Posted tagged ‘ESL’

Summer Listening Practice

June 17, 2015

I’ve made suggestions for summer reading, so why not summer listening? I can’t take all the credit for this idea. A private student asked that I put together a study guide for the two months we won’t be meeting. The request is specifically for listening practice.

I’m trying to compromise on who should set the tasks. I believe the student should assume some responsibility even in the planning stage. However, I know it is my role to establish guidelines. My study guide begins with two bullet points:

  • Set a schedule. Choose a realistic number of days and minutes you can hold to from week to week.
  • Choose your resources. Your resources will match your goals. If you seek to understand more conversational English, your choices will differ from those of a student who wishes to master more vocabulary. You can work with more than one resource at a time, but you should be consistent in the manner of practice.

My student is very diligent, and I know she can find 10+ minutes a day, 6-7 days a week. I created a model for two weeks, showing suggestions for each day. It will be up to her to create a specific plan for the remaining weeks of the summer. I’m also deliberately listing a number of appropriate resources because I’d like her to make selections. Taking ownership of one’s self-study is key.

Practices I recommend:

  1. Dictations can be done 1-2 times a week. I’ve encouraged a number of students to work with my Oral Reading Fluency texts for listening practice. They can listen, write down what they hear, check their work, and then listen again. This sequence can be repeated with online stories from sites like Speakaboos or very short excerpts from any number of films. The YT channel Move Clips already nicely breaks up longer films. One clip could offer enough content for a couple days of study. I’ve been able to find screen plays online for some films, so students can check their work.
  2. Direct study of speech patterns is helpful. Within the past year, I worked with two different students on linking. Knowledge of connected speech boosts listening comprehension. For self-study, I’ve recommended some of the videos posted by Stacy Hagen on EnglishwithStacy. In addition to linking, she addresses stress and reduction.
  3. Extended listening practice is slotted for one day a week on my model. (Hopefully, the student will decide to do more.) Not surprisingly, I listed some ESL listening practice sites (audio with interactive exercises), but I feel it’s just as important to simply immerse oneself in the language and see how much can be soaked up. No pressure. Just listen as long as you’d like. The more enjoyable, the better. This is where I feel there can be variation from week to week. Songs, poetry, films, TED Talks, discussion on NPR (All Things Considered), or documentaries. They’re all possible choices. This is where we might also list materials we wouldn’t dare include in a regular lesson. For instance, I personally enjoyed War World Z as an audiobook because it was read very well by different actors. However, I admit there’s so much violence and vulgarity, it would be offensive to some. As part of summer listening, though, an adult student might enjoy the dramatic reading and the different accents. If you’re looking for resources that are more appropriate for a general audience, here are two I highlighted for my student:

There are plenty of famous speeches and biographies posted online as well. What resources do you like to recommend for listening practice?

Tagged: An activity for tag questions

March 7, 2011

Here’s a fun game to practice tag questions. See suggested variations on my Tag questions_handout, which includes modifying the activity in order to practice negative questions.

Step 1 – Students will be working in groups of three or four. Prepare enough copies of the statement cards (see handout, Set A) for each group to have one set.  Cut the cards out and keep them in sets. Distribute the sets to the groups. Have the students place the cards face down an in a pile.

Step 2 – Taking turns, one student will take a statement card, read the sentence, and add a tag question to it. Example: [statement card] You exercise at least once a week. Student A: “You exercise at least once a week, don’t you?”

Step 3 –The student to the left must answer truthfully. Student B: No, I don’t. / Yes, I do. Note that all the questions in Set A concern a healthy lifestyle. If the answer confirms a healthy practice, the Student B keeps the card. If the answer demonstrates an unhealthy practice, Student B puts the card at the bottom of the pile.

Step 4 – Student B now asks the student to his/her left the next tag question using the next statement card from the pile. Again, Student C may keep the card if the answer confirms a healthy practice. Otherwise, the statement card must be placed at the bottom of the pile. The game continues. The object of the game is to win as many statement cards as possible and be tagged as “The Healthiest”.

Step 5 – At the end of the game, students can discuss the outcome. Encourage use of tag questions. For example, group members might say to the winner, “You have a healthy lifestyle, don’t you?” Another might comment, “I should exercise more, shouldn’t I?”

See the handout for Set B: Honesty.

A Timely Text: An activity for diphthongs

February 20, 2011

Make pronunciation practice fun and meaningful. Why wait until Halloween to use a spooky story? Try the following activity with upper level students.

Click here to view the Diphthongs_handout.

