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Phonetizer

I have been away from this blog for a little while now while I get to grips with the additional workload of a Masters degree on top of 25 hours of teaching a week.  Still haven’t come up with a new name for the blog yet but hope that will get rolled out in the coming week as well… not that much of this is concern to any of you fine people reading this.  Just thought I’d get my ‘housekeeping’ out of the way first. 🙂

I’ll be publishing a more substantial post soon on a short exam preparation exercise but in the meantime I just wanted to draw people’s attention to this website.

Phonetizer

Quite simply this is Google Translate for phonetics.  Just type (or copy and paste) text into the left box, click transcribe at the top and the English IPA translation will appear on the right-hand side.  Without a doubt, a very useful tool!

If you are following Nik Peachey (and you really should be) then you have probably already seen this website recommended on his blog, Nik’s Quickshout.  I just thought that I would pass along the knowledge to a few more people who might not yet be following him.

P.S.  I was at the English UK conference a couple of weekends ago, in which Nik, Luke Meddings, Sam McCarter and many others were presenting.  The closing plenary was by Professor Mike McCarthy and focused on building on corpus linguistic data to help teachers and assessors understand more about what various English levels actually mean.  His talk was insightful and thought-provoking as he started to map the findings onto the CEFR.  It motivated me to write up this small question to learners on my learners’ blog, “Are you ready for intermediate level English?”  Follow the link and have a read through.  There might be a few useful questions to pose to your own students this week.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Conferences, Recommendations

 

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12 Angry Men: A Dramatic Activity Plan

The drama that can happen between a group of people in one room has always been of great interest to me; Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, Jerome Bixby’s The Man from Earth and Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men to name but a few.* This last one, 12 Angry Men, was a movie with Henry Fonda in 1957.  In 1997 the film was remade, this time with Jack Lemmon in Fonda’s role.  Lemmon’s turn as Juror #8 was so well received that Ving Rhames, upon winning the Golden Globe that year, immediately invited Lemmon on stage and instead passed the award on to him!

The basic story of 12 Angry Men is simple: 12 members of a jury sit down to decide the verdict of a murder case, an 18-year-old accused of murdering his father.  So within the next 90 minutes (or 110 minutes depending on which version you watch) you witness the discussion, debate, arguments and reasoning of twelve men as they try to come to a unanimous decision: guilty or not guilty.

Drawing upon Alan Tait’s idea for bringing some drama into the classroom, I was quickly drawn to this story for a number of reasons.  Having 12 characters, it is easy to give out roles.  The topic of crime and punishment is often in the syllabus somewhere and acting out roles and rehearsing dialogue is a great, creative way to work on pronunciation and intonation.  Nonetheless, what I’m laying out here is for B2/C1 students or above.  I doubt that any lower level students would have the necessary vocabulary or listening abilities for such an activity to flourish and thus remain fun.

So this is how I would start…

The end and the beginning.  No, I’m not being cryptic, but I fully agree with Pablo Ponce de Leon’s point about stories and storytelling being a good activity to complete a unit, chapter, coursebook, topic, etc (see previous post).  The topic wouldn’t necessarily need to be about crime and punishment although that is one option.  If you take a look at the transcript dialogue (here’s the handout) there are a lot of phrases, question tags, etc, that would all be useful for a “small talk” activity.  So I would definitely use this activity with a high level class at the end of a unit.

As for where in the movie?  I’d start at the beginning: the first two scenes.  These are the courtroom scene and what I would call the ‘character introduction’ scene.

The Courtroom Scene

This scene sets the context, explains what is at stake and visually introduces the characters as well as the focus of the whole story, the accused.

Activity 1

Go over vocabulary the students will need to understand the first scene.  The list will probably go something like this:

murder in the first degree

case

pre-meditated

serious charge

tried in the court

testimony

at stake

verdict

unanimous

the bench

mandatory

Best to put these, jumbled up, on the board before the activity starts.  In pairs or small groups, get the students to write a list putting each of these into one of three columns: understand/might understand/don’t know.  Leave enough space on your board to write these three columns as well.

After a couple of minutes, get the students to tell you what they put where.  The key is to put as many of these phrases into the first column as possible and if this does not reflect the lists of all the students then they can get the explanations from each other.  To accomplish this, it’s best to ask something like “What do you have in the understand column?” and exhaust that before you move on.  See where the students take you.

Activity 2

Watch the courtroom scene.  Give the students the following watching activity before you start.

Put all of the words and phrases from Activity 1 into order as you hear them in the dialogue.

Again, let them collaborate with partners and watch it a couple of times.  This does a number of things.  It gets the students ears ‘warmed up’ for the next activity.  It also gets the students familiar with the characters they will be working with in the following scene.

After having reviewed the dialogue with each other and as a class, give them the handout to check against.  However, before watching the scene one more time with the students now having the transcript to follow, give them a new watching task.

Thoughtful, bored, sleepy, impatient, distracted, indifferent, angry, worried, scared.  Which of these words would you use to describe the jurors?

There are a few red herrings in that list (remember this is supposed to be a B2/C1 class) as I wouldn’t say that any of the jurors looked sleepy or scared; all the others are up for debate.  After watching one more time, get the students’ ideas about what they think about the characters.  This leads nicely on to the next scene.

The Character Introduction Scene

This scene is a series of short conversations as the characters first get into jury room.  This is an opportunity for the students to see if their initial assumptions about the jurors were right or wrong.

Activity 3

The students can follow the scene reading the dialogue (on the same handout already given out).  In fact it is probably a good idea to give the students 30 seconds or a minute to skim through the transcript and get familiar with it before watching.

Give the students this question just before they start watching.

Judging from the dialogue as well as attitude and intonation, do you think this jury believes the accused is guilty or not guilty?

It might seem like an obvious question, but it gets the students actively watching during the scene for pieces of dialogue as well as intonation.

The transcript falls about 2 minutes short of the first vote amongst the jurors but the students will probably be anxious to see that part, or at least they should be.  An obvious thing to do is to let the film run for an extra two minutes while getting the students to predict who will vote in what way.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that not everyone agrees 15 minutes into the movie. 😉

Activity 4

After watching through once, you can start to give out roles and get the students to start practising the mini-conversations in groups.  The teacher in the role of ‘bailiff’ keeps you in the activity but away from the important roles.  There are actually 12 speaking parts including the bailiff as Juror #9 spends this scene in the bathroom.

From this, you are on your own.  Switching up roles is a good idea to keep things fresh.  Moving around the groups and drilling short, important phrases to improve intonation and general fluency is also a good idea.  Phrases such as ‘give me a hand’, ‘what gets me is…’, ‘you know something…’ and ‘but if you ask me…’ are all short phrases that learners should acquire to improve their spoken English.  There are plenty of other phrases but it’s a good idea to know beforehand some specific phrases you want to draw their attention to.

Enjoy!

Notes

Where possible, I will usually put the English subtitles on in a movie or at least give my students that option, unless I have a specific reason not to.

For my activity plan, I’ve gone with the 1957 version.  There are a few benefits to this choice and one drawback.  Firstly, the drawback is that the 1957 movie is in black and white and unfortunately more and more people, especially young people, immediately disconnect when they see black and white.  This is an enormous shame as they miss out on amazing masterpieces like Ninotchka, Stalag 17, Arsenic and Old Lace, Some Like It Hot and a movie that will always make it into my Top 5, Beau Geste.  If you haven’t heard of or seen any of these movies then watch them and thank me later. 😉

However, I digress.  The benefits of working with Henry Fonda’s earlier version are as follows:

  1. In the 1997 version, the opening scene in the courtroom does not show close ups of each of the jurors.  Hence, my first prediction activity would go out of the window.
  2. The second scene in the 1957 version is slower (5m40s as opposed to 4m50s for the same scene in 1997).  The speaking itself isn’t much slower but there are more pauses, which your students will be grateful for.  The dialogue is also a little bit more precise with less elision and fewer contractions.  I’m not saying this last part is a good thing, but it leads me nicely to a follow-up activity.

Following up with the 1997 version

Having watched both versions of both of these scenes more than a couple of times now, I’d say that a brilliant way to follow up the activity, perhaps to finish off a long class or perhaps for another day, would be to show the 1997 scenes directly after showing the 1957 scenes (thus if done on another day you should show the 1957 scenes again first).  With this you could get the students to do a number of things:

  1. What differences in dialogue do you notice?
  2. What differences in character do you notice?
  3. Is it easy for the students to identify the characters again?
  4. Which version do you prefer?  Why?

