Posts Tagged ‘worksheets’

This blog has been quiet for a while, because life really got in the way.

I spent the bulk of spring finishing my Delta Module 3 assignment (the mammoth of a text had over 200 pages of appendices by the time I sent it off to Cambridge), and then three weeks ago I had a wonderful baby daughter, who’s been amusing and occupying me ever since.

This post is a bit of a diary entry, actually. Normally I don’t create any materials when I’m not teaching, but this post will be an exception. Right now I’m doing an iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far (and a nice change from the stress and toll of Delta), and I thought I’d make a note of some of the things that I’ve learnt on the course and post some of my assignments here.

My biggest takeaway from the first life session was the idea to bring together the materials writing principles that I adhere to and use this list as a checklist to proofread the worksheets that I create. When I started writing down the principles, they were an incoherent mess, but after a while some logic emerged:

Autenticity
Materials should

  • have clear aims that are authentic (real-world outcomes that the learners desire to achieve);
  • focus on language points/sub-skills that are key to achieving the aims (as opposed to ‘shoe-horning’ pre-chosen language points with no regard for discourse). To achieve that, they should be informed by insight into language in authentic use, e.g. be researched through a corpus or use authentic texts, and insight into performance of competent speakers);
  • stimulate genuine communication/authentic use of language, empowering the learners to get across the meanings they want to get across and, more generally, achieve the outcomes they want to achieve.

Methodology
Materials should

  • be informed by insight into language acquisition;
  • cater for the learners’ learning needs (e.g. stimulate and sustain interest, stimulate motivation e.g. by providing the learners with the opportunity to notice the gap between their performance and target performance; be cognitively engaging; elicit emotional response; be aesthetically pleasing; build the learners’ confidence; promote learner autonomy);
  • provide the learners with sufficient support through a well-designed sequence of tasks, e.g. focusing on Meaning/Form/Pronunciation of language or targeting specific sub-skills (this also means that they should not be overloaded: LESS is MORE);
  • provide opportunities for feedback.

The assignment for the first week was to create a worksheet based on a very short authentic text. I chose this 40-second video:

Lesson Overview
Level: B1

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-fjYeUHGLw (from Google Developers Youtube channel);
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 60-75 minutes 
Lesson aim: the learners will improve their ability to understand a British accent and get practice talking about what they love about their job and/or hobby.

The course has a thriving Google Plus community where course participants share their material writing assignments, leave feedback and share tips, and for me this has been a great opportunity to hear suggestions how to improve the listening worksheets that I have been creating – something that has never really happened with materials posted on this blog – and I found the feedback from the course participants and Katherine immensely valuable.

Here’s the summary of the feedback that I got so far:

  • For key elements of the lesson, don’t rely on the Teacher’s notes and the teacher. Most of my lesson plans have an element of decoding work, but up to now I never actually wrote any information about the features of connected speech in the worksheet explicitly, leaving it for the teacher to cover. This is bound to be confusing for the learners, so in this worksheet I summarized the key points in an information box.
  • Teacher’s notes: first, explore teacher’s books and look for good instructions to steal. Second, choose a style of presentation and stick to it, e.g. how will the Keys be highlighted? Will I use bullet points or paragraphs of text to present longer procedures? Third, use simpler language both in the teacher’s notes and in the instructions (one way to do that is to run them through a vocabulary profiler, aiming for A2 vocabulary).

So, here’s the resulting worksheet. I would be thrilled to hear any other tips how it could be improved. Any thoughts?

 

Advertisements

Ever since I read the great Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field, the book on developing listening skills, I became quite passionate about the need to consistently help learners cope with high frequency grammar structures in authentic speech, incorporating authentic listening work into grammar work. In the previous lesson on this blog the focus was on the way modals are pronounced.

In this new video-based lesson based on an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio, the learners practice their speaking, grammar for story-telling and again practice listening decoding, focusing on target grammar.

More specifically, the learners

  • [listening: gist] listen to scary stories that happened to Leonardo Dicaprio;
  • [grammar] explore the ways Present Perfect, Past Simple and Continuous are used in stories (Present Perfect typically comes at the beginning of the story to describe or ask about general life experience; Past Simple is used to describe a sequence of events; Past Continuous, for background information);
  • [listening: decoding skills] notice the way these tenses sound in authentic speech (some sounds get dropped from the verbs and linkers, which might make this grammar problematic for listeners);
  • [speaking] tell each other stories about the scariest/funniest/saddest things that have happened to them;
  • [spoken grammar, optional] explore using Present Simple/Continuous in stories to achieve a dramatic effect and using ‘He goes’ to report what someone said.

Videos used in the lesson:

Story 1 (Tasks 1 – 8)

Story 2 (Optional task 10)

Level: Intermediate/Upper-Intermediate (B1/B2)

Time: 90-120 minutes

Materials:

  • an editable Microsoft Word worksheet (docx). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download the .pdf file from Slideshare:
  • [for listening decoding work] A power point presentation (zip) where the words problematic for listeners are isolated, so that the learners can really hear what sounds are dropped. To play the audios, unpack the archive.

 

A couple of weeks ago I was doing a diagnostic test with one of my Business English groups to establish how well they answered interview questions. One of the questions was Have you ever worked with someone who it was difficult to work with? The students came up with lots of stories of difficult colleagues, but two things became evident from their replies. First, they didn’t really understand what to include in the answer, so they mostly focused on the description of the situation, and at least half of them didn’t even mention how the situation was resolved. And second, their replies were so long-winded that it was difficult to see structure in them even when they were structured.star-304291_640

So here is a video-based lesson plan that we did with that group today. The main aim of this lesson was to help the students structure their speech when talking about past experiences and decisions using the STAR framework for impromptu speaking. They listen to an extract from a workshop in Stanford Graduate School of Business in which the framework is presented, focus on vocabulary (talking about deadlines) and grammar (cleft sentences) in the video and then practice using the framework in their own speech.

