The Value of Repetition: The Soundboard Activity

My “Soundboard” Activity

As a kid growing up in the infancy of the internet, a place where flash-websites (albinoblacksheep / ebaumsworld anyone?) dominated the area of cyberspace tweens and teens hung out, I would often come across soundboard pages, where you just click various buttons, and each button makes a particular sound. If you got lost playing on a soundboard website for five to ten minutes, as you do, the particular sounds associated with particular buttons quickly got stuck in your head (like how after your modem connected to AOL, you knew to expect “Welcome! You’ve got mail!,” and you knew exactly what it would sound like).

So I thought about the stickiness of those sounds in my memories… and I began considering how I could use the repetitive nature of clicking X and hearing Y on a soundboard to help my students learn and remember content more effectively. This is what led me to try out an activity that my students now call The Soundboard. Read on for how the soundboard activity works.

My Soundboard Activity

So if I wanted students to remember some particularly important terms (words or complete phrases), in theory, I could (1) find an internet-based soundboard that was somehow conveniently pre-loaded with the important terms I wanted the kids to become familiar with, (2) begin to orally tell ‘a story’ involving the content I wanted them to be familiar with verbally, and (3) omit the keywords, and instead click the buttons associated with them instead. Only, in real life, there is no pre-existing website pre-loaded with all the important terms and phrases I want them to be familiar with! Then, the eureka moment: What if I could find a way to do this ‘soundboard’ thing, and have the students engage their auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning modalities at the same time? What if (AHA!) the students were the buttons!?

When I first had this half-baked thought, I wasn’t sure how it would pan out… but it ended up working better than I’d hoped. I wanted to use the activity to review how all the terms in MCPS World Studies Unit 7.4 were all interconnected, so I decided to do a soundboard ‘review,’ and use all terms and phrases from the unit. So here’s how it worked:

Step 1 — Make your “buttons”

First, I wrote all the important terms I wanted them to understand on blank sheets of paper, with one term/phrase per sheet, in large print (more on why that’s important in Step 6). For example, one sheet of paper said Age of Exploration, another said Renaissance, and another said Market Economy.

Step 2 — Show them how it works

Next, I showed the students a sample internet soundboard so they could (a) get the gist of what a soundboard does, (b) get excited, because who doesn’t want to be a live website?! (and also, because according to BTT, novelty gets people excited, and allows for us to use repetition in a way that is wildly engaging)

Step 3 — Assign “buttons” to students or groups

Then, I assigned students a term/sheet of paper, and sent them to a particular section/area of the classroom, as their “button location” (this was more for me to be more easily able to remember where each “button” was located). For the most part, each student got a sheet of paper, but some of the terms, I assigned multiple students to, partly for practical reasons (in one of my classes of 32, I only had 15 terms), and partly to add to the memorability of some terms. For instance, for the term Colonies I assigned a group of students to actually sing Colonies in a cheesy, sing-songy voice. More on that in step 4.

Step 4 — Have them decide on their “sound”

In the same way that “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” is a memorable sound, because it was distinct, it was not 100% monotonous, and it was consistently the exact same, no matter how many times you signed off or painstakingly signed back on, I wanted the students to make their “sound” memorable, so I had them decide on their own (or with their group if they had a term they were sharing) what their sound would be. Then I made sure they understood, no matter how many times I pointed to them, or where I was in the middle of my sentence/story, they had to make that same sound, in exactly the same way.

Step 5 — Turn the classroom into a live soundboard

This is where the fun began! I put a timer on the board for ten minutes, took a moment to pause and get everyone ready, and then very dramatically began. I started to “tell a story” to the class about the 1450s-1700s, the incredible Age of Exploration, the fascinating Renaissance, and the innovative new Market Economy of the time. Except I didn’t say any of those words. What I actually (and very theatrically) said was:

“Once upon a time after the dark, depressing, and woefully unenlightened Middle Ages, Feudalism began to decline, and society began to change. This is the amazing story of what we now refer to as the _____________,”

And at the blank, I pointed to the student holding the sign that said Renaissance. Then I continued, with no pause after the student said the term —

“and this time period was wildly important, because it coincided with the transition away from a traditional feudal economy, into a ________________,”

At which point I pointed at the student holding the sign that said Market Economy. By now, the students were catching on — Ms. Rice tells a story, and we fill in the keywords we’re assigned — we’re really the soundboard! To drive the point home, I went back and did Renaissance and Market Economy a few more times just to get them to begin to hear how memorable it became with repetition.


Repetition has gotten a bad reputation in the last few decades I think. But repetition is not just rote memorization! Creative repetition (like in this activity), absolutely has value.

After all, repetition helps us truly remember things.

Moreover, repetition does not have to be repeating information or content over and over in the same miserable manner — it can mean presenting the same information repeatedly, but in different (more interesting) ways. This is where Dr. Mariale Hardiman’s Brain Based Teaching (BTT) Model comes in: integrating arts and novel approaches to education can keep students engaged, while still allowing for them to use repetition to attain mastery of skills, content, and concepts.

This makes activities that allow students to work on repetition, particularly in creative new ways, extremely valuable, especially in helping students to review and practice with information they have already learned.

I know for a fact that the soundboard activity has helped many of my commit some of these essential ideas to memory, because they can now quickly and naturally recall those relationships when prompted. Here’s some of the feedback I got:

  • All of the students said they found the activity to be really fun!
  • An overwhelming majority (over 90%) of the students in all of my classes said they wished we had done this activity to review for the Unit Tests of the previous three units
  • They overwhelmingly recommended I use this strategy with my students next year
  • Several students indicated that they felt our soundboard activity helped them really remember the terms and their meanings
  • Many students felt it was an effective “review” strategy in helping them feel better prepared for our upcoming assessment
  • Many students indicated they felt they had a more thorough understanding of the inter-connectedness of the terms*

*This is extremely important to me, because in teaching World Studies content, and teaching students Historical Thinking Skills, my focus is on getting students to understand underlying themes and fundamental concepts. This activity helps them do that! Additionally, helping students see the interconnectedness and ‘big picture’ of concepts is a key element of learning prescribed in BTT.

In some ways, my soundboard activity is, at heart, a call-and-response technique, which have long had a place in education.

But more than just providing students with an auditory memorization strategy, my soundboard activity allows students to engage multiple learning modalities and styles.

  • By using call-and-response techniques, this activity is a great fit for students who learn best through auditory processing and associating sounds with words and meanings.
  • By having them hold a sign, it gives all the students a visual connection between the written term, and the way it sounds. But even more importantly, it gives the students yet another set of cues to latch onto — they now associate the term with its sound, its place in the “story” I’m telling, with the sign with the word written on it, and with the face and voice of the person or group actually saying it!
  • By having students stand in a particular area of the room, it employs their kinesthetic learning by having them stand in a particular designated section of the room, and literally associate the thing they’re saying (and the things they’re seeing and hearing) with the feeling of where they’re standing and who’s around them
  • It engages students’ various learning modalities and styles, and helps make content stick.

Overall, this activity has been wildly successful, and more importantly, wildly effective in my classes. I know for sure that I will continue to refine and hone my approach to it, and will continue to improve how I use it — but I’m hopeful that others will also consider using/tweaking/adding to/testing out this activity, and I’m hopeful that it will yield great results for them as well!

If you end up trying this activity out in your own classroom, or if you’ve already done something like this in the past, please share your input! I’m really interested to hear how others teachers use exciting strategies like this to teach their students, and get them excited about their learning.