phonology

Back to skoool!

It’s Sunday night and for many of us, classes start tomorrow. Fancy some free material? How about a collaborative TD project for the new year? Read (or skip) to the end for both!

It’s that time of year again. A new calendar year. Will it bring new hopes? New aspirations? New classes? New students? All of the above? I find this time of year often feels familiar. I have the nagging feeling that I could have prepared for it a little earlier. Or that I’ve forgotten how to teach. I’ll doubtless have a sleep interrupted several times to check if I’ve slept through my alarm by mistake. Still, at least there’ll be some friendly faces in the staffroom tomorrow morning.

But then, I won’t be going into a staffroom. Not for a few days yet. Most of my classes are in company or online. Depending on the time of year, I find myself working something like an itinerant salesman, flogging my wares to potential clients. Either that or tapping my way to RSI in front of a computer screen – not quite how I imagined TEFL would pan out. This does have its advantages, of course. Online work means less time spent commuting and with the face-to-face stuff I’m lucky enough to be able to cycle there most of the time. I see new parts of the city. I meet students from all walks. I see inside a range of companies in various locations. One place I rarely am at the moment, though, is a staffroom.

 

old staffrooom pic

 

This is a bit of a shame – I miss the halcyon days of racing the length of a London basement on wheely chairs against colleagues. Or the communal cursing of a jammed photocopier. Or the printed picture of the DOS with a ‘big brother is watching you’ slogan. As well as the letting off of various steams, there was often the free-swapping of material, ideas and advice.  In a staffroom there’s also a wealth of different voices and opinions you can record and take into class with you.

I used to have a dictaphone that I used for speaking examination work. It was a very high tech system where we’d record in MP3 format out in the field, then upload onto our computers at home, transfer to a USB stick and then pop in an envelope to be sent to central processing. I like to imagine it sat in a metal filing cabinet like this:

filing-cabinet.jpg

The sort you could then upcycle into a fancy plant potter like this:

Filing-Cabinet

But I digress…

The dictaphone was ours to keep (the fringe benefits of TEFL, eh?) and use as we saw fit when off-duty. I used mine to collect some audio snippets from colleagues from time to time that could be used in class. I also had a mini microphone I’d acquired at the turn of the century in Japan. I used it with my minidisc recorder.  I would occasionally surprise people by poking the foam-covered sound catcher under their noses and demand a soundbite. Those days are gone – we now have mobile phones that can capture top-quality audio without the necessity of all that gubbins. And we can send audio and video via instant messenger pretty much instantly.

And that instant messenger is a handy tool. Why, just the other week there was news of another tax avoidance scheme – the sort of news to annoy and enjoy. I have a group of tax lawyers who’ll lap it up, I thought. I had a nice video from the Guardian and a friend who works for HMRC who I could ask for an opinion from. Perfect. I fired off a message asking for his opinion. He’s not got back to me yet. Then there are my uni students studying digital marketing. A close friend of mine works for PR for TV advertising. He’s a perfect match – I whatsapped him requesting a quick soundbite on why TV advertising isn’t dead. He hasn’t done it yet but he said he would. This was a month back and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion he’s not going to deliver on that one. My teacher and ex-teacher friends, however, get back to me all the time. They seem to understand that the idea for the lesson occurred to me very close in time to the actual lesson itself. So when I found a nice video on Vox about open plan offices being over-rated, I quickly messaged a couple of ex-colleagues for contributions on things they thought were over-rated. They got back to me in a matter of minutes! Happy days.

Free lesson material!

Here’s the Vox video. I used the last section only. My students had recently moved premises and were adjusting to their new office space, so it was a nice fit when I saw it pop up in my Facebook feed.

I grabbed the tapescript from the closed captions (you can do this for any youtube video to save yourself some transcription time – to see how, click here)

If you think this might work for your class and want the final tapescript and material I used, it’s here: Openplan is over transcript gapfill. After initial listening for global understanding we focussed on some perceptually tricky bits using the gapfill and then followed up with some receptive phonology work (dictation exercises which then turned into a battleships grid for S-S practice). Similar procedure to the one described in a previous post under ‘then what?’.

Possible tasks

As well as discussion tasks (you’ll notice I dictated discussion questions if you see the end of the word doc), you can have students work in groups to redesign their office/classroom/school.

Follow up

Lexically, my students were attracted to the word ‘overrated’ in the tapescript, and this also tends to bear fruit in discussion, so I focussed on this when harvesting my virtual staffroom’s audio opinions. It ended up being in a later lesson (two for the price of one – yay!) but deciding on what was under or over-rated was a good springboard. Here are a couple of examples, and the tapescript at the end.

Rich isn’t a fan of Love Actually:

Ri takes issue with the question itself:

She’s got a point. Here’s the tapescript – lots of potential to focus on spoken discourse features, receptive phonology or lexical stuff.

Ri and Rich tapescript highlighteddocx

What about you? What do you think’s over-rated?

An invitation to a New Year staffroom

If you think that material would work well in your classroom, do you fancy joining a group of likeminded teachers sharing audio? Make your TD resolution easy – all you need to do is commit to posting a video/news article plus a question for the other members to answer. If you happen to have a tapescript, so much the better, but all we really need to start with is the audio clip. Natural, unrehearsed audio is what we’re after (or video – it’s easy enough if you’ve got a smartphone). So I’ve set up a facebook group.  Who’s in?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grasping The Nettle

IATEFL Glasgow 2017

grasping the nettle.png

It was a good conference for listening and phonology, this. Standout sessions from John Field, Sheila Thorn, Richard Cauldwell, Mark Hancock. Sandy Millin’s given a great roundup over here, as ever.

