Reverse physical stories

I’ve always liked Total Physical Response (TPR) as as an approach to language learning. It’s a safe and relatively unchallenging activity for learners, but at the same time it provides them with lots of  meaningful and highly memorable language exposure. Perhaps most importantly, it’s fun and it tends to make people laugh. Over the past two years I’ve used it a lot in the Hands Up Project, particularly in the form of physical stories where the I tell a story and ask for volunteers to come up to the webcam and act it out with me. In fact my first ever blog post was about it, and I also like this variation that I wrote about here

Recently, however I’ve started doing things the other way around. As a follow up to a physical story – often as homework – I ask the students to create their own physical stories and I tell them them that in the next session I will listen to their stories and act them out as they tell them.

In the video below you can see this happening in practice. The girls are taking in turns to come up and tell the stories that they wrote for homework. In fact it’s not just me, but also our newest volunteer Iwan who is performing the stories (Iwan was expecting to be just observing the session!) I’d be interested to know what you think of it as a technique and whether it is something that’s achievable in your classes.



10 thoughts on “Reverse physical stories

  1. Wonderful – instead of evaluating and assessing the student’s story, the role of the teacher is to interpret and enact the story. How satisfying for the student. How memorable. How meaningful. Here the student’s story is acknowledged and celebrated rather than judged and measured. Keep the creativity flowing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment David. That’s a great point. So often as teachers we are listening to learners in order to assess their accuracy and fluency. Here the tables are turned and they are assessing us on our ability to interpret their stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. TPR makes learning more meaningful, enjoyable and faster …but we can’t teach everything with it ….
    I tried it several times with action verbs and recently in storytelling I work on with my students….
    Take time for yourself Mr Nick …
    Wishing you a speedy recovery for your back


    1. Thanks Confident. I love this job but it does mean I spend a lot of the time sitting down. Hence the back problems. So here’s another reason for incorporating reverse TPR into our teaching – it provides the teacher with some exercise 🙂


  3. A wonderful approach to language learning. It brings an atmosphere of fun in the classroom especially because it fits all of the students’ level. It encourages creativity and imagination and helps students to be good listeners.
    Moreover, it allows more students to be engaged in the activity.


    1. Thanks Saida. It’s your students and their very creative ideas which really make these kind of things work so well. Anyone reading this post who may be attending the IATEFL conference in Glasgow will be interested to know that Saida’s class will be performing a short Palestinian play live to the conference delegates who attend my session on Tuesday 4th April at 12.35 UK time.


  4. I remember using this technique with you in my first session. It is fun and encouraging. I will try it with my class and I am sure they will nail it.


  5. Have you ever heard a football team singing their national anthem before the start of the match? Some of them sound terrible while others can’t hit the note properly, yet we all feel how much they’re proud and happy. The same thing about acting scenes from stories or plays, there’s no right way to do any scene but it’s a cool and funny thing to do.

    Students usually act written stories but to write scenes? That’s really challenging and worth trying. We can even ask students to include new vocabularies and expressions in their written texts. As one student reads her story, another one has a set of cards and holds the target word when her friend comes through. The rest of the class act words while listening to the whole text. This is good to practice new items and to increase concentration and comprehenshion.

    I loved when the dog said his word! Woof-woof 😀


  6. I agree with David and Nick. Production performances can be rather an anticlimax for learners as the most a teacher can offer is verbal praise. Enacting the story convinces the learner their story has been understood, a superior form of praise.

    I always feel other learners in the class should somehow interact with the performer/speaker rather than sit there in silence “waiting for their go” and possibly not even paying attention. Is asking the others or a selected two or three learners to act out the story they hear possible with the Skype setup? It could be risky as the actors may not understand a story well told. On the other hand, it involves learners in a truly communicative activity – learners reacting to another’s production.


  7. I also tried this with my group at Khan Younis. We’d done the TPR story of the enormous elephant, magic monkey and crazy crocodile the previous week. For the next session the girls prepared their own TPR stories and I acted them out with the help of the rest of the students. It was great fun and the stories were fantastic- magic pens and butterflies and all sorts. All the ideas and language came from the students. I learnt how creative they are and also that it’s difficult to act as a parrot! Thanks for a brilliant idea.


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