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“Special” tricks Part 2 — repetition (by David Deubelbeiss)


If you missed the first part of this article, start here

Previously, I outlined how much I’d been changed as a teacher by the realization that language students would benefit from a lot of the instructional practices of “special” needs teachers. Accommodations and modifications of content, behavior, use of models, explicit teaching of learning strategies, small class size, differentiation and what I’d like to talk about today – “repetition”.

To begin, see an example HERE. I’ve been cheerleading Gary Bishop’s amazing Tarheel Reader for a long time. Developed for students with learning disabilities, it is outstanding for ELLs. Why? Because of the intense use of repetition.

Repetition is needed to learn a language and it is a basic remedial technique. Language is NOT a knowledge laden subject but is performance based. We have to do things over and over, listen over and over to achieve mastery. Just like driving a car or learning to pack a parachute. As a child, that’s how we learn too. Here’s a photo of the math notebook of the amazing mathematician, Kurt Godel. Look familiar? Even Godel had to master the basics and we should be doing this with our students. [as an aside, I really do hope one day to write about the implications of his incompleteness theorem to language – it is fascinating ] I’m sure you remember lots of this in your younger days, lots of copying and “mastering”. Godel

But I’m not advocating that teachers set up classrooms like this infamous Chinese way…. full of parroting and useless repetition. No. There are better ways to do this and here are a few of my ideas on how you can best make “repetition” part of your instructional toolkit.

On the Lesson Level

1. Chants and Drills. Yes, don’t do them a lot but do them! The key is to make them so the students have some freedom and personal input. Always allow for students to change the words or omit words (substitution).

2. Controlled Practice. This is a standard lesson component and should allow students to repeat basic grammatical structures yet “push in” new content. Make sure the structure is always on the board for reference and get students used to repeating it (by rewarding them, ringing a bell etc..). Example. “Yesterday, I went to the ………. and ……….. ” – that’s the target language for use with a set of flashcards of places and things.

3. Repeat student’s phrases often in class. We call this echoing. It allows other students to hear the language again but also gives students a chance to process the language and repeat inside their own heads.

Teacher: “What did you do yesterday Mirka?”
Students: “I went to the mall”.
Teacher: “Oh, you went to the mall!”

Even better if the teacher doesn’t repeat but another student does. Recycle the language during the lesson. For example, in the above exchange, the teacher could ask other students – “What did Mirka do?”
Disappearing dialogs are also a great way to repeat language!

4. Review! Every lesson should at least end with the question – “What did we learn today?” Then, list the vocabulary, structures, ideas covered. Even better if you have time to end in a game, quiz. Even better if the students make the review questions! You could also make it standard to review the previous lesson at the beginning of the next.

5. Lesson Sequencing. Students really, really need to know what will happen each class. Make an agenda and stick to it! Meaning, every class, the students know what will happen the first 5 min. / the next 10 min. etc…. You do the same things EVERY class but with different content. I really, truly think there is too much variety and too much “different” coming at students in our English language classrooms. A predictable lesson sequence is vital and students need this kind of “repetition”. An example lesson sequencing might go like this.

0-5 min: Chit – chat, check student attendance, problems…
5-15 min. Review of the previous lesson.
15-25 min. Elicit background knowledge: Song and brainstorm
25-40 min. Controlled practice activity: Flashcards
40-60 min. Performance, presentation using target language.

On the Curriculum Level.

1. Recycling. Recycling of content or “spiraling”  is done by textbook writers but it isn’t always done well. Teachers need to be aware of the need to recycle into new units, the grammar, vocabulary and functions previously covered. Students need to encounter them in new situations, in order to master them.  Jerome Bruner first outlined these curriculum and constructivist principles and his thoughts are very pertinent to ELT.

So for example if the previous unit was about “Telling the time”. In the next unit, “Shopping”, the teacher should make sure to use a lot of “time” references and prepare lessons which insert this. Thus, the dialogue from the textbook could be changed to include times about meeting/opening/closing of shops.
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I know I’ve just touched on a few of the ways you can “repeat” and get your students learning more effectively. I think it an important thing for every teacher to think about and this summer might just be the time for such reflection.

David Deubelbeiss is an EFL teacher and teacher trainer living in Seoul, Korea. He runs a social network for teachers called EFL Classroom 2.0 and a website of teacher-submitted teaching ideas called Teaching Recipes. You can also follow David on his blog, Teacher Talk and on Twitter.

