A LETTER TO THE TEACHERS OF ENGLISH: 18 Mere repetition will not do good to your students [Archives:2003/629/Education]

March 31 2003

Dr.M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear fellow teachers,
You must have studied in the Faculties of Education or Institutes of Education several methods of teaching English such as the Grammar-Translation Method, the Audio Lingual Method, the Structural Method, the Oral Aural Method, the Direct Method, the Bilingual Method, the Natural Method, The Communicative Methods etc. Your Methods teachers must have told you that you must provide a lot of practice for your students when you teach English. Yes, practice is an important aspect of teaching. But some of you are taking it to a drastic end and practise language items or words through repetition till the learners become bored. Repetition is a useful technique in English classes as long as it is employed with care. Mere repetition does not do any good to the learners. I have seen some of my teacher trainees repeating each word or sentence they present in the class three times, 'three' is perhaps the magic number for them! Some others repeat them ad nauseam.
Repetition is useful because it provides exposure to your learners to the new words and sentences you use in the class. If you introduce a new word in the class, say the word clearly and repeat it once or twice and ask a bright student to say the word, another student and a group of students and the whole class; this is also repetition but in a useful way, instead of your repeating the word ten times or more for the sake of repetition. Similarly, when you present a new grammar item, you can present it in a sentence and say the sentence once or twice or more; but every time you repeat, you can use the item in a new sentence. Imagine you are introducing 'this is a ))-' in the preparatory first year. You can use this structure in as many new sentences as possible, if you are imaginative, referring to each of the things in the classroom and every time the sentence is repeated, your learners learn a new word along with the new sentence; they are not merely repeating the same sentence. This is what I mean by useful and meaningful repetition. In higher classes, sentences can be repeated in new contexts. For example, imagine you are presenting the structure 'sub + verb+ obj + plain infinitive'(eg. My teacher made me stand on the bench.). You can give one or two sentences using the structure and write them on the blackboard. When you want your students to repeat, you can provide clues such as 'mother, prepare tea' and the student can make the sentence 'My mother made me prepare tea for the family' and so on.
There was a time when a substitution table was a powerful tool in the hands of the teacher and it was suggested as a panacea for all maldies in the English classes; those were the days when the learner's errors were looked up as sins to be avoided, but the present day communicative classes, where the learner's errors are considered as an evidence of learning, have very limited use for the substitution tables. A substitution table is a foolproof device for practice and the learners hardly make mistakes while using it, but it does not provide any challenge to the learners and soon becomes uninteresting to them; it has a very limited use, especially in the higher classes.You can also modify a substitution table into a structure table making it more challenging.
All that you need is to be more imaginative and resourceful; then you can turn even a boring device into an interesting one. Remember, mere repetition is not useful at all; make your repetition interesting. Good luck.
Yours fraternally