Tag Archives: repeated reading

Task repetition: helping students to improve accuracy,repertoire and fluency

I am very far from being a fluent Polish speaker. In fact, after four years of hard study and living in the country, I was still probably only about B2 level. However, if you happened to hear me chatting to a taxi driver in Polish, you’d probably conclude I was pretty fluent.

I was very good indeed at the basic chitchat of where are you from, how long have you been in Poland, what do you think about Poland and so on. And the reason I became so fluent (in this context)? ….I caught a lot of taxis.

In other words, I had plenty of opportunity for task repetition. In language learning terms, task repetition is a term most often related to task-based learning. Perhaps one of the key articles about this is Martin Bygate’s Effects of task repetition: appraising the developing language of learners. In this article, Bygate suggests several benefits to getting learners to repeat a task:

  •  More fluency in terms of pausing and speed (less need to plan as we speak)
  • Fewer false starts and self corrections
  • Fewer errors

These reasons seem fairly self-evident, and you could say exactly the same things about drilling a dialogue. However, while I also think there are benefits in simply repeating or drilling, task repetition is about more than this. Bygate suggests that once the speaker is more familiar with the content, this frees them up to not simply make fewer errors or speak more quickly, but to actually pay more attention to how they formulate their meaning.

In this article, Bygate demonstrated (admittedly with a small sample), that repeating a simple speaking task (in this case describing a film), without any input or feedback, still led to the learner producing more appropriate and more complex language. They improved in terms of accuracy, repertoire and fluency.

Since then, further research has confirmed that task repetition does indeed have a positive effect on complexity and fluency, though some feel that learners may also need feedback on the first task (instinctively, I would tend to agree with this).

So, how can we start to build in more task repetition without boring students? The first thing to say, perhaps, is that I think the idea that repeating a task is boring, may well be a projection from the teacher. If a student is really engaged in a task, and struggling (in a good way) with getting meaning across, it won’t be boring, but satisfying. See this article  for a piece of research which set out to prove this.

In repeating speaking activities, I would suggest:

–      Play about with giving feedback in between repetitions. Sometimes you could give immediate feedback, with examples you have noted while monitoring. Sometimes you could make notes then use these notes to plan a short teaching session in another lesson, before a task is repeated. Sometimes the feedback could be self-evaluation (especially if students are able to record themselves) or peer feedback.

–      Try repeating the task at different time intervals (immediately, next lesson, next week, next month) and see what difference it makes. Again, recording both versions can be very helpful so that students themselves can be helped to notice improvements.

–      Change the audience for the task. This could just be telling the story again to a new partner (which makes it more genuinely communicative), or it could be moving from 1-2-1 to speaking to a larger group, or from speaking to a live group to recording the talk (using Vocaroo or just a mobile phone).

–      Change the task slightly. Choose a new task which has enough parallels in terms of structure and likely language for students to benefit from repetition, but enough difference to keep up the interest. For example, asking students to retell a narrative from the point of view of a different person involved in the story (same events, different perspective)

And, of course, task repetition does not always have to be about speaking. All the above points could equally well apply to writing. We have more time available to process when writing, so combining writing and speaking can work very well too. First students tell and then they write- or vice versa.

And it can even apply to receptive skills work. See this post, for example, on repeated reading.

Please feel free to add other task repetition ideas- I’m sure the possibilities are endless.


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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Speaking, Teaching methodology, Vocabulary

Repeated reading: some activities to build reading fluency

 repeated reading[Thanks to @mkofab at ELTpics for the photo.]

In my last post, I looked at reading while listening, and how it might help learners both to read more fluently, and to acquire more language. Reading while listening is a form of something known as ‘repeated reading’, a strategy whereby a student reads a passage several times, either silently or aloud. The idea, as discussed in the previous entry, is to develop greater fluency or automaticity, and there is evidence to suggest that it works, and, moreover, that it has a positive effect on the student’s language development as a whole.

But isn’t it terribly boring to just read the same passage again and again? Not according to Gorsuch and Arnold , who claim that students were ‘delighted to see such powerful and immediate increases in reading speed and comprehension.’ I’m sure that’s it’s true that students can be motivated simply by seeing progress. The typical way that this kind of motivation is built on in schools is by overtly measuring this progress. For example, Tomkins (2003)* suggests the following procedure:

1 Conduct a pre-test. The student reads a passage aloud while the teacher records the reading time and any mistakes. The teacher then clarifies any problems.

2 The student practises reading the passage again on their own, out loud or silently, several times.

3 The teacher records the student again and makes a note of reading time and any mistakes.

4 Teacher and student discuss the improved time (pretty much inevitable) and whether there were fewer mistakes.

I can see this working very well in some contexts, and being disastrous in others. Your call, I think.

If you don’t want to take such an overt approach, you could try thinking about real reasons why a student might need to read aloud in English, and build activities around these. For example, the class might enjoy reading a one-act play, repeatedly reading it in order to prepare for a recording. Or, many ESOL classes are made up of parents of young children, just learning to read in English at school. These parents could definitely benefit from practising reading aloud their children’s favourite books.