The Star Festival: Teaching Tanabata in English

Part of the series: EFL Makeovers

July 7th is Tanabata, or the Star Festival, in Japan. Legend says that Orihime (a weaver, represented by the  star Vega) and Hikoboshi (a cowherd, represented by the star Altair)  are allowed to cross the Milky Way to meet each year on the seventh evening of the seventh month each year. Children often decorate bamboo branches with colorful origami decorations, and their wishes. (more…)

Animal Magic with Young Learners (by Leahn Stanhope)

Part of the series: Stuff All EFL Teachers Should Know

I was initially very flattered when Barbara asked me to write a guest post, then my happy feeling turned to mild panic. Finally I just decided to write so here we are. This post is dedicated to one of my favourite ‘props’ for the young learner classroom which are SMALL PLASTIC ANIMALS. I like using a range of props which I keep in brightly coloured bags and clothes hampers. (more…)

A socializing game: Driver’s seat (by Anne Hodgson)

A few weeks ago I was teaching a group of personal and team assistants (PAs) I hadn’t met before how to assist international teams. This group didn’t need to go over critical incidents they’d had with foreign team members. Instead, they said their biggest challenge was making small talk with their visiting American team members. So that’s what we practiced.

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Siklot: Reinvention of a Traditional Game for EFL Classrooms (by Marco Brazil)


“Flick a card.

Flick a card.

Start the game,

And let’s have fun!” (more…)

More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 2 (by Emma Herrod)

If you missed the first half of this article, start here.

Home Sweet Home

This lesson makes for a fun way of working with language to do with accommodation and living spaces, as the students work together to build a large model house.  The model is then referred to throughout subsequent lessons and forms a focus for discussion.  There are a number of instructions you can find on the internet for making LEGO houses.  Personally, I love this Apple Tree House http://creator.lego.com/en-us/buildinginstructions/default.aspx.  Don’t feel you have to stick rigorously to the instructions, colours and brick choices.  Work with what you have.   In this activity the class build a LEGO house – each group could build a section (such as the roof, garden etc) and then it all gets put together in the centre of the room.

  • This can then lead on to discussions of rooms, contents and the layouts of students’ own homes.  You could also try practising model verbs to talk about home safety. (more…)

More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 1 (by Emma Herrod)

Firstly, I’d like to put this post into some sort of context.  In 2002, I landed a dream job (at the time) working at the LEGO Company.  The next five years were so much fun and those little coloured bricks became part of my everyday life.  Now I feel I need to give the studded plastic something back and perhaps offer them another raison d’etre.  At the LEGO Company, when I attended any kind of meeting, there was, 99% of the time, a bowl of LEGO bricks on the table. They weren’t just decoration – they were to be fiddled with – and I defy anyone not to feel the tension drop in their shoulders and the inner child not to emerge when given the green light to tinker with those little blocks of primary-coloured plastic during a business meeting.  ‘LEGO’ by the way is not a typo, but brand requirement in any written reference to the toy and yes, I was brainwashed by a zealous marketing department.

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How to Create a Jazz Chant by Carolyn Graham

Part of the series: Stuff All EFL Teachers Should Know

Last November, Carolyn Graham did a workshop at the JALT National Conference in Shizuoka, Japan, on how to make a Jazz Chant. I taped her workshop, and with her permission am sharing the part of it where she demonstrates her technique.

One of the many things I love about Carolyn is that she spends most of her time giving away her secrets. In this short video, Carolyn shows teachers how easy it is for them to create their own chants to reinforce vocabulary or grammar. (more…)

Music and Movement for Young English Learners (by Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina)

Matt Richelson makes some excellent points about the power of music in the EFL classroom in his recent article, “Teaching Young Learners With Songs.”  I use music and movement daily with young learners in the English classroom. Let me add a few more suggestions that can assist you in using these powerful tools to teach English to your students.

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The Foolproof Lesson

Most teachers have a short list of foolproof activities they can build a lesson around in a pinch–and this is one of mine.

It’s foolproof because it works for all levels, all ages, and with or without prepared materials. It’s deceptively simple, so beginning students are able to expand their existing language skills and strategies without feeling intimidated. Students control the difficulty, and discover the language they need in the process of completing a task. I’ve done this successfully with both children and engineers (at extreme ends of the language skill spectrum), but will demonstrate it with a class I currently teach of beginning adults. (more…)