listening and speaking skills are over the level of the students their age due to the permanent contact and influence of the internet, through games and songs they access, but two of the students have good fluency and mastery of  speaking skills because they have lived in an English speaking country and their exposure to language has been in various contexts. The students in the class have learnt vocabulary and language from various topics and have already used TPR during the EFL classroom. They have been introduced to vocabulary related to body parts in the previous lesson.

Class description

The class,1st B, consists of 19 students with ages between 7 and 8 years old and they come from different social backgrounds. Some of the students have the permanent need to interrupt the lesson and speak in their mother tongue, while others are good listeners and they can be hardly heard. In general, they are very engaged during the English lessons because the activities are more enjoyable and fun. Their constant need for being engaged and actively involved in the activities all through the English lesson has led to using TPR as many time possible, which they simply love.


The class has not been given a different type of organization as the method does not involve a particular setting. The teacher announces that they are going to practice more the names of the body parts they have already learned and starts to pin up on the board flashcards of body parts and elicits their names. The students answer individually as the teacher points to a flashcard at random. Both the teacher and the class interact and the children receive feedback on their accomplishment of the task.

Then the teacher touches a part of the face and says a wrong name to check students’ attention and listening skills. Some of the children react quickly and join the teacher in this vocabulary game, while others are slower in reacting. After that, the teacher gives the command ‘Touch your head’ and children respond with the corresponding action. In this way, the teacher introduces the target language while the children listen and recognize the meaning of the vocabulary they have already learnt. The teacher gives similar commands for the parts of the body which are later heard in the song. By imitating the teacher’s movements, the children passively learn the new language structure itself. The teacher moves on to introduce a more complex command: ‘Then touch your hair like this.’ and does the action and turns around. The teacher repeats the commands at a faster pace and asks the children to respond. Then the class is divided into two teams. One team repeats the commands and the other responds, then they swap roles.

After doing this a couple of times, the teacher plays the video of the song and asks them to follow Mrs. Potato and her movements and do the same. After listening to the song and doing the actions, the children are invited to join and repeat if they feel ready. Not all the children move so quickly and some of them find it difficult to coordinate the movements with saying the lyrics. But after practicing a few times with small breaks between, almost all of the children joined in and enjoyed the song. Finally, the teacher asked the children to repeat the lyrics on their own and move accordingly. As a bonus for their cooperation the children were allowed to draw Mrs. Potato’s face and enjoy being creative if they wanted.


The main objective of the study has been attained and the children are now able to use the new target language independently which means that the internalization has occurred as predicted. The children have had a meaningful and enjoyable activity while naturally learning a new language structure.

The method has proved its efficiency in developing speaking and communicative skills. The fact that the teacher introduced the target language gradually has contributed to its acquisition in a less stressful way. The method has served the students’ needs to be active and also develop their motor skills. The principle of waiting for the children to have enough listening practice has been respected and the basis for developing spoken language has been formed.

1. Asher, James J. (2004). Statistics Made Really Simple: The ABCs of scientific research. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.
2. Asher, James J. (2003). Learning Another Language through Actions (6th edition). Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.


prof. Elena-Irina Teodorescu

Școala Gimnazială Henri Mathias Berthelot, Ploiești (Prahova) , România
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