Category Archives: Listening

A good deed: Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson, based around an authentic audio recording from Storycorps.com, where Virginia recalls a good deed her father did during the Great Depression in America.

Suitable from PreIntermediate/A2+, the lesson starts with a short text giving some background to the Depression of the 1930s, and invites students to think about parallels with the situation in some countries today and what can, or should be done by individuals and governments.

Students then listen to the audio, which is quite short and simple, listening both for gist and specific information.

There is then a  focus on narrative tenses, specifically simple past and past perfect. This could work as part of an introduction to past perfect, or as a review at higher levels. Students then try to retell Virginia’s story, using tenses appropriately, before going on to tell their own ‘good deed’ stories.

By Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Click on the photo here, or the photo of Virginia in the lesson plan, for the link to the audio.

Download lesson plan PDF hereELT Resourceful – A good deed

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Grammar, Listening, Speaking

Try something new for 30 days : Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson, based around a short TED talk by Matt Cutts on how carrying out 30 day challenges helped him to improve his life.

Suitable from PreIntermediate/A2+, the lesson starts with a quick review of present perfect for experience: Have you ever + past participle?

Students then watch the video (3 minutes), which is quite simply and clearly expressed, looking at what challenges Matt carried out, and the impact these challenges had on his life.

There is a focus on some idiomatic language, and then the lesson concludes by asking students to think of some challenges they’d like to do themselves (and that they’d like to set for the teacher!)

 

Download PDF here: ELT Resourceful – Try something new for 30 days

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Grammar, Listening, Speaking, Uncategorized, Vocabulary

Real Beauty? Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson based around the recent Dove advertisement, showing the huge difference between women’s views of their looks and how other see them.  The lesson starts by focusing on collocations to describe facial features, such as thick hair, full lips and so on. Students then watch the video and discuss some of the issues raised, including self -esteem, the role of the media,and differences between men and women. More language to describe physical appearance is ‘pulled out’ of the video, and the lesson ends with students writing detailed descriptions of themselves.

An optional extra that might work well to lighten the class a little  is a very funny spoof video, where some men find out that they are actually much uglier than they think they are! The link is in the accompanying notes.

The lesson is suitable from B1+/Intermediate +

Download PDF here: ELT Resourceful – Real Beauty

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Am I missing something?: raising awareness of ellipsis and substitution

Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal via Compfight cc

When students fail to understand something they read or hear, this often isn’t because they don’t understand the words being used. In fact, it may be because of the words that aren’t being used.

In both speaking and writing there is a tendency to either leave out words we think are unnecessary (ellipsis) or to use another single word in place of a longer phrase (substitution). This can cause considerable confusion for learners, especially when listening, as there is no chance to go back and try and work out the meaning.

It’s also something that teachers, as proficient speakers of English, often overlook. Not least because we find it complicated to explain, even though we may easily understand what the speaker or writer is trying to say.

Ellipsis

There are generally considered to be two different kinds of ellipsis, situational and textual.

Situational ellipsis is, unsurprisingly, where the situation or context makes the missing element clear. It’s informal and mostly used in conversation.

For example, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ can easily become ‘Tea?’ if you are waving a mug at someone, or even just sitting in the kitchen.

Textual ellipsis has more grammatical ‘rules’, and can be found in both speech and writing. It could be defined as when we omit something that has already been mentioned (so doesn’t need to be repeated), or when what is missing is clearly recoverable from the text.

E.g. I went to the bakers to get some wholemeal rolls and (I went) to the butchers for lamb chops.

Textual ellipsis is probably most commonly found in the second clause after ‘and’ or ‘but’

Reduced relative clauses and reduced adverbial clauses are also often considered to be examples of ellipsis. With these, the missing words haven’t necessarily been mentioned, but they are clearly recoverable.

E.g. The dark-haired girl (who is) standing over there just smiled at you.

When (you are) teaching ellipsis, you need to find good examples.

Substitution

The easiest way to think about substitution is to consider it as a form of ellipsis. Something is missing, but instead of just leaving it out, we substitute it with another word, usually ‘so’, ‘one(s)’, ‘do(es)’, ‘did’. [Some people have a wider definition of substitution and include things I’d put under the heading of reference]

E.g. Replacing a noun (phrase):

What kind of cupcake would you like? A chocolate one, please.

