A new study suggests that “drill and kill” repetition on the same learning target isn’t as effective as “variable” practice where learners do related tasks as well as the primary learning task. It uses golf swings as its testing subject, but it appears (at least to me) that it’s applicable in learning any new task or concept.
Here’s a quote from one of the study’s authors:
“We gravitate toward a simple, rote practice structure because we’re basically lazy, and we don’t want to work hard. But it turns out that memory is enhanced when we engage in practice that is more challenging and requires us to reconstruct the activity.”
Of course, most teachers of English Language Learners know this already, and practice it in vocabulary instruction. Research shows that learners need over ten “touches” of a new word — using the word in different contests, including how it’s presented (speaking, reading, listening, writing) — before they really know it.