‘Recycle’ English for retention

Q. I am having a problem in my English classes with young students who forget vocabulary or grammar if it is not constantly reviewed.  It is easy to review all of the English previously gone over with newer classes, but it gets more difficult with classes that I have been teaching for a long time.  I am trying to strike the perfect balance for my students between reviewing old concepts and teaching new ones.  What do you recommend?

A. The challenge you face is a strategic one English teachers of all levels encounter in Japan, namely how to keep English alive in the minds of the students after we have taught it.

Since Japan is an EFL (English as a foreign language) society, this is an issue of concern because unfortunately our students have very limited exposure to English outside the classroom.

The mistake that most teacher makes is limiting review to an activity that begins and ends at the start of class. Instead, I would suggest recycling as a never-ending process; teachers can constantly recycle concepts via various activities throughout the lesson in interesting ways.

For example, language can be recycled while taking attendance by asking a simple question of each student.  After calling a student’s name, the teacher can ask, ” What did you eat for breakfast this morning?” to recycle past-tense verbs. Other methods for recycling might be warm-ups, self-introductions and pair work.  Blackboard examples can recycle vocabulary. The acts of entering and leaving the classroom can be used as tools for recycling questions and answers reflecting grammar points in class; the teacher can ask at the door, “How many people are there in your family?” to which the students would answer, “There are …”

I believe the four R’s-reviewing, repeating, recycling and reinforcement-are the greatest services an English teacher can give students in Japan.