This is the fourth in a series of five posts about ways to supplement your coursebooks or approach with extra (and hopefully innovating) speaking activities. I actually began this little series about this time last year, and only recently noticed that I hadn't finished it! Better late than never, as they say...
The first article in the series began by looking at a variety of different warm-up activities that focus particularly on speaking and interaction. The second showcased some ways we can creatively use speaking dialogue models that appear in our coursebooks. The third article looked at some of the ways in which speaking drills can be used and expanded based on content in coursebooks.
Here in this post I will present some activity ideas relative to pronunciation - something a lot of teachers ask about!
4. Pronunciation Activities
Many coursebooks feature pronunciation sections scattered through units of study. They tend to take the form of little boxes or charts. Here are two regular formats used in my own Boost! Speaking coursebook series:
Those samples are actually representative of my own general approach to speaking classes, where I look at dialogues or passages that have been used (or generated) in class and use elements from them to generate a chart somewhere on the whiteboard showcasing any or all of particular sounds, syllable stress, and sentence stress (along with some more specific tips when/where relevant). The first example there is more explicit and guided (an approach I may use with lower levels), whereas the second is more geared towards the learners finding and noticing the sounds, syllables and sentence stress elements on their own (usually for mid to higher levels).
Once I have mini-charts like this, it's great to apply some creativity and versatility to apply a variety of pronunciation activities that hopefully help the students to engage, notice and practice more.
Here are just a few ideas you might like to consider...
4.1. Correct the teacher
This activity is easy to set and apply, and can be applied to any of the possible three sections in a speaking pronunciation focus set (as per the chart examples I provided above). The basic idea is that (before and/or after initial listen and repeat practice) the teacher will deliver items from the sets and deliberately make a mistake with one or more of them. The students’ role is to spot the teacher’s mistake and correct it. This encourages more attention and noticing from the students and may have positive transfer to their own capacity to pronounce sounds, words and sentences well.
For this section, say the words and deliberately mispronounce the vowel, consonant, diphthong or digraph that has been highlighted in one or more of the words. This can begin with broad, very obvious deviations that are easy for the students to notice, then progressively move to more difficult to notice deviations requiring more subtle listening skill.
The deliberate mistake here can be delivered in one of two ways – by (1) delivering the word using the wrong number of syllables, and/or by (2) placing the stress for the word on the incorrect syllable.
The idea for sentences is to deliberately place stress on one or more words in the sentence that should be delivered without stress, or vice-versa (deliver what should be stressed words in the sentence without any stress). This may be difficult for students to spot at first, but as they get more practice with allocating word stress, the mistakes delivered by the teacher will progressively become more obvious.
At the sentence level, this kind of activity can be made gradually more challenging by incorporating other kinds of errors as well from the sound and word level perspective. For example, the teacher could deliver one or more errors in the sentence that feature a mistake with an individual sound, and/or incorrect number of syllables or incorrect placement of stress in a word, and/or incorrect selection of stressed versus unstressed words in the sentence as a whole.
4.2. Sound chains
Following listen/repeat application of the sounds section, each sound can then become the basis of a class "sound chain". Using the same sound, students take turns thinking of other words in English that feature that sound in the same way.
By way of example, if we hightlight the long "i" sound in words like hi, I'm, mine, and right, we could then ask students to think of and provide other words featuring the same sound (for example "shy", "sign", and "line"). To challenge the students more at slightly higher levels, we could also ask them to think of extra words that provide the same sound and the same spelling as per the examples given.
4.3. Leaping syllables
This activity caters to the words/syllables section of the pronunciation focus. Going around the room, students take turns saying each syllable represented in the words. If the syllable they are saying is stressed, the student should leap out of their chair and say it loudly as they say it (or do something else similarly dramatic or attention grabbing as befits their age/context, etc!).
Here’s how this activity might ‘look’ on paper for the words (colosseum, giant, arena, spectacular, gladiator and special):
Student 1: co-
Student 2: los-
Student 3: (leaps out of chair) SE-
Student 4: um
Student 5: (leaps out of chair) GI-
Student 6: ant
Student 7: a-
Student 8: (leaps out of chair) RE-
Student 9: na
Student 10: spec-
Student 11: (leaps out of chair) TAC-
Student 12: u-
Student 1: lar
The chain can continue going around the class for a considerable amount of time, as there are many syllables to cover and there is nothing wrong with continuing until the students are clearly handling the syllables and stressed syllable very confidently as a group.
