Part 3. Total Physical Response (TPR) with Young’uns

Martina Bex wrote a terrific post explaining TPR and it is a great place to start – read it here. This post of mine though, will focus specifically on TPR with junior primary students (4 – 7 year old’s). At my amazing current site, I teach junior primary (4-7 year olds) which has been simply divine. Luar Biasa!! With this post, I hope to share the TPR magic used with my JP students and in doing so, begin a compilation of engaging TPR options that have successfully increased my students’ learning outcomes.

TPR is simply ‘learning another language through actions’ (Asher). TPR is based on three understandings; firstly, that language is learned primarily by listening; secondly, that language learning must engage the right hemisphere of the brain; and thirdly, that learning language should not involve any stress (Wikipedia).

While I utilise TPR in every lesson with my junior primary students, it is not pure TPR as created originally by Asher. It is a variation from the many tweaks I’ve made over the years so that it is more compatible with both my teaching style and beneficial for my young learners. Feel free to do this too! I look forward to hearing what works for you in your lessons!!

My previous post outlined how I use class dojo to call the roll which happens at the beginning of each lesson. My expectations for students during the roll is that students will duduk (sit), diam (shush) and dengar (listen). After any sustained focused listening, it is important to follow with an active break with all learners. My current students have only one lesson per week, therefore every single lesson minute is maximised for comprehensible input. TPR is a fun way to get students up and moving while pumping them full of repetitions of target structures. The target structures I choose to use in TPR are critically selected for their usefulness with:

 a. class stories,

b. classroom management and

c. potential student travel to Indonesia.

e.g. running, turn around, vomit, walk, jump, fast/slow, stop, look.

Frequent movement opportunities are vital in JP lessons as most young learners struggle sitting for long. I like to keep this equation in mind when planning: 5 year olds = 5 minutes. I.e. after 5 minutes of sustained focused listening, follow with opportunities to get up and move.

TPR can either have all students in a circle together with the teacher:

or just a few working with the teacher:

Remember – there is no one way to implement TCI, TPRS or TPR. Always tweak ideas to suit both your style of teaching and your student needs. As long as the input is 100% comprehensible and comprehended, your learners will acquire successfully.

Here is a list of ways that I incorporate TPR into my lessons:

Circle TPR – (Shoutout to Ibu Anne)

The structures I always begin with are berjalan kaki, stop (yes, ‘stop’ is English, however it is high frequency in Indonesia) and duduk (sit). My TPR format for JP requires us all to stand and move in a circular direction. In a deskless classroom, we all move in the same direction around the kursi luar biasa but in a room with desks, I allow students to choose their own direction to avoid bottlenecks. Students walk as we chant berjalan kaki. They stop when I say stop and then as a finale, I ask students to duduk. A few lessons later, I add berdansa (dance) and then in the following lesson, putar (turn around) is introduced. I love berdansa purely because it’s a cognate and adds fun! Putar is one of those words that is very useful for classroom management.

Other movement verbs I add gradually include berenang (swim), melompat (jump), berlari (run), jatuh (fall), merayap (crawl). I also will add in other target structure verbs into TPR e.g., makan (eat), minum (drink). All great variations to ramp up story asking with actors too!!

Here is some audio to give you an idea of what it sounds like:

Berjalan, berjalan, berjalan kaki x 2


Berenang x 4

Berjalan, berjalan, berjalan kaki x 2


Berdansa x 4

Berjalan, berjalan, berjalan kaki, x 1



Makan hamburger, makan hamburger, makan hamburger besar, makan hamburger kecil.

Berjalan, berjalan, berjalan kaki x 2



Leading up to this in my lessons, the first PowerPoint slide includes a quirky GIF accompanied by the structure ‘berjalan kaki’:

and the final powerpoint slide looks like this:

New language is introduced before we begin and again, where possible, incorporates a GIF and the structure in writing for emerging readers.

My students absolutely love this. I vary the number of times I say each structure, to ensure it isn’t predictable. If/when students stop participating appropriately, I change to the following.

Gender TPR Instructions

For some teachers, using gender as a way to group learners is maybe potentially troublesome, yet as gender vocabulary in Indonesia is high frequency, I believe it’s inclusion is useful for my students on their familiy holidays in Bali. Although I have yet to teach a JP student with gender identity issues, should that change, catering for all students would remain a high priority and an alternative would be explored.

As you can see from the above PowerPoint slide, there are three instructions. They appear one by one on each PowerPoint slide using ‘animations’ and a presenter clicker. I firstly ask ‘Laki-laki berdiri’ (boys stand up), secondly say Laki-laki + verb (e.g., dance, hop, swim) and then thirdly, ask ‘Laki-laki duduk’ (boys sit down). I then repeat it with the girls who either do exactly as the boys did or do something entirely different depending on the cohort. I used this last week with my 4 year old’s as a change from circle TPR and they loved it. Although a few did ask when we were doing berjalan, berjalan, berjalan kaki (as it is referred to by most students!) The secret is to keep it moving yet with heaps and heaps of repetitions of both the gestures and the language. I even sang a few of the repetitions which was well received! The beauty of having a second group of students repeating the same actions, is the repetition. I intentionally choose the more proficient group to go first to model and also provides opportunities where I can acknowledge student proficiency!

All the Worlds A Stage (ATWAS)

ATWAS works best in the JP context with short stories, super condensed story versions or a single paragraph from a story. I have three ATWAS variations, each of which require students to demonstrate comprehension through movement.

Variation # 1- Using actors to enact the story! I really like introducing the story for the first time this way. It gives me the chance to work one on one with only a few students to monitor their comprehension, reinforce acting ‘rules’ and sensor performances as they act for a highly engaged audience. I begin by asking for actors.

When working with young’uns, it is important to clearly state the expectations before choosing actors every single time! In my spiel, I remind students that I will choose an actor randomly using the sticks to ensure I ask someone who hasn’t yet had a turn. If their name comes up, students need to know that it is highly likely that the audience will laugh at something they say, do or wear, before they accept. If/when a student accepts, I write an ‘A’ on the back of their stick to record it.

KLB = Kursi Luar Biasa, M= mata-mata, A = actor, C= backwards charades

I highly recommend ramping up the experience for both actors and the audience using quirky props including hats, glasses, wigs, masks, clothing etc. I source mine mostly from op shops.

senang sekali!

I choose the actors as they are needed. It slows the telling of the story and also allows me to restart or retell a part of the story for repetition when adding a new character. Coaching the actors also helps to slow storytelling, check for comprehension, repeat sentences and call for acting ideas from the audience. Before telling the story, it is vital that actor and audience ‘rules’ are revisited. The actor can only do or say what I say. If a student repeatedly and deliberately forgets to follow this, I whisper in their ear that I will replace them if it happens again. Usually thisis enough to help them to self regulate and improve their acting skills. Quirky, over the top acting is encouraged as long as it demonstrates comprehension and is appropriate. The audiences’ role is to sit back and enjoy the show, offer positive encouragement and suggestions when asked.

I usually go straight from variation # 1 into variation # 2 as it both provides an opportunity for students to stand up and move after sustained listening while also maximising the story retelling with the story & acting still fresh in their minds.

Variation #2 – Students stand in a circle facing inwards, hands by their side. I explain to students the following: I am going to tell the story again and I want each and everyone to act it out. I also mention that I will be looking for the action that best matches the sentence I say and that there is no speaking or sound effects unless the character says something (this instruction will need constant reminders). I then say the first sentence which is usually, “Ada perempuan.’ (there’s a girl) or “Ada laki-laki.” (There is a boy). I repeat the sentence slowly numerous times while looking around the circle. When I see a student doing an action that clearly and imaginatively demonstrates what I have just said, I congratulate the student by name to encourage the class to look at what they are doing. I also like to acknowledge there are many ways to act out each sentence, so will try to acknowledge other creative students when appropriate. Also, it’s important to add comprehension checks, especially when it is clear that there are students who need it and/or to celebrate individual student proficiency. Repeat this for each line of the story.