E.g. Replacing a verb phrase:

I didn’t like the film, but everyone else did (liked the film)

Note that we use substitution for verbs in the simple present or simple past. For other tenses or modals, we use ellipsis.

I don’t want to go running but I really should (go running).

Have you ever been to Paris? Yes, I have (been to Paris)

How to teach ellipsis and substitution

As with a lot of things, the first step is to raise awareness of its existence. This is something which is often dealt with in ‘advanced’ level materials. This is fair enough in terms of getting students to produce natural sounding language but this shouldn’t be the first time students have ever thought about the concept. It needs to be something that students are aware of right from the beginning.

First of all, don’t routinely ask students to produce ‘full answers’.

‘Where do you live?’ ‘I live in Brixton.’

This may neatly practice present simple, but it sounds distinctly odd. Encourage ‘short answers’ and show students how much can be achieved with the right intonation. (See ‘Tea?’ above).

At low levels, it’s worth doing some activities to focus on short answers. (E.g. Yes, I do, No, I can’t.)

For example, you could use mini whiteboards and ask students questions which require short answers. They have to write the answer which is true for them and hold it up. The advantages of mini whiteboards include the fact that that they have more processing time, they have to think individually about the correct short answer, and you can see exactly who is producing an appropriate short answer.

Alternatively, you could do this in a circle with a beanbag- the person catching the bean bag has to answer, using a short answer.

A lot of fun can be had with really pared down dialogues. Perhaps the most famous example is ‘The train to Oxford.’ As you can probably tell by the reference to smoking and the slightly cheesy storyline, this is a golden oldie. Originally written by Scott Thornbury as a piece of teacher training material:

A: Um cigarette

B: Thanks

A: Oxford

B: Yes you

A: Um that’s right student

B: Nurse you

A: Unemployed

B: Long

A: A year er married

B: Divorced

A: Really me too

B: Kids

A: One you

B: Three

A: Erm dinner

B: When

A: Tonight

B: Ah busy tomorrow

A: Lunch

B: OK where

A: Um Browns

B: Browns

A: When

B: One

A: Fine Oh Oxford

B: Already

A: Tomorrow

B: Tomorrow

A: Oh

B: Yes

A: Name

B: Sarah

A: Andrew

This, and texts like this, are usually used to work on intonation, and they’re great for that. But ‘The Train to Oxford’ is also stuffed with examples of situational ellipsis and we can focus on this by getting students to first build up the dialogue into fuller expressions. This will, of course, also help with meaning, and thus intonation, when they go back to the pared down version.

Any authentic or even semi authentic recording is also likely to be a good source of examples of ellipsis. Take a look at this extract from my latest downloadable lesson plan, Q & A, (which also has a focus on ellipsis by the way)

J: Have you ever lied to me? 

S: I probably have [], but I try not to [] even if sometimes the questions you ask me make me uncomfortable.

In any listening based lesson, after some work on comprehension, you can pull out an extract like this and get students to complete what’s missing.  Slightly harder is to ask students to find places in a text where something has been ‘taken out’ or substituted.

Alternatively, why not reverse it, and ask students to try to cut down texts? You could add an element of competition by asking students to reduce the text to as few words as possible, while still retaining the same meaning.

Ellipsis and substitution also tend to come up as testable items in Use of English type exam papers. We often see multiple choice questions such as:

Susie doesn’t like coffee but I _____.

do
like
didn’t

I can’t play the piano but Jim _____.

does
is
can

Show students some examples of these (and give them some straightforward practice). Then ask them to write their own versions. These can be personalised, about themselves or classmates, or simply as silly as possible.

Once you start using some of these activities, you, and hopefully your students, will notice ellipsis and substitution everywhere!

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Discourse, Grammar, Listening

Q&A: Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson using another wonderful animated authentic recording from http://www.storycorps.com. Joshua, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, interviews his mother, giving us insights into what it’s like for him to be different from others, and the loving relationship between the two of them. Great for raising awareness of Asperger’s and of bullying,  and very touching.

The lesson involves listening and inferring meaning, plenty of discussion, and also has a focus on ellipsis, where words are omitted because the meaning is clear.