This is a very visual, auditory and kinesthetic approach to presenting syllables, and will be great for getting students active and interested.
4.4. Leaping words
As per the leaping syllables activity above (4.3), except applied to the sentences section with the stressed words (rather than syllables) in each sentence becoming the leaping points.
Note that both leaping syllables and leaping words can be applied in pairs or small groups as well as a chain activity around the class. Reducing the number of participants results in more speaking and more practice for each learner, though the class application is a handy way of demonstrating and setting up the activity to start with.
4.5. Choral stress
This is similar to the leaping syllables and leaping words applications outlined above (4.3 and 4.4), but instead of a stressed syllable or stressed word being the cause for an individual “leap”, it becomes the impetus for the whole class to stand up and say that syllable or word together.
(Syllables in Words)
Student 1: co-
Student 2: los-
All students: (leap out of chair) SE-
Student 3: um
All students: (leap out of chair) GI-
Student 4: ant
Student 5: a-
All students: (leap out of chair) RE-
Student 9: na
(Words in Sentences)
Student 1: It
Student 2: was
Student 3: a
All students: (leap out of chair) GIFT
Student 4: to
Student 5: the
All students: (leap out of chair) UNITED STATES
Student 6: from
All students: (leap out of chair) FRANCE
Note that for large classes with limited space, it might not be such a good (or safe) idea to have them leaping out of their chairs like this (and adult learners may find it too childish for their tastes - though to be honest all adults I've used it with absolutely loved it!). By having all the students say the stressed elements together chorally, the effect can still be achieved!
4.6. Syllable echoes
Go around the room and have students take turns saying the words with correct syllable application. Then have every second student act as a syllable-based echo for the student that came before them. The job of the “echo” is to say another word in English that employs the same number of syllables and same syllable stress as the word from the list just stated.
Student 1: na-tion-al
Student 2: [echo] won-der-ful
Student 3: at-trac-tion
Student 4: [echo] pol-lu-tion
Student 5: e-nor-mous
Student 6: [echo] a-maz-ing
This might be slightly difficult at first (one way to scaffold initial applications is to just have students echo each other based on number of syllables – not number and stress), but is great for highlighting the role of syllables and stress in English words. After some initial practice, students will get better at quickly locating and applying words that have identical syllable number and stress patterns.
4.7. Syllable salad
Have the students write out the words from the word/syllables list on paper or cards using large bold letters. Then have them cut out each word, and then cut each word into sections based on syllable breaks. They could be allowed to color or otherwise highlight the stressed syllables.
Students then close their books (or other materials featuring the original content or input) and mix all the cut up syllable sections into a “salad”. The idea then is to select and reorganize the mixed together syllables to reconstruct the words that were featured in pronunciation chart. Once a certain time limit has expired or the students believe they have finished, they can refer back to their books/materials and see if the words they have constructed are correct both in terms of syllable selection and sequence, but also where the stressed (highlighted or colored) syllables were placed.
One thing that tends to become apparent (or comes naturally) to students is that it tends to be much easier to sort and reconstruct the syllables by actually saying the words and experimenting with them, which in turn has positive effects for later retention.
4.8. Sentence salad
As per syllable salad above (4.7), except in this case individual words are cut out separately instead of syllables.
A really challenging activity can be to take one of the sentences from the pronunciation focus and cut out not only words but then each syllable in each word. This could be quite demanding, but might work well with pair or small group work and could even be applied as a competition between two groups involving complete sentence reconstruction using the whiteboard or a large piece of paper attached to a classroom wall.
Do you have other suggestions on ways to facilitate pronunciation practice in the TEFL classroom? This is only a small selection of ideas so far (the tried and true ones I tend to come back to regularly), so please feel free to go ahead and add any of your own ideas in the comments section!
All of the Supplementary Speaking Activities articles will be added to the Speaking Activities section of this blog, so if you'd like to see previous articles or want to know where to go to get the future ones, please check there first!