Total Physical Response Learning: 4 of the Best Second Language Activities

In the 1970s, James Asher, a psychology professor at San Jose State University, created a ground-breaking second language program that completely shifted the way children learn new languages. His program, “Total Physical Response Learning (TPR),” transformed language lessons into fun interactive games and activities students would love.  

He found that using commands, such as “sit-down” or “jump”, in another language, sped up the rate at which children learn. Association of a new word with a movement or action strengthens memorization of a language. Unlike many other types of learning, Total Physical Response Learning activities are easy to incorporate in any classroom for a variety of age groups. Parents can easily play these games with their children at home as well, and even begin to pick up the language themselves.

TPR Storytelling


Regardless of age, everyone loves a good story, especially children. Teachers that incorporate a new language into their classroom story-times are subtly but effectively exposing their students to brand new words and language concepts. Whether a fairytale, adventure, or silly comedy, an effective TPR story always incorporates a specific recipe:

  • Enjoyable characters students can relate to
  • A specific plot/story direction
  • A good moral lesson
  • A healthy blend of the students’ native language as well as new second language vocabulary and terms
  • Creative descriptions
  • Listener interactions (having the listeners “act out” certain story elements–hand motions, facial expressions, word repetition, etc.

Second Language “Simon Says”

An old standby, Simon Says is still a timeless game many children love. It combines a healthy mental challenge with fun energetic body movements. Children have an easier time incorporating new words into their vocabulary when their whole body is being used as a learning tool. Start the game with basic native language words (i.e. “spin,” “raise one hand,” “pat your head”). Then, throughout the game, begin to incorporate new second language terms.  

Demonstrate the new words yourself. For example, to teach a new French term, say “Sautez trois fois!” and demonstrate the action by jumping three times. After your students watch, repeat the term again and have them do it with you. Throughout the game, repeat this command and action. By the second or third repetition, the children should be familiar enough with the sound and association to instantly perform the command. The friendly competition within this game will also motivate the children to listen and learn as quickly as they can.

Treasure Hunt

Searching for new objects and “hidden treasures” throughout the classroom is an easy way to help build teamwork among the students using their natural curiosity and problem-solving abilities. By mixing in foreign-language descriptive terms such as color, size, and quantity, students begin learning a large variety of adjectives for their new language.  

Begin the game with very simple terms. If teaching Spanish, begin by using color terms such as “amarillo” (yellow), “blanco,” (white) or “rojo” (red). Demonstrate each new word with a group of the appropriately colored objects before the game. Hide the objects around the room without the students watching. After they return, give them a command like “Find amarillo!” They’ll scatter about the room and find objects of the appropriate color. Go through the color list several times and watch the game speed up as the associations become stronger.  

To increase the difficulty, use the game to teach quantity. Demonstrate each number with specific groups of objects such as three balls, one hat, or five blocks. Repeat the numbers with different objects, each matching the appropriate numbers. Begin the game by asking for “dos” (two). Continue the game, repeating and reinforcing each number with a visual representation of the amount. By the end of the game, students will have a healthy and growing grasp of both number properties as well as what these numbers are in the second language.

Action Songs


Similar to TPR storytelling, songs are a great way to introduce a new language. The tune of the song, mixed with hand or body motions, creates natural memorization. Use simple songs such as “Head and Shoulders,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” or popular nursery rhymes. Because these songs are already familiar to many children, the new word associations will form quickly. Sing the songs in the native language first and begin gradually replacing certain words with the second language. Continue replacing more and more words. With time, children will be able to sing the songs in either language with ease.

We, as adults, learn new languages slowly, but children pick them up with ease, almost automatically, without thinking about ‘the difficulty’ involved. They are master learners, master puzzle-piece connectors, hungry for new knowledge and skills. Allowing them the tools to learn a new language unlocks their potential and feeds their natural curiosity. By far, Total Physical Response Learning is one of the most fun and effective ways for children to master a second language. For more information on this classroom practice and for TPR activity ideas, please contact us today.


The Pre School Years and the Importance of Social Emotional Learning

When it comes to learning and culture, your child’s brain is a blank slate. Children learn through socialization from other adults and children in their immediate environment and, through repeated exposure to the people of that culture, they begin to understand those norms and beliefs. In a foreign country, your child learns cultural norms from both you, the parents, and their experiences in that country. Children and young students living abroad have the benefit of encountering different cultures, and therefore have a richer view of the world. Parents who want their children to experience a wider view of culture may consider a more international upbringing for their children.

