Cheesy Named Blog Post: The Four Rs of Good Practice Habits


I used the “four Rs” for a good number of years. People seem to like it when a set of rules contains a cute alliteration. Funny, looking at ESL books on Amazon, I’ve found others using “r-words” to alliterate their own cute lists. Anyway, this list is mine and despite the cheesy name, I thought I’d share it.

Here’s a short introduction to the concept from a teacher’s manual for a communicative course I prepared back in 1993:

“In a brief  lecture titled ‘Practice Habits’, I encourage the students to take on the responsibility of learning English through four basic ‘steps’: Regularity of practice; Repetition to acquire fluency with the mouth and memory with the brain; Review of a practice period to reacquaint themselves with why they practiced what they practiced; finally, Reward, congratulating themselves for any practice they may have done throughout the day. This intro lecture seems to prepare them for the constant expectation of the teacher that they practice throughout the cycle. Writing the key words (Regularly, Repeat, Review, Reward) on the board, turning the practice concept into a particularly challenging pronunciation exercise….”

Learning a new language, like English, is a question of acquiring new habits. In order to acquire new habits, one must be willing to have a pro-active practice attitude. These four Rs can help.


In the study of language, the student has to be regular. Falling back on the time-worn example of babies learning languages, you can readily recognize that learning to speak for those creatures is a question of regular practice.

In the case of a more developed language learner (one actively learning a second language), regularly will mean some type of scheduling. Part of that scheduling will already be done through the regular attendance of the ESL class.

In addition, students should be expected to be regular in their extra-class language study. You should encourage them to set a regular time-frame for their homework, their practice sessions, their passive activities (such as listening to English songs or watching English videos).


Those babies do it naturally. They will repeat the same sound over and again until they get the reaction they expect from their mom or dad. Even mom and dad repeat that which they want their babe to blurt out.

A large part of language acquisition is a physical process (to be more thoroughly covered in posts in pronunciation). Constant repetition not only helps the brain to remember things, it builds muscle strength and coordination in the speech-producing part of your face. I often said to my students “Remembering is Repetition”.


This is actually quite an easy step. The student need only pose two questions:

  • What is it I have studied?
  • Why have I spent my time studying it?

The answers to these two questions should reinforce the practice period. For example:

  • What is it I have studied? The polite form “I’d like” for making requests.
  • Why have I spent my time studying it? Because “I want” is too direct, not at all polite and I don’t want to offend the native speakers I make requests to, I want to sound correct and polite.


Okay, let’s leave the babies out of it this time. Look at your puppy. You teach him to sit and you pat him on the head with a “good boy!” on your smiling lips. You teach him to come when called and you have ready one of those brown, chewy doggie treats. The more you reward your puppy, the more obedient he will be as a dog.

Same thing goes with students. Besides saying “good” as often as possible, teachers should encourage students to recognize their own progress with some type of reward. Practice long and hard and then go get a beer or an ice-cream. Work hard on those exercises and then take you friends to the cinema. Remember how to say that once-difficult structure and reach around and pat yourself on the back.

The use of these four words as a pronunciation exercise will be covered when I begin that section of this blog.



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