Repetitions and recycling in EFL and ESL teaching

textbookTextbook are designed to enclose different units based on different topics. Because of the constraints of time or fear of being boring we follow the order of the units of the textbook. We rarely go back to previous units to recycle the linguistic elements studied before. This, of course,  may have terrible consequences on the learning process as what  we teach is retained in our students memory only for a short period. I suggest  in this post that we deal with language textbooks differently: using them in a circular way, with the possibility of  revisiting previously taught linguistic elements, instead of a linear one, which refers to the teaching of the language following the order of the textbook.


One of the issues that teaching English is facing is the problem of retention of the materials taught. Not all the language we teach, as teachers would hope, is enhanced in our students minds because of so many factors.

  • First, students differ in the way they deal with learning. Each students in our classrooms has his/her own learning style.
  • Second, distraction can be an important factor hindering learning.
  • Finally, there is the way memory works. Earl Stevick talks about short-term memory lasting only 20 – 30 seconds, long-term memory  lasting hours or days and permanent memory.

We, as teacher, need to address the problem of retention according to these factors. We have to find ways to maximize permanent retention. One of these  different ways is to deal with the textbook differently.

The textbook

Most of the time teachers cover the units of a textbook in a linear way, starting with the 1st unit and ending up with the last unit without leaving room for a sort of revisiting the language taught previously.The reasons teachers come up with are the following:

  • We don’t want to waste our students time
  • We do want to bring variety in the teaching; after all  ” variety is the spice of life!”
  • We are haunted with the fear of being boring. So we try as many new activities as we can.
  • We are compelled by time constraints to finish the program before the final exam comes.

It is surprising, however, to know that there is evidence that planning, repeating or recycling foster language learning. There is converging evidence for the pedagogical value of a circular approach to the things we teach. In order for information to move from short-term memory to the permanent memory,  learners need repeated exposure and practice of language. Here are some techniques to do so.

Going back to a text

Rereading facilitates recall and leads to reading skills improvement. After dealing with  reading  comprehension text in the traditional way (getting the general idea, answering comprehension questions etc…), if you find excuses to revisit the text- to get students reread the text – looking for more linguistic elements it will be a good idea. This will redirect your students to language points and foster their retention. This may include:

  • Vocabulary items
  • Grammar points
  • Discourse elements

Narrow reading

Textbooks tend to go from topic to topic with low chances for vocabulary to be recycled because each topic has a different set of  vocabulary. When students read a text about environment, it is very unlikely that they read another text about environment in the same textbook. the notion of narrow reading is to take a topic and to read a lot of things about it. So the topic is kept narrow and the chances are high of the vocabulary being recycled. You can do this by

  • including many kinds of texts ( a poem, a narrative …) or
  • using  the internet (telling students to look for related texts.)

The same kind of texts

Another way to deal with repetition in a language class is to repeat the same kind of texts:

  • texts with the same overall organization.
  • texts with the same formulaic expressions, words or phrases.
  • texts with the same grammatical features (tense,verbs, pronouns …)


It’s helpful for student to review grammar points and vocabulary items.  This can be done by slight changes of tasks already done, or the assignment of new tasks covering the same linguistic points. Speaking and writing are skills that can be highly developed by reviewing tasks. Tremendous benefits can result, for example, from students retelling or writing about the story or the content of  a previously studied text.

To conclude repetition and recycling lead to the improvement of language skills as students are able to see the same task from different corners. Enhancing in our students study strategies such as rereading texts, repeating previous tasks, encouraging students to talk or write about the content of texts, finding more texts related to the same topic can undoubtedly boost language learning.

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