Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Repetition in the ESL Classroom

I was pleased to have received a series of guest blog posts authored by the English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) in Salt Lake City, Utah. (I've mentioned them in a blog post before here.) I have conducted literacy training for some of their volunteers and staff, and I have been consistently impressed with their efforts to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. To provide a little more background on the ESLC, I've included an introduction from their website:

The English Skills Learning Center provides individualized English instruction to adult refugees and immigrants. Our students speak little or no English, and often are not literate in any language. We train and supervise volunteer tutors who then teach our students twice a week. Instruction is provided at times and locations that are convenient for both the tutor and the student.

We currently tutor students from 34 different countries. We are currently working with over 175 volunteers to serve close to 400 students in the Salt Lake City area.  Our approach focuses on helping our students become better integrated members of American society.

We have operated continuously since 1988, and provide the only free and individualized ESL tutoring program in Salt Lake County, Utah.

The first blog post of this series is about using repetition in the ESL classroom.

Repetition in the ESL Classroom

Is your desk covered in sticky notes with lists of things to do? How about your next trip to the grocery store? As literate learners, we often remember things by making a list. On the other hand, emergent readers remember things by oral repetition, and all second language learners require repetition to obtain and retain new vocabulary and sentence structures. It allows students to produce more language and gives them time to think of what will come next. Especially when following through a textbook, it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that our students have mastered a topic and the vocabulary that goes with that lesson when we’ve really only scratched the surface of their retention.

Tips for using repetition in your lessons:
·   Use the last ten minutes of class as an opportunity to review what you did earlier in the lesson. See how much your students remember. This can help build their confidence while also giving you good information about how much to review at the beginning of the next class.
·   Don’t be afraid that repetition is “too boring.” Get creative and have your student build up to using new vocabulary by starting with TPR, moving to an oral drill, reading the words in context through a short reading, and finally using them in dialogues and role play activities.
·   When teaching a dialogue, write the whole dialogue on the board, erase a few words, and have the students repeat with a partner. Then erase a few more and repeat until nothing is left on the board.
·   Keep a stack of flashcards with you and pull them out every once in a while. To keep the vocabulary fresh in your students’ minds, try charades or concentration rather than just reviewing the words orally.
·   Use different interaction patterns to make repetition more interesting. One way to do this is to line up students in two rows, facing each other. Have them practice the dialog with the person standing across from them. After everyone has finished, have one row move down and the other row stay so that each person is standing in front of a new partner.
·   Do a review lesson about every four lessons repeating activities from your previous lessons. This will help you measure if you are moving too quickly through material and if the students are retaining the things you teach them.

Repetition can be a valuable tool in the ESL classroom as many of our students are busy with their daily lives and may have limited exposure to English when not in class. How do you incorporate repetition into your lessons to boost student learning in the classroom?

(Read about using interactive activities in the ESL classroom here.)


  1. Hi Heidi,
    Congratulations on making a difference! What an impact you are having on the lives of so many people.
    I currently work for a non-profit organization and our efforts are focused on reading as well as using data to drive instruction and systems functioning within schools. It's very rewarding work but I'm ready to get off the road and work for myself. I consider myself to be a reading expert and I'm interested in teaching literate as well as illiterate adults how to read period as well as how to read better (strategies focus). My question for you is this: how would you recommend I get myself out there and known to the general public? What are the best venues for marketing my services? Thanks so much for your help Heidi! Kelly Cavanaugh ;)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kelly! I will reach out to you offline. Good luck in your noble cause!