Teaching listening: an American accent

Posted: December 7, 2014 in Listening lesson plans
Tags: , , , , , ,

Here are two lesson plans based on a fragment of an interview with Anderson Cooper, a journalist, in which he talks about how he chose his profession (the story starts at 13m16s and ends at 16m20s).

Lesson 1. 

Levels: B1+ up to C1

Length: 90 minutes

Lesson type: listening

Materials: Worksheet (docx)/ Worksheet (pdf), Teacher’s notes (docx)/ Teacher’s notes (pdf)

This is a primarily listening lesson in which the students will practice their decoding skills.

In tasks 1-3 the students warm up and listen for gist; in task 4 they get a chance to notice some of the features of connected speech that make understanding native speaker speech challenging (there’s an outline of these difficulties, with audio samples from the interview, at the end of this post); in task 6 they get used to the way some high frequency words and expressions are pronounced; in task 8 they listen to part of the interview line by line, which allows them to continue practicing decoding while primarily concentrating on the meaning (open the interview on youtube and use the interactive transcript to play the interview line by line). Finally, they listen to another part of the interview (in this part Anderson Cooper talks about who he would invite to a dinner party if he could invite any five people, living, deceased, or fictional), share what they caught and assess the progress they’ve made understanding this speaker (the story begins at 24:42 and ends at 26:43 – look for ‘dinner’ in the interactive transcript’).

If time permits, the students can share their own answers to the questions Anderson Cooper replied to.

Lesson 2. 

Levels: B1

Length: 90 minutes

Activities: listening, fluency (analyzing linkers for storytelling, telling the story of how you chose your profession)

Materials: Worksheet (docx) / Worksheet (pdf)

An outline of the lesson: In tasks 1-3 the students warm up and listen for gist; in tasks 4 and 5 the students focus on linkers used for storytelling, first listening and filling the gaps (open the interview on youtube and use the interactive transcript to play the interview line by line) and then sorting the linkers according to their meaning.

Finally, the students plan their own stories and share them in pairs.

Features of connected speech

This section outlines the most prominent features of connected speech in this speaker’s accent (all audio samples exemplifying the feature come from the video).

  1. Elision and glottal stops (didn for ‘didn’t’, wanne to for ‘wanted to’,  etc)
  2. frequent chunks with ‘and’ (and then, and so etc)
  3. shortened adverbs: (probly  for probably; definitely)

1. Elision and glottal stops

NB If for some reason the audio samples here are not displayed, you’ll find all of them on my audioboo page.

p/k/t /d (so-called plosive consonants) disappearing or getting almost inaudible at the end of words: don[‘t], want[ed], li[ke],  etc

The following extract from the video contains quite a few examples of this feature:

I wan[t]e[d]_to feel fulfilled and I wan[t]e[d]_to see the world. And I didn[‘t] wanna be in a grey office in a grey cubicle and a grey sui[t].

Listen to some examples in isolation:

  • negatives 

didn’t [wanna be in a grey office])

Another example: You kids today, you don’t know.

don’t know in isolation:

  • ‘ed’ ending followed by a ‘t’ sound:

wanted to [feel fulfilled]

Another example: cause most people are too scared to go

Listen to scared to in isolation:

2. Frequent chunks with ‘and’

and then I travelled around in South East Asia on my own

Listen to and then in isolation:

and then I sold that story

Listen to and then in isolation:

I wanted to feel fulfilled and I wanted to see the world. And I didn’t wanna be in a grey office in a grey cubicle and a grey sui[t].

Listen to and I in isolation:

3. Shortened adverbs

  •  probably

I was probably the only eight-year old who was really into Eric Sevareid.

Listen to probably in isolation:

I know I was probably supposed to answer like, the Pope or something.

Listen to probably in isolation:

  1. Anastasia says:

    Thank you, Olya! I’ve started concentrating on decoding skills with my class just recently and I find your posts the most useful! And I’m always so amazed at the amount of work you put into your lessons/blog posts, there is a place for you in the esl heaven! 🙂

    • olyasergeeva says:

      Thanks, Anastasia! It’s great to hear that these posts are useful. =)

      I’d love to hear about your experience teaching decoding skills. Do you teach lessons dedicated exclusively to listening too, or do you have short time slots dedicated to decoding (e.g. like Jess described here https://eltgeek.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/a-generic-listening-lesson-plan/#comment-224)?

      • Anastasia says:

        Well, I teach a “normal” group in a private labguage school, but recently I noticed the need for these skills on the part of my students – intermediate, having no problem listening to the gist and answering questions in the book, but still uncapable to make a leap into the territory of “unscripted” speech… And as you probably know typical textbooks do not offer any exercises on decoding, so that’s why your and a handful of other people’s blogs are invaluable. So far I’ve tried the techniques (mostly just noticing the features of connected speech) once or twice with my groups and already found some enthusiasm 🙂

    • olyasergeeva says:

      Hi Anastasia,
      It was great to bump into you at Rachael Roberts’s masterclass! Pity we didn’t get to chat properly. Are you on facebook?

  2. Isabel says:

    Wow! Great job! Thanks

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