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Old 12-13-2008, 07:07 PM
ela newman's Avatar
ela newman ela newman is offline
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Smile "I Do Want to Repeat It": Role Plays and Meaningful Repetition


I recently took a very refreshing online course offered by Diane Larsen-Freeman. I found a few ideas discussed there particularly interesting and wanted to share one of those today.

We know about the advantages of practicing grammar in meaningful contexts and I think we realize that the more often a new structure is used, the sooner a student will start using it in “automatically.” We don’t want to use drills, but we realize that our students would benefit from having to repeat the new structure; it is, after all, the frequency of use that will help turn that newly-learned structure into one that a student doesn’t have to think twice about.

What works well, as it was suggested during the course, is a situation in which a new structure is practiced and in which a student has to repeat it quite a few times. That repetition, however, must be “psychologically authentic”- the situation needs to call for repetition “naturally.” An example was given for practicing the phrase something needs V-ing. A student had to repeat the sentence “My washing machine needs fixing” a few times while calling an appliance store because the call was transferred to a few departments before the student got the right person. That sounds quite real, doesn’t it?

I loved the idea and have tried to create role-play situations that would create a natural need for repetition. Here are a couple- they are quite “fresh” and untested so I’m not sure if they are actually good.

Structure: causative “have”

1st Context: A student has had his or her apartment redecorated and is having a party. Guests are pouring in (the more quests we have, the better, for practicing the new structure, of course) and they notice the changes. They may say, “This room looks different.” The student may respond, “Yes, I’ve had the walls painted.” Another quest arrives and says, “Wow, this room looks great!” to which the student may say, “Yes, I’ve had the walls painted.”

Knock… knock… Who’s there? Another quest? Good!

2nd Context: A student has changed something about his or her appearance and comes to work the next day. One co-worker comments, “You look different today.” The student responds, “I had my hair cut yesterday.” And then the student runs into another colleague, etc.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have used this method and who’d be interested in sharing role-plays aimed at giving students chances to repeat a new structure in contexts naturally calling for repetition.


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Old 12-17-2008, 01:30 AM
Grammar Guy's Avatar
Grammar Guy Grammar Guy is offline
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Hey, Ela. This is great stuff you’ve posted, and I’m really glad that you’re using this kind of activity. Over the many years that I taught ESOL (I just retired in October!), I made repetition activities one of my mainstays to help students internalize various patterns, pat phrases, etc.

I would choose pictures from my Picture File (http://azargrammar.com/grammarGuy/20...ture-file.html) to create a scenario, and I used scenarios like the ones you’ve presented. Once my students really felt comfortable with this kind of activity and I felt they could handle it, I would start challenging them to vary their responses so that they could take more and more control of the language. Here’s a brief example of what I mean:

Pictures chosen: beach scene with some people sunbathing and others in the water; an angler casting his line far out into the water; sign that says “No fishing”
Items to practice: You aren’t allowed to … / Why not? / might

S1: Excuse me. You aren’t allowed to fish here.
S2: Why not?
S1: You might hurt somebody in the water.
S3: You might take a person’s eye out.
S4: You might get a ticket. See the sign? It says “No fishing.”

Another reason I found this kind of repetition activity so useful was that I could work on my students’ problems with critical thinking. Here’s an example to show you how that can work in so nicely with a repetition activity:

Pictures chosen: small balconies typically attached to apartments; barbecue grill with food cooking on it and smoke rising up from it
Items to practice: You aren’t allowed to … / Why not? / might

S1: Pardon me, but you aren’t allowed to barbecue on your balcony.
S2: Why not?
S1: The smoke might go into the neighbors’ apartments.
S3: You might start a fire.
S4: It’s not legal to do that. You might get a ticket.

My students always appreciated this kind of practice, Ela. They knew the situations were realistic and meaningful, and they appreciated the chance to practice very commonly used patterns, phrases, and words. And I could always see how much more comfortable they’d feel about taking control of the language after we did this kind of activity.

Thanks for bringing this topic up, Ela. It’s a classroom activity that’s rich and varied, and goes a long way to making our students better English speakers.

Richard Firsten

Last edited by Grammar Guy; 12-17-2008 at 04:09 PM.
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Old 12-23-2008, 01:58 AM
ela newman's Avatar
ela newman ela newman is offline
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Posts: 16
Default Repetition


I'm glad that to hear that you are a fan of meaningful repetition as well. Just like you, I've used the method quite a lot and have also noticed that students enjoy being involved in "authentic" role-plays.

What I like about the type of activity that you gave an example of is the fact that while practicing a new structure, a student can feel quite confident since only part of the statement changes; its "core" remains the same. I think that this type of activity does three things: it provides an opportunity for meaningful repetition, it gives a student certain level of "comfort" since part of the practiced structure stays the same, and it allows for some creativity. You are absolutely right saying that it "goes a long way."

The activity that I gave an example of is particularly interesting to me because the new structure remains unchanged and yet it is not a simple activity based on drills. It seems authentic; there is a "legitimate" reason for a student to repeat the same sentence a few times. I think it might be a good way to start practicing a new structure before students can go on to activities which provide them with opportunities to vary their responses.

Again, many thanks for your response. It was nice to hear from you again.

Merry Christmas!

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Old 12-24-2008, 03:33 PM
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Maria Maria is offline
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Posts: 130
Default natural situations

I've been racking my brain trying to think of authentic situations that would require repetition. One that I came up with is introducing people at a party as a way to practice simple present BE with a low level class. I know when I take a person around to meet people, I say variations of the same thing, but for our purposes, we can skip the variation.

This is Doug.
He's a carpenter.
He's married to Diane.
Doug is originally from Toronto.

And while this next one isn't exactly natural, it might be fun:

How about a speed dating role play? I can see potential for practicing simple present questions and answers with repetition. Each person gets a role card with response prompts so that the "seeker" asks the same questions yet gets different answers. The "seeker" spends 1 minute with a prospect then moves to the next one.

What do you do?
I'm a teacher./ I'm a student/ I'm a paramedic.

How old are you?
I'm 25./I'm 39./ I'm 57.

What do you like to do?
I like to go to the beach./I like to listen to music.

Do you have any pets?
I have two dogs./ I have a cat./ I have a parrot.

What kind of music do you like?


Another possible situation that comes to mind is a telephone surveyor or sales person. They always have scripts and have to ask the same questions.
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