TPR and actions

The merits of TPR (Total Physical Response) are evident and I cannot stress the need for the use of actions with young primary children enough.  The most popular body song,

‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ is the classic example of how actions can help children very quickly learn 8 new words.


Actions really are a winner in the language classroom.  As well as being fun, actions help to make new language more memorable.


  • are very good for large classes, as, if the teacher leads, a large group will follow.
  • work very well in mixed-ability groups as they get the meaning of new language across so that ALL the children are able to understand.
  • also help the more kinaesthetic learner who needs to be more active in class.
  • also involve left- and right-brained learning.

It is sometimes difficult to think of an action for all our target lexis. I look at this website for American Sign Language for inspiration:

I often find that my actions can all become a bit samey as eating ‘soup’, which I do with one hand as the ‘bowl’ and the other hand holding the spoon I put in my mouth, looked very much like my old action for ‘salad’ until I looked at Signing Savvy.   Check out the action for ‘salad’ I  use now, which is particularly relevant if your learners live in a country where salads are ‘dressed.

With older children, have fun working WITH the children to come up with actions for different words rather than giving the actions.  You can often then use these actions with younger children.



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