In the second lesson (or for homework), the students analyze an example of a business person using a variation of the technique in her presentation:

Language level: B2 (Upper-Intermediate)
Learner type: adults (Business English)
Activity: listening (gist and decoding work), vocabulary, speaking strategies (STAR framework), cleft sentences (optional)
Length: ideally, two lessons (either 60 or 90 minutes, as communicative activities are flexible in length)
To do the lesson in 90 minutes, skip the task focusing on cleft sentences (see the procedure in the Teacher’s notes at the end of the worksheet).
Materials: editable .docx worksheet (tasks, transcripts, teacher’s notes). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from Slideshare:

Shimer_College_student_and_professor_in_conversation_2010

Some of my students are great conversationalists who thrive talking to new interesting people, but for others having to maintain a conversation with someone they don’t know that well is a truly daunting task. I personally am more of a quiet type, and I deeply sympathize with people who have this problem. I remember, when I first started out teaching, being positively terrified by meeting some of my students on the underground: inexplicably, having chatted with them effortlessly in class, I completely froze and didn’t know what to say the moment we stepped out of the classroom.

When it comes to intercultural communication, the issues of shyness and not knowing how to break the ice or fill the awkward pauses may be additionally complicated by the fact that different cultures might expect different behaviour during the conversation. For example, in her IATEFL presentation on The Pragmatics of successful business communication, Chia Suan Chong gave a very interesting example of how politeness and the wish not to interrupt may be interpreted as lack of interest:

Allyson: You won’t believe what happened to me today!
Jun Sook stares at her and doesn’t say a word.
Allyson: Right, if you’re not interested, then I’m not going to tell you!
Jun Sook: Huh?

Russians make another good example: we use back-channeling (i.e. small noises and comments that show you’re listening and interested, like ‘Mmm?’ and ‘Interesting’) a lot less than English or American people, and a typical reaction when some of my students notices the question ‘Really?’ in a transcript is to giggle and ask, ‘How come she doesn’t believe him?’ We also have quite different body language, so a lot of my students avoid making eye contact, and hardly use any gestures when they speak.

A few weeks ago a team of engineers at my company needed to entertain a customer (something that they normally don’t do) and I needed to teach a short course designed to help them brush up their English and conversation skills. Here’s one of the lesson plans that was part of the course. It is designed to help learners maintain conversations more easily by

  1. asking a range of follow-up questions more skillfully and
  2. using some ‘active listening’ techniques, namely, showing interest verbally (through short interjections and comments) and non-verbally, through eye contact and body language.

Levels: B1/B2
Length: 90 minutes
Materials/equipment:

  • an editable Worksheet
  • a projector or a laptop to show the video
  • a deck of cards (you’ll need around 8 cards for each student – printed out cards will do)

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download the .pdf from Slideshare:

Teacher’s notes

Warmer:
Task 1. S/s discuss in pairs for 3-5 minutes. Brief feedback.
Task 2. The purpose of tasks 2 and 3 is for the students to notice the differences between the way they show interest / encourage the other speaker to continue and the way Americans do that.
For task 2, split s/s into groups of three or four. Two people in each group are talking (Task 2), the remaining students are analyzing their conversation (Secret task on last page). Allow 2 minutes for Student As to read the task, then let Students B and C talk for 3-4 minutes.
Task 3. Elicit from Student As what they were looking out for and board the questions. Conduct brief feedback, then focus the class on the first three questions: (1) How do they use their hands? (2) Do they make any eye contact? (3) How do they show that they’re listening? Explain that you’re going to watch a short video of two IT professionals discussing their work. Explain that the topic is quite technical and that the students’ task is to ignore what the speakers are saying and concentrate on questions (1), (2) and (3). Play the video.

[youtube https://youtu.be/RvCVhmgQLEU&start=156s&end=255s]

Suggested answers:
(1) How do they use their hands?
They use hands a lot to illustrate what they’re saying

(2) Do they make any eye contact?
 They make eye contact occasionally, but they don’t look each other in the eye for more than a few seconds.

(3) How do they show that they’re listening?
Non-verbally (they’re sitting half-facing each other and they nod a lot)
Verbally (they use ‘small noises’ (Huh-huh), make short comments (Right), and at one point ‘echo’ by reformulating a key word (3:28: ‘They’re still on the same visit’/’The same session’).

Play the video again, this time stopping after each example of back-channeling and asking the students to repeat it.

Task 2′. Get the students to repeat the same task in new pairs – this time nobody is doing the secret task and the objective is to (1) use more interesting gestures while you’re speaking and (2) show interest by body language, small noises and short comments. 

Task 4. The aim of tasks 4 and 5 is to extend the students’ repertoire of short comments used to show interest and to give them controlled practice coming up with follow-up questions. Refer the class to Task 4 and ask them to sort the reactions. Conduct brief feedback.
Follow-up: Elicit answers to the following questions:
1. What word makes follow-up sound more friendly/conversational? (So).
2. What words make comments work more natural/conversational? (So, then).
3. What is the structure of the comments? (Short reaction, e.g. ‘Really?’/’Yeah’/’Exactly’ + a longer comment).

Key:

One- or two-word comments / echoing key words. Follow-up questions Comments that work as follow-up questions Comments about yourself
5 years?Interesting.
Right.Was it?
Yeah.
Really? What was that like?Why did you decide to leave your start-up?
So, were you working on the same project back then?So when exactly did you start with this?
So you know the company pretty well then.

So you have been working here for quite a long time now.

Really? That’s interesting because…

Yeah, I had a similar experience. I ….

Exactly. I think…

Refer the class to Task 5 and ask to come up with more short comments / follow-up questions and comments (do the first line together, then allow the students to work in pairs).

Task 6. Distribute cards to students and put them in new pairs. Explain that in this task they’ll chat about the questions and they’ll need to use the cards to know how to react: by showing interest using body language, by asking follow-up questions, by making comments that serve as questions or by making comments to share something about themselves.

Task 7. Either as a follow-up or for homework, get the students categorize the questions in Task 6 and come up with more questions. Use those questions for another revision/communication activity next time.

For homework, share the links to the following two resources:
Quora thread Meeting New People: What is the best way to start an engaging conversation with a stranger?
Lifehacker thread What’s Your Best Ice Breaker When Meeting Someone New?

Ask the students to read them, choose their favourite tips and share them, either in the next lesson or on your facebook group/blog, if the group has one.

Here’s a simple needs analysis/goal-setting warmer to do at the beginning of a new module or unit, in order to help the group personalize the topic and take ownership of their learning.

Materials: editable .docx worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from slideshare:

Procedure:

Think about where you might use the topic you’re going to study with the group and create a sample case study worksheet (see my example for food below). Ask the students to read the column on the left and guess the words in the column on the left.

T_ _ _ c Food
Something you’re
pl_ _ _ing to do, h_ _e for or
dr_ _m about
My boyfriend and I might stay for a week in Rome in a rented flat
Sit_ _ _ _ _ _n: Supermarket in Rome
T_ _ing to: buy food to cook breakfast (for myself and my boyfriend)
Pot_ _ _ _al
pr_ _ _ _ _s
I might not be able to find our favourite food and I won’t be able to ask the shopping assistant if I don’t know the English equivalents.
How to
pr _ _ _ re:
· Write the list of things my boyfriend and I typically eat for breakfast and learn English equivalents
· Practice a dialogue with the shopping assistant in class

(Key: Topic, Something you’re planning to do, hope for or dream about, Situation, Trying to, Potential problems, How to prepare).

Now distribute a blank worksheet and ask the students to complete it with a plan, a hope and a dream that might be connected to the topic they’re going to study. In open class, get the s/s to share their plans/hopes/dreams and brainstorm a list of places/situations that might connect them to the topic. The s/s pick some of the places/situations and complete goals and potential problems related to the situations. After that, the s/s discuss action points, either in pairs or in a mingling activity. It’s a good idea for the teacher to circulate and suggest some strategies too! Make sure the students keep the worksheets in order to reflect on the goals they’d set when they finish the module.

P.S. Here are some examples of strategies that could come up.

  • [speaking] The person I’m talking to won’t understand me.
    Strategies: use a dictionary to check the pronunciation of important words in this module; use teacher’s feedback to speaking and writing to identify one frequent grammar mistake you make and do some self-study online; learn six expressions to give examples (e.g. To give you an example,…), check that you’ve been understood (e.g. Does that make sense?), reformulate (I mean,…) and summarize what you’ve said (So, to sum up…). Use each expression five times during this module.
  • [ideas/vocabulary] I don’t know much about this topic, so I won’t be able to chat about it. Also, I don’t know vocabulary.
    Strategy: choose three interesting articles about this topic. Read them, noticing topic expressions. Organize the expressions into a mindmap (see examples here) and then practice telling other people what you’ve read about, using your mindmaps (either find someone in this class to meet with in a cafe at the end of the module, or look for a conversation partner on sites like www.sharedtalk.comwww.polyglot-learn-language.com or www.language-exchanges.org)
  • [speaking] I will have problem giving the presentation because I speak too slowly.
    Strategy: use 4-3-2 technique to practice: deliver the same monologue three times, each time giving yourself less time to say everything. Use a timer!
  • [listening] I won’t understand the waiter.
    Strategy: revise expressions that can be used to ask to repeat / clarify (e.g. Say that again? Pardon?) and reformulate to make sure you understood (So you’re saying …, is that right?). Use those expressions 10 times in class during this module.

Also check out these great handouts with ideas for activities to do outside classroom that Lizzie Pinard shares with her students.

no-68481_1280

Update. I was very happy to hear that this post got shortlisted for Teaching English – British Council blog award. If you decide to vote for it (in which case, THANK YOU! :)), let them know by ‘liking’ the post on their facebook page: .

Levels: B1+/B2
Length: 90 minutes
Course type: Business English

Materials: Worksheet  (also see the Update with a more elaborate version two lines below)
If you don’t have Microsoft word, download the worksheet from Slideshare:

Update: My colleague Anastasiya Chernetskaya and I have created a longer worksheet which would probably take 120 minutes to cover, or would need a 30-45 minute revision slot during the following lesson. Apart from expressions for saying ‘no’, this worksheet also contains a useful framework for structuring a refusal so that it doesn’t cause offence, and written practice.

