About as close as you can get to TPR space-walking, on earth.

You’re looking at your “Set-up!”, working to make play as “Obviously!” as possible. You want the “Fluency” your players acquire to apply to the real world. To do so, you create a “Total Physical Response” amongst players through the actual physical objects and situation involved in using the skill.



If fluency is acquired by doing, then the most useful fluency is acquired by doing it for real.

The original formulation of “Total Physical Response” (TPR) was first innovated by Dr. James J. Asher, a professor emeritus of psychology at San José State University. He was inspired by how children actually internalize and learn their first language, by responding physically to speech, initially through commands.

In many ways, TPR was the primary inspiration for WAYK, and technique “Obviously!” was back-engineered from the success of TPR.

However, the WAYK application of TPR has drifted somewhat from Dr. Asher’s original concept. Through thousands of hours of game trials, TPR, in the context of WAYK, has come to mean the primacy of engaging in actual situations and physical experiences, and avoiding pretend or imagining whenever possible, to the extent possible (with some few exceptions, such as tq “Imaginary Friend”).

In this sense, you will see like-minded training techniques applied in fields that tend to demand “do-or-die” fluency, such as flight training, military live-fire training, emergency medical training, disaster preparedness, and so on.

TPR also encourages us to engage our entire physical selves in learning that may be thought of as abstract or technical.  To the extent we engage all of ourselves, physically, emotionally, socially, we will further accelerate learning.

In language, the ultimate “TPR” moment is when one player asks another for a specific object, immersed in the target language, and successfully receives it. This usually inspires a tq How Fascinating! group moment.

By giving each technique an ASL hand-sign, we employ TPR in acquiring the WAYK mentoring language itself.

Introducing the technique

Short: “Technique Total Physical Response, or TPR, means that we always use the real objects that we’re really talking about.”
Long: “It means that we try to have conversations about portable, trade-able objects that we can pass back and forth and handle. It also means that we avoid, especially at lower levels of proficiency, conversations not dealing with physical objects and the immediate environment.”

Applying the technique to language acquisition

Make everything as real and true-to-life as possible.

  • Use objects that are Obviously! what they are.
  • When setting-up a conversation, make it as real-to-life as humanly possible. Use real objects whenever possible, not toys or props. Put yourselves in the real situation referred to by the language, or as close to the real situation as possible.
  • Prioritize a tq Needs-gap conversation by starting with a simple trading game in the target language, to acquire the ability to get the objects you want.
  • TQ Overdo It physicalizes emotions and the inner states of the players to further push play as obviously! as possible.
  • Use tq Signing to physicalize the names and uses of techniques, and as a bridge language for acquiring spoken language.
  • TQ Hunt Fluency by going into the real environment where the language is used, and engaging in conversation there.

But what about…?

When first learning language hunting, it’s tempting to cut corners, and settle for set-ups that are just “good enough”. Many players will do this when setting up new same conversations for the first time, or when language hunting. After creating ambiguous set-ups, they may say that there is a role for imagination and pretend – and in fact, there is (see tqs Imaginary Friend, Tea with GrandmaEverybody Plays All-the-time), it’s just a very specific role, one that always supports maximum clarity.

The fact is, language hunting is inconvenient. Creating great TPR, “obviously!” set-ups for language hunting is difficult and can be time consuming. It can mean a quick run to the store, or an extended search for just the right pen (when many “good enough” ones lie right at hand).

For many reasons, most of our habits around learning are sloppy and imprecise. The learning acceleration we create is in direct proportion to how much we “inconvenience” ourselves.

•    TQ OCD reminds us to do the inconvenient thing, and to nit-pick over details.
•    TQ Fluency Hunting reminds us how chaotic situations are intrinsically, and to apply as many techniques as possible in the field.
•    TQ Same Conversation are fully fleshed-out TPR scenarios.
•    TQ Where Are Your Keys? is the primary WAYK TPR conversation, a trading game about the rock, stick, pens, and dollar.

Written by Evan Gardner