Say it again!

Repeated exposure is a key factor in language acquisition.

In class I often manage to say something new and make it comprehensible to my class. I think I am at my best, however, when I am able to find many clever ways of repeating the comprehended message while still remaining compelling to my students.

Researchers in the field of second language acquisition have compiled a lot of research leading us to understand that language acquisition is an unconscious, or implicit process. What does this mean for the daily practice of a classroom teacher? On a most basic level it means that many of the traditional practices of explicitly teaching language, such as teaching grammar and correcting it in class, are not a good use of our limited class time.

When the meaning of the message is transparent and students relax, having to put no effort into understanding, it is then that the brain works best at unconsciously mapping out the grammar and rules of the second language. I think this is why repeated exposure is so powerful.

Click here to read about the big ideas behind comprehensible input

In today’s newsletter I want to focus your attention on an essay in the CI Master class called “Ways to extend the input“, which is inside the Basic Skills module (module #2). Of course, if you are using high frequency verb posters such as my Sweet 16 verb posters to scaffold instruction then you are already using a technique to make your language in class more repetitive, while not necessarily making the repetitions so obvious that they become bothersome.

A good repetition could be as simple as restating a message with a different emotional tone. For example, imagine in a student interview that we just established that Tom has three older sisters. After making this comprehensible through writing on the board (or pointing and pausing if you are using a power point to conduct the interview) then simply turn to one side of the class and whisper the phrase in a questioning tone, “he has three older sisters”. Take a moment to look stunned. Turn to the other side of class and announce astonished, “Tom has THREE older sisters!”. Look straight at Tom and say with fear, “You have three older sisters?! Is it hard to live with three older sisters!?”

You can do this with any new fact established in class; “the cat is blue?” I ask quietly, then astonished, then with fear as I ponder the reality. Or I could respond happily, as if that were the best twist I had heard all day. This repetition remains compelling to my students because each repetition actually communicates slightly different information about my emotional reaction. However I am leading my students to process nearly the same phrase, over and over again.

Emotional reactions can go very far to help you repeat phrases in the moment, but much of the repetition in my class goes beyond the moment and leads students to revisit language that was previously spoken or read in class.

Read all 13 strategies to weave more repetition into your classes in the CI Master Class

Jenny Robbins shares a strategy called Hallway True or False (click the link to see the 7 second video). Students line up in one long line in the middle of a hallway. The teacher reads a sentence from a longer text that everyone has read (whole class novels are ideal for this, but non-fiction articles, maravillas or other texts with lots of details could be used as well). Students simply touch the right wall if the statement is true, or the left if it is false. Watch the video to see how great this looks in practice.

Film a freeze-frame version of your class conversation in which EVERY student acts out your narration. You read one line and students arrange themselves in a frozen representation of what is happening. The teacher walks among students with camera in hand, marveling at their poses. The “freeze frame” conceit is useful because it prevents horseplay and focuses students on expressing the action in the phrase read. A good video can be played later in the year, especially if you have it ready as a five minute bailout move.

Of course the very best way to weave more meaningful repetitions in your class is to regularly conclude your class discussions with a quick Write & Discuss text created with the aid of your students. Follow the instructions in the last link to add an illustrated version of that W&D text to your class library; you have now risen to “expert” level CI teacher!

“Re-reading books is a good way of improving reading fluency. It also has the positive effect of increasing repetition and allowing for the receptive retrieval of previously encountered words. The re-reading should probably be done within a few weeks of the first reading…” – Stuart Webb & Paul Nation, “How Vocabulary is Learned”