Helping Students Achieve Smooth Speech: An approach to teaching linking and thought groups

How often do students have the misconception that good pronunciation is a matter of mastering individual sounds? In my experience, this is a common occurrence. Sometimes what really makes speech sound foreign is not a lack of articulate sounds but rather irregular rhythm or unnatural intonation.

I’ve recently been faced with the challenge of helping an advanced ELL achieve more fluid speech. By giving too much conscious attention to the articulation of individual sounds, the learner tends to lose proper phrasing. Pauses no longer fall in natural places and the lack of linked words and thought groups leads to choppy speech.

It’s been helpful to do a variation of the backwards build-up strategy. (See below.) The basic idea is to break a long sentence down and then build it up in increasingly longer phrases. Using a listen-repeat format, we build thought groups. First, we work backwards to the midpoint of the sentence. Then we work forwards from the beginning of the sentence. The five full sentences eventually create one large statement. A slower rate of speech allows the learner to articulate more comfortably problematic sounds and still give attention to pausing and linking.

Listen and repeat.

  1. In number.
  2. Are growing.
  3. Are growing in number.
  4. Offices.
  5. Virtual offices.
  6. Virtual offices / are growing in number.
  7. Cyberspace.
  8. In cyberspace.
  9. Conducted in cyberspace. 
  10. Is conducted in cyberspace.
  11. Business.
  12.  A lot of business.
  13.  A lot of business / is conducted in cyberspace.
  14.  Businessman.
  15.  The independent businessman.
  16. This is not.
  17.  Just the trend.
  18. This is not just the trend.
  19. This is not just the trend / of the independent businessman.
  20. Around the globe.
  21. Employees around the globe.
  22.  Have employees around the globe.
  23.  Some companies.
  24. Some companies and organizations.
  25. Some companies and organizations / have employees around the globe.
  26.  Workforce.
  27. A scattered workforce.
  28. Unites a scattered workforce.
  29.  The Internet.
  30. The Internet / unites a scattered workforce.


Read the whole text:

Virtual offices / are growing in number.// A lot of business / is conducted in cyberspace.// This is not just the trend / of the independent businessman.// Some companies and organizations / have employees around the globe.// The Internet / unites a scattered workforce.

I should note that the content of this exercise is based on the preceding activity so as to make it more meaningful and create a higher degree of continuity within a lesson. In this particular lesson, we made use of a short video about the emergence of virtual offices. The learner watched the video before our lesson. At the start of our lesson, we moved right into a vocabulary review, a comprehension check, and some free discussion on the topic. We then completed the above pronunciation exercise.


9 Comments Add yours

  1. london gfe says:

    It was rather interesting for me to read that blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more soon.

    Joan Swenson

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Thanks for reading the posting, Joan. Please visit again. 🙂

  2. Molly says:

    I’ve been looking for an intonation activity to do, but I have a group of 7 people. Do you think the above activity is possible with a group of that size, or would it be better to find something else?

    1. Hi Molly,
      For intonation, consider these ideas. You can do easily do them with 7 students.
      1. Intonation with interjections
      2. Intonation in a series
      3. If the students are advanced, you might also work with longer authentic texts. I like using presidential speeches because the language is good, and you can use the audio recordings as models. Here’s an activity based on such speeches.
      I’ll consider creating a new activity for intonation practice.

    2. Hi again Molly,
      Have you seen my latest post?
      UFO Sighting – activity for rising and falling intonation

  3. I’m teaching thought groups to my class at the moment and I’m going to try this activity out! I haven’t seen the concept presented in this way before, but I really like it. I think it’s helpful to have longer passages broken down into these “digestible” pieces for learners so that they can hear the stress patterns of each one. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Kristian. I’m happy this post gave you an idea to consider and try out. In general, I like to teach students to identify thought groups and practice oral reading. Using a text they select or even one that they write can help increase their investment in the activity. Good luck!

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