Integrating pronunciation into your classes

pronunciation cloud

Part One: The Basics

Pronunciation.  It’s often the area most avoided by new teachers for lack of confidence, and also the first thing experienced teachers leave out due to lack of time and a desire to get on with the “meatier” issues of vocabulary, grammar and skills work.  But like it or not our students are aware of the importance of pronunciation and will expect us to work on it with them, so getting comfortable with it and finding the time should be one of our priorities as teachers.

The following is the first part in a three-part series outlining some basic tips for successfully integrating pronunciation in your classes.

Two basic angles to teaching pronunciation

As with many areas of language teaching there is a bottom-up and a top-down approach.  Starting from the bottom one might see the basic sounds or phonemes as the building blocks of good pronunciation.  At the other extreme a suprasegmental or top-down approach would start with longer utterances and focus on sentence stress, rhythm and intonation.

The important thing to note is that there is no right place to start when teaching pronunciation.  Much of this will have to do with the comfort level of each individual teacher.  But eventually you will begin to see that these two approaches are simply extremes on a continuum and that as you become more adept at teaching pronunciation one approach will inform the other.  For example, looking at sentence stress will inevitably lead to issues of connected speech where specific phonemes pop up.  Similarly, words pronounced on their own will often change considerably in context.  So be flexible and notice how both styles complement one another.  These two approaches will make up the focus of my next posts on the subject.

Listen to yourself and feel what’s going on with your body

No two people (not even teachers, thank goodness!) pronounce things in exactly the same way.  Since you’ll be the principal model for your students you’ll need to get in touch with how you are making the sounds coming out of your mouth.  Don’t worry too much about teaching your students about “fricatives”, or “plosives” or “voiced or unvoiced” sounds, this is all pretty much useless and forgettable metalanguage for them anyway.

The important thing is to be able to describe to your students how those sounds are being manufactured in order to give them a reasonable shot at approximating them.  So, is your throat vibrating?  Does your jaw drop?  Is there air coming out of your mouth?  What are your tongue and teeth doing?  These are the kinds of things you’ll need to watch out for.  I’ll be referring to some of them in the upcoming posts.

Listen to your students and deal with their needs

Obviously if you aren’t listening to your students you won’t be effective no matter what you’re teaching, and pronunciation is no exception.  No doubt this will be easier in a class where the L1 is the same for all students, but classes with a variety of L1s should not only be thought of as a challenge, but as an opportunity.  Different pronunciation needs mean your students can help one another based on strengths and weaknesses as well, providing, of course, you have established a sense of trust among them.

Adrian Underhill is often quoted as saying that “mistakes are curriculum,” so how will this affect how you teach pronunciation?  Perhaps you will choose to do it more as it comes up in class.  This is what Jeremy Harmer refers to as “opportunistic teaching” in The Practice of English Language Teaching.  But as you gain in confidence and see areas of general concern for your students you may wish to integrate pronunciation into your classes more consistently with what he calls “discrete slots” or even “whole lessons” dedicated to pronunciation.  It really depends on you – and your students of course.

Find your own style

Finally the main point I would like to make is that there really is no secret formula.  In the end each teacher is going to find their own best way to helping improve their students’ pronunciation.  Some teachers love drilling.  Others love using the phonemic chart.  Most of us are somewhere in between.  But make no mistake, our students expect help getting their mouths around the language we are teaching them, so find what you like and stick to it for the most part, but also challenge yourself from time to time as well.  I hope the following posts in this series will help you to do just that.

 

Mark your calendar for the Pearson Webinar series for Primary and Secondary Teachers

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Are you a primary teacher interested in assessment for learning?

Do you teach secondary students and struggle to find the balance in mixed ability classes? Are you juggling preparing your secondary students for external exams whilst still following the curriculum?

Are you preparing your students for Selectividad and would like to keep your classes meaningful and communicative?

If you are interested in these key issues for teaching English in Spanish schools, you can join us in this series of four 45-minute Pearson professional development webinarsThese webinars will take place over two weeks in February and March and are presented by our teacher trainers Brian Engquist, Elena Merino and Michael Brand, who will share with you new ideas, activities, tips, tools and tasks to liven up your lessons!

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Harnessing the power of video in ELT

 video2Video’s a powerful tool: choose the right one and we’re sure to motivate and engage our learners. But video in class can take many forms and be used in many ways. Let’s take, for example, the ‘Friday afternoon video’ or the ‘end of term video’ or ‘the treat because you worked well video’. Probably a long video, perhaps a feature-length film, where our students (and, why not, ourselves!) can kick back and relax, perhaps learning a little English into the bargain to boot. But that’s definitely not the type of video we’re interested in for this blog post: in this post we’re going to be looking at short video and at how to exploit it.

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Getting a Handle on Fluency at C1

speak

A big part of being an English teacher is gauging our students’ abilities in relation to what is expected at the level they’re in.  It’s not an easy task by any means, but we do seem, after years of experience, to get a certain feel for it.  But the real trick is actually being able to nail it down a bit more, to point to concrete features of their spoken output that are more reliable measurements of their proficiency.  Let’s take a look at what fluency looks like for our advanced C1 learners.