Or try some activities where there is a goal or outcome, other than simply improving your reading fluency. For example, a dictogloss in pairs. Student A reads the text out loud, at a natural speed, while B tries to write down as much as possible. This is repeated until B feels confident that they have the whole text. B can then read the text back to A, for checking. This works best if the more fluent reader in the pair is A, the one who initially reads the text, as this way A is able to give a good model. The activity could be extended by changing the pairs, so that B then takes away the text to dictate to a new (A) partner. This way, B also gets the repeated reading practice, but only after they have heard the next a number of times from the original A.

Choral reading, as a class, has also been shown to be very effective, but in its unadulterated form seems rather dull and childish. You could try putting a text on the board or smartboard, getting students to read it aloud as a class, and then rubbing out random words, so that they have to remember what was there. Of course, this is as much about memory as reading, but it does provide a powerful motivation. It is also a good opportunity to work on weak forms and linking- demonstrating how these occur in the text which is being read.

And, of course, repeated reading does not have to mean reading aloud. A nice activity which can be done with absolutely no preparation is to ask all the students to read the same passage silently. After one minute exactly, stop them, whether they have finished or not, and ask them note how far they got. Tell them to start the passage again, from the beginning. Stop them again after one minute and ask them if they read any further this time (they almost certainly will have done). The beauty of this activity is that it is completely differentiated, as each student is working at his or her own level, and under no obligation to expose their reading level to anyone else.

Tompkins, G. (2003). Literacy for the 21st Century: Teaching reading and writing in pre-kindergarten through grade 4. New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Teaching methodology

Listening while reading: can it actually help develop reading skills?

[Thanks to @Sarah_WG on ELT Pics for the photo]

A little while ago I went to the recording of the listening component of my new coursebook- Real Life Global Advanced. I was surprised to discover (because nobody had ever actually mentioned it) that all the reading passages were also being recorded.

‘But how will listening to a reading passage help them develop reading skills?’ I wondered. In fact, as I have discovered by reading up on the area since, it just might.

We are increasingly aware that reading is an excellent way of developing language, as learners are exposed to language in context. However, many students read very slowly and laboriously in English, slowly decoding every word.  At this speed, it is very difficult for them to actually understand the meaning of the text because they are constantly dealing with isolated words and phrases.

When reading in our native language most of us carry out this decoding with a good degree of automaticity, leaving us free to focus on higher order comprehension processes. Think of this like learning to drive a car. When we first start learning, it seems impossible that we will ever be able to manage the gears, clutch, accelerator as well as actually look where we are going. But an experienced driver can do all these things with such automaticity that he or she can also carry on a conversation or listen to the radio, while keeping focused on changing conditions on the road.

But how can we help our learners to get to this kind of automaticity when reading? One way is, of course, by encouraging extensive reading outside of the classroom. But there is another strategy: repeated reading.

The idea behind repeated reading, which was originally developed by Samuels in 1979, is to help non fluent readers develop automaticity in their decoding. Students read and re-read a passage either aloud or silently. Think of it as drilling for readers!

Now, my first thought was that this would help with reading that particular passage, but that it would not necessarily be transferred to anything else the students might read. But research shows that I was probably wrong in that assumption.

According to Taguchi and Gorsuch (2002), for example, the ‘effects of re-reading a passage for L1 readers are carried over to a new unpracticed passage with regard to reading rate and accuracy’ and they cite Carver & Hoffman, 1981; Dowhower, 1989; Faulkner & Levy, 1994; Herman, 1985; Rashotte & Torgesen, 1985 and Samuels, 1979). It also helps with comprehension (Dowhower, 1989; Morgan & Lyon, 1979; Young et al., 1996). And finally, ‘repeated reading enables L1 readers to read in larger and more meaningful phrases’ (Dowhower, 1989).’

Now these studies all looked at L1 readers, and Taguchi and Gorsuch’s 2002 finding with L2 readers was inconclusive, for various reasons. However, it seems from a later article by Gorsuch in Language magazine.com  that there is evidence that it can work for L2 learners too. I say seems, because for some reason the end of the article is missing from the PDF!

There are lots of different ways (more fun that it might sound at first) of carrying out repeated reading, which I will look at in a follow up post, but one of the key ways is known as assisted repeated reading, and often involves using a recording of the passage being read.

The student, who will have already read the passage silently at least once, reads the passage again, possibly several times, while listening to the recording. This helps him or her to build the connections between the way the word is written, the word itself, and what it sounds like. It also exposes him or her to all the meaning inherent in the pronunciation: the pitch, tone and emphasis.

Seeing words repeatedly in context has been found to help L1 learners transfer their word recognition to other contexts much better than lists of isolated words. Grabe (1991) suggests that this may apply to L2 learners as well. I haven’t yet come across any research which proves this, but it makes perfect sense to me. After all, isn’t this just another way of getting students to ‘notice’ language in context, which most people agree helps with acquisition.

So, in the end, I concluded that having the reading texts on audio may actually be providing teachers with the opportunity to try out a different way of helping their learners both to read more fluently and to acquire language.

And this kind of practice may also help learners to read more extensively outside the classroom because if they can read more automatically, they will enjoy it more and make more sense of it.


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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Exploiting authentic reading materials, Teaching methodology