Probably most suitable from B2/Upper Intermediate+, but a good intermediate class could probably cope, as the way the lesson is structured and the animation provide support.

Download PDF here : ELT Resourceful – Q&A

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The Science of Smiling: free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson about why smiling, even when we don’t feel much like it, can actually make us happier. The lesson starts with a short video, demonstrating the impact of smiling on the ‘miserable’ people of Edinburgh. After some brief discussion, the students go on to read a text about the various scientific findings about the emotional impact of smiling. The text and task would be suitable for students preparing for IELTS, especially at a lower level, but is suitable for a General English class as well. Finally, the lesson looks at a lexical set of idioms to describe emotions, and the students are asked to discuss how different situations might make them feel.

Download PDF here: ELT Resourceful – The Science of Smiling

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic reading materials, IELTS, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary

The Icing on the Cake- free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson based around another wonderful animated true story from http://www.storycorps.com. The conversation between a mother and daughter looks back on the family’s struggles as poor immigrants to the US, and how the daughter was inspired by her mother’s determination.

The lesson is  suitable from Pre-Intermediate +/A2+, particularly because the animation helps with comprehension. After watching and listening, there is a focus on impersonal pronouns/adverbs (something, anything, everyone.nowhere etc) and a discussion task which brings in more vocabulary to describe qualities we’d like to pass onto our children. Again, this could be adapted to lower and higher levels through the choice of vocabulary.

Download PDF here: ELT Resourceful – The Icing on the Cake

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Filed under Differentiation, Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Grammar, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary

Do something different with the coursebook listening

When teachers talk about ‘doing a listening’, what they usually mean is that they will set the scene, pre-teach as (and if ) necessary, then set some questions before pressing play.

This kind of teaching routine can work very well, and I’ve certainly written plenty of listening sections following that kind of format.

However, in the spirit of John Fanselow, I also believe that it is always a good idea to question such routines, and consider how we could do things differently.

Listening from the middle

In this article (thank you to Frances Eales for drawing it to my attention), John Madden explains how, rather than playing a recording from the beginning, students can benefit from starting in the middle. In real life we often start listening in the middle of a conversation, or when we turn on the radio or TV in the middle of a programme. Starting in the middle helps learners to develop the confidence and skills to deal with this.

Madden starts by discussing times when learners have ‘started in the middle’ in real life and then plays a section from the middle of the recording. Learners tune in as best they can, then discuss with a partner what they understood, and what they think might have been said before they started listening. They can then listen to the entire recording to check their predictions.

Pausing and predicting

Rather than always beginning by asking students to predict the content of a recording, another way of encouraging prediction might be to pause the recording while playing and ask for predictions.

There are several ways I can think of to do this:

1. If the recording is a dialogue, stop the recording after each utterance by person A, and ask students to either say, or write down what they think person B might say. They can then continue listening to check their ideas.

2. Stop the recording about halfway through, and ask students to either continue the conversation they have been listening to, or, if a monologue, to write down what they think the person will say in the rest of the talk.  This could work very well with a well-signposted monologue of the kind found in more academic English

Pausing and focusing on language

These activities would work better after using the comprehension activities in the coursebook, as a way of encouraging students to notice certain aspects of language. For more on this kind of bottom up activity, you might like to read John Field, and my article on Decoding Skills

1. Having previously picked out some useful expressions from the listening, pause the recording halfway through the expression, and ask students try and complete it from memory.

E.g. I had to learn the poem……by heart.

2. Using only a short part of the recording, pause at the end of each sentence or longer phrase, and ask students to write down what they hear. This can work really well for identifying students’ difficulties in decoding connected speech.

3. Pause the recording after referring expressions and ask students to identify what they refer to.

E.g. Albert Einstein is widely considered to be a genius. However, his education did not start off so well (pause-who does his refer to?). He didn’t learn to speak fluently until six or seven and one of his teacher wrote on his school report (pause-who does his refer to?) ‘He will never amount to anything.’, meaning he would never be successful. How wrong he was! (pause- who does he refer to?)