  1. Warmer (page 1-2) 10 mins
    Lead in by asking the students: have you heard of Quora? Tell them that that’s a question-and-answer service where you can ask any question and get replies from people ‘in the know’ (interesting replies get upvoted). For example, if you ask a question about the International Space Station, chances are you’ll get a reply from an engineer who designed it. Questions are grouped by areas of interest (e.g. jobs, professional areas, learning languages, etc).Pairs s/s up, hand out page 1 to Student As and page 2 to Student Bs (folded so that they can’t see the text). S/s read the Quora question in the speech bubble and then discuss questions 1-2. Then they read their texts, retell them to each other and discuss.Follow-up question: do you generally find it easy to say ‘no’?
  2. Task 1. 3-5 mins
    Get the students to brainstorm requests and board them. S/s discuss in pairs how they’d feel about the requests on the board and how they’d reply.
  3. Task 2. 10 mins
    My students came up with:
    Business Analyst: [I’m on holiday for the next two weeks. If something comes up, could you contact the customer directly?]
    The customer: [That’s not exactly what we want. Could you change this functionality? No, we can’t pay for that.]
    The TL: We need someone to work on site. Could you go?
    The PM: Your project is over budget. You’ll have to take an unpaid vacation.
    Other team members. Could you help me RIGHT NOW?
    The receptionist: Could you help me to carry some boxes from the ground floor to the HR’s office?
  4. Task 3. 10 mins
    Ask the s/s to cover the expressions. S/s fill the gaps with their best guesses for 1 minute and then uncover the expressions / fill the gaps. During class feedback, discuss both suggested answers and the students’ initial ideas.
  5. Task 4. 10 mins
    Use the second table to work on pronunciation (mark linking, chunks, etc).
    Get students to compare in pairs orally (pronouncing linked sentences and listening to each other).
    Suggested answers (linking):

    1 Sorry, I’ll be away_on [business/holiday] [then/when you need me].
    2 Listen, I’m_afraid_I don’t have_a lot_of time_at_the moment.
    3 I’d love to help, but I’m really snowed_under_at_the moment. Can this wait?
    4 It may be a bit problematic. The thing_is, I’m_up to my neck_in these reports. Have you tried Peter?
    5 Try me again when_[I’ve finished the report / I’m back from holiday].
    6 I suppose I could look_intowit.


    Tip
    . For better connected speech and natural stress patterns, work on chunking (there’s a great blog post about this on Olga Samsonova’s blog: https://olgateacher.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/40/)

  6. Task 5. 20 mins
    If you don’t have dice, get s/s to roll dice on their mobile phones using https://www.random.org/dice/
    Variation.
     For more controlled practice, start this out as a written activity: the s/s bombard each other very short (one-line) emails with requests from various roles and reply explaining why they can’t do what they’ve been asked to do right now. Here’s a great worksheet that my colleague Anastasiya Chernetskaya created: written practice. Here’s a great three-line template for saying ‘no’ that would be ideal for this activity.
  7. Follow-up [an activity by Mario Rinvolucri] 10 mins
    While the students are playing, listen in and write (on slips of paper) 5-10 examples of good sentences that you hear from them and 5-10 examples of sentences with mistakes (preferably, focusing on language associated with saying ‘no’ to requests). After the activity, distribute the slips. Allocate two areas on a table: ‘Perfect English’ and ‘Could-be-better English’. Get the s/s to put their cards on the table. Then comment on each card (where ‘Perfect English’ cards were put on the wrong side, use this as an opportunity to encourage students that their English is better than they might think; when there’s a mistake, either comment yourself or invite the group to correct.)perfect_english
    I’ve tried this activity a lot of times, and it normally produces a lot of happy chuckles (and often there’s someone who wants to take the cards home). Students really like to see that some of what they’ve said is Perfect English!
    Tip: take a picture before and after feedback and share the pics with the s/s so that they can revise.
  8. [If time] After mistake correction, s/s could repeat the activity in new pairs.
  9. Follow-up / homework (for IT English / Business English) How to say ‘no’ to feature requests for software products, and to customer requests in general? Check out this excellent reply on Quora which comes with an email template: http://www.quora.com/What-are-good-ways-to-say-no-to-a-feature-request/answer/Gergana-Dimowa (also, the free e-book of Business email templates linked to at the end of the post is one not to miss). Looks useful even for learners not involved in IT: with other lines of business, elicit customer requests that might have to be refused, and then get the students to look through the article and discuss which tips are applicable to their setting and how the remaining tips could be adapted.

A couple of days ago I came across a video that could be used as a nice springboard for an ice-breaking activity at the beginning of a course.

Levels: strong Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate

Lesson type:

  • [option 1] students watch a video and do an ice breaker activity; length: 30 minutes
  • [option 2] students watch a video, explore ways in which they can react naturally while making small talk, and then do an ice breaker activity; length: 60 minutes

Materials: Option 1 is a materials-free lesson – you’ll only 5 slips of paper for each pair of students in class; for option 2, print out the first two pages of the worksheet:

Procedure: Project the following image, elicit what this is called (a ball pit) and ask the students if they’ve ever been in one.

  1. Tell the group that they’re going to watch a video about people sitting in a ball pit discussing some questions. First time the students watch the video, ask them to note down the questions (after they’ve watched the video, let the students check in pairs, then go through the questions together, replaying and boarding them; the questions are at 0:43, 1:13, 1:53, 2:23, 3:00 and 3:44); second time they listen, the students take notes about the replies people give (s/s compare in pairs / brief class feedback).
  2. [Optional] Do tasks 2 and 3 in the worksheet to explore the way people show their reactions – both verbally and through body language
  3. [option 1] S/s simply discuss the questions from the video in pairs.
    [option 2] Assign each of the questions on the board to a pair of students and ask them to write it on a slip of paper. Ask each pair to brainstorm 3-4 more questions that would be good for a ball pit and write their questions on separate slips of paper. Alternatively, print out and cut up some ice-breaker questions beforehand, e.g. from here or here . Collect and redistribute the slips. The students mingle, talking about the questions they’ve got on their slips. Each time two students have discussed the questions on their slips, they swap the slips.

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:

This is part of a series of posts on teaching listening comprehension. In the previous post I outlined the procedure that I’ve been using in my listening lessons.

