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An introduction to rhythm & helping learners to
become more autonomous with phonology

The following are taken from two Teaching Tips

An introduction to rhythm

Have you got rhythm? Have your students? Although there is debate surrounding rhythm in natural English speech, an awareness for our students is still useful & it is a nice way to get to arrive at 'sounds in combination'. Here is a way of introducing the idea to your students:

Write on the board:

1   2   3   4

Get the students to say together the numbers - drill them, several times.

Then put the following on the board & get the students to say them together.

1 and 2 and 3 and 4

Then put the following on the board & get the students to say them together.

1 and then a 2 and then a 3 and then a 4

Then put the following on the board & get the students to say them together.

1 and then put a 2 and then put a 3 and then put a 4

Then interchange the words in between the numbers:

1 and 2 and put a 3 and then put a 4

Play around with combinations, getting the students to repeat together. It should be lots of fun.

The idea is that, in theory, each line takes the same time to say. We push the little bits together between the main stress & it is this that causes rhythm. To further exemplify this put the following on the board:

Take it home
(3 syllables - 2 stresses)

Watch it in the air
(5 syllables - 2 stresses)

Elicit the number of syllables for each & the number of main stresses. This should clarify how words are squashed between the main stresses.

Then on to some practice activities. It would be better, initially, to use obvious material for this. If you have cuisenaire rods handy, check out the page on 'Some nursery rhymes to illustrate rhythm using cuisenaire rods'.

There is also a similar idea using limericks in the Teaching Tip There once was an English teacher

Rap songs are also good for focussing on rhythm. Put up the lyrics, get the students to mark the tone units, the stresses & then chant them aloud as a group. To see an explanation of tone units & prominence.

Now that you have established the idea of rhythm, move on to what happens to the words when they get squashed between the main stresses with 'sounds in combination'.

Autonomy & phonology

Improving pronunciation is one of the important areas that students feel the need to come to class for. This feeling that the teacher is the only one that can help them is true to an extent but students can also help themselves. Here are a few ideas to help promote autonomy & phonology:

1. Awareness of what is involved in phonology is clearly a good starting point & point them towards a realistic view of how native-like they might become.

2. Lots of listening & analysis of where the difficulties came. Discuss 'sounds in combination' aspects.

3. Recommend areas they need to individually work on & sources for practice materials - books, internet.....

4. Students keep their learner diaries on a tape - handed in at regular intervals. Encourage comparisons between present entries & past ones.

5. Give clear language records - with phonological aspects clearly marked & look at what they are writing down to make sure their records are clear & not missing anything.

6. Student self-correction of phonology errors.

7. Dictionary training - word stress & sounds.

If you take phonology seriously & talk about how much they can do on their own then your students will realise it is another area in which they can help themselves.

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