Why repeating things really does work in a CLIL lesson

May 22, 2023

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She handed in her test with a smile. I asked how she thought it went and she replied:” Quite well. I only didn’t know one question.”

I quickly checked which question this was. She is a good student, so I was curious about what she might have found hard.

The question she missed was a question about the name of a graph. She did not know the answer was a ‘hyperbolic graph’.

Something I had discussed only two lessons before. And something I had made all students write down in their notebooks.

I asked her if she had studied this. She shared she had forgotten to learn this.

And I asked myself the question: how often did I repeat this afterwards? 

My conclusion was: I didn’t. Because it was something I had explained during one of the last lessons before the test, I had not taken the time to rehearse it.

The power of repeating things

Now I imagine I don’t have to explain to you it is important to repeat things. I have been preaching about activating prior knowledge for years, and this is also backed up by science.

Research shows that if you only hear something once, it is more likely you will forget about it.

If you hear something twice, this will be remembered better.

Hermann Ebbinghaus actually did research on this, all the way back in 1885.

One of his findings was that after 20 minutes, 42% of learning was already lost.

Without any retention strategies, 90% of the learning would be lost after 60 days.

In other words: if you don’t rehearse anything, students will forget almost anything.

The solution: repetition.

Or reviewing

Or activating prior knowledge.

Whatever you want to call it.

Because research also shows, that if you repeat things in the next lesson, students will remember again. And the ‘deterioration’ will be less.

This is called the “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve”. Or “Retention Curve”. Or “Learning Curve”. They all mean the same thing ;).

Sure, students will still forget things. Expecting them to remember everything might just be a bit much.

But this does mean that research backs activating prior knowledge!

What about a CLIL lesson?

With this research and the ideas that have been developed since you can make sure students remember things better in general.

But this is a post on CLIL lessons. Not on education in general.

That’s why I would like to focus a little bit on the implementation in a CLIL lesson as well.

In a CLIL lesson, you always have to focus on two things: the content and the language.

Hence the name.

This also means that whenever you decide to rehearse things, you don’t focus on rehearsing content only.

You also rehearse language.

For example:

  • You focus on difficult concepts that were introduced in the last lesson.
  • You share ideas to remember certain things better than just learning them by hard
  • You ask students to explain concepts to each other
  • You get students to explain concepts you discussed at the beginning of the lesson in their own words

All of these strategies work for both content and language.

And by simply giving this a moment of attention, by repeating it a couple of times, students will remember it better.

How this works in your classroom

There are various ways you can implement this in your classroom

  1. Opening questions

get students to answer some questions based on their previous knowledge on their own. This is an activity I use a lot myself. I also apply Bloom’s taxonomy to the questions to make sure the questions or varied.

  1. Choice board

ask students to score a total amount of points, where they can choose what questions to answer to help them retrieve previous information.

  1. The Alphabet activity

motivate students to find as many words related to a topic with different starting letters. And this is also a great way to make sure they realise how much language they have mastered already!

So, if I had started the last lesson before the test with an opening question on ‘hyperbolic graphs’, my student might just have remembered the answer to the question.

But then again, she could also just have gone over her notes. 

Want to hear more ways to make sure students remember things better from your lesson?

I will share more ideas during the upcoming mini-workshop “From Planning to Practice; 5 steps to prepare any CLIL lesson”.

The mini-workshop will take place at three different times: 10:00, 15:30 and 20:00 CEST.

You can register for free at www.clilmedia.com/miniworkshop

Hope to see you then!

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