‘When we think about learning, we typically focus on getting information into students’ heads. What if, instead, we focus on getting information out of students’ heads?’ (Agarwal, 2017) Whilst I feel the quotation is useful in introducing retrieval practice, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as: ‘the process of getting something back from somewhere’, it’s a process teachers do automatically on a daily basis. This could be in the form of recaps at the beginning of lessons, through questioning or activities during the lessonas well as in a mini-plenary or a final plenary. It is also the idea of summative assessments at the end of a unit or in KS4, for GCSE students. So, retrieval practice is not a new concept.
The Importance of Retrieval
When I first did my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) training in 2008, I was taught about recycling vocabulary, phrases and structures and implementing retrieval practice regularly to help students keep this acquired language alive. In fact, the British Council suggests that ‘you have to see a new word at least five times before you can usually use it and include it in your “active” vocabulary’. For this reason, when I read about retrieval practice grids a few months ago on social media, I could immediately see the benefits.
What Are Retrieval Practice Grids?
Retrieval practice grids are simply a way of recalling concepts, vocabulary or structures from the previous lesson, a lesson from the week before, as well as from lessons even further back in time. This is structured in the form of a colour coded grid to make it most accessible to learners. I have found that making retrieval practice grids into a challenge with the ability to score points will get students even more engaged and invested in the activity. I tend to use them as starters with students in pairs or small groups.
As you can see from the example retrieval practice grid, it contains squares with various activities related to what students have learned, in this case, at the end of the topic of ‘Gesundheit’ (health). The colour coded boxes relate to different lessons, such as last lesson, a lesson last week, a lesson from two weeks ago, as well as a lesson from a while ago. Activities could include verbs from the lower order thinking skills from Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as ‘describe’, ‘define’or ‘outline’ but could also include higher order thinking skills, such as ‘explain’ or ‘summarise’, for example.
When Can You Use Retrieval Grids
Ultimately, there is no reason why they can’t be used in every lesson (as long as the students have been taught something for a few weeks). I have been using them as intermittent starters, but from the new term, I will incorporate them into most classes, especially at KS4 for revision purposes, at least once a week, because retrieval grids allow students to recycle and re-cap new topics, as well as revise older topics. Retrieval skills are so important in recycling language and making it more “active” and accessible in the mind.