Often times we might find ourselves saying things like “You know you’re fluent when you dream in English” or “You know you’re fluent when you think in English”, but what does that actually mean?  I don’t know about you, but if I’m giving my advanced students feedback on their speaking I want to point to something a little more specific (and professional sounding) than their dreams.

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Practical ideas to get cooperative at primary

Cooperative learning is one of those buzz words we teachers should be familiar with nowadays. We might have already received some training on it in our school, read something about it or even put it into practice. There is no doubt cooperative learning is a successful teaching approach that helps our students improve their understanding of a subject as well as their interpersonal skills within the group and the class. Coop learning_pic

So in this article I’d like to contribute to the ongoing discussion around this cooperative learning.  I’d also like to  share a few teaching ideas into the bargain that I think your primary students should like!

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Effective classroom management part 3: be fun!

Welcome to the third and final instalclassroom managementlment in our series on classroom management for teachers of teens. In previous posts, we established that a teacher should be the boss, while at the same time showing a human side. Ladies and gentlemen, the final ingredient in the recipe to effective classroom management is (drum roll…): be fun! But what do we mean by ‘be fun’? A clown? A performing monkey?

Let’s start with a common gripe from students: “Lessons are boring.” What they usually mean by this is that they are tired of doing the same things over and over again. Variety is the spice of life as the saying goes, and it applies to our lessons too.

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Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

Like most of you teachers, ELT Learning Journeys will be taking a much deserved break for the holiday season.  We hope that your time will be filled with family, friends, plenty of good cheer and a healthy dose of rest as well.  And my the New Year find you refreshed and recharged.  We will be back with a fresh post on the 10th of January.  All the best…

Ideas for Christmas Classes!

‘Twas the class before Christmas and all through the school all the teachers were searching for something to do!  Xmas Pearson

Sound like a familiar situation?  Your students have their work completed and exams taken.  Holidays are just around the corner and you need one more lesson to send them off on a positive note.  Well look no further.

In the true spirit of giving and the holiday season the Pearson Teacher Training Team for Spain and Portugal have come up with a few ideas that will put a smile on your students’ faces and save you some time so you can maybe get in a just a little more holiday shopping to boot.

These varied and enjoyable Christmas activities designed for adult and teen learners of English are the focus of our Christmas Webinars (slides available herewhich are taking place this week.  They can be easily adapted for different levels or mixed, matched and changed to your liking or particular needs.  So have a look at the menu below, click on each title, download what you like and go into class ready to get your students into the holiday spirit!

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Effective classroom management part 2: be human!

Welcome to the second installment of our three-part series on effective classroom management for teachers of teens. In part one I argued that the teacher needs to be the boss, but that on its own isn’t enough of course. In this post let’s look at our second ingredient in the recipe for classroom management success: being human.  Being the boss and being human are by no means mutually exclusive, I’ve seen countless teachers who’ve been able to combine these two traits very effectively. Get the balance right and we’ll get our students on board.

So, what do we mean by ‘be human?’  Ben-Wiseman_brain_thumprint_arrows_RGB

Back in the day, teachers were encouraged to keep maximum distance between themselves and their ‘charges.’ The teacher was a lofty, far-removed figure who existed in the classroom, but anything outside of this was none of the students’ business. But showing your students that you are in fact a real person just like them is a step on the way to forging a relationship. We are not aiming to become their best friend, but revealing something of ourselves to them is not going to do any harm.

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Correcting Writing: Less Red Pen and a bit more Zen

Getting into the zone

So, you’ve got a stack of writing assignments on your desk.  You have a quick glance at the correction code you use with your students.  “Gr” for grammar errors, “P” for punctuation, “V” for vocabulary, “R” for register, etc.  The pressure’s on now.  The sooner you get these back to your students the better.  They’re anxious to see their grade and you want them to make corrections based on the code and notes you make as soon as possible.  You have a quick glance at the clock and estimate that if you spend X number of minutes per assignment you might even be able to get in some lunch before your next class.  So with a steaming cup of coffee at your side, and red pen in hand you dive in.  You’re in full-on correction mode.

Ruby red pens

A familiar scene.  We’ve all been there.  And when we finish up and hand them back to our students we’re likely to feel some real professional pride at our ability to be so efficient at our job (I got them all corrected in how long?).  Oftentimes though, for me at least, this is coupled by a nagging doubt that maybe I could have done just a little a bit better.

Cop or Coach?

Did my intentions to give meaningful, personal feedback take a back seat to my robo-corrector mentality as I plowed through assignment after assignment?  After all, the power of the red pen does tend to bring out the authoritarian in us, transforming us from the friendly coach we like to think of ourselves as into the grammar cop pulling over our students at the slightest infraction: “Were you aware that you are using a register unacceptable for this genre?  May I see your certification to operate at this level please?  Put your pencil down and back away from the desk slowly.”

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