Step 1 – Write the key words on the board in the following manner and have students listen and repeat after you:

find                            boy                             owl                 climbed                nine

cry                              house                        time               voice                     brown

doubts                       joy                              noise              eyes                       shout

join                             tried                           loud               lives

Step 2 – Have students group the words above into three lists according to the vowel sounds: /aɪ, aʊ, ɔɪ/.  Correct their work by having three different volunteers read the lists aloud, one list per student.


/aɪ/      climbed, cry, eyes, find, lives, nine, time, tried

/aʊ/     brown, doubts, house, loud, owl, shout

/ɔɪ/      boy, join, joy, noise, voice


Step 3 – Ask students to work in pairs. Give one copy of the text (see handout) to each pair of students. Explain that each paragraph has missing words and that all the missing words in one paragraph share the same vowel sound. They must fill in the missing words to complete the text. Each word from their lists will be used once.

Step 4 – Correct their work as a class. Have volunteers read 1-2 sentences at a time. Then do a final choral reading.  Completed text:

                                     The Eyes and Voice of a House

The brown house looked dark in the night. An owl hooted somewhere nearby. John had doubts about anyone living in such an old building. He began to walk past it, when he heard a loud shout.

The boy thought about running, but what if someone was in trouble? That was no shout of joy. The voice sounded scared. Surely help was needed. Should he go get an adult to join him? No. He had to act fast. Listen. Bang! Another noise.

John climbed the stairs to the front door and began to knock. No answer. When he began to knock a second time, there was a cry from an open window above. John stepped back and tried to see who was there. He saw a pair of yellow eyes in the window. They belonged to a big black cat. Did the cat need help? No. Didn’t they say all cats have nine lives? So when John heard a man angrily shout, “Go away!” he did just that. He did not need to find out who lived in that old house.

Truth or Dare: An activity for vowels followed by R

February 18, 2011

Why not take a fun party classic like Truth or Dare and turn it into a pronunciation game? The following activity makes use of truth-seeking questions and gives practices with vowels followed by R. Note that I chose not to include the diphthongs /aɪ, aʊ, ɔɪ/ mainly because this exercise will supplement my next lesson in my YouTube series Pronunciation of English Vowel Sounds, and I have yet to cover diphthongs.

Click here to view the complete Vowels followed by R_handout.

Step 1 – Copy the question sheet. (See handout.) Decide if students will play this game in pairs or small groups of three. Each group will need one question sheet.

Step 2 – For each group, copy and cut out a set of the missing letters. (See the page following the question sheet.) ALTERNATIVE: If you don’t wish to have students work with the missing letter cards, which require gluing or taping, you can write the combinations of missing letters on the board as they appear on the handout.

Step 3 – In small groups, students will match the missing letters to the incomplete words on the question sheet. Tell them that all the target words in a question share the same vowel + r combination.

SUGGESTION: You can have them complete questions 1-5 first and then 6-10. This would make the matching process easier. Be sure to prepare the missing letter cards accordingly, if you choose this option.

Step 4 – Correct students’ work by having volunteers read the questions aloud. Once each question is confirmed, do a choral reading so that all students gain practice with the target words.

     Note the questions:

  1. Do you fear being near deer?
  2. Does beer bring you cheer?
  3. Name something weird that happened last year.
  4. How much do you care about your hair?
  5. Are you scared when planes take you high into the air?
  6. Would you swear you always play fair?
  7. Do you have more than four coats?
  8. Is there a style of clothes you wore before but don’t anymore?
  9. What kind of tour would give you pure joy?
  10. Would you like to live on a large farm far from the city?

Step 5 – In their small groups, students will take turns asking and answering the questions. One student reads the question aloud. The others respond, using the target words.

Phrasal Verb Dominoes: An activity for intransitive phrasal verbs

January 31, 2011

Here’s a fun way to study 20 phrasal verbs in a meaningful context. Multiple encounters with the 20 key verbs found throughout the entire activity will help students retain the meaning and use of each verb.

View Intransitive phrasal verbs_handout.

Step 1 – Hand out Quiz 1. Have students complete the quiz solo. Then ask them to pair up to compare their answers. Finally, correct the quiz as a class. [Definitions based on the Longman Dictionary of American English.]

Step 2 – Copy enough sets of dominoes for students to play in groups of 4 (5 is also possible).  Cut horizontally to create 20 slips of paper. Hand each group a set. Shuffle the “dominoes” (slips of paper) and distribute evenly. Note: This game must be played around a flat surface (either a small table or a few desks pushed together to create a central area). 

