Mobile Mini Sagas


I’d like to thank Ursula, our first guest poster, for this very interesting lesson on using mobile phones in the classroom.

This is a lesson that enables the students to use their mobile phones in a useful way in the classroom to practise intelligible pronunciation and speaking in ‘chunks’.

Language Level:  Intermediate and higher (lower levels are possible, with simplified texts)

Time:  60 minutes

Activity:  Recording a short story on a mobile phone, listening to and writing down a story from a partner’s phone.

Skills:  Reading, speaking, listening and writing

Materials:  A selection of mini sagas, the students’ own mobile phones.

Optional warmer: Show a picture of Princess Diana and elicit who she is. Play an extract from one of her speeches (from 24-46 secs on this link works as a brief example).  Ask students what they notice about how she speaks (elicit lots of pauses, clear speaking).

Choose a selection of ‘mini sagas’ (stories with exactly 50 words). These from English File Upper Intermediate work well, and there are others online (some nice ones here). Take one story and pre-teach any potentially difficult words.

Give all the students a copy of your story and give them time to read it. Explain they are to listen to you reading it and mark where all the pauses are. Read it again and ask them to underline the stressed words. After feedback, ask the students to practise reading the story, incorporating all the pauses and stressed words.

Give each student a different mini saga.  Give them time to read it and think about and mark the pauses and stressed words.  They then record themselves on their mobile phones.

Students swop phones with a partner, listen and write down the story.  They then compare their written version with their partner’s original text, circling on it any words which weren’t clear or they misunderstood. They discuss and compare what they heard.

Each student then looks at their original text and the words their partner circled, and practises saying the words more clearly.  They then record themselves again on their phone.

The students keep their text and change to a different partner.  They swop phones and repeat the process, using a different colour pen to do the circling.  There should be fewer misunderstandings the second time around.


IATEFL Day 1: Trojan Horses and Mouth Gymnastics

Donald Freeman opened the conference with a thought provoking talk re-examining what he referred to as ‘myths’.

Myth 1:  Teaching directly causes learning.

Donald:  Teaching influences and provides opportunity for learning.

Myth 2:  The teacher is solely responsible for what happens in the classroom.

Donald:  When you teach you have to manage what you can’t control.

Myth 3:   Proficiency as a goal.

Donald:  Proficiency brings with it the Trojan horse of nativeness.

If you’d like to read an uncondensed version of his talk Lizzie Pinard has done a great job here or you can watch it here.

Roslyn Young’s workshop on using the silent way with advanced learners came with the promise of a practical class demonstration but unfortunately there wasn’t time in such a short session.  There is, we were promised, a video clip of her working with a class on the pronsci website.

While it’s unlikely that I’ll ever have the chance to use the silent way in its full form, charts and all, Roslyn’s methods for improving students’ pronunciation are definitely worth exploring. (Plenty of teaching aids and lessons are available on the pronsci downloads page.)

After teaching the room a few vowel sounds using the charts, she soon moved onto debunking the myth that blowing on paper helps students understand how the plosive /p/ is aspirated.  I have to admit that I’ve never had great success with that one.  Making the whole room stand up, she got us to feel where the air comes from when saying /p/.  The answer: somewhere around the pelvic area.

Next she compared learning a new language to learning a new sport.  Different languages have different articulatory settings and so students need to ‘feel’ their mouths, she says. By using what she calls ‘mouth gymnastics’ she trains students to use their muscles differently.

Roslyn argued that the listen and repeat model of drilling is flawed because by asking students to imitate they are using their ears and not their mouths. ‘They have to feel it.’  This does make sense.  I remember never being able to say the French /r/ sound until one day finding an explanation of what I had to do with my mouth to make the sound.  Further proof of this came in Luke Medding’s session when he was showing us how to imitate the Queen, which he did by showing us what to do with our mouths.

An added bonus was watching how deftly Roslyn used her fingers to aid pronunciation (ask me about the word ‘variety’).

I have to admit, teaching pronunciation has never been a strong point of mine to the point that I was once asked by an observer ‘Do you do pron?’  I put it down to lack of confidence in my own skill and knowledge and maybe because I’m also stress deaf. However, when presented with a pronunciation page on my return to work I have to say that compared to previous pron sessions, it rocked!  And the students loved my queen imitation. Thank you Roslyn and Luke.