Repetition and recycling

It is common knowledge that any skill is best learnt through lots of repetition, and language learning is not an exception to the rule. However, based on my experience, not all coursebooks take this fact into account. No matter how much effort coursebook designers put into making their products cohesive learning materials , oftentimes the result is just a collection of random texts, where the only cohesive aspect is the sequence in which grammar is presented. Luckily, the internet is an amazing source of materials that can be used by those teachers who wish to put desirable teaching philosophies into practice.  
Not all the content of the coursebook one uses is interesting enough to be recycled with the same class. Thus the philosophy of repetition is sometimes diffucult to implement in the classroom. Online materials, on the other hand, are more engaging and appealing to the learner, and a great amount of them is also authentic, which adds extra value to the quality and meaningfulness of an English lesson. 
The fact that these authentic materials were designed for native speakers of the target language rather than for L2 learners guarantees that the language is not distorted in any way. However, even though the material is carefully chosen by a teacher to suit the level of a particular class, some bits may still be high above the learners’ level of proficiency. This may appear inappropriate at first sight, yet I believe that it is to the good.  

The other day in one of my classes (young learners) we discussed the solar system. The text which the kids were supposed to read was part of the English across the curriculum section of the book, and apart from the fact that it was included in the coursebook in order to reinforce the knowledge of comparatives and superlatives, to me it seemed totally out of place. It was 1) uninteresting 2) I didn’t know how to handle the topic, and 3) I had no idea what to do with the text afterwards; I couln’t come up with an engaging way to recycle the material. 

Nevertheless, it took me only a few seconds to find this song on YouTube, and suddenly millions of ideas came to mind. I found this material 1) engaging and more appropriate relative to the age and interests of the kids 2) amazing in relation to potential linguistic benefits 3) easy to elaborate on in a meaningful way (see another link below and the whole lyric is included right under the jump break). Apart from the fact that certain words and structures are repeated throughout the song, which is perfectly convenient for language acquisition, it’s dense with various structures and vocabulary items:

 



  • It includes examples of contracted as well as uncontracted forms of verbs (I am, I’m).
  • It includes useful collocations (the same size as, the other way, very big indeed).
  • It includes basic grammatical structures (I am, I have, I spin, there is …) as well as an example of the passive form (are made of).
  • It is full of useful prepositional phrases (on Earth, depends on, closest to, a ball of, in our solar system, from the Sun).
  • There are examples of the ‘only one negative in a sentence’ rule (I have no water, I have no moons) – something Czech learners struggle with.
  • There’s an example of relative clause (The place where we all live).
  • There are examples of countable and uncountable nouns and their quantifiers (lots of land, many storms).
  • The text can be useful for practising articles (a moon/the Earth/Mars) and comparatives/superlatives of adjectives and adverbs (farthest, more slowly).
  • There are various linking devices (so, but, and).
  • Although I’m not in favour of presenting vocabulary items in lexical sets, I’d say it’s useful to know certain lexical sets by heart, such as days of the week, months, seasons, planets of the solar system, etc. These are lexical sets even native speakers of the target language are expected to be familiar with. Learning these sets in songs or rhymes is an ideal way of making the experience less tedious. 


The next step I made with my learners was introducing them to lyricstraining.com, where the song is available for spelling practice. The kids chose the game mode they felt up to (beginner, intermediate, advanced, or expert) and started completing the gaps while listening to the song. 

Finally, I asked them to turn the 1st person verb forms into the 3rd person verb forms, plus I reminded them of other minor adjustments they needed to keep in mind, for example changes to pronouns. Then they recorded the new version into their notebooks. 
I am the Sun > This is the Sun.
I’m a burning ball of fire > It’s a burning ball of fire. 
Life on Earth depends on me. > Life on Earth depends on it.  
Eventually, the kids were able to recite most of the lyric without looking at the text, which, I believe, was due to the repetition and recycling of the same material. This was only possible because of the multimedia approach to the topic – something that is often hard for a teacher to apply when using coursebook material only. Throughout the lesson my students were motivated, and towards the end of the class it was clear that apart from practising all the four skills (listening, reading, writing and speaking), they had learnt and/or revised a lot of useful language.
The Solar System Song
I am the Sun.
I’m a burning ball of fire.
I’m very big indeed.
Life on Earth depends on me.
I am the Sun.
I am Mercury.
I’m the closest planet to the Sun.
I’m a ball of iron.
I have no moons.
I am Mercury.
I am Venus.
I’m the same size as the Earth,
but I spin the other way
And much more slowly
I have no water.
I am Venus.
I am the Earth.
The place where we all live
There’s land and lots of sea,
so I look blue.
I have a moon.
I am the Earth.
I am Mars.
I’m a rocky, red planet.
My mountains are the highest in our solar system.
I have two moons.
I am Mars.
I am Jupiter.
I’m a gas giant.
I’m the biggest
and I spin the fastest.
I have the biggest moon.
I am Jupiter.
I am Saturn.
I’m a gas giant.
My rings are made of ice.
Titan is my biggest moon.
I am Saturn.
I am Uranus.
I’m an icy gas giant.
I’m the coldest planet in our solar system.
And I have rings made of dust.
I am Uranus.
I am Neptune.
I’m an icy gas giant.
I’m the farthest planet from the sun.
I have many storms.
I am Neptune.
We are the solar system.
We are the solar system.
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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
This entry was posted in Teaching ideas, Trying out something new, Vocabulary. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Repetition and recycling

  1. Chewie6577 says:

    Excellent song! Amazing how a change in presentation can make a boring topic interesting, eh?
    This also made me think of the Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun” because that song also talks about the effects of the sun and sunlight.

    Like

  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for reading, commenting and the tip, Chewie. I'd say that the Beatles songs are generally quite easy to understand, so I might well include this one as one of the next step when dealing with the topic in my low level classes.

    Like

  3. Pingback: #200 | How I see it now

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