I ‘landed’ on this procedure back in March when, halfway through another listening course, which I was really struggling with, I came to class with an authentic interview, a transcript and only a vague  idea for how I wanted to work with them. There was only one student in class, I supported him as best I could and at the end of the class he said he felt that he’d achieved great progress over those 90 minutes. So I reused the procedure again and again and eventually ended up using it as the basis for a whole new listening course (which I’ve really enjoyed teaching, as the students’ progress and the feedback I’ve been getting are just great).

Here’s that initial lesson that worked – I’ve taught it 3 more times since then. The lesson is based around this video:

Levels: B2/C1 (B1+ students who feel the need to understand Australian accent will cope with this lesson too)

Length: 90 minutes

Lesson type: listening

Materials: Worksheet

In this post you’ll find

  • an outline of the features of connected speech which make this video challenging for language learners, along with
  • suggestions for how to explain these features to your learners
  • a listening lesson plan. In this lesson the students will get a chance to notice these features of connected speech and get used to the way they ‘distort’ some high-frequency words
  • the accompanying  worksheet

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). As I said above, I’ve taught this lesson four times, at a variety of levels, and I’ve invariably found that these were the features that consistently make it difficult even for C1 students to catch some very high frequency words and expressions (e.g. ‘like’ or ‘and then’).

  1. Elision and glottal stops (tha’ for ‘that’, u’ for ‘up’, las for ‘last’, etc)
  2. ‘weak’ form of ‘was’: /wz/
  3. shortened adverbs: (ash  for actually, orignlly  for originally, etc)
  4. frequent chunks (was like, and then, sort of, etc)
  5. ‘Tongue gymnastics’  (s + j gets replaced with sh + j; z + j, with zh + j)

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: qui[te], u[p], li[ke], las[t], jus[t], etc

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

0:16 As part of the tour grou[p] you go along an[d] they offer you extra
0:19 activities a[t] each differen[t] location.
0:20 Tha[t] was one tha[t] popp ed_up an[d]_I though[t], “Why no[t]?”

Here you can listen to individual words in isolation:

tour group

an[d]_they offer you

a[t]

a[t] each differen[t] location

tha[t] (in ‘that was one’)

one_tha[t]

ed_up (in ‘popped up’)

popped_up

tha[t] was one tha[t] popped_u[p]

an[d]_I

thought

Why not?

an[d]_I_thought[t] why_no[t]

Explaining this feature to students:

I ask the students to pronounce the word ‘that’, and then say it again but not release the air at the end. Then they repeat the same with ‘up’ and with ‘like’.

2.  ‘weak’ form of ‘was’ : /wz/

originally I was

3. Adverbs

Some frequently used adverbs get shortened: ash (actually), orignlly (originally), etc

originally I was

and actually looked over the edge

Listen to ‘actually’ in isolation:

4. Frequent chunks

Highly frequent chunks pronounced as one word, very fast and somewhat differently from their dictionary form:

  • I was like‘ for reporting thoughts pronounced ‘uwzli[ke]’;
  • and then‘ (pronounced ‘[a]nthen’)
  • ‘soft of’

He’s like, ‘Right, have you got any last words?’

I was like, ‘Bubbles are going this way, follow the bubbles.’

I was like, ‘Who would be calling me from Canberra?’

and then (when you)

you sort of

your brain sort of flicks

5.  Tongue gymnastics (juncture)

When followed by /j/, /s/ and /z/ can be replaced with sh and zh: this year -> thish year; cause you -> cauzh you, etc

as_you go off

cause you’re going really quickly

As_you run out of oxygen

Explaining this feature to the students:

I ask the students to say ‘as’ and ask them where their tongue touches the roof at ‘s’ (near the teeth)I demonstrate the position of the tongue with my hands, like this:

2014-01-07 21.32.27

After that, I ask them to say ‘you’ and ask them where the tongue touches the roof at ‘y’ (closer to the throat). I demonstrate the position of the tongue with my hands and then show with my hands the transition from s to y, which looks like a jump – like some kind of ‘gymnastics’. I say that it’s difficult to do this sort of gymnastics when you’re speaking fast and demonstrate with my hands the ‘midway’ position of the tongue, where zh and sh are pronounced.

503840111_e3b8a10f17_z (1)

Lesson plan

Preparation:

  • if you want to play the video on your computer, you’ll need to download tbe video and the subtitles from youtube and install Aegisub
  • you don’t need to read anything other then this post to teach this lesson, but if you need support downloading the video, using the interactive transcript on youtube and/or Aegisub, or if you’d like to adapt this procedure to use it with a different video, check out this post in which I explain in detail how to do this

Procedure (task numbers refer to the corresponding tasks in the worksheet):

Stage:  Warm-up (Task 1)

Tell the students that they’re going to work on their listening skills in this lesson and that they’re going to watch an interview with a student. Ask them to brainstorm the topics she might talk about (my students normally suggest: studying, parties, relationships, travel, etc).

Stage: pre-teaching vocabulary (Tasks 2 – 4)

Project the following word cloud or refer the students to Task 2 in the worksheet; tell the students that this word cloud was produced from the transcript of the interview and that the words that were used more times are bigger. Ask the students to look at the word cloud and guess which of the topics they’d predicted will come up in the interview. Reply to any queries about vocabulary.

  • Vocabulary that is very useful for understanding the interview and so worth clarifying (Task 3): cord (a thick rope); be stuck (can’t be moved); snap (break into pieces); yank on something (pull something sharply); bubbles

Erin_wordle

Stage: Gist & initial diagnostics (~10 minutes) (Task 5)

With stronger groups (B1+ and higher), I play the video twice: first time without showing the video; the second time, with the video.