Variation # 3 – In the next lesson, we do another version of ATWAS.  This version can take quite a large portion of the lesson, especially the first time. As there is a mixture of both focused listening and actions, students rarely lose interest. It begins with students choosing a partner and I like to clearly demonstrate how this is done each time to avoid hurt feelings. 

I like to demo this process in English with a student who has a good sense of humour. Cari satu teman means ‘find a friend’ and to do that, we walk towards someone who is standing up. We then ask that person, “Would you like to be my friend?” and they will answer with either ‘yes please’ or ‘no thank you’. If they say, “yes please.”, you both sit down and wait. If they say no thank you, then the answer is, “no worries.” This continues until there are only two people standing. They look at each other and sit down as they automatically become partners. This last point is super important to clarify with young’uns as several enjoy saying no and then are upset when they are with a person not of their choosing! The class then stands and begins. If there is a student left over, I ask them if they would like to be my friend and they then help me demo the next step. This inevitably turns their frown upside down!

The next PowerPoint slide prompts determining who will be which story character:

Siapa buaya? Siapa Emma?

A demo of this step is again super important. I begin by looking at my friend/partner and ask them which character they would like to be. They usually answer with Buaya, to which I say, “No problem! I’ll be Elsa and you will be Buaya”. Then I explain that we are going to do a second demo. This demo is OTT but the kids love it and so far, has ensured the majority of pairs are happy with the outcome. I again ask my friend who would they like to be. No matter who they say, I sob and say with a sad, croaky voice, “OHHHH, I wanted to be Buaya/Elsa!” After they recover from my reaction, they usually reassure me, “OK, you can be Buaya!” To which, I thank them profusely for their kindness before suggesting, “How about I am buaya the first time we act out the story and you can be buaya the second time we act out the story?” Thus clarifying with the class that we will do this twice. They will each get their choice of character eventually as well as listening to the story twice!! Input for the win!

From this point, the lesson returns to Indonesian. Students then look at their partner (lihat teman), decide who is who for the first round. When it looks like the decisions have finished, I say, Elsa berdiri (Stand up Elsa). I check that there is an Elsa for each pair. Then I say, Elsa duduk (Elsa sit down). I repeat this for buaya.To begin the story, I again ask, Elsa berdiri and the fun begins. After the story is finished, I ask the class to again duduk (sit). In English, I remind students that we are now going to swap character roles. They look at their friend and ask them if they want to swap roles. Here I state clearly that if one of the pairs wants a change, both must change. I then repeat the process exactly as outlined earlier, however add a twist with the final line of the story. Instead of buaya makan Elsa (crocodile eats Elsa), I swap it so that Elsa makan buaya (Elsa eats crocodile). I love this twist as you will observe immediately who are the fast processors!!  I again acknowledge the students who acted out the twist correctly. I repeat the line and do a comprehension check. Then the pairs act the final sentence again! What a hoot! Have you noticed that the first two steps of this ATWAS style are conducted in English? I am a big believer in using English to explain classroom procedures. It both ensures greater levels of understanding, makes it so much more quicker to explain so that we can start the activity asap and reduces student anxiety through incomprehension.

Bu Cathy Berkata (Simon says)

A classic TPR activity but not one I use very often. Students love it though. I am not a fan of games where students get out and then sit out. Instead I prefer to tweak games like this so that instead of focusing on who got it wrong, flip it and focus on students who were successful and couldn’t be tricked!

