Sunday, September 1, 2013

Teaching intonation and stress - Let's hear it for the lowly kazoo! This is a lovely lesson plan on using kazoos but here is my course presentation. IF YOU CAN'T BUY A KAZZOO YOU CAN MAKE ONE WITH A COMB!

Celce-Murcia, Brinton and Goodwin (1996) argued for the use of props in teaching pronunciation to introduce multi-sensory modes into the pronunciation class with the aim of helping break down the ego barriers of learners. They suggested (among other items); matches (for helping with aspirated consonants), rubber bands (for demonstrating differences in vowel length); and.......the kazoo for illustrating intonation patterns. 

The kazoo is a wonderful prop for helping students whose first language is not stress timed (as English is) to “feel” the difference in length and loudness between stressed and unstressed syllables. This length-loudness distinction,together with together with the ability to link words together smoothly and pronounce them in meaningful units is what is required for natural English rhythm.(Celce-Murcia, Brinton and Goodwin.)

 Students who come from stress-timed languages such as Spanish, Italian, Korean, Cantonese can sound very robotic unless they gain knowledge (and control)of word stress and sentence stress. The students need to understand which words (function or content) in a sentence tend to receive stress (content, of course), they need to know the basic distinction between function and content words, then they need to learn how to decide which word is the prominent or “focus” word, and how to modulate their pronunciation/sound production so that the listener can "catch" the meaning. 

To help the students be able to discriminate the "sound" difference between the function and content words I introduce the idea of emphasis and focus by writing sentences (usually connected to our theme or topic)on the board. and read the sentences exaggerating the focus words. The students identify the focus words. I play dialogs (e.g. from Judy's Gilbert's "Clear Speech" - an excellent ESL pronunciation resource - I wouldn't be without it!) and talk about stressed syllables being extra long, vowel extra clear, slight pitch, slightly louder. I discuss the rule that the focus word at the beginning of a conversation usually comes at the end of the sentence - but then it can move, depending on context. We hum the sentences from the board. Then I give out kazoos.  

The students need to be able to make short sounds (which will be soft) and LOOOONG sounds (which will be high in pitch, that is the beauty of a kazoo!) (In my experience it is actually a little difficult for some students to get the short/long distinction – just as it is for them to get the short-long distinction with rubber bands) Then students “mirror” the words, just sounds. In pairs students look at a short list of phrases and a couple of sentences and decide (underline) which are the focus words. Then they take turns reading them to each other - one reads, the other kazoos: then they can switch from first reading to first kazooing and the students guess which sentence was "kazooe") I will ask them to go round the class alternately reading and kazooing (three or four example are usually enough) 

 The lesson then continues to practice with dialogs and the kazoos are put away for another time... Note: Some students enjoy the kazoos, others less so..the instructors needs to be judicious in their use...Kazoos can be purchased at party stores - usually pretty cheaply. If no kazoos are available - "humming" can also give the length and loudness difference. Have fun (prewarn your colleagues the lesson might get a bit noisy that day!)

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