The students watch the interview and discuss in pairs what they caught. I listen in and then conduct brief feedback (3 mins), establishing the main facts and the main points the students are still uncertain about, but without spending too much time, without correcting anything the students have misheard or letting the students listen for the second time. I also ask the students how challenging they found the speaker (all my students, even those ad Advanced level, found this speaker very challenging).

Stage: Transcribing & diagnostics (~25 minutes) (Task 6)

The following several stages are done without the projector – the students won’t need the video, which would only be distracting.

  • Students listen to the first part of the interview line by line, filling in gaps in the transcript
  • At the end of the stage, the students listen to the part that they have just transcribed again, just to overview what they’ve done and experience understanding the speaker. This ministage takes little time but it’s crucial for the students’ motivation and sense of progress.

Use either Aegisub or the interactive transcript on youtube to replay the lines.

Aegisub (www.aegisub.org)

Aegisub (www.aegisub.org)

Youtube interactive transcript

Youtube interactive transcript

Varying the level of challenge

The worksheet for lower level students (B1/B1+) indicates where and how many words are missing, whereas the worksheet for more advanced students (B2/B2+) does not. C1 students can be asked to transcribe the extract without the support of a gapped text.

The task for B1/B1+ students The task for B2/C1 students The transcript
0:02I’d __________ finished uni. 0:02I’d finished uni. 0:02I’d just finished uni.
0:03__________ I __________ __________  __________ going to Europe __________ __________  I remembered __________ __________ __________ cold over there so decided 0:03I going to Europe I remembered cold over there so decided 0:03Originally I was looking at going to Europe and then I remembered that it’s actually cold over there so I decided
0:07__________ __________ somewhere __________ __________ __________. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks 0:07somewhere. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks 0:07I’d head somewhere a bit warmer. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks

Giving feedback

The goals of this stage are

  • for the teacher to identify what features of connected speech really do pose difficulty for the students in the group and to collect some highly frequently used words that students in the group fail to catch
  • for the students to (a) discover that some very high frequency English words are difficult to catch (b) to hear how these words are really pronounced in fast speech and gain an insight into why this happens

Therefore, it’s very important to

  • make sure that everyone in the groups says what they caught and not just the strongest listeners in the group. I normally remind the students that we’re diagnosing their listening difficulties at this stage and insist that I want to board every single version of what’s in the gap
  • whenever the students fail to catch some words/chunks that are distorted due to the features of connected speech outlined above, play the line again, elicit how these words/chunks sound, explain why the word undergoes those changes
  • to help the students to make sense of various features of connected speech, set aside a section of the board to build up a list of words that get distorted in a similar way . Halfway through this stage my board looks something like this:
    Board_sample

NB Don’t forget to play this part of the video again before going on to the next stage (Task 7)! 

Stage:  Intensive training with specific words and expressions (20 minutes) (Task 8)

Say that you’re going to play more examples of the problematic expressions collected on the board.

Here are the features of connected speech and corresponding examples that I focus on working on this video (play only examples that come up after 0:49, because the earlier examples will have come up during the transcription stage):

  •  glottal stop/elision
    Word/expression: just (pronounced ‘js’) – 3 lines; that (pronounced ‘tha[t]’); what; out (often pronounced ‘ut’); it (this one is very challenging so only do it with a strong group
  • weak ‘was’ + chunks
    was like (after that I also play a few examples of ‘like’ without ‘was’); I was
  • frequent chunks
    and then
  • reduced adverbs
    actually
  • /z/ sound replaced with zh:
    as you, cause you (3 samples)

Work with each feature of connected speech in the following way:

  • pick a word/chunk that exemplifies the feature – ideally it should be one of the words collected at the previous stage (e.g. to focus on the weak was, you could choose was like)
  • direct the group to this word on the board
  • ask the class to remind him/her what the expression should sound like in fast speech (/wzlaɪ’/)
  • ask them to listen to just one line that contains this word/chunk and catch just that word/expression (‘listen and catch just /wzlaɪ’/). Use the interactive transcript feature on youtube or Aegisub if you’re playing the video locally to find and play the relevant lines (again, see this post if you’re not sure how to do that).
  • those students who have caught it, should try and catch the words around the expression (do board the task!)

Each time, I play the line two or three times, making sure that everyone in the group has caught the expression. If someone says they haven’t, I normally

  • react to that enthusiastically (Cool, that’s the reply I was expecting!) to encourage weaker students to signal their difficulties
  • help the students who haven’t caught the expression by, e.g., playing the line again, stopping it right before the word, saying it the way the speaker is going to say it and then playing the word (alternatively, you can play the word in isolation – again, see below for details how to do that

After that, I encourage the stronger students to supply what’s around the expression (sometimes new features of connected speech get identify and immediately make it to the corresponding part of the boards).

Stage: Transcribing (Task 9)

Do one more short transcribing task to allow the students to use the skills trained in the previous stage.

StageListening line by line, listening for the meaning – 15 minutes (Task 10)

Ask the students to cover the transcript (I hand out colour paper :)). The students practice listening to a sentence or more from the text once and trying to understand the meaning. Stress that their task here is not to transcribe word for word / remember the sentence verbatim but to catch the meaning.

The students listen to the sentence once and, in pairs, discuss what they caught (I usually assign them letters – student A and student B – and ask them to take turns to report what they’ve heard, to encourage weaker students to pull their weight). Through that the students scaffold each other and you get a chance to assess how much they understood.

No feedback is necessary here – after the students have talked about what they caught for 20 seconds or so, tell them that they are about to hear the sentence again. Ask them not to discuss it this time (although in my experience some pairs will) but instead to read the line right after they’ve heard it, underlining everything they didn’t catch.

