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Choral repetition from pictures. Is it useless?

I had a little Twitter disagreement with a couple of colleagues today regarding the common use of PowerPoint pictures for choral repetition. The teachers in question described such practice as "mad" and "useless". I must be mad, therefore, and wasted my time waving flashcards or showing images on the board with my classes for many years.

Actually, however, I think I had some justifiable methodological reasons for presenting single word vocabulary with flashcards or PowerPoint minus spellings. Namely...

Research and common sense suggest that images are an aid to memory so I see good sense in presenting new words along with a simple, memorable visual aid. This could be in the form of a flashcard or with a picture displayed on the board with a slide show or on a simple Word doc. You can quickly move from simple repetition (using normal voice, whispering, singing and even shouting) to easy guessing games, picture hiding, gradual reveal and so on. These techniques alleviate any potential boredom. I think it goes without saying that knowledge of individual words is useful.

Secondly - and this applies in particular to French  with its relatively poor sound to spelling relationship - I preferred in the early stages for pupils to hear the word without seeing the spelling. My feeling was that the spelling might encourage poorer pronunciation despite my efforts to model accurately. Once pupils has imitated the sounds accurately I was then happy to show word spelling so they could see the correspondence between the phonology and orthography of the language. This is in line with the structured direct method approach (an "oral approach") which goes back to Harold E. Palmer and others in the 1920s and is explained here.

I was always keen on pupils reading aloud words, phrases and sentences from the board since I felt it was, in the long run, important for pupils' "bottom-up" reading skills to be able to hear the sounds in their heads and see how words are made up of smaller bits including syllables and morphemes.

As with all pedagogical practices it's clearly important not to overdo the same procedures, so if you spent very lesson on choral repetition from pictures it would indeed be boring, if not useless.

Single word repetition has its limitations, of course, and makes more sense with beginners. If done with skill pupils can find it motivating. Just think of the range of simple flashcard games you can play.

So, in sum, I would refute the claim that choral repetition of single words with pictures is mad, useless or ineffective. As part of a much wider diet of classroom activities it has its place.


  1. I would agree with you. In my own experience of learning the basics of Italian, I was desperate to be allowed to repeat the words out loud again and again to get the sounds right and to enable them to move from my short term memory to my long term memory. I guess when it is particularly useful is if you have motivated students who are actively trying to commit words and sounds to memory rather than students who just passively go through the motions of making the sound without any active attempt to learn it!

  2. Thanks for commenting. The argument here is whether pictures enhance the process. I think they do. I cpuld have added in my post that they can be fun and motivational too.

  3. Absolutely. Any kind of memory hook is useful I think, our brain works well with associations. You can do so much with flashcards too (as you say) and I do definitely believe there is still a place for them in the classroom.

  4. I wouldn't be without them in the primary classroom.

  5. Using pictures also renders English is unnecessary in this first stage of the learning process. Pictures can also be very useful culturally, such as when we are learning the names of places in town.

  6. Thanks for commenting. I agree. The question remains whether it is better to display the TL word with the picture at first presentation. I doubt if it' a big deal, really, but on balance I would rather students heard the word alone. Let them focus juts on sound initially.


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