You might even want to start off the whole thing, before Activity 1, by showing the 1997 courtroom scene first.  A newer, in-colour version might make the story more accessible and it would give your students a sense of achievement to recognize their improvement of comprehension between the beginning and the end of the activities (again, I recommend reading Alan Tait’s ‘zombie’ article).  Here is the handout for the 1997 transcript.

* A couple of other ‘one room’ dramas that are worth mentioning are Loring Mandel’s chilling Conspiracy and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s compelling God on Trial.  Both of these deal with the less-than-pleasant topic of the Nazi concentration camps during World War 2.  I’m not advocating using such heavy material with an English language class, but I think they are certainly worth watching.

AND

In doing a YouTube search for 12 Angry Men I managed to find the full movies.  I’m not sure how long they may stay on the site but here are the links.

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men (1997)

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Activities

 

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Tongue Twisters & Lip Reading

Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry... the ultimate tongue twister perhaps?

A paper I wrote entitled “Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry: Using Tongue Twisters and Lip-Reading in my Classes” has just been published in Peerspectives, an online teaching journal from the Kanda University of International Studies in Japan.

There are a lot of interesting articles in the archive so I also recommend taking a look at the previous issues.

Hope you enjoy the read and feel free to leave comments here on this blog.

 

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The Never-Ending Sentence (a.k.a. Cheddar Gorge)

Why the game is called Cheddar Gorge, no one knows.

I’m sure most of us have done this activity in class and it is certainly not original but it is fun, there are lots of possible variations and I want to share something I did with my classes this week which really seemed to work quite well – yes, this might be the first time I’m posting about a positive classroom experience!  Don’t worry, I’m sure I can find something in the activity that can be improved. 😉

So this is inspired by the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue game, Cheddar Gorge.

Part 1

Put the students under the clock!

The students get into groups of four or five.  One student is nominated as a “writer” for the activity.  The class is then given 5 minutes, timed.  The objective is for each student to contribute a word to the sentence and the aim is to make the longest sentence possible without it finishing.  While the speakers are contributing words to the sentence, the writer is recording the sentence on paper.

Example of spoken dialogue:

  1. Amelia:  We
  2. Barry:  are
  3. Carlos:  all
  4. Deanna:  very
  5. Amelia:  happy
  6. Barry:  and…

You get the idea.

Part 2 (My numbers refer to the corresponding slides)

2.  After the five minutes are up, the students have a couple of minutes to review what they said and make any corrections to spelling or word choice (they have probably already been doing this during the original five minutes already).  They also have to do a word count.  Meanwhile, the teacher writes this up a table on the board.

3.  The teacher then gets the word counts from all the teams (I’ve put A, B and C, you could engage the learners more by getting them to make up their own team names).  After this, the students have to pass around their written sentence to another group.  With another team’s sentence they can get more points by finding errors.  I am quite open with what makes a mistake and this can include handwriting if the students are having problems reading it (this is an issue that learners need to be aware of just like any other).

So now the learners have all their points though you could get them to pass the writing round again for a second ‘proof-read’ by another group.

4.  For every error they found in other groups’ sentences they get 5 points.

5.  For every error they made in their own sentence they get 5 points off.

6.  Once they have gone through all of these, the teacher reads out each sentence to the class.  Any extra errors that the teacher finds will get deducted from final score.

Part 3

Once the students get the idea they then play the game again.  The 2nd round scores will be added to the 1st round (so teams have a lead to protect or have another chance to gain the lead).  This time you will notice that the learners are far more focused on not making mistakes that will hurt their points later.

So Why Did I Do It?

I’ll be honest, I initially thought of it as a fun little activity for the end of a class and mostly as a time-filler more than anything else but after seeing the reaction and studying the activity while it was happening I noticed that it can be so much more than that.

Students are involved in a highly communicative exercise where, after getting to grips with the activity, they quickly negotiate meaning and peer-correct as they “cheat” and help each other out.  The person who is writing soon understands that poor handwriting will lead to poor marks (illegible handwriting will lose points) and this helps put them in the same sort of mindset they need to various exams, like Cambridge ones.  Self-correction also improves as the students are eager not to lose and give away points for silly mistakes.

For the teacher this is a wonderful way to see what errors are being missed by all the students and therefore what correction will be of universal value.  For the other errors that are caught by the learners themselves, the students become each other’s teachers.

