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Yup'ik RavenStorytelling in the Yup’ik Immersion Classroom

Total Physical Response

James Asher’s Total Physical Response (TPR) is a technique based on the belief that listening comprehension should be developed fully, as it is with children learning their native language, before any active oral participation from students is expected. It is based on the belief that skills can be more rapidly assimilated if the teacher appeals to the students’ kinesthetic-sensory system. TPR utilizes oral commands that students carry out to show their understanding (Omaggio Hadley, 2001). Asher (1993) recommends focusing on physical movement, drawing, acting in a skit and dramatizing a scenario (Stand up. Walk to the door. Open the door, etc.). When giving commands for the first time, the teacher models the desired behavior removing the model after several repetitions of the same command (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004). After responding confidently to a number of single commands, the teacher begins to combine commands in original and unexpected ways so that students discover that they can understand and respond to language in ways they have never heard before (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004).

Asher (1993 p. 2.4) identifies three key ideas that underlie the TPR approach:

  1. Understanding of the spoken language must be developed in advance of speaking.
  2. Understanding should be developed through movements of the student’s body. The imperative is a powerful aid because the instructor can utter commands to manipulate student behavior. Asher’s (1993) research suggests that most of the grammatical structures of the target language and hundreds of vocabulary items can be learned through the skillful use of the imperative by the instructor.
  3. Do not attempt to force speaking from students. As the students internalize a cognitive map of the target language through understanding what is heard, there will be a point of readiness to speak. The individual will spontaneously begin to produce utterances.

TPR is not designed to be a comprehensive “method” but represents instead a useful set of teaching ideas and techniques that can be integrated into other methodologies for certain instructional purposes (Omaggio Hadley, 2001). Asher has stressed that TPR should be used in association with other methods and techniques (Richards & Rogers, 2001).

One criticism of TPR is that it “is fine at the beginning of language training (perhaps the initial month or two) but then what?” (Asher, 1993). Asher suggests a follow-up to the TPR experience is storytelling (Asher, 1993). TPR Storytelling uses techniques that foster efficient language acquisition and deep ingraining of vocabulary aurally through Total Physical Response in the use of stories as a means of both instilling comprehensible input and eliciting expression at the acquisition level of the student (Ray & Seely, 2001). Where TPR alone is almost exclusively limited to the imperative mode (commands), TPR Storytelling adds the narrative and descriptive modes of language which allow teachers and students to achieve significantly higher levels of language (Anderson & Marsh, 1998).

In TPR and the Natural Approach it is essential for the teacher to establish a learning environment that maintains a low anxiety level among the students so that they can make maximum use of the comprehensible input the teacher provides. In TPR this means the teacher waits for the students to be ready to speak and does not force the students to speak. However, in TPR Storytelling the teacher expects the whole class to participate in the storytelling activity. The students are expected to speak.

At first this may appear to be a contradiction. TPR says do not demand speaking because it will raise the student’s affective filter (see [General Steps of TPR Storytelling]). TPR Storytelling says students have to participate by speaking.

The way I deal with this conflict is that at first I accept whatever attempts the students make to say the words and phrases of the story. I gradually correct their pronunciation whenever necessary, but I try not to focus on it too much. Since TPR Storytelling is practiced as a whole group, students are not singled out in a way that will stress them out or make them uncomfortable. In short, the ideal TPR Storytelling event engages students in collaborative, stress-free dramatic play and so does not raise the affective filter.





Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction What is TPR Storytelling?
Total Physical Response The Natural Approach General Steps of TPR Storytelling
My Classroom: First and Second Grade Sample Mini-Stories References
Additional Resources Project (pdf)  



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Last modified April 7, 2011