Repitition (Kirsten Colquhoun)

Repetition, repetition, repetition    
Kirsten Colquhoun gives us vocabulary recycling tips.

As teachers we are very aware of the sheer volume and complexity of the language that we need to teach our students. It is easy to forget, though, that input is not the same as intake: students don’t necessarily learn what we try to teach them.  One of the main reasons for this is quite logical: encountering a language item once, or even twice, is not enough to transfer it to long-term memory and active use. Even if we ensure that our students are using and manipulating this structure or item multiple times in a lesson, this is not enough to guarantee it will be used by the learner once they have left the classroom.

There are ways, though, that we can help our students incorporate new language they learn – in particular new vocabulary, collocations and idioms – quicker than if we leave it up to chance encounters, As tour guides of our classroom we can manipulate the input of our lessons to facilitate greater learning opportunities to speed up the process of intake. So here are three simple ways to introduce repetition into your lessons:


At the beginning of every lesson, think of an activity which will recycle language and vocabulary from previous lessons – a talking point, a test, a game. This should not be exclusively from the lesson before, but can be of lessons in recent past.

Think ahead

When thinking about the lesson you are about to teach, keep in mind what has just been taught to this class and try to incorporate this into your own speech, naturally. Easier said than done, I know,  but if a record is kept of what is taught – just a few words or phrases jotted down at the end of each lesson – a quick glance will serve to refresh our own minds and during the lesson you will notice that  same language coming to mind, ready to use. In a talk he gave for Macmillan called ‘What does it mean to know a word inside out?’ on 19 May 2010 in Cambridge, UK, Vaughan Jones proposed allocating a different student for each lesson to keep a record of the useful language from that lesson, which the teacher can then copy and keep for future reference.

Vocabulary Cards

Finally, a bit old school but nevertheless effective: at the end of each week, allow students 20 – 30 minutes to write down new words, phrases, idioms or collocations they have learnt that week on small pieces of paper, with definitions and examples on the other side. These can then be used at any time to test each other and ultimately student what they have learnt that week. If you don’t see your class very often, this could be done for homework.

This article appeared in Voices issue 218