This is a wonderful activity and I highly recommend it.  It can be tailored be about a specific topic or to include specific vocabulary and right off the bat it forces increased use of relative clauses.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Activities

 

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“Could It Be Shorter?”, Could It Be Better?

I wouldn’t label this lesson as a disaster but I did end up feeling somewhat “blah” about the lesson as a whole and I’m not so much wondering where it went wrong in this case but what I could have done better.

So what did I do?

I had a lesson planned out… in fact I had two lesson plans ready to go as this class has already had a couple of ‘unplugged’ classes from me recently though I always have a ‘materials-heavy’ lesson ready to go if the ‘light’ class isn’t taking off.  However, straight out of the gate I saw an opportunity to jump on just about the very first thing that was said.

Student: “If it hadn’t rained yesterday we would have celebrated at the Corsórdromo.”

This took 2 or 3 attempts for the student to get out but he was obviously trying hard to get his conditionals right.  I wrote it up on the board and mentally filed my original lesson plan away for another day.  This would be the focus of the rest of the lesson.  And the reason for this was the next part of our exchange:

Me: “Could you say that for me again please?”

Student: “Umm, could it be shorter?”

Ha!  And there it was – proof-positive of my students’ reluctance and aversion to the 3rd conditional!  Now, I recently saw Robin Walker’s excellent ‘Pronunciation Matters’ seminar from IATEFL Brighton 2011 and his comment about Spanish-speakers’ avoidance of 3rd conditional was ringing in my head like a very loud bell (if you haven’t seen this talk, I highly recommend it!)

So what did I do next?

For a little while, we continued with the original discussion we were having.   I explained about my planned trip to Buenos Aires this weekend and they all joked that the place is so dangerous I won’t come out alive.  Capitalizing on that, I drew a face of myself beaten up, looking similar to this photoshopped picture of Mr Bean!  I asked if this was me next week, what might I say?

I asked them to come up with some fun examples but they basically came up with the standard 3rd conditional examples one would expect.  Oh well, next time perhaps. (I think sometimes those ‘funny’ examples are more for the benefit of the teacher than the students anyway.)

After that, I noticed the students weren’t really listening to each other and I was losing their attention as I focused on examples for each student individually.  Time to change tracks!

Getting them all round one table I got them to say a sentence in the 3rd conditional (I didn’t call it 3rd conditional, just “sentences like these” – wanted to avoid making this too explicitly grammar focussed).  The first student had to give a sentence, the next student had to repeat the first sentence and give their own, the next students had to repeat the first two and so on.

So here’s why I did it?

We had already looked at the chunks of language (“If it hadn’t”, “we would have” and variations thereof) and I had drilled it in an attempt to reduce the anxiety the students have, i.e. “Could it be shorter?”  (see this post on my other blog to get an idea of how I did this).  This exercise was an attempt to test if this advice and guidance had taken.  The activity also drilled and focused the students on the structure without doing it too explicitly.

So what would I like to have gone better?

I was quite happy with this last part but it did drag in some areas and even though it was each student’s job to do quality control for their own sentence as it got repeated around the room, there was some boredom.  Unfortunately a great follow up/wrap up to this exercise had to be cut short as we simply ran out of time.  I asked the students to write down all the sentences that we had been working on for the last 15/20 minutes or so.  While the task went uncompleted, I did manage to go round and make a couple of corrections to some revealing mistakes.

The pronunciation work had to be abandoned even though 2 or 3 of the 8 students were still struggling with “g”, “c” and “w” (good, would, could).  I gave a little extra time here already and even got to the stage where I specifically asked for the learners who weren’t having problems to describe, in L1, what they were doing with their mouths to make these different sounds.  This unfortunately had limited success.

So why am I not happier with this lesson?

The time management issue at the end came about from some dragging during activities as well as the pronunciation issues mentioned above.  What I would like to do is have a few more immediate class management techniques to be able to get more students active at one time without having to constantly remind them “no, you’re not finished” after only 20 seconds of effort.

Basically the pacing which subsequently led to a half-finished wrap up activity disappointed me here.  As a Dogme/Emergent Language lesson I’m relatively happy but it has certainly highlighted one or two areas I need to tighten up in my teaching.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Reflections

 

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