[extract taken from New Total English Intermediate]

Focusing on strategies

Rather than providing a follow-up related to the content of the text, you could carry out a protocol activity. After carrying out your comprehension activity, play the recording again and ask students to write down (in L1 if lower level students), as far as they can remember, what they were thinking at each point of the listening. What exactly did they understand or not understand, what strategies did they use, did they switch off (when and why?). This can then become the basis of a fruitful class discussion about how to listen.

To finish, you might like to watch this short (7 minute) TED talk by Julian Treasure, on How to listen better. It isn’t specifically about ELT listening, but it’s an inspiring reminder of how doing things differently can indeed lead to something exceptional.

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Listening, Teaching methodology

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS speaking

The extended monologue

In the second part of the IELTS test, candidates have to speak for 1-2 minutes on a given topic, having been given 1 minute to prepare. (Incidentally, I have mentioned IELTS in the title, because this is perhaps the best known example, but there are other speaking exams (e.g. Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life L1 and L2 ) where candidates have to carry out similar tasks).

Although Part 2 of IELTS is not actually as tough as Part 3, for many candidates, it is the part they dread the most. However, it is also the part where familiarity with the task and plenty of practice can really make a huge difference. As an IELTS examiner, I sometimes examine native speakers applying to emigrate to Australia, and even these perfectly fluent speakers can struggle with Part 2 if unprepared.

In IELTS the candidate is given a number of points to cover. For example:

Describe a leisure activity which you enjoy doing.

You should say:

-          What the activity is and how you do it

-          When and how often you do it

-          What equipment you need

And explain why you enjoy it.

[example from IELTS Foundation Second Edition]

In order to do well in this part of the exam, students need to:

1 Structure their answer well, so that it is coherent and cohesive.

2 Speak fluently, without too many hesitations.

3 Demonstrate accuracy and range in their language.

Live listening is an excellent technique for both modelling the kind of answer the students should be aiming for, and providing a source for language they can use.

What is live listening?

In a nutshell, live listening means listening to the teacher (or another visitor), in a face to face situation, rather than using a pre-prepared recording. The teacher can be a neglected resource in terms of listening, as teachers try to avoid the dreaded ‘teacher talking time’. However, there is a world of difference between the teacher mumbling away to the class instead of giving clear and concise instructions, and using the teacher as a rich resource for listening.

Listening to the teacher speaking at length offers the benefits of:

-          genuine, real-time communication.

-          all the features of natural spoken English (hesitations, false starts, connected speech etc)

-          facial expressions and gestures

-          the opportunity to offer clarifications

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS Part 2

Using set of prompts like those above, the teacher prepares to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic. You might want to spend more than the 1 minute that candidates are allowed, but it’s important that you don’t script what you are going to say.

Talk for 1-2 minutes to the students, and, ideally, record what you say. They listen and make notes on what you said about each prompt. Carry out brief feedback. This should help them see how to structure their talk, using the prompts.

Then play the recording (or repeat the task) and encourage students to write down any useful ‘chunks’ of language that they hear, which they think they could use in a similar task.

The reason that native speakers are able to speak so quickly and fluently is because they have a huge store of chunks of language which they are able to pull out and use; they don’t have to create every word from scratch. So it makes sense to encourage learners to develop their own store of ‘chunks’.

Here is a Vocaroo recording of me using  the prompts above to talk about Qi Gong

http://vocaroo.com/i/s0J4pGleT6oB

And here is the language I might encourage the learners to pick out from this recording:

The leisure activity that I’d like to talk about is_______

It’s a kind of __________

It’s all about + ing

It’s quite similar to_________

The main thing about _____ is (that)____

I don’t often get around to it.

You don’t actually need any equipment at all.

Sometimes I find it difficult to motivate myself.

I always feel better after I’ve done it.

Spend a little bit of time checking that students understand the ‘chunks’ and can pronounce them fluently, then put them in pairs and ask them to carry out the same task themselves, using any of the chunks they find useful.

The beauty of this activity is that it requires minimal preparation, but, repeated on a regular basis, with different prompt cards, it can really help learners to develop their ability to structure a short talk and to use natural sounding ‘chunks’ of language.

