Review of Nick Bilbrough’s Workshop ‘Task Repetition Re-visited’

Review by Olivia de Paeztron

ELTABB members gathered on a cold Friday evening at VHS Mitte to hear what Nick Bilbrough had to say about task repetition. If some of us (ahem, me) were wondering why we were giving up a Friday evening at the end of a hectic week, rather than heading straight for a beer, any doubts were soon dispelled thanks to a fun and engaging workshop, packed full with practical ideas to use in the classroom.

Usually, someone starting a workshop activity with the words ‘This might not work very well’ wouldn’t inspire much confidence, although it certainly got our attention! Within minutes, we were up and mingling, swapping lexical chunks written on pieces of paper, and passing new ones on in turn. As it turned out, the activity didn’t work well at all, except as a demonstration of how not to attempt to retain new language. In order to do that successfully, Nick suggested we need to use working memory to process and manipulate the new information. Luckily for us, Nick demonstrated lots of different ways to do this in the classroom. We experimented with repetition within a task (for example, student-to-student drilling), repetition of a task (such as exchanging anecdotes with a partner, then retelling them to a new partner in a more gossipy way), and repetition of language throughout a lesson (an example lesson structure for this can be found in Nick’s presentation slides on the ELTABB Ning).

For me, the main thing that I took away from the session was that repetition of new language is really necessary if students are to have any hope of retaining and independently using it. I was aware of this already, but as Nick said during the session, there is a temptation (or perhaps even pressure) as a teacher to always do something new with a class, so it was good to confirm that recycling all that vocabulary really is essential. It was also great to get some new ideas on how to do that effectively, and to be reminded that just tweaking an activity slightly when you repeat it with a class (accomplish it in more or less time, or with a different aim) helps to maintain engagement and interest in the task. Since attending the seminar, I have tried out some of the suggested activities with both my current classes, and have found that repeating tasks does allow students to improve noticeably on their use of language the second or third time around.

Thanks to Nick for a useful workshop, to Anne for organising it, and to my fellow attendees for joining in with such vigour!