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The Intonation Awareness Activity

Controlled Activities

In activities which are controlled, the teacher knows the answer, question, or language which the students will produce. There is only one correct response. For example, if the teacher were to use flashcards as a prompt for vocabulary, there is only one correct answer for each flashcard. The same holds true if students worked in pairs to complete a gap fill worksheet, crossword, or even a sentence unscramble.

Controlled activities allow students to solely focus on the new language structure. A variety of possible answers don't get in the way. What's more, with each response, the target language becomes increasingly familiar and confident.


The Intonation Awareness Activity

This activity could be used as a good ice-breaker or, if developed, could form the basis of a whole class. It would then combine conversation with a certain amount of conscious learning.

This activity does not need a huge amount of preparation and may help students to loosen up while speaking. The idea also hopes to sensitise students to the concept of tone and lessen the amount of monotonous, seemingly un-emotional exchanges which occur between learners. It could inject a bit of life and humour into the class. I used it as a warm-up.

Working on the assumption that some expressions or words can have as many as 9 or more different meaning or connotations depending on how they are said, try the following activity:

Say the following in five different ways.



How are you?

Do we have to speak English, teacher?

I never watch TV

Etc. (Add more expressions liable to spark several interpretations when delivered with a different tone)

Your students will be inhibited at first, so the best thing to do is let them know what you are talking about. That is, give them a sample of how to use different tones when you want to insinuate different meanings. I did the following after the class had begun to grasp what I was looking for:

Me: John, say "Hello" to me

John: "Hello" (neutral, polite tone)

Me: John, now say "Hello" to a friend

John: "Hello" (much more upbeat tone)

Me: John, say "Hello" to a 6-month-old-baby!!!

John: "Hello" (contorted face, exaggerated fall-rise tone, etc)

Needless to say, there were laughs all round. I think the point was beginning to be made.

These expressions must be said with different settings and contexts in mind, ie police control; shopping check-out; a polite meeting; a romantic setting; a separation (holiday); Monday morning in the office; drunk-talk; condescending; nervous; an interview; talking to a baby; a funeral; an exam; ironic; a long-lost friend.

Note: Much of the "extra" meaning will derive also from facial expression and even body-language.


When I did "I never watch TV", I told them to imagine that the sentence was being uttered by a condescending intellectual to a TV addict! (It's just one example).

When I did "How are you", I told them to imagine they knew something very personal about the addressee involved. Or that they had not seen the person in 30 years, and so on.

At the end of the day, perhaps all you achieve is an enjoyable class without (perhaps) much interactional content. But at least the students relax a bit more and actually experiment with the language they are learning to use.


Fluency activities

Now I’d like to turn to other fluency activities, all of which will hopefully get students talking. I’ve divided them into sections. Here goes:

Ranking. A well-worn topic for ranking is the desert island challenge where students have to rank items in order of usefulness on a desert island, e.g. water, food, a boat, clothes, rope, a tent, a compass, etc. There are variations such as items to take on holiday, into space or to the Arctic. Pyramid discussions are a good way to organize this as you can get students to list their own order then they can try to persuade their partner. With arguments rehearsed they can then work as a four, and so on.

Information gap.This is a really basic idea and you probably do this without even thinking about it. In any pairwork activity there should be a gap between what one student knows and what their partner knows. You can achieve this by giving partial information to each student, e.g. half of a picture each, or a text with two different versions, or a spot the difference puzzle each. Opinion gaps are a special type of info gap but here the 'gap' is between one person’s opinion and another's. So any contentious subject should provoke a variety of opinions and thus provide gaps between one person’s viewpoint and another’s. Jigsaw tasks work on a similar basis. Each person – or group of students – has a different text. They read and digest, then recount their text to a person from the other group. It works well with listenings too, but it can get logistically complicated with the multiple tape players and headsets or rooms needed.

Q and A.Question and answer games are many and varied. They range from the EFL essential of “Find someone who…” where each person finds someone who… plays the guitar / rides a bike / has been to Italy, to full-blown student-devised questionnaires. Asking a question demands an answer, so in a simple way any Q and A activity prompts conversation. Equip your students with follow-on questions such as “Really, how well can you play?” or “When did you learn to ride?”

Role-play. Any kind of assigning a role to students counts in this category. So if you tell them they’re in favour of the sea over the flute, that would count in my book. You’re telling them what to think or say in some way. Conventionally a role play gives a role or part to a student such as sister / father / shop assistant or whatever. It could be as simple as telling one member of each pair to be a customer who wants to buy stamps and the other to be a post office worker. Or it could be something that student improvise themselves, involving writing the dialogue, deciding who plays which part and finally performing it for the class.

Problem-solving. Giving students a task to do in pairs or groups should be a sure-fire way of achieving fluency. As with all fluency activities, the important stage is the setting-up. Once this is done then it should flow. Problems could range from following instructions and building a model out of lego or cuisenaire rods to working out a solution to a logic problem. Make sure students do in fact have to talk to each other to achieve the end result. Perhaps give some information to each student so that they have to pool this to find the solution. A good example of this type of task is ‘Detective Work’ in Hadfield’s Intermediate Communication Games.

Story-telling. This should be intrinsically interesting for students. Stories could range from anecdotes (short, personal accounts of an incident from real life)to long and meandering sagas using pictures or words as prompts (see ‘Sci-fi dominoes’ in Hadfield’s Intermediate Communication Games).


And finally, look in the books below for more ideas of fluency activities. You’ll soon get an idea of what works with your group. Perhaps they’re more into team games with points, or maybe they like co-operative games. Whatever the activity, think through the language they will need to complete it and include some kind of post-activity focus on form slot. Variety is important as anything can become dull if it’s done too often and is thus predictable. Vary the task, the seating arrangements, group size and materials used.


Date: 2015-12-24; view: 1178

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