After that, ask them to play the line again in their head (Prepare to listen to it again and understand it without looking at the text). Before playing one more time, remind the students that you want them to listen without reading.

Repeat with the next line. If the students find the task too easy, play longer stretches (two lines, then three lines at a time).

Stage: Watching the same extract again (Task 11) 

This stage is pretty straightforward: switch the projector on and let the students watch the entire extract again – having worked with the video, they will understand more or less every word.

Stage: Revision – 5 minutes (Task 12)

Ask the students to mentally go through what they did in the lesson, what features of connected speech they’d focused on and what else they learnt (any new insight into what makes listening difficult? new vocabulary? strategies for developing listening skills?); encourage them to remember specific examples; having thought for a minute, the students share in pairs.

__________________________

If you use these materials, please let me know how it went! As always, I’ll also be very grateful to hear any suggestions how to improve this lesson.

__________________________

Wondering what to read next? Check out this list of links to youtube channels in a variety of genres that have subtitled videos – you can use any of those videos to give listening lessons similar to the one described in this post, with minimal preparation (I recommend using interviews and not films or other video types, though). By the way, I’m still looking for more youtube channels to add to my list, so if you know of some channels that have subtitled videos, please do share!

Levels: B1 and higher (some activities are suitable for pre-intermediate students)
Type of course: General English/Business English; some activities suitable for IELTS students
Length: Depending on what activities you choose – altogether, there’s material for around two 90-minute classes.
Materials: all activities and pictures are  available in a Microsoft Word document (shared under attribution sharealike licence, so feel free to adapt them); you’ll need a projector to project the infographic.

This is a language point that I decided to introduce at all levels I’m teaching this semester: the elementary group studied it at the same time as they studied comparatives (adding a modifier seemed like a very teachable point, and now, two weeks later, they are actually using the modifiers very confidently! I also noticed that at least some of the times they say something like ‘more cheaper’ they actually mean a lot cheaper, so seeing that they’re trying to convey this meaning anyway, why not teach it immediately?) My Upper-Intermediate+ group, on the other hand, was still not using any modifiers with comparatives, as the warm-up activity below revealed.

Comparatives Edited (8)

I like presenting the four ways to compare (-er/more/less/exceptions) with ‘circles’ – the visual ‘mnemonics’ is that the circles do not intersect, so you never use two ways at the same time, and thus ‘less cheaper’ or ‘more better’ is not allowed.

Stage one: Intro. In order to introduce this grammar point to B1 groups and higher, I asked my students whether they’d ever bough a gadget to replace an older one (e.g. a smart phone to replace a mobile phone) and asked them to chat about

  • in what ways the new gadget was different and
  • whether the old one was still better in some respects.

I listened in and boarded some comparative structures they’d used – some examples that came up were ‘longer battery life’, ‘more durable’, etc. I then told my students that they weren’t using a bit of language I’d hoped to hear, showed them the first part of the infographic above and asked them what information is present in the pictures but missing from the sentences (How much more expensive?); I then elicited a few examples of how to modify the sentence to say how much more expensive the present was (my students came up with ‘much’ and ‘a (little) bit); I boarded the remaining adverbs, i.e. a lot, somewhat, way, and asked them to rank the adverbs (with my Upper-Intermediate group, we also focused on infinitely, marginally and far). I then pointed out the samples of  their language on the board in which they didn’t qualify the comparatives.

Stage Two. Focus on form. After that, in order to encourage the students to study the infographic closely, I handed out sentences with typical mistakes for them to correct (page 2 of the .docx worksheet) – show only the middle part of the infographic at this stage, hiding the examples.

Level: Elementary/pre-intermediateSome of these sentences contain mistakes. Find and correct them.

  1. I find shopping online lot more convenient.
  2. I like this laptop a lot less.
  3. My new laptop has more better design.
  4. This trip lasts two weeks more longer then that one.
  5. The box of chocolates costs 50 per cent less.
  6. This trip is more cheaper.
  7. My day just got a lot better!
  8. My new phone is a bit easier to use then my old phone.
Key:   1 a lot more convenient
2. OK
3. Has better design
4. two weeks longer than5. OK
6. is cheaper
7. OK
8. than
Level: Intermediate/Upper-IntermediateSome of these sentences contain mistakes. Find and correct them.

  1. I find shopping online a way more convenient.
  2. Men generally find easier to read maps.
  3. I like this laptop a lot less.
  4. This trip lasts two weeks more longer then that one.
  5. The box of chocolates costs 50 per cent less.
  6. My day just got a lot better!
 1. way more2. find it easier3. OK4. longer than5. OK6. OK

Having checked the answers, we used the correct sentences to model/drill sentence stress and intonation.

Stage 3. Refined production After that, the students went back to their conversations about gadgets (in new pairs), to find out how much longer the battery life was/how much more durable the new gadget was and so on.

We then briefly revised the rules how the comparative forms of adjectives are formed (alternatively, you could cut up a worksheet with adjectives – there are some in the .docx file – for the students to sort them into four groups) and went on to play a couple of games.

Further stages – games (pick and choose). 

Game 1 (drill) – adapted from Intermediate Communication Games by Jill Hadfield, Pearson P T R (2000) – worked like a spell in all groups!
Course type: any
Levels: Pre-Intermediate – Upper-Intermediate
Materials
: a set of cut-up cards for each pair/group of 3 (download a .pdf file from here or use the corresponding pages from the word document linked to at the beginning of the post); ideally, a dice for each pair
Time: 15-25 minutes
comp_drill2

Every player takes 6 cards. The first player places one card on the desk and ‘boasts’ (‘my robot is very smart‘). After that, each turn players place one of their cards on the board, comparing the new object to the previous one (e.g. ‘my cat is way friendlier than your robot‘) and then takes one more card from the stack.

