Teaching Your Child with Movement – The TPR Method

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Have you ever wondered how your child is smart enough to learn every word in their favorite song, but can’t remember the word you’ve had them repeating for the last five minutes? One big reason for this is that people, especially children, react well to learning through movement. So, those dance moves that go along with their favorite song aren’t just for looks, but are actually incredibly important for helping your child learn. In this article, we will talk about how you can use movement to help teach your child more effectively by pairing actions and words. 

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The TPR Method

TPR stands for Total Physical Response, and it is a theory of language learning pioneered by Dr. James Asher. It is intended to mimic the way we learn our mother tongue as children. Instead of learning through grammar lessons and memorizing vocabulary, as children, we all learned our first language by listening to mom and dad. We hear what they say, and learn to associate these sounds with actions and ideas. For example, parents will use commands like “go to Dad” or “eat your dinner,” and young children, even before they can speak, will learn how to react to these commands by doing them and understanding who is Dad and what is dinner. In this way, the child links the actions they perform with the words mom and dad say. Over time, the child will soak up these words and actions, and will begin to naturally speak on their own. In TPR, comprehension comes first, and language production comes along later. 

Advantages to Teaching with Actions

  1. Children will find it far more fun. Most children love nothing more than playing or dancing. By keeping movement in mind when it comes to teaching, you can help make learning English a fun game, and not a dreaded chore.
  2. For young learners, it does not require reading or writing skills to learn. You can teach your child verbs through games like Charades or Simon Says. Or you could associate verb conjugations (ie. is, am, are) with the same movement, so that kids learn to associate these words with the same meaning.  The possibilities are nearly endless.
  3. TPR is inherently low-pressure. Sometimes, being asked to do difficult tasks like writing, reading, drawing, or even speaking can discourage children. But, for the most part, movement is natural and comes easily. This will encourage your child to play (and learn) more.
  4. Some children are just inclined to learn this way. For many people, learning through movement is the easiest way for them to learn. These kinds of people are called “Kinesthetic learners.

Language Learning Vs Language Acquisition

 TPR is more concerned with acquiring language than learning it, but what’s the difference? Isn’t that the same thing? Not really. When you learn a language, you learn the grammar rules and memorize vocabulary, and then you learn how to slot the vocabulary you know into sentence structures to make language. Language acquisition is listening to someone use a sentence, observing and understanding what it means, and then replicating it yourself. If you have ever watched a TV show or movie in another language, and then learned an often repeated phrase by hearing it multiple times, this is a great example of language acquisition. You did not need to learn the grammar or the individual words of the language, you acquired the meaning through understanding what the phrase meant through observation. Language acquisition is the way we learn as children, and by emphasizing it with your child, you can help them improve their English.

The Importance of Language Acquisition

 Learning English through language acquisition will make your child’s English more natural. By learning through phrases we actually use, your child will then use those more natural-sounding phrases in their everyday speech and be more comfortable speaking in general. It will also give them a better sense of the flow or intonation of our sentences and words, something that a student learning from a textbook will struggle to do right. When TPR and language acquisition are used effectively, your child will not only understand English on a more natural level, but they will also sound and speak more like a native speaker.  

Disadvantages to Teaching with Actions

  1. As your child advances, more complicated words can be a lot more difficult to illustrate with movements and commands. Where verbs often lend themselves to movement, a lot of nouns can be far harder. 
  2. Teaching with movements requires some planning on your part. If you are teaching with movement, you need to think about what movement is associated with a word or phrase. You want it to be easily related (jumping motion for “jump”), but also they have to be distinct (jump vs fly) and you need to be consistent. No changing actions halfway through, unless you want to confuse your child. 
  3. You are their role model. If they acquire the language from you, and you are wrong, they will be wrong too. Luckily, there are lots of resources to help you here at the Learner’s Nook and elsewhere online. 
  4. TPR is used for learning how to speak naturally, but it does not emphasize grammar. So, if doing well on English tests is important for your child, then they will need to learn grammar separately.
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Games and Activities that Use Movement

Simon Says

This is a fantastic way to teach almost any vocabulary that your child needs to learn. First, teach your child movements associated with whatever they are learning. When they have these down, you test them by playing Simon Says. For example, you say “Simon says run.” Your child will have to do the action associated with running. If the child does the action incorrectly, then that child is out. The winner is the last child remaining. This can be used for animals, verbs, or different nouns, just be creative. When it seems like they have got it right, you can encourage them to say the word when they do the action. Or, have them be Simon and have them tell you what to do. All of this is a great way to teach children vocabulary, and to review it afterward. Ideally, this game will have several people playing.

Songs

 Nursery Rhymes and online learning songs all usually include movements. A great example of this is the hand motions indicating the Itsy Bitsy Spider. With songs, just let them watch and listen. There is no need to pressure your children into singing at first. Let them absorb the words and actions. Naturally, children will start to dance along with the figures on the screen, and finally sing along with them. Try out different songs and see which ones your child likes. Ultimately, exposure to English is the important thing, so if your child prefers songs about dinosaurs over the Alphabet Song, then that’s okay. 

Bus Stop Charades

 A great way to teach about different people in the neighborhood or animals. first, set up a bus stop bench (a couple of chairs). Then, give your child a role to play, it could be a dog, or a mailman, or a doctor. They will then go sit on the bench and pretend to be that person or thing. The other children need to guess who or what they are. It does not need to be a bus stop bench, all you need is something interesting to keep the kids engaged. 

Be the Teacher/Be the Parent

A fantastic way to teach your child commands and their meanings. Start by teaching them the commands you want them to know: open the door, close the door, turn on the light, turn off the light, etc. Then, tell them you are going to give them five commands. They will be timed while they race to accomplish the tasks. If you have multiple kids practicing, then the fastest one wins. As they get better, have them give the commands. Nothing demonstrates that they have learned the material better, than having them run the game. Also, kids love “being” the teacher or the parent!

TPR and Movement Every Day

Teaching your child English is more than spending an hour or two in English class every week. You don’t potty train your kid once a week, you do it every day until it is a learned habit. English should be taught in the same way. The best English students are those who treat it not like a skill, but more of a habit. You can use TPR and movement to help you make learning English an everyday occurrence where your child will learn naturally by pairing actions and words together. Ask your child to do things in English. Incorporate English songs and videos into computer time. Play games that emphasize fun and learning through language acquisition. TPR and using movement to learn is not something you can use all the time, but it is an important thing to think about when teaching your child. All of this work now will help your child not only learn English, but acquire English like a native speaker.   

If you are looking for more ways you can help your child improve their English, take a look at our posts on how to teach phonics effectively and how to say “hello” like a native speaker.

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