I was pleased to have a good audience for the final session on Friday – including some of the very people who inspired me to get more into listening and receptive phonology in the first place. As usual, the original ideas in the talk were rarely my own. Even the title – it’s lifted from an article by Richard Cauldwell.

john field

John Field looks like he’s about to hit me. He’s not. He’s a very nice man.

After a run through the background literature, and stressing the importance at looking at what causes perceptual difficulties for second language listeners, we looked at a timeless TEFL classic – the gapfill.

I often use transcription in listening lessons. I’ve done so myself in Spanish and with very little in the way of support – sometimes using a grid-type format as I’ve outlined elsewhere. At other times, I’d want a little more focus on the aspects that cause decoding problems for students, and for this a simple gapfill is ideal.

When creating material for listening, we can often focus on many things other than the speech stream itself and what causes great problems for our students. In the workshop, I shared three different gapfills focussing on different areas. We watched a short clip from a BBC show about India going cashless.

Here’s the tapescript – which bits would you blank out?

tapescript cashless

IMG_20170407_122503

The ‘Which gapfill?’ challenge.

Gapfills I would have made in the past would often focus on details:

gapfill 2 detail

This is fine, but it’s testing whether listeners have picked up the details of the listening text. I wouldn’t generally use this any more in my classes – I find it more effective for students to ask each other and the teacher if they’re unsure of gist or general details.

The next gapfill looked at something different:

gapfill1vocab.png

This one focusses mainly on lexis, and again, is probably not one that I would immediately go for if my focus was on developing learners’ perceptual abilities. It could be used, but would require some careful handling.

The final one we looked at is what I would tend to use most these days. It’s worth saying that I would use this after the class had listened a couple of times in order to extract the main ideas and details (by simply playing through and having them discuss what they think these are – clarifying and replaying at their request).

gapfill phon and answers

As the slide heading suggests, I would focus on what’s perceptually difficult. In other words, rather than focus on unusual words or grammar, I would focus on unusual or difficult soundshapes of familiar language. You can’t focus on absolutely everything, of course, so I’d prioritise. Areas I look out for would be function words – those that don’t carry prominence and can get easily missed by the second language learner. Also, what Cauldwell calls ‘squeeze zones’ (e.g. ‘Now I want to find out’) – where many words are rapidly uttered in a non-prominent area of a tone unit. I’d also focus on high-frequency clusters wherever they appear – simply because they have high surrender value – it’s likely the listener will hear them again in spoken English.

Here’s a second example from the talk – this time from a podcast about 3D printing from the Naked Scientists.

3dprint

Which areas would cause problems for your students?

Here’s what I focussed on with mine:

3dprint answers.png

We looked at the process we need to go through as teachers when doing this: essentially sitting down with the audio and a tapescript and listening to predict what decoding problems students will have:

▪Find / record your text – always consider needs and interest of students

▪Chop it – audacity, tubechop etc. See here for how.

▪Listen with tapescript and a highlighter

▪Make sure you mark times on your tapescript for replaying

▪Predict what they’ll have problems with and prepare for this.

▪Prepare for different levels of T control and intervention.

▪Consider high frequency clusters – something that’s likely to come up again.

▪Focus more on function words.

Once we’ve done the receptive work, we’ll often want to follow up on the content of a listening, so we looked at some activities that do this while keeping a phonological focus rather than moving on to lexis or discussion (not that I’d never do this, just that my intention is sometimes to focus very much on the sounds)

We looked at minimal pair chunk bingo (Catchy title, eh?) I’ve talked about elsewhere

minimal pair chunk bingo pic.png

We also looked at how we can adapt microdictation tasks to try to generalise the features of multi-word chunks. Here’s one that followed the Naked Scientist’s task.

Students can ‘race’ to complete their grids on the left, with the teacher dictating 3 or 4 word clusters of a similar pattern to those picked out of the listening. For example, here we have ‘layer by layer’ in the listening. The teacher could dictate ‘one by one’ ‘bit by bit’ ‘step by step’. Or from the listening we have ‘and the reason it’s’ – the teacher can dictate ‘and the way it’s’, ‘and the place it’s’ and so on. Students have to listen and write the chunk in the correct row on their grids. Once it’s all filled in they can use their grids in pairwork games like Connect Four, or battleships.

Time was running away from me at this stage, so I had to drop the Masterchef lesson – I’ll write it up properly and post materials here in due course when I get a chance.

We did just have time to have a quick look at crowdsourced microlistenings. I used three clips collected from the audience earlier this year at the IH Barcelona conference. As before, the key task was to listen and decide what question they were answering.

The actual question was ‘what’s your comfort food?’, but when using this with students, I wouldn’t worry too much about about getting this exactly right ‘what’s your favourite food?’ works just as well. I’d have students listen several times until they could work out and transcribe the exact words each speaker used. The second one above talks about ‘twiglets’ – I had to listen a few times myself to extract that one. Kudos to Anthony Gaughan who got it on the first listen in the session!

There was no time to actually record our own, so we pretty much wrapped things up there.

Here’s the slides from the talk: