ESL teachers in foreign countries are often expected to prepare lessons without a set curriculum or access to teaching resources. This lesson, which teaches students the basics about the weather, can be done anywhere and doesn’t require extensive preparation or materials. It is appropriate for all beginning English learners, but works best with elementary school children (ages 5-12). It’s great for a classroom setting but also works on an individual or small group level.
The Total Physical Response Method
Developed by Dr. James Asher, the Total Physical Response Method (TPR) aims to teach foreign language acquisition through coordinating speech with actions, gestures, and other physical movement. The method attempts to mimic the way infants acquire language through “language-body conversation” : The parent speaks to the baby and the baby responds by smiling, gurgling, grabbing, etc, while at the same time imprinting and internalizing the parent’s speech patterns. Eventually, the baby will reproduce the parent’s speech naturally and spontaneously.
TPR is especially useful for teaching imperative commands, and for children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities who have difficulty with traditional language teaching methods.
Introducing the Concept in a Primary School Plan
Ask the question, “What’s the weather like?” Instead of translating directly, have students guess what they think the question means. Mime by looking out the window, gesturing and talking in English (“Hmm, it’s sunny …no rain today,” etc) until someone correctly translates the question.
Have students answer the question in their native language and agree with them in English.”Yes, it’s sunny today.” Have all students repeat, “It’s sunny.” Accompany the phrase with a hand gesture: form a fist with both hands and then splay the fingers outward to represent the rays of the sun. Instruct students to repeat the hand gesture each time the repeat the phrase.
The teacher then instructs the students to repeat the hand gesture every time he or she repeats the phrase, and then alternates, making the gesture and prompting students to repeat the corresponding sentence. This is what Asher calls a “language-body conversation.”
Presenting Weather-Related Vocabulary to ESL Students
After students have grasped the concept, begin to introduce new vocabulary. The teacher prompts students to ask, “What’s the weather like today?” and responds with, “It’s rainy.” At the same time, he or she makes a gesture that imitates falling rain, such as fluttering the fingertips while lowering the hands. Students mimic the gesture and repeat the phrase. If students are unable to guess the translation from the hand gesture alone, the teacher can illustrate it on the board or bring in magazine clippings, photos or other visual aids to further reinforce the vocabulary.
Gradually introduce new vocabulary, (“It’s hot, “It’s stormy, “It’s snowy,” etc) and corresponding hand gestures and have students reproduce the gestures and repeat the words, mimicking the teacher’s intonation. Teachers who wish to add a written component to the lesson can write the phrases on the board, accompanied by a small illustration, after the vocabulary has been introduced.
Repeating and Reproducing Weather Vocabulary
Once all the vocabulary has been introduced, there are numerous ways to get students to practice and reinforce it. Here are some ideas. They work well if performed in this order, although of course many variations are possible:
- The teacher repeats the phrases and the students respond with the gestures.
- The teacher performs the gestures and the students respond with the phrases.
- A student is chosen to play the teacher and reproduces the words or gestures and the other students respond.
- Working in pairs, one student traces the gesture on another student’s back, and the other student must guess the corresponding phrase. For example, one student gently pokes the other student’s back all over to represent snowflakes , or lightly drags his or her fingertips down the other student’s back to represent rain. The gestures should be standardized.
Play a physical version of the game “telephone.” Students form a line, and the teacher whispers a phrase in the ear of the student in the back of the line. The student then traces the gesture onto the back of the student in front of her. The next student does the same until the phrase reaches the front of the line, where the first student announces it out loud. This can be done with several competing lines – the first line finished with the correct phrase wins.
The Benefits of Total Physical Response Method Teaching
The Total Physical Response method – teaching linguistic structures and vocabulary through gestures and physical games rather than through memorization or written practice – is a highly adaptable teaching strategy. It works best in a group setting and when teaching commands, actions, or narrating a story. It is helpful in mixed-ability classes, for teaching students with learning abilities such as dyslexia, and for engaging kinesthetic learners.
TPR lessons typically avoid translation and work in the target language as much as possible. Teachers begin with a general question or a single gesture and gradually introduce vocabulary, reinforcing the vocabulary through movement or visual aids until students are able to carry-on both sides of the “language-body conversation” independently.
TPR teaching methods – teaching linguistic structures and vocabulary through gestures and physical games rather than through memorization or written practice – is not without its limitations. The most dynamic language teachers combine TPR activities with writing exercises, creative activities and projects, and traditional grammar instruction.
Total Physical Response