I started of Thursday with another meaty chunk of pronunciation, this time working on a more functional kind of approach (possibly). I also wanted to do something that the students might not have come across before, as politeness strategies aren’t always a big concern here. What I chose to work with was “Would you mind ___ing…”. We again looked at stress and intonation contours, and the reduction of “d you” to “j”. The practising side of things didn’t go so well, as we got a bit caught up in discussing the various uses it could be put to in more open practice, for example “Would you mind dancing with me?” which in my view makes it sound like a bit of an imposition on the object of your affections. Anyway, we spent too long talking and not enough time actually doing, which was a shame as this did generate real interest, that I didn’t channel particularly well.
Once this was done we moved on to intonation. This is the first time that I’d ”officially” introduced intonation, though it had come up in passing fairly often before this. I started off fairly simply by defining intonation and pitch, and then letting the students try to figure it out by drawing the intonation contours for two versions of “Yes”, without my modelling them first. Then they discussed what they meant, and if possible outlined a situation that each might be used in. We got this far with each class, but there the lessons went a bit different. However, with one of the classes I had a go at another pronunciation book activity to practice intonation of questions. This was a bit of a disaster as there were far too many influences here on the intonation, stemming from the use of the construction “You know…”, which has to balance yes/no questions with confirming or delivering information, and get the students to provide an answer with the correct intonation too, all without a context. As I didn’t a CD I had to read the sentences with what I thought was the intended intonation, which was near impossible, and left a struggling teacher and confused students. Once I’d got my bearings back, it seemed much easier to present a simpler version of the rules on the board, which basically said rising unfinished/uncertain, falling finished/certain.* After this week, I might try to stay away from pronunciation activity books a little, or write my own in a spare 5 minutes.
* I’m aware it’s much more complex than this, but after all the mess we needed a basis to start from.
Friday has become speech clinic day during this camp. It’s a nice way to help the students practice what we’ve been doing in a more realistic context (I have a feeling I said this last week), and it also boosts their confidence for the actual speeches. The format I follow is a quick review of goals and topics covered, and then giving time for each student to revise their speech and practice it to themself, before moving on to paired readings (with some feedback from their partner). Finally, a few students volunteer/are dragged kicking and screaming to the front of class to read their speech for everyone.
This week it felt as if things didn’t go quite so well in class, though I think my reflections are tempered slightly by the fact that the entire student body appeared to be hopelessly hungover today. Still, it’s a bit disheartening when a student stands up and gives a speech which doesn’t include the two incredibly specific and explicit instances of intonation that you just taught.
One thing I did focus on this week (as I know I mentioned last week) was improving the process of feedback. I developed a feedback sheet for this week, which guided the students to areas for monitoring (sounds, words, sentence stress and intonation in this case). It also made several suggestions of face preserving questions that could be asked of people, rather than straight out criticizing them. In the interests of sharing, you can download the sheet below.
Did it make a difference? Well, yes it did. I think that giving a feedback sheet lends an air of officialdom to proceedings, and somehow makes it more difficult to answer just “very good”. The guidance also helps. I think that sometimes we forget that students probably aren’t that used to giving feedback, especially in areas of English. In general, where they have some guidance of what to look for they tend to do it much better. However, the questions part of the exercise was surprisingly badly done. Having been all culturally sensitive and designed a sheet so that they could save face, I then watched with interest as they proceeded to criticize (sometimes not even constructively) each others pronunciation very directly. We had a go at reformulating some of them as questions, but I’m not sure that the idea was particularly well taken up. I think we’ll leave this one for another camp, as I think it’s kind of a class culture building thing, which I am introducing too late in the day.
That brings me to the end of this week’s reflections. I’m also three days through my current week, so expect another post on Sunday or Monday.Until then…