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, IELTS, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary

Discovery listening and other ways to read your students’ minds

What do we know about what is actually happening inside a learner’s head while they are listening? It’s a complicated process. Speech comes at the learner in a continuous stream of sounds. They need to be able to identify and discriminate between these sounds, and recognise their stressed and unstressed versions. They also need to be able to recognise where one word stops and another word starts (particularly hard to do in English, with linking, elision and assimilation). They need to understand the meaning conveyed by stress and intonation.

And that’s before we start on understanding the actual meaning of the words being used, and the syntax!

No wonder that students at lower levels, without a wide vocabulary or much familiarity with the features of connected speech are so overwhelmed by all these demands that they simply can’t hold onto the meaning of what they are listening to long enough to piece it all together.

In my last post, hosted on the OUPELTGlobal blog, I wrote about ways to develop these bottom up or decoding skills in listening. In response I had a tweet from Kyle Smith (@ElkySmith ), drawing my attention to a fascinating article by Magnus Wilson, on what Wilson terms Discovery Listening. This got me thinking about ways in which we, as teachers, could find out more about our learners’ listening processes- and of course raise the learners’ awareness at the same time.

Discovery Listening

In Discovery Listening, Wilson builds on an idea by John Field (2000), of using dictogloss to develop students’ awareness of how they are processing language. Field’s technique is to carry out a dictogloss, where students note down all the words they can catch while listening, and then discuss their understanding of the overall meaning with classmates afterwards. The idea was to raise awareness of how they can use guesswork to build meaning. Wilson takes this idea further by getting students to try to reconstruct the text more fully after listening, and then compare their versions carefully with the original. It’s a discovery, or ‘noticing’ activity, because students look specifically at what they failed to hear correctly and classify their problems. For example:

I couldn’t hear what sound it was.

I couldn’t separate the sounds into words.

I heard the words but couldn’t remember their meaning quickly enough.

This word was new to me….

As well as raising awareness, Wilson makes the point that ‘noticing’ these issues is likely to make language, or aspects of connected speech ‘stick’ for the learners. While I wouldn’t  suggest carrying out this kind of micro focus all the time, as an occasional activity, I think it could be very effective.

Protocols

A protocol is a technique used by researchers to try and find out exactly what is going on in someone’s head during a process. Basically, the subject is asked to either talk aloud while they are doing something, explaining their thought processes, or, in stimulated recall protocols, they are reminded of what they were doing, and asked to recall what their thought processes were at the time.

There are lots of examples of protocols being used to discover more about listening in second language acquisition, for example Wu (1998), but I can’t see why this couldn’t be something that teachers could use themselves in the classroom. Obviously we wouldn’t want everyone talking aloud while they listened (!), but after listening to a recording, we could ask students to discuss with a partner which parts they found difficult and why. Or they could listen again with the transcript in front of them, and underline parts that they found difficult to follow, and then discuss why.

Listening log

Another interesting article is Jenny Kemp’s The Listening Log. In it she describes a project carried out at the University of Leicester, on a summer programme, where learners were required to keep a log of at least 5-6 listening experiences they had outside the classroom each week. They were asked to comment on how easy or difficult it was to understand, and what had helped or hindered them (e.g. context, accent). Looking at the examples given, it is evident that this could be a powerful tool for raising awareness and increasing motivation- as well as giving the teacher useful information about each learner’s individual difficulties.

The teacher is a tape-recorder

And finally, a very old (hence the title- should it be the teacher is an Mp3 player?) activity, which is a bit silly and light-hearted, but actually really useful for identifying problem areas.

Simply choose a text- this could be the transcript of something already recorded, or a story, but it needs to be written down, so that it can be reproduced exactly each time. Start to read aloud, as naturally as possible. Learners could be answering questions, or, probably better still for our purposes, trying to write down the text. Whenever the learners want they can shout ‘pause’ ‘rewind’ ‘fast forward’ etc. Of course, you could equally well do this with an actual machine, but believe me, it’s much more entertaining with a teacher doing it. I think students (of all ages), just love being able to bark commands at the teacher!

The serious side of this activity is that you can use it to identify chunks of connected speech that the learners are having difficulty with and then look at the linking, weak forms, assimilation etc with them afterwards.

Please do add any other ideas you have for either raising awareness of, or developing these decoding skills.

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Listening