The Context of Socialization


The Age of Pretending

Your child’s personality is shaped through the beliefs and attitudes they experience during socialization throughout their development.

As parents, you can steer your child’s development in one direction or another. For example, your child may be naturally musical. If you provide them with musical training, you may find that they have unique musical abilities that they would never have otherwise discovered.

During preschool, children learn through pretending games. They assume different roles and act out scenarios with their peers, assuming multiple attitudes and perspectives. Even alone, children may act out different roles by themselves. Through pretending, children achieve a deeper understanding of what they’ve learned watching adults and peers.

Social Emotional Learning Counts



All parents want what is best for their child and structured play experiences provide ample developmental benefits. Through structured play, children learn to explore their personalities, understand their culture, and form friendships.

Some children are introverted and less likely than peers to seek out social experiences. For timid children, exposure to regular playtime with peers is particularly important. Introverted children benefit from a nurturing environment with low-key pretending games. Pretend kitchen sets or puppets are great tools for low-key playtime, or even a simple sandbox.

It’s so wonderful as parents to see your young children immerse themselves in play with others and come home excited about the friends they’ve made and the things they’ve learned. Children’s brains develop at an incredibly fast rate, and as a parent, you can witness your child make new discoveries almost daily. Our children remind us of how we first developed our understanding and belief system about ourselves and the world. It’s important to take the time to provide children with diverse experiences so they can have full advantage of this crucial time of education and discovery.

For more details on the importance of social emotional learning in a safe and structured, setting, please contact us today. Your child’s positive development is our primary focus.

The Benefits of Inquiry-Based Education

children raising painted hands for inquiry based learning

As your preschooler is exposed to learning, it’s likely that his or her inquisitive nature will reveal itself. At Tessa International School in Hoboken New Jersey, we encourage our students to take charge of their learning with an inquiry-based learning approach based on the International Baccalaureate framework.

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

While many preschool teachers begin the process of learning by presenting students with information, with inquiry-based learning, teachers first ask the students what they would like to learn and go from there. This innovative method of teaching helps the students to gain a better understanding through their own initiative and curiosity.

Inquiry-based learning encourages students to engage in the process of gathering data and to seek answers to their questions. Rather than being handed information, students are taught to ask questions, gather information, interpret data, and produce practical solutions. It teaches students to take action. Students are also taught to develop insightful questions and understand context.

As a result, your preschooler learns the fundamentals of problem solving, a mission Tessa International School is committed to in the classroom.

Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

  1. Students exposed to inquiry-based learning are given the opportunity to nurture their talents and passions. They take control of their learning during the unit of work being taught. Your preschooler is given the freedom to be driven by their own curiosity for learning.
  2. Inquiry-based learning encourages your preschooler to use their voice when problem solving.They feel as if their mind is respected and their choices are valid. When students become active in the learning process, they are also more likely to seek solutions and keep an open mind when learning about processes involved in discovery. They feel empowered.
  3. Inquiry-based learning promotes the act of questioning concepts and materials, so your child begins to understand the importance of having an inquisitive mind. As a result, she gains confidence when encouraged to ask about concepts related to educational materials, social skills, cultural differences and behavioral expectations. This openness to learn helps to guide them through life with an open mind.
  4. While many classroom curriculum programs focus on memorization and facts, inquiry-based learning teaches your child to seek a deeper understanding of the process and materials presented to them.
  5. Even as preschoolers, it’s important for students to take ownership of their learning. Inquiry-based learning approaches promote this practice. Students are involved in setting educational goals and are guided through the process of reaching these goals and then assessing how they did and what they learned at the end of it all.
  6. This learning style impacts your little one long into their adult life because inquiry-based learning shows your child how to investigate and research independently, without assistance. With enhanced research skills, your child will have the skillset to evaluate credible sources and online content later in life.
  7. As we learn and grow, life presents many challenges and questions. When exposed to inquiry-based learning techniques, your child learns how to take control of her learning through perseverance. With a clear focus on the growth of each student’s mind through self-regulation, this learning approach aids in developing your child’s sense of responsibility, not only as a student, but also a citizen.
  8. Most importantly, inquiry-based learning is designed to foster a love of learning for children of all ages. Your child is encouraged to seek out the knowledge he or she is passionate about on a daily basis. Students also learn how to make each learning opportunity a journey of discovery, with a little fun along the way.

