We know repetition is vital for acquisition so we need to work it into lesson planning. There are various ways to do this when reading and listening. “Narrow reading” and “narrow listening” are useful, for example. Stephen Krashen first coined these terms and suggested that exposing students to a series of similar spoken or written sources of input was an effective way to promote acquisition. (His version was much less structured than what will be described below.) Text books often include a series of paragraphs featuring some vocabulary or structures in common to ensure repetition. Gianfranco Conti has turned this into a fine art with highly patterned sets of paragraphs including large amounts of repetition. We adopted this technique for our TES GCSE French units of work. Here are four French paragraphs where you see the technique in use. Repeated chunks are shown in bold.
From Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher, Routledge, 2017, Chapter 8.
You can work on a series of texts like this in many ways, including reading aloud, question-answer, "Find the French", matching tasks (matching the person to an oral statement), true/false/not mentioned, correcting false sentences and so on.
One slight downside to such texts is their very artificial nature. You could hardly call these texts very interesting. However, they do fulfill a very useful teaching function and can be closely matched to the syllabus you are teaching..
I came across the phrase intensive-output work while reading an article by Michael Swan about grammar teaching. It neatly sums up a successful way of working with texts to ensure language is recycled as much as possible in a lesson or sequence of lessons. In this instance, rather than using a series of short, concocted related texts, you work with one longer, possibly authentic or at least adapted authentic text. This has the potential to offer more interesting content.
Now, in this case, the recycling element is not provided so much by the text itself, but rather by what you do with it. There may be some built in repetition in the text, for example repeated uses of a particular tense, but here the primary aim is to work in the recycling though the exercises types. So let's take a high intermediate level text (Higher GCSE or even AS level):
Un robot est un type de machine spéciale. C’est une machine qui peut se déplacer en suivant les instructions d'un ordinateur. Comme c’est une machine, il ne se trompe pas, il ne se fatigue pas et ne se plaint jamais.
>Les robots sont partout autour de nous. Par exemple, les robots fabriquent les voitures. Certains sont utilisés pour explorer des endroits dangereux. Par exemple, les robots peuvent explorer des volcans ou la surface des planètes. Certains robots sont utilisés pour nettoyer. Il y a par exemple des aspirateurs-robots.
Certains robots ressemblent à des humains, mais ils sont rares. On utilise des robots pour désamorcer des bombes. Les drones sont utilisés dans des guerres, mais ils ont beaucoup d’usages paisibles. Par exemple ils surveillent des terres agricoles.
Il y a longtemps, les gens imaginaient des robots. Il y a plus de 2000 ans, le célèbre poète grec Homère imaginait des robots en or, mais le premier véritable robot a été fabriqué en 1961 aux Etats-Unis. Il s’appelait Unimate. Il a été utilisé pour aider à fabriquer des voitures et il ressemblait à un bras géant.
A l'avenir, nous aurons beaucoup plus de robots. Ils vont des choses que nous ne pouvons ou ne voulons pas faire. Ou bien ils vont des choses qui sont trop dangereux pour nous. Ils vont nous aider lutter contre les incendies, ils nous aideront à combattre les guerres et ils vont nous aider à combattre des maladies. Ils vont nous aider à découvrir des choses.
You could show alongside this a parallel translation of the text if you think the class needs it.
A robot is a special type of machine. It’s a machine which can move by following the instructions of a computer. As it’s a machine, it never makes a mistake, it doesn’t get tired and it never complains.
Robots are everywhere around us For example, robots manufacture cars. Some are used to explore dangerous places. For instance, robots can explore volcanoes or the surface of planets. Some robots are used to clean. There are robot vacuum cleaners, for example.
Some robots resemble human beings, but they are rare. They use robots to defuse bombs. Drones are used in wars, but they have lots of peaceful uses. For example they survey agricultural land.
A long time ago, people imagined robots. More than 2000 ago the famous Greek poet Homer imagined robots made of gold, but the first real robot was manufactured in 1961 in the USA. It was called Unimate. It was used to help build cars and it looked like a giant arm.
In the future we will have a lot more robots. They will do the things which we cannot do or do not want to do. Or they will do things which are too dangerous for us. They will help us to fight fires. They will help us to fight wars and they will help us to fight illnesses. They will help us discover a lot of things.
Here are a series of tasks (you could come up with more of your own favourites) which would allow students to hear and read multiple uses of the same chunks. They can be used within one lesson and over a series of lessons. (We know how important it is to do spaced retrieval practice.)
- Teacher reads aloud.
- Choral reading aloud.
- Individual reading aloud of each paragraph or separate sentences.
- Individual reading aloud with fingers in ears.
- Teacher-led "Find the French".
- True or false statements.
- Teacher-led correcting false statements.
- Question-answer with hands up and no hands up ("cold calling").
- Written answers to oral questions.
- "Complete the sentence or phrase" from memory.
- Gap-fill with or without options provided (from memory).
- Translation into English.
- Aural gap-fill (hide the text, read it word by word leaving pauses for pupils to provide the next word).
- Transcription/dictation, teacher-led or in pairs.
- Grammatically focused tasks, e.g. gap-fill sentences highlighting the present tense (much used in the text).
- Filling in a verb grid (present tense).
- Running dictation using adapted sections form the source text.
- Translation of chunks or sentences into French.
- Finding vocabulary from defintions, e.g. une montagne qui peurt exploser de temps en temps (volcan); un grand feu (incendie); laver (nettoyer); la Terre, Mars, Jupiter etc (planète); un grand conflit violent entre deux pays (guerre); combatter (lutter); rendre une bombe inactive (désamorcer).
To conclude, I often found that text books offered too few opportunities to do intensive input-output work or other opportunities to recycle language. When this is the case it would be wise to create these opportunities yourself, either by adding your own tasks to the text book ones, or just by finding alternative sources. Second language acquisition takes time, but you can accelerate the process by providing lots of repetitions of words, chunks and grammatical structures.