Rules: (a) They have to use a modifier – I drew 6 facets of a dice on the board, each one with a corresponding modifier, and each time a player boasted, they had to roll the dice to determine what modifier should be used
(b) Adjectives can’t be reused

Image courtesy: my colleague Eleonora Popova, who's a white board magician. =)

Image courtesy: my colleague Eleonora Popova, who’s a white board magician. =)

Variation 1: players draw the cards directly from the stack and have to find a way to compare the last two objects
Variation 2: each turn, each player in the pair puts one of their cards on the desk; after that each player comments in what way their object is better than the other player’s object

Game 2 A board game in which students share opinions on a range of topics


Target structure:
find [sth] [modifier] [comparative] (I find it a lot easier to… than to …)

Levels: Pre-Intermediate – Upper-Intermediate

Course type: General English or Business English (can be used with exam students, but does not replicate exam format)

Materials: a board with adjectives, for Variation 1 a cut-up set of discussion propts (see below)

Time: 30-40 minutes (more time with higher level students, as they launch into discussions, especially if discussion prompts are used)

Rules: The students work in pairs. Each turn, a player throws a coin (heads = one step forward, tails = two steps forward) and states a true opinion using a modified comparative form of the adjective on the field (possibly giving a reason – again, a dice could determine the number of reasons); their partner either agrees or disagrees (providing reasons) and/or asks follow-up questions – again, this could be decided by a roll of a dice. I made two board games for this game, one for pre-intermediate students, another for higher levels.

Board game Comparatives More difficultBoard game Comparatives Easier (2)Example: I find it a lot less stressful to get to work by car than to use public transport, because I really dislike the underground. There are just too many people on the train in the morning. What about you?

Alternatively, the students can ask questions instead of stating their opinions (see Variation 1).

Setting the game up: 

It’s better to give the students patterns for questions and answers (I boarded a jumbled question and a jumbled answer and asked the students to unjumble them).  In a pre-intemediate group, it’s better just to teach the statements (I find it + modifier + comparative to … than to…), whereas higher levels will cope with questions too.

  • Board one scrambled question (examples here are for ‘would’):
    would what you to be find easier so working in a big team in a small team or?Allow students to unscramble individually and then check in pairs, elicit and board the correct question:
    So what would you find to be [easier], working in a big team or in a small team? 
  • Board the sentence frame under the unscrambled question:
    So what would you find to be
     [comparative structure], verb-ing or verb-ing?)
    (alternatively, make a few mistakes in the frame and ask the students to correct them)
  • Elicit and board a reply (first the structure, but then elicit the reason – I put ‘because’ on the board and circled it in red (Sample reply: I’d find it a lot easier to work in a small company because you always know who is doing what. )
  • Again, board the frame under the replyI’d find it [a comparative structure] to [verb] [than to verb] because..)

Game 2 Variation 1. A board game in which students talk about topics given on discussion prompts

Materials: one of the above boards, cut-up discussion questions (either General English or Business English – see below).

The players shuffle the cut-up discussion prompts and take 6 promtps each.  Having landed on a field, a player asks their partner a question using an adjective on the field and one of their cards (e.g. What would you find to be easier, working in a big company or in a small company?)

Non-cut alternative: Each pair gets the sheet with discussion prompts. Having landed on a field, a player picks a question that fits the adjective (possibly, crossing it over).

Discussion prompts for General English:

GE_differences1

Business English:

BE_differences1BE_differences2

Game 3 Students talk about topics given on discussion prompts using a wider range of adjectives provided on cards; the game is played in pairs or in groups of three.

Course type: General English, Business English or IELTS

Level: Intermediate and higher

Materials:

  • cut-up adjectives; an uncut worksheet with adjectives for each student

Time: up to 60 minutes as there are a lot of discussion questions

Procedure

  • check that the students know all the adjectives: hand out an uncut copy to each student and set a few simple tasks, e.g.
    >>> tick all adjectives you know; check with your partner – is there something you don’t know and they do? class feedback
    >>> in pairs, for each adjective brainstorm two people, things, places or activities that fit  this adjective (e.g. elicit examples for useful, e.g. reading news every day). Rules: 1) ask the pair to write their examples down 2) if they can’t come up with two examples in 10 seconds, they should move on (why not tell them you’re going to snap your fingers every 10 seconds?) 3) at the end of the activity, group the students into groups of four so that they ask the other pair for ideas for the examples they couldn’t come up with 4) finish with a group game in which one pair gives their examples and the group guesses the adjective
    >>> focus on grammar: the students go through the table and count how many comparatives in each row are formed with ‘er’ and not with ‘more’
  • The game. The students deal the adjectives (6-8 per player). Each turn, one student picks two questions, chooses one (discarding the other) and asks the other players which alternative they’d prefer (Would you rather [verb] or [verb]). All players in the group discuss the question using as many of their adjectives as they can. These are adjectives that are often used with the structure ‘I find it [modifier] [comparative], so they are fairly easy to use in this activity.

Adjectives for intermediate learners:

adjectives_B1

Adjectives for advanced learners (edit the Microsoft Word file to choose only those you’d like to focus on – alternatively, let the students choose!):

 

adj_advanced

As a follow-up, the students could pick a few of these questions and discuss them in new pairs/groups – this time without being forced to use any specific adjectives/structures. They could also choose a few cards and write about them for homework.

As I said at the start of the post, if you’d like to adapt these games, here’s a Microsoft Office document with all materials. Also, I’d be grateful if you let me know if you’ve got any suggestions how to improve this, ideas how to extend these activities or if you find typos.