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5 easy & fun ways to use spaced repetition

By: Emily Rae Sabo Wed Dec 20 2023

Доброго дня! Як справи? Welcome back, language teachers, to Adventures in Language!

Chart that says: "Spaced repetition yields better retention."

You’re a language teacher, so of course you want your students to retain the language. But so often, they seem to forget it as soon as they learn it, which is quite frustrating for everyone involved! Fortunately, memory science has a simple solution that you can use to help them retain the language longer. It’s called Spaced Repetition, and it’s one of the most well-researched yet under-utilized learning principles in classrooms. In our last article, we covered what the Spacing Effect is and why it matters to language learning. To recap, it’s helpful to think of language learning like a sandcastle. You build the foundation. But if you don’t regularly reinforce the base, it can start to crumble. In this article, we’re sharing 5 fun and easy ways YOU can apply the Spacing Effect principle to your class through Spaced Repetition practice! While Spaced Repetition may not have been fully adopted into the curriculum you inherited, the good news is that you have the ability to incorporate it pretty seamlessly in the way you structure your classes. And it can have lasting effects on student retention. Well, 前置きはさておき (maeoki-wa sate oki), let’s get to it!

5 ways to incorporate Spaced Repetition in your classroom:

  • Start assigning “Reinforcement Write-ups”

  • Try out “Quizzes for Future Me” activities

  • Make time for free-form conversations in class

  • Tell your students about the power of Spaced Repetition!

  • Have students use the Mango Languages App!

1. Start assigning “Reinforcement Write-ups”

Here’s how these work. Students are tasked with producing a piece of creative writing on a topic of their choice. The catch is that they need to use vocab and grammar from previous units when doing so. You provide your students with a list of all the vocab and grammar points you’ve covered in previous chapters — including in previous courses if possible (e.g. Spanish I if you’re teaching Spanish II). Then they get to choose 15 vocab itms and 5 grammar points they need to include in their Write-Up. Importantly, they need to pick new vocab and grammar items each time to ensure they’re distributing what content they’re reinforcing. If you want to target speaking skills in addition to writing skills, try alternating between Reinforcement Write-ups and Reinforcement Speak-Ups. For the oral version, you can have your students submit video recordings or present them in class

2. Try out “Quizzes for Future Me”

Here’s how these work. While in the process of mastering a new grammar concept or memorizing a new vocabulary set, have students create a mini-pop quiz for their future selves. They can make these any way they like – multiple choice, open answer, True or False, Fill in the Blank…etc. Remind them to create the answer key too! This activity actually works on two levels. Formulating the questions helps them actively engage with the learning content. And then revisiting those questions a couple days or even weeks later helps them reinforce the content, through leveraging Spaced Repetition. The delayed testing of the quiz content reduces forgetting by helping learners keep that knowledge active. Active learning and Spaced Repetition all in one simple activity! What could be better?

3. Make time for free-form conversations in class

Free-form conversations are simple. You tell your students to take a step back from all the technical language stuff they’re currently studying and just focus on using the language to communicate with each other. It’s that simple. Why does this work? It gives them opportunities to organically revisit content from previous units, chapters and courses because the task isn’t tied to specific content in the current chapter. It’s a form of natural Spaced Repetition. Furthermore, open-ended activities like these resemble real-life interactions and reinforce the value of communicative competence — all in a low-stakes way. Pro-tip: Talkative classes may not need much structure for these chatting sessions; others may benefit from the structured context of a collaborative task, like a board game.

4. Tell your students about the Spacing Effect!

Tips 1-3 were about how you, as the teacher, can bake Spaced Repetition into your class. This tip is about getting students to use Spaced Repetition as part of their study strategy outside of class. The takeaway for them should be simple: if your students have, say, 3 hours to study for an upcoming test, they’re better off spacing that allotted time out for 1hr intervals on three different days than cramming all three hours in the same day. According to memory science research, they might do equally well on the test, but they’ll remember the info for a longer period of time after the test if they study using Spaced Repetition. If the student’s only goal is to pass the test and never speak the language again, then this won’t matter much to them. But if they actually want to be able to speak the language after the course is over – or if they plan to take the next level of the language the following year, Spaced Repetition is the way to go. Showing is always more effective than telling. So, if you have the time, have them do a mini-experiment. Give them a list of 100 new vocab words in their target language. They get to choose 30 that are totally new for them (some students may know different words). Then, they split those 30 into two separate lists of 15. The first list will be their Spaced Repetition list. The second will be their Cramming list. They’ll get the same amount of time to study each list – but the spacing and timing will differ. For the Spaced Repetition List, give them 10min to study it one day in class and have them study it for another 10min the next class. For the Crammed List, give them 20min to study on the second day only. Wait a week and have them test themselves. Research suggests they’ll have retained substantially more from the Spaced Repetition List than the Crammed list. Same amount of time and effort, but spaced out = better results. One way to get students to take a step back and think about their study strategy is to get them to reflect on their goals in the language. If you’d like a fun and easy worksheet to help you with that, check out our FREE Setting Good Goals worksheet.

#5 Have students use the Mango Languages App!

You can tell your students to manually set reminders on their calendar to optimize their study times and review sessions – but that takes a lot of planning. To keep things simler, have them use Mango Languages App. That’s because Spaced Repetition is built into the Mango app’s vocab review system. Your students will have the app tracking what words they haven’t seen in a while and reinforce them with practice opportunities, automatically introduced based on our Spaced Repetition algorithm. And to reinforce older grammar points, students can go back within the app and take previous chapter quizzes as often as they’d like! Spaced Repetition at their fingertips.

To recap…

  • Start assigning “Reinforcement Write-ups”

  • Try out “Quizzes for Future Me” activities

  • Make time for free-form conversations in class

  • Tell your students about the power of Spaced Repetition!

  • Have students use the Mango Languages App!

Thanks for reading!

До побачення, and we look forward to seeing you back here for our next article!

Mango For Education

Want to explore more of the research underlying this article?

  • Ullman, M. T., & Lovelett, J. T. (2018). Implications of the declarative/procedural model for improving second language learning: The role of memory enhancement techniques. Second language research34(1), 39-65. | This is a nice

  • Carey, B. (2015). How we learn: The surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. Random House Trade Paperbacks. Check out Chapter 4 of Ben Carey’s book How We Learn, titled “Spacing Out: The Advantage of Breaking Up Study Time.” It’s a great read!

Wondering what languages were used in this article?

  • English (recording language)

  • Ukranian | Доброго дня. Як справи? (Dobroho dnya. Yak spraveh?) is ‘Hello! How are you?’ (lit. ‘Good afternoon! How are things?) and До побачення (doh pobachenya) is ‘Goodbye!’

  • Japanese | 前置きはさておき (maeoki-wa sate oki) is ‘Without further ado’ (lit. ‘Setting aside introductory remarks’)

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