Circle TPR

– ‘Siapa Punya Strawberi’ (Who has the strawberry?) is a game I did at the beginning of this year and was often requested throughout the year. I like it because there is a focus on a particular structure which in this case is, “Siapa punya?” The class sits in a circle with one student in the middle hiding their eyes. I prefer that the student kneels with their face down, eyes closed and their two hands over their eyes. I then walk around the circle saying siapa punya, siapa punya, siapa punya stroberi? While handing out 3 strawberries to 3 different students. The three students hide the plastic strawberries either under their legs, in a pocket or behind their back. I then ask the student in the centre to ‘berdiri’ (stand up). They then approach 3 different students one by one, asking each, “John punya stroberi?” to which ‘John’ either answers, “tidak punya” and shows their empty hands or “punya” and surrenders the strawberry. The ‘winner’ is the student who found the most strawberries after their three goes, if having a winner is important.

Duck, Duck, Goose – not one I do often but still worth adding to the list. I like this this game for noun repetitions e.g. laki-laki/ perempuan, ibu/bapak etc.

‘Kasih’ (give) (Shoutout to Catharina for this one!) – Students all stand in a circle with one student in the middle holding a hardy soft toy. The teacher calls out to the student in the middle, “Kasih John” (give it to John) and the student heads over to give John the toy before John repeats the phrase substituting his name with a class mates. This game is extremely popular and can get very loud very quickly as the object of the game is counterintuitive. In this game you do NOT want the toy! It’s a good idea to introduce the game with walking to give students time to adapt to NOT wanting the toy! The round finishes when John gently touches the stomach/shoulder of the student whose name was said last before they say, “Kasih …….” To minimise the shenanigans that go along with requesting turns, I recommend that the next person in the middle will be the person on my right and then turns will continue person by person going anticlockwise around the circle.

Mari Buat Lingkaran (lets make a circle)

This video is one that perfectly combines movement and output through lyrics that are repetitious and limited. Be warned though, the song can easily become an ear worm after playing to back to back classes.

Other TPR ideas: There is a fine line between brain breaks and TPR – but for me, they can be both when the vocabulary required is limited to 2-3 words. Brain breaks that require either unfamiliar Indonesian or only English cannot be considered as TPR.  Here are a few that I’ve used.

Tepuk Tangan – Typical TPR structure that I have blogged about previously.

Three levels/Three Structures – I have no idea what this activity is called but, in my head, I refer to it as ‘3 levels/3 structures’ because it works best with three structures represented by three frozen body poses; one standing, one lying down and one either sitting or in the crawl position. For example, buaya – lying stretched out on the ground, kancil – on hands and knees & kafe – sitting on an imaginary chair drinking tea. To play the game, the teacher calls out one of the three structures and students get into the pose for that word. This is a terrific TPR game for students with lots of energy as it wears them out very quickly.

Team TPR is similar to three levels but instead the students are in small teams of 3-4. I haven’t tried this with 4 or 5 year old’s, however it worked well with 6-7 year old’s. Firstly, identify three structures from the story, then create a totally different and quirky frozen tableau for each to represent meaning. Using the structures kafe, buaya and berlari from the Elsa dan Buaya story, ‘kafe’ (cafe) could have one student kneeling on hands and knees to represent a table with the rest of their team ‘sitting’ around the table drinking tea (a flat hand to represent the saucer and the other hand up to the mouth with the pinkie outstretched), ‘Buaya’ could be represented by the entire team lying down side by side with arms open for crocodile mouths, and ‘berlari’ could have all but one student running and looking backwards with looks of amazement while the final student is crouching in the start position for a running race. Quirky poses increase engagement.An important difference between this game and the one above is that I am looking for the first entire team frozen in the pose with all aspects of the pose incorporated. If students wish to compete, points can be wawarded to teams that achieve this. Here is a photo from last year of a group of year 4’s participating in this:

Wii Fit – this one comes directly from La Maestra Loca. It’s perfect for targeting berlari, melompat, stop/berhenti.


Hopefully there is something here in this post that you can use in your teaching. I plan to continue adding to this compilation over the next 12 months. If you too have contributions or suggestions, please, please add them in the comments or contact me directly. There are not many posts specifically about TPR for the JP cohort, thus I will truly appreciate your input!!

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