Total Physical Response

UDL 1.2 UDL 5.1

Total Physical Response is a kinesthetic teaching method in which students listen to commands and respond with physical actions and movements (e.g., as simple as moving a finger in a specific way to more complex actions involving the whole body) in order to connect a physical association to a concept that is being taught. A teacher uses this strategy to allow different learning styles to access and retain concepts that students might not easily remember (e.g., new vocabulary, complex processes, learning English as a new language). Students can apply this strategy while seated, standing, or by moving throughout the classroom. While other comprehension strategies help students retain information, Total Physical Response differs in that it provides students with the added benefit of increasing recall while also releasing physical energy, which helps to minimize distractions. This strategy also helps students develop listening comprehension skills and oral fluency.

Implementation Tips

Preparing for Total Physical Response
Write the word, concept, or phrase being taught on large chart paper or another area that is visible for students to see prior to engaging in physical movements, in order to help students make connections between oral and written words. Also, prepare student friendly definitions in advance.
Pre-plan how the strategy will be used (e.g., presenting new vocabulary, blending and segmenting sounds, stretching out words, forming letters, representing math operations). Decide if students will only use their hands and arms to physically engage or their whole bodies, similar to this [[ | sound segmentation example ]].
Introducing Total Physical Response
Explain the thought process behind choosing gestures, facial expressions, or body movements to illustrate the meaning of a word/concept (e.g., “Sly means sneaky, so maybe I'll tip-toe around looking cautiously left and right since I don’t want to get caught.”). After, students mimic the same movements.
Getting Creative
Ask students to create related physical movements after hearing the definition in order to help students build ownership of Total Physical Responses. Remind students to vary physical movements to easily distinguish definitions. After a movement is proposed, all students should practice mimicking the actions.
Make it a Game
Turn the strategy into a game, such as Simon Says. State commands for concepts students are learning (e.g., whisk, dice, peel) with or without “Simon says” before it to allow students to apply understanding of concepts by practicing the physical actions each time a concept is stated, while deepening listening skills.
Repetition and Practice
Provide students with multiple opportunities to review and practice hearing and saying words/concepts while engaging in the paired physical movements to ensure learning. While teaching students new words or phrases through the use of this strategy, recycle previously taught concepts often to support retention.
Integrating Movement Throughout the School Day
Monitor energy levels in the classroom to determine how and when to apply Total Physical Response (e.g., if students are lethargic or distracted, full-body or standing movements will help re-energize and refocus students). Also, apply this strategy when introducing new vocabulary and to support ELL students.


Introducing New Vocabulary and Developing Oral Fluency
During a class read aloud of [[,204,203,200_.jpg | Holes ]] by Louis Sachar, a teacher asks students if they know the definition of particular words used in the text (e.g., snicker, indentation, unearth). When the students reply that they are unsure, the teacher decides to incorporate the Total Physical Response strategy to help students retain the new, slightly tricky definitions. First, the teacher provides simple definitions of each word and lists them on the whiteboard. Next, the teacher models each action, and students practice along. After, students participate in a quick recall game to practice related movements while the teacher calls words out in random order.

Sample Actions For Holes Vocabulary:
--snicker: pretending to laugh silently with a hand covering the mouth
--indentation: using one hand facing up, making a scooping motion to show a dent
--unearth: pretending to dig using a shovel to recover something underground
Physical and Visual Math Support
After conducting a mid-unit assessment, a teacher notices that several students are having difficulty understanding the concept of a number line. To support their understanding of this concept, the teacher creates a visible number line in the hallway (e.g., with masking tape). First, the teacher models the expectation (e.g., “If I’m plotted at 3 and I need to add 7 more, I can “jump” to 10 for a jump of 7, or I can “jump” to 5 first and then “jump” to 10 to represent a jump of 2 and 5.”). Students then practice jumping on the number line to determine the number combinations that can be used to represent their answers.

Related Strategies