All teachers have a variety of techniques and activities that they regularly use - their repertoire.

Repertoire - methodology article

This changes all the time, but is that a good thing?

  • What is repertoire?
  • What happens to our repertoire?
  • Why do items fall out of our repertoire?
  • Is a changing repertoire a good thing?
  • How can we maintain and extend our repertoire?


What is 'repertoire'?
Let's just explain that word: a theatre company may, for example, be able to perform at any one time, five plays. Of course, they have performed other plays in the past, and will learn new plays in the future. But at the moment they have the costumes and the scenery for only five. As teachers, our repertoire consists of the techniques and activities that we use in the classroom.

What happens to our repertoire?
Being teachers, we are used to working on a weekly pattern: we have to follow the timetable. And we use academic years instead of calendar ones. Where were you in 1996/97? And so we go on, doing more or less the same thing year after year…

Or do we? Let's have a look at what we do in the classroom. We probably think that we are pretty much the same now as we were then. But it's almost certainly not true. As teachers, we tend to develop. We don't change much over a year, but if you looked at one of your lessons from ten years ago, would it look the same as it does now?

What happens as we get more experienced is that some things fall out of our repertoire. Teachers continually develop and learn new techniques and activities. But what happens to the old ones? Each idea coming in may replace a technique or activity which you use less frequently.

Why do items fall out of our repertoire?

  • Better things replace them
    Some of us were experts at making multicoloured Gestetner sheets. Then along came cheaper photocopiers. Fewer inky fingers, more speed, but back to black and white and a dependence on technicians…
  • We no longer agree with it
    Do you do as many drills as you used to? There has been a general move away from drilling, or, at least, a reassessment of when to use it and why.
  • We got more experienced
    We learn more effective ways of doing things. We used to write long and repetitive comments on every essay: now we use a symbol system which saves time and encourages learner responsibility and text-editing skills
  • We got lazier
    We used to cut things up and stick them on lots of pieces of card. Now we get the learners to do a mingle-dictation.
  • They stopped appearing in books.
    Remember functional flowcharts and dialogues? Things like: Offer your friend something to eat - Decline politely and ask for a drink - Apologise and offer a drink - and so on. Where are they now? Gone.
  • I forgot
    Occasionally you observe a class and think "Dialogue building on the blackboard! I'd forgotten all about that".
  • Situations change
    Moving from a multi-lingual classroom to a mono-lingual classroom increases the likelihood of using translation rather than complex mimes to help learner understanding.

 

These are just some of the reasons we could suggest. You may be able to think of more.

Is a changing repertoire a good thing?
In most cases, there is a good reason for not doing things any more. But there will always be those techniques that we simply forgot that we could still use, or that we might need to review. Why?

  • New developments and attitudes
    As theory develops, we may need to reassess "discredited" ideas in the light of new research and socio-political attitudes. For example, there is a growing general belief in the learners taking more responsibility for their learning. What would the effect be, say, on dictation? Teachers used to do dictation to test learners' - what? Oh, yes. Their ability to do dictations. However, we could change the way the dictation works by asking learners to read out a sentence each to the class. The class could then combine them into a story. This effectively changes the purpose of the dictation. For example, it makes the learner realise the importance of their pronunciation to their classmates. It also creates material for the second stage of a lesson.
  • Re-inventing the wheel
    If there is already a technique for effective practice of the conditionals, why spend time thinking it up again. Let's build that historical archive…
  • Avoid repeating mistakes
    As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". And believe me, there are some ugly things waiting for us back there! Knowing the limits of previous techniques allows us to maintain and extend our repertoire more efficiently
  • The published "blink-and-it's-gone" factor
    Sometimes, a book is published that is so good that you wonder why more people didn't buy it. Once it's out of print, the idea has gone. This site is where we can record and possibly revive those great ideas…
  • It worked before, why can't it work again?
    Sometimes a technique becomes discredited or unfashionable. However, students still learnt through the old technique. It's not as if there weren't any fluent speakers of English as a foreign language before 1990! So, perhaps the technique would work again. We understand that each learner may learn in different ways, and so we should have as wide a repertoire as possible. This is all part of the eclectic approach to language teaching.

 

How can I maintain and extend my repertoire?

  • Review your teaching
    Regularly look at the techniques you are using - perhaps keep a record of them. As you do this, note which ones have fallen out of your active repertoire. Is there a good reason for this? Can you review the technique?
  • Peer observation / interaction
    Talking to fellow teachers about techniques, either in your institution, at conferences and workshops or internet discussion sites can lead to discovering new techniques or remembering older ones.
  • Professional Journals
    These regularly feature techniques for dealing with certain aspects of teaching. When did you last look at a journal? Did you make an active decision to try something out, or did you read a good idea and then forget about it?
  • Use this website (and others)
    On this site we are building an archive of activities and also running a teachers' discussion page. The archive will host warmers, revision ideas, practice activities, lesson plans and articles. Perfect for that last-minute activity or when you have to cover someone else's class. And, of course, ideal for extending your repertoire in general. The discussion pages allow you to ask for, or suggest, ideas for dealing with a particular point or problem. This global exchange can only be a positive development.

 

Andy Baxter, British Council, Portugal

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