Thursday 20 September 2012

Ecoutez Répétez

Last Sunday morning @Langwitch asked via Twitter if anyone had any ideas for choral repetition that weren't "Repeat if it's true".

I replied with a few suggestions, and @spsmith45 and @bellaale suggested that a blogpost would be useful.  So here it is.

When I did my PGCE in secondary languages in 1994, the communicative method was all the rage and choral repetition was an integral part of it.  The idea was that by repeating the vocabulary the students would absorb almost by osmosis the sound-spelling rules for the language.  Well that didn't work.  They knew lots of words, but the sound-spelling rules were never made explicit and so they didn't transfer the knowledge to new language.  These days, thank goodness, the explicit teaching of phonics is a fundamental part of the process, and students have, therefore, the key with which to unlock the door of pronunciation.

Choral repetition is, however, just as important as before, especially for younger or beginner learners.  It is one of the teacher's roles to give the learners a good model of pronunciation, to give them the opportunity to practise making the sounds and to help them to learn the meanings of the words.  It is unfair to ask an individual to repeat a word by themselves when they have only just met it.  They are likely to be lacking in confidence and (especially with secondary students) embarrassed.  Repeating chorally as a whole class provides them with a safety net - nobody can hear them making mistakes.  

So here are some ideas for choral repetition.

In my classroom the choral repetition is always introduced with "Ecoutez répétez" or "Escuchad y repetid", after which the children know exactly what they will have to do.  Judging the right amount of repetition is an art.  You often need to do more than you would think.  If the children start to say the words with me rather than wait for me to say them first, I know that it is time to start moving on.

Visual stimuli for the repetition:

  • flashcards (my personal preference as they are so versatile)
  • images on a PowerPoint or IWB file
  • use realia
Ideas for varying the repetition:

  • repetition in silly voices  I dabble with the whisper, the squeak, the growl and the robot.
  • repetition high and low  This works especially well with numbers, where you will end up saying the odd numbers in a high voice and the even numbers in a low voice.
  • vary the speed and volume  Saying the word slowly really accentuates its sounds.
  • practise each word with an action  Then you do the actions while the students say the words.
  • music and rhythm  Some things stick better if you give them a little tune ("amarillo" and "plátanos" are good words to sing!) or if you repeat them to a rhythm.
  • chef d'orchestre  One student leaves the room.  When they come back in, the whole class will start repeating the vocabulary.  One student, who you chose when the first student left the room, will give a signal to the rest of the class to tell them that they need to change to the next word or phrase.  The first student needs to work out who is giving the signal.  This is good for words or phrases that are difficult to find actions for and which you need to repeat lots of times to build confidence and embed them in the memory, such as questions.
  • repeat the correct one  Hold up a flashcard and say "¿Es un gato o un perro?" (or appropriate vocabulary!)  The class repeats back the one that is correct.
  • repetition in pairs  Practise the words as a whole class to build confidence.  Then give each pair a list of words or of the stimulus pictures and get them to say the words to each other.  If the speaker makes a mistake then they have to start again.  Up the challenge by timing each other! (Thanks to @pixiejojo for the idea.)
  • Let the students complete the word  You say the first half of the word or phrase and the students complete it.  (Thanks to @trekkiep for the idea.)
  • memorise  Create a grid on the board where you group the vocabulary according to gender, number etc..  It works well with weather in French (il+weather, il fait+weather, il y a+weather) and with things like places in town where you can group them as le, la and l'.  Repeat the words line by line, gradually removing one at a time so that you end up pointing to blank spaces.  (That's something my trusty OHP was particularly useful for.)  You'll then be able to point at a blank space on the board and have them say the right word.  Always looks good, this one, when you're pointing seemingly randomly at a board and a colleague comes in!
At the moment I am doing "Places in Town" with Y5 French and Y6 Spanish.  We have been working this week on sentences such as "A Sunderland il y a une poste et un marché, mais il n'y a pas de poissonnerie."  We repeated the first sentence lots of times, discussed what it all meant and then read it out loud together.  The children were then able to help me to piece together some more sentences using the same structure.  Living writing frames are also good for this.  Write each word or short phrase on a separate card, and make a line of students at the front holding the cards.  Repeat each card to build the sentence.  Continue repeating, gradually turning over one card at a time until you are repeating the sentence from a row of blank cards.  You can then start to change parts of the sentence by swapping certain cards and repeating again with the new word or phrase.

As a postscript, it appears that saying a word lots of times allows students to think of ways of helping them remember which is which.  One of my Y5s now remembers "une boulangerie" by thinking of "blue lingerie". Really.

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