iFLT Takeaway #1: TPR Gestures

I had the privilege of attending iFLT (the International Forum on Language Teaching) this summer in beautiful St. Petersburg, Florida, and though it has been a week or so since I’ve returned, I’m still reeling a bit from the amazing experience. I have a notebook full of quotes, observations, tweaks, ideas, book titles, links, etc. For me, the most incredible parts of the conference were the language labs, where you can watch experienced master teachers at work with students. The labs demonstrated to me the importance of several practices that I was well aware of, but really didn’t practice in my own teaching. The most obvious thing that I had been missing is (consistent) TPR and TPR gestures. I use TPR and TPR gestures, but I don’t necessarily leverage physical movements to their greatest advantage.

My practices last year:

1.) My TPR established meaning early on. However, I didn’t consistently use a gesture after I taught or demonstrated it.

2.) I use some TPR at the beginning of the year to teach a few verbs before starting with storytelling. Two months into the school year, TPR practically disappears.   I don’t think I used it at all in the upper levels.

3.) Initially I used a lot of TPR but didn’t really use TPR gestures. I’m not sure why. The only gestures I used consistently were pantomiming “look for,” “find,” and some prepositions. I used them during stories and movie talks but didn’t have the students do them consistently.

Here are some great practices/observations from my iFLT experience that I want to use immediately with my students:

1.) TPR is a great Brain-Break/Brain-Burst

For when student get antsy, or as a transition to a new activity. Both new structures and older structures can be work.

2.) TPR/TPR gestures can help build a story

Once the students know a small group of new TPR words, build a story or a scene around them. A compelling story can be created using just a few related actions. And the fact that the students are doing the gestures/actions along with you and/or the actors, it helps keeps students involved. The inimitable Jason Fritze demonstrates this practice here.

3.) TPR/TPR gestures can help with classroom management

Students attention wandering? Start throwing out some TPR/TPR gestures. Getting the students bodies involved is a great practice to combat the restlessness that eventually leads to disruptions.

4.) TPR/TPR gestures are useful and relevant for all levels and ages

Ironically, my upper level Latin students and I generally have a great relationship, and they would probably be more willing use TPR than my Latin I students, who often must be coaxed and prodded into trying it or using it consistently. But the lower levels will by into it if you are very serious and intentional about all students doing the movement.  If you start out by letting a few students slip by, in about two weeks almost no one will be doing the gestures.  This is actually why I give up on TPR, thinking my students just aren’t into it.  Ironically, in my class TPR falls flat typically because I’m not serious about it. Having observed first hand the power and versatility that TPR/TPR gestures have, however, I plan on being much more serious and intentional about using it judiciously this year.

5.) TPR/TPR gestures should be planned ahead of time.

Yes, I made the mistake once of letting each class decide their gestures for certain high-frequency verbs. There were two results: 1.) I ended up just guiding the different classes to use the same gestures anyway, or (2) I had five different gestures for the same verb, and just ended up not using any of them. I saw a lot of ASL use, and I’m intrigued by that. If you can’t come up with a good gesture, just look up the word on Handspeak for some ideas. I am a huge supporter of planning these things out ahead of time to reduce the amount of decisions that I have to make in the moment. Annabelle Allen (aka “La Maestra Loca”) also has great ideas for gestures.

6.) TPR/TPR gestures (if taught purposefully) can help students with limited language create meaningful, contextual, and level-appropriate output.

Gestures are a form of output, and teaching gestures intentionally give them more ways of comfortably communicating with you.  It was even useful in the intermediate classes I observed.

7.) TPR/TPR gestures can cue responses from the students and review previously-learned language.

The gestures can jog a student’s memory if they can think of the work they want to say. Also, when reviewing the action in a story or the main points of a discussion, the teacher can use gestures to elicit appropriate responses. This could really by helpful for Write and Discuss (and even probably student interviews).  Example: “Jared in arbore (in a tree) __________ (teacher supplies the gesture for “lives/dwells,” and students call out chorally “habitat”).  You could then traditionally circle this fact, or ask follow-up questions, but have the students fill in the verb every time.  That way, you can ask individual students questions, yet keep the whole class actively engaged as well.

8.) TPR/TPR gestures are used and practiced intentionally and consistently.

This is what I need to work on. I am really not consistent in this area. I have used TPR and gestures as an after-thought or a support, but not a core practice. Also, I have to practice the gestures and movements myself first, making sure that I get them down before introducing them to students. Furthermore, this just emphasizes the need to GO SLOW at the beginning stages. Not just for the students sake, but for my own sake. If I get really going on a story, I develop really bad tunnel vision. I tend to forget the fundamentals (teach to the eyes, point and pause, check for comprehension, etc). Sometimes I let the activity get away from me, and that lack of control leads more often than not to trouble in the classroom. These are also the times where I either have major discipline issues, or I ignore small infractions of procedure that eventually blow up later in the year.

Atending iFLT was a bit of a Wizard of Oz experience. I went to iFLT looking for “new” practices, but in the end, I discovered that I had the tools I needed already, I just needed to see great teachers use them in creative and novel ways.


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