If you’re interested in learning more about the creative curriculum approaches of Tessa International School, contact us today to see how we are committed to this progressive framework and to excellence.

What is immersion education?

7Immersion education is a system in which all academic subjects are taught in a target language such as French, Spanish, or Mandarin. It’s best if it’s started when children are young as they are more able to pick up subtle nuances of language. The classrooms are efficient learning environments where classroom procedures and transitions move quickly.

Teachers are fluent and native speakers of the target language and they are committed to speaking the target language consistently. This means they speak the target language during instruction, transitions, outside play, and eating times. Teachers are highly attentive to students’ needs and their individual learning styles.

The classroom is a literacy rich environment with pictures, labels, and other meaningful visuals to help support the target language throughout the day. Teachers are skilled at aiding comprehension through non-verbal clues and strategic teaching strategies.

The day is organized and routines are consistent and key phrases and vocabulary are repeated often to help children gain a foothold on their vocabulary development. Children make connections across the curriculum as the target language and English curriculum are aligned which allows them to reinforce concepts and ideas in both languages.

Will your child lose their English?

Studies have shown that children in immersion settings perform the same if not better than children who are not.

What if you don’t speak the target language at home?

You do not need to speak the target language for your child to succeed and gain proficiency. Homework is designed in a fun and engaging way through songs and games to review classroom learning. Strong communication with your child’s teacher is a key component to success.

For more detailed information please contact Michelle at

It’s all in the way we learn…Total Physical Response (TPR)


Total Physical Response (TPR) – An action oriented method to increase comprehension

An American professor by the name of James Asher developed an approach to language teaching commonly referred to as Total Physical Response (TPR). This work began in the 1960’s and theorizes that memory is improved through an association with physical movements.

There are many activities that can occur when using the TPR approach which helps children develop language using movements. These activities support the classroom curriculum and are not only motivating, but a lot of fun.

We don’t often think of Total Physical Response (TPR), but many games and activities have TPR fundamentals built in, both directly and indirectly. A good example is with “Simon Says” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”. Here is an example of TPR in a using Mandarin:


Total Physical Response (TPR) increases both short and long-term retention. When we learn to ride a bicycle we always remember how, no matter how many years might have passed. It might take a bit of a review, but the skills and knowledge are still there.

Total Physical Response (TPR) has many benefits. These include helping learners understand target languages and aid in long-term retention in a stress-free approach. This method can be uses to teach vocabulary connected to actions, classroom directions, and storytelling.  Teachers thoughtfully plan lessons with TPR in mind to promote engagement and develop listening fluency. Once there is enough listening fluency learners begin to speak the target language. Here is an example of TPR in the classroom.

You can read more at Total Physical Response (TPR).

Focusing on individual learning needs improves learning outcomes


What is individual learning?
Individualized learning is closely related to differentiated instruction. While differentiated instruction focuses on flexible grouping of children, individualized instruction focuses more on the needs of individual children. Good classrooms balanced both differentiated methods and individualized learning to create an engaging and stimulating learning environment.

Why is individualized instruction important?
Meeting the varied needs of children can be a daunting task for educators. It most definitely takes more planning and assessment of student progress, but the benefits far outweigh the cons. Individualized instruction prepares children to become active and effective learners developing the skills needed to be life-long learners in an ever evolving world. With the varied aptitude levels of children, individualized instruction helps use the differences of children to increase moral, retain information, and enhance children’s engagements in their learning.

How do we begin?
There are essentially five important steps to creating a successful individualized learning classroom. These are:
1. Setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely goals
2. Goals should be challenging
3. Goals are dynamic and reviewed regularly
4. Students own their progress
5. Parents are involved

What are some methods to individualize learning?
Teachers plan carefully and collaboratively to ensure they are using meaningful data to gain insights on how individual children are progressing toward a goal. We shift away from lengthy whole-group lessons to more play-based centers and inquiry-based projects. The centers and projects complimented by strategic use of current technological resources allow teachers to design engaging lessons that tap into the natural curiosity of each child.

Teachers provide opportunities for children to approach their learning in a variety of ways which provides more opportunities to retain information which improves moral and excitement for learning.

What are the benefits of individual learning?
Individualized learning essentially allows students to learn at their own pace with teacher direction. They are still working towards rigorous and challenging learning outcomes, but they are provided a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning.