Repetition in English Language Teaching

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In this post, I focus on the topics of repetition in English language teaching, revisiting texts and narrow reading.

Scott Thornbury, one of ELT’s most well-known teacher educators and methodology writers, has been the main inspiration for this piece. 

I’m particularly interested in the idea of revisiting texts from a linguistic point of view, as Thornbury wonderfully summarised in this lecture.


In a recent post on grammar-heavy teaching programmes, I emphasised that coursebooks and grammatical syllabuses limit a teacher’s ability to improvise when it comes to teaching grammar and vocabulary.

Thornbury makes a valid point in his lecture regarding the minimal chances of vocabulary being recycled in coursebooks due to the sheer quantity of topics. Unit 1 - Shopping. 2 - Insects. 3 - Halloween. 4 - Travel. You get the point.

What is the net-effect of such randomness? Well, there are limited chances for the recycling of each set of topic-specific vocabulary within a coursebook. Moreover, if students don’t revise outside of the classroom, they’ll find it difficult to retain all the vocabulary.


ELT teachers should consider revisiting texts in order to set a variety of linguistic and lexical challenges for students. Predominantly, these tasks should enable the transfer of key structures and lexis to students’ long-term memory. Ideally, students would be able to retrieve the language items at will in future conversations.

In my last post which outlines tips for teaching English online, I argued posts why ELT teachers should write their own texts. In essence, I just believe it’s more motivating for everybody. Furthermore, the use of the first-person, as well as the deliberate insertion of collocations and phrasal verbs which native speakers commonly use, gives these self-written texts a strong sense of authenticity. 

So, using the following text, let's consider some exercises which I could potentially carry out with students when revisiting the text:

English language text

English language text


(a) Using Polish citizenship as an example, students should come up with as many nationality adjectives as they can

(b) As an extension to (a), students may create true sentences about themselves or familiar situations using nationality adjectives and the word citizenship. For example:

My uncle holds both US and Dutch citizenship


(a)  A gerund is a noun that's formed from a verb. All gerunds end with -ing. 

Teachers should introduce rules related to the use of gerunds to students. For example:

1: The gerund as the subject of the sentence

2: The gerund after prepositions

(b) Students should locate the gerund forms in the text which begin sentences and clauses 


(a) Learners find instances of the present perfect continuous and present perfect simple aspects in the text. They should also explain why the two tenses are used in these specific contexts

(b) Each student should write true, personalised sentences containing the target aspects. The sentences could be on the topic of citizenship or on another issue that might currently be occupying their thoughts

TASK 4: Writing a short text

Using the target grammar from tasks 1, 2 and 3, students can write short texts on the topic of citizenship, or any other issue they might be interested in.


Repetition in English language teaching is strongly associated with the concept of narrow reading. 

Essentially, narrow reading revolves around selecting texts which possess a common element, such as an author or theme. The aim of this is to expose learners to a greater level of textual redundancy.

What does text redundancy mean?

If articles or books are written by the same author, or are about the same topic, then it is far more likely that the same vocabulary, collocations and grammar points will crop up again and again. 

Repeated exposure to the same words and structures in a set of similar articles must aid the acquisition process. Stephen Krashen put it thus:

The case for narrow reading is based on the idea that the acquisition of both structure and vocabulary comes from many exposures in a comprehensible context, that is, we acquire new structures and words when we understand messages, many messages, that they encode. Narrow reading facilitates this process in several ways.

Check out Krashen's article on “The Case for Narrow Reading”.


Teachers could take advantage of items in the news which look set to run for a number of days.

At the moment of writing this post, a strong earthquake that hit Albania has been featured on world news websites for three days in a row. 

Taking this article about earthquakes as an example, there are plenty of words and phrases that I am sure would repeat themselves in other articles, on different news websites and on different days. For example:

  • earthquake
  • tremor
  • aftershock
  • epicentre
  • rescue / rescuers
  • survive / survivors
  • rubble
  • collapse
  • trapped
  • early hours
  • deaths
  • search
  • north-west (of)

Clearly, there’s a decent mix of vocabulary here. Some of it is related to earthquakes and the rescue process after an earthquake has occurred. Additionally, there are some general lexical chunks related to time and location, such as early hours and north-west (of).

Teachers can encourage students to follow a news item of their choice, and retrieve articles from a range of websites over three to five consecutive days. Each student should keep a record of the vocabulary which keeps appearing.

Students can also prepare a brief presentation on how the task went and an opinionated analysis of the news story. Ideally, students should use as many of the new words and phrases as possible during the presentation.

Conclusion - Repetition in english Language teaching

When working in private language schools, teachers have little choice but to rush through coursebooks in order to prepare students for meaningless tests. As a result of this unfortunate state of affairs, most students will find that their language skills fossilize. They won’t become more competent speakers of a language. 

Teachers must revisit texts and incorporate narrow reading into their lesson plans in order for students to commit new words and phrases to their long-term memory. 

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