Step 3 – Playing the game: The student with the first birthday in a calendar year will start by placing any domino in the center of the table. Moving clockwise, each student will have a chance to make a match. Matches are made when a sentence opener (one right side of “domino”) can be placed alongside a particle (one left side of “domino”). Two dominoes can be placed to make a horizontal line or to create an L-shaped pattern. The player who makes a match must read the sentence aloud. If no match can be made, the next student takes his or her turn. If a match is made, the other players must confirm it’s correct by looking at Quiz 1 answers.

IMPORTANT: The first player to use all his or her dominoes wins, but the game must be played until all dominoes are used.

Step 4 – Suggestion: It’s ideal to play 2-3 rounds of dominoes so that students learn to make different matches and the model sentences are read aloud by the group more than once. After the game is over, have students take Quiz 2. Correct answers as a class.

Little Steps, Useful Lessons: Braving the learning curve of a new online resource

January 12, 2011

It’s Week 1 of the Electronic Village Online 2011, an annual online even sponsored by the CALL-Interest Section of TESOL, Inc. Latecomers are often allowed to join, so I wouldn’t hesitate to request membership in a group if a particular session catches your interest. I signed up for VILLAGE: Language Learning and Community Building in Second Life. I don’t know how active a role I’ll be able to take in the coming weeks, but even if I increase my familiarity and comfort with Second Life just a little, I’ll be happy. I’m already pleased that I managed to teleport to EduNation, the moderators’ headquarters, without getting too lost (I did somehow make a sidetrip into a land called Korea).

While it’s too early for me to jump on the bandwagon and tell all teachers to get an avatar on SL and regularly hold virtual classes with students, I do see some possibilities for everyone, including those who are hesitant to delve into virtual worlds. The reportedly steep learning curve on SL might falsely create the impression that no language lessons are possible until one masters everything. Not true.

If you and your students have Internet access at school, you can learn some of the basics in SL and turn these early experiments into language lessons:

  • Infinitives of purpose. Go through the tutorial on Orientation Island and learn how to sit, stand, walk, fly, and perhaps teleport. After the orientation is completed, have students answer “how to” questions with infinitives of purpose to recall what they’ve learned. Example: (Q) How do you sit? (A) To sit, you right click on an object. / To sit, right click on an object. / You right click on an object in order to sit.
  • Present simple and present progressive. Learn to change the appearance of your avatar. Even if only the teacher has an avatar and the class is observing, students can describe the appearance of the given “resident”, using present simple for permanent features (she has long dark hair) and present progressive for clothing and accessories (she‘s wearing a jacket and skirt).

In my experience, learning how to use a new tool is easier and more fun when you’re not left alone. Frustrations are reduced and successes are celebrated together. Mistakes become amusing, and having shared goals can increase confidence. Good luck if you decide to try out SL. Perhaps our avatars will one day cross paths.

Student Stumper 26: Phonetic Symbols

January 5, 2011

QUESTION: Why are there different phonetic symbols for the same sounds? Which ones should I learn?

ANSWER: First of all,  I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for students to learn the IPA or any other set of phonetic symbols in order to master English pronunciation. However, I do think that familiarity with the symbols is helpful since they appear in dictionaries and other language resources. Being able to recognize phonetic symbols increases a learner’s independence when faced with a new word and its pronunciation. Knowing the symbols can also heighten a learner’s awareness of individual sounds. Seeing, for example, that “it” and “eat” require different symbols confirms that the short “i” and the long “e” are indeed two distinct sounds and not the same.

As a way of explaining the fact that different symbols exist for the same sounds, it might be simplest to draw a comparison:  just as spelling variations have evolved in different varieties of English (e.g., theater v. theatre), so too have different phonetic symbols.  One is not superior to another. In both cases, the important thing is to be consistent in one’s writing yet flexible when reading.  I’ve taken this stance before with regard to varieties in pronunciation, and I argued for consistency in production and flexibility in comprehension.

If you are able to choose which set of symbols to present to a learner or group of learners, you might consider what best suits their needs.  Linda Lane points out that /ay/ and /ai/ both refer to the long “i” in “time”, but for some students who do not clearly produce the glide ending in this dipthong, seeing the symbol /ay/ might be more effective in correcting the error. The understanding that /y/ is needed to join the first and second vowel sounds is important (Lane 191).


Lane, Linda. (2010). Tips for teaching pronunciation: a practical approach. White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 857 other followers