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Making a Case for Beginning with Suprasegmental Features in Pronunciation Teaching by Scott Shelton
- lesson plan: preliminary information

Timetable fit

This lesson is the second in a series, which is based on a fictitious American soap opera. In the previous lesson the characters were introduced, their relationships to each other were explored and the basic plot was set up through a reading with subsequent work on family relationships and error analysis typical in describing people made at this level.

Further lessons in this series will be dealing with reported speech, work on cohesion through listening and ordering sequences, everyday fixed lexical expressions and predicting and writing future episodes of the soap opera.
We have done some work on suprasegmental features of pronunciation in previous lessons and we will be reviewing/recycling some material at the onset of the lesson.

Level

This is an intermediate class

Time

This class meets once a week for a three-hour class every Friday evening from 6:00 to 9:00 PM.

Main aims and objectives

1. To raise awareness of how voice quality and intonation can convey meaning.

Sub aims

1. To provide receptive and productive practice in how prominence affects intonation and helps to convey meaning.
2. To provide practice in working out meaning of words and phrases from context.
3. To provide intensive listening and reading practice.
4. To provide opportunity to develop inferences skills via contextual and aural clues.

Assumed Knowledge

Previous (but incomplete) knowledge of basic stress patterns in English. The basic plot of the soap opera and a superficial familiarity of the characters involved. General schemata of soap opera-like family problems and the discourse that accompanies them.

Anticipated problems and solutions

1. As the interlaced family and social relationships in the script are complex and the class has only just been introduced to them the week previous, some students (especially any who were not present last week) may find the story difficult to follow.
By giving the students a chance to discuss the characters, their relationships, and activities in groups and by listening and reading the scene twice will, I hope, allow everyone to maintain a high level of involvement and comprehension.

2. The conversations in the dialogue are spoken quickly, colloquially and many, quite possibly unknown, phrasal verb expressions are used which the students might not be familiar with.
By presenting the possibly unknown lexical phrases in a clear and known context and through the focus on the character's feelings towards each other and intonation carrying meaning throughout, I hope to enable the students to cope with the new vocabulary in this way. They will have a chance to work out the meaning of many of them further on through analysis of the text and context.

3. The students may have problems with the inherent rhythm of conversational
English and feel self-conscious trying to produce it in a convincingly natural
way. By focusing on voice quality and encouraging the students to 'put on' an English/American accent early on, and in doing so, providing them with a mask of sorts, I hope to create a fun and safe atmosphere in which they feel comfortable enough to experiment in. Also, by focusing on the prominence of information words both receptively and productively, I hope to provide them with the necessary awareness in order to perceive important patterns. By employing a 'shadow reading', technique, I also hope to give them the necessary productive practice in motor skills and stretch their 'normal' pitch range.

Aids and materials

A taped and written dialogue of a four part scene of a fictitious soap opera from "Inside Out" intermediate student's book. (Macmillan Heinemann 2000)

OHT of part two and part three of scene one

A personally designed handout 'what was said first'

Page 74 and 75 of "Inside Out" student's book

Commentary

This class consists of twelve students, running from last October and continuing up through the end of June. With the exception of two students, Marisa and Silvia who joined the group approximately one and a half months ago, the entire group has been together since October and there is a feeling of camaraderie among them. The majority are very motivated and seem to look forward to their Friday English lesson.

I am generally pleased with their progress. We recently did a 'mid-level' progress test and all scored higher than sixty percent on the written portion. There are several students who are progressing at a quicker rate than others and I think that this is due to them having had a higher level previously which they are now able to access and build on. Quentin, Javier, and Marisa fall into this group, I feel. I can usually rely on them for correct models or peer correction and I think the rest of the class 'look up to them' in that respect. Elena and Maria Dolores are a bit older than the class average. Both of them have made noticeable improvements recently in their productive skills but still have more problems than the majority in understanding spoken instructions or taped material. David and Maria Jose are productively on the low end of the class level but they do make quite an effort. I usually try to pair them with someone who is a bit above their level. Sonia is a Spanish teacher trainer who has had very erratic attendance but is usually able to hold her own in the class. She is now quite a bit behind the rest and I wonder if she will be able to come to enough classes to make any real improvement. They are all working people with the exception of Pilar who is a university student, so they all come directly after work to class-sometimes a few of them a bit after we have already started. They are a nice class to teach.

Learner's needs and this lesson

Two lessons previous to this one, I had the class do a quick writing warmer for ten minutes under the heading of "Pronunciation-my feelings and experiences". They were instructed to write, without stopping, for ten minutes putting down on paper anything that came to mind related to the topic. The results were quite interesting to read. Almost everyone cited pronunciation as being 'very difficult' or 'one of the most difficult things in English.' Several people made mention to 'tone', intonation and the appearance that English was really two languages-one spoken, and one written.

One mentioned that different accents were difficult to understand and had it easier with ESL European speakers of English. Many were overly concerned with the problem of making individual sounds correctly but mentioned that through imitation one could finally get close. All in all, it seemed to me that not only did the students feel discouraged about their pronunciation, but that they perceived it was something of an almost insurmountable problem. I was also able to notice that their perceived lack of 'good' pronunciation was affecting them on an emotional and self-confidence level. Reference was made to a communication breakdown over the phone due to pronunciation problems and how this person 'spent a long time thinking about this' afterwards.

Although we have done some pronunciation work, both in segmental and suprasegmental areas, the class only meets once a week and I like to include something each lesson if possible. I felt that with the conversational material in this lesson something more could be done with it besides just listening, reading, vocabulary and speaking skills. The dialogue lends itself nicely to a look at prominence and intonation and how it conveys attitude and feelings when we speak. I think that the class will benefit from a shift away from bottom up pronunciation teaching and phonemes and enjoy a different approach to learning to speak clearly though a more top down approach and focusing on the suprasegmental elements of intonation and prominence.

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