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15 variations on TPR (Total Physical Response) for little kids

1. You are your hand If there are problems with lack of space, noise, discipline and/ or potential breakages in the classroom with students running around, you can get them doing the usual action words for pre-school classes like “run” and “jump” with one hand representing the person (a fist with the first two fingers […]

1. You are your hand
If there are problems with lack of space, noise, discipline and/ or potential breakages in the classroom with students running around, you can get them doing the usual action words for pre-school classes like “run” and “jump” with one hand representing the person (a fist with the first two fingers extended down to represent legs) and the other hand as the ground (open palm face up).

2. You are an animal
This is a variation on You Are Your Hand that demands less imagination but more equipment. Give each student a puppet or plastic animal to do the mimes with. If you don’t have enough for one per student, you can give it to each student at a time and let the class shout out instructions like “jump on the teacher”. This can also be combined with Sensible Animal Mimes below.

3. Animals and actions
You can combine animals and actions and add fun with instructions like “the rabbit is jumping” (making rabbit ears on your head while jumping) or “the elephant is stomping its feet” (swinging one arm in front of your nose as its trunk while stomping your feet).

4. Simon says
Students only do the action you say when you start the sentence with “Simon says…” and should stay still if you say just the action word (“Jump!”). To add competition you can add or take away points or eliminate people if they move when you don’t say “Simon says…”. More useful language than “Simon says…” you can use to start the sentences includes “Your teacher says…” and “You should/ can/ must…”,

5. Simon lies
Students only copy the teacher when the thing they say and the thing they do is the same, e.g. when they say “jump” and jump. If the words and action don’t match (jumping and saying “sleep”) the children should stay still.

6. Steven lies too
Students ignore what the teacher is doing and only do what they say, e.g. if they are hopping and saying “Jump”, the kids jump.

7. Sensible animal mimes
In this variation on Animals and Actions, students only follow the instructions if the teacher says a sentence that is true in nature, e.g. “A bird flies” but not “A snake plays tennis”.

8. Sensible object mimes
Students only do the mime if it possible with the object the teacher names, e.g. stay still for “Eat a ball” but act for “Ride an elephant”

9. TPR questions
You can use mime to help students answer questions, remember the questions, understand the individual words in a question and/ or take part in question drilling even if they are too shy to speak. For example with “What’s your name?” you can mime shoulders hunched with palms up for “question/ what”, a cupped palm facing towards another person for “your” and pointing at a real or imagined name badge for “name”.

10. Quickly slowly actions
An easy variation on any kind of TPR actions practice is just getting the students to do it slowly and quickly. This adds two pieces of vocabulary that are very useful for classroom instructions and makes revision of previous vocabulary more interesting.

11. Left right actions
Another easy variation on almost any action is to add left and right, e.g. “Hop on your left foot” or “Play basketball with your left hand”

12. Little big actions
Another easy and fun variation is getting students to do alternate big and small jumps/ steps/ hops etc. Please note that these are all the nouns of the action words, whereas most of the other examples here are verbs.

13. Opposite actions
Dealing with actions as opposites not only makes them more memorable but can also add an element of fun, e.g. do “climb up, climb up, climb up” with the tension building and then “fall down!”

14. Action songs
There are many kindergarten songs for the kinds of actions you typically teach pre-school EFL classes, such as clap, stomp, nod, shout (all in the popular song “If You’re Happy and You Know It”), brush, wash, wave, (in various versions of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”) etc.

15. Action story books/ picture books
Lots of books designed for pre-school native speaker kids work well with EFL learners as well and have lots of action words in them, for example “From Head to Toe” by Eric Carle and “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net May 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • Maher Siala says:

    TPR activities are very motivating to young learners. They make the classroom a better place to study in. TPR activities should be conducted on a daily basis in class.

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TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Young Learners : 15 variations on TPR (Total Physical Response) for little kids