I've just been thinking about an area a lot of colleagues and friends English Language teachers/tutors/educators are faced with everyday. Teaching Phonological Awareness. And why does a good number of EFL learners have difficulty in the Listening skills section of formal examinations?
To help novice teachers especially with this, I' ve decided to post some indicative tips that I bear in mind when preparing for my classes, but, remember, this text is not meant to be a Diploma level assignment.
As part of their EFL/EAP course, learners need help to improve their Phonological Competence and to activate verbal and non-verbal elements of speech. Whatever nationality they may be, they are bound to need some work with some sounds or another.
From personal experience, learners are not always aware of or cannot even hear certain individual sounds and differences (especially those not included in their mother tongue), let alone produce them.
Certain nationality learners are less aware of certain individual sounds. For instance, Japanese learners tend to confuse /r/ with /l/ or simply have difficulty pronouncing /r/ because they don' t have this sound in their mother tongue. Similarly, Greek learners of English as a Foreign language cannot articulate /ʃ/ for 'she' or /ʧ/ for 'cheese'.
Depending on the stage of learning, some indicative areas to focus on are: articulating individual sounds such as vowels, consonants, monophthongs & diphthongs; long - short sounds; voiced vs voiceless sounds; prosodic (suprasegmental) features & lexical stress; falling - rising intonation, sentence rhythm, stress patterns, phonological rules (assimilation, dissimilation, insertion, elesion, linking & intrusive r, metathesis, coalescence, gemination, 'silent' letters).
Equipment you need
One way to prevent professional burnout is to experiment with new technologies to promote your teaching aims and keep your students on their toes!
If you get caught up in the day-to-day grind of teaching your materials in the same old way, try getting out of your comfort zone and spice up your classes with a bit of technology such as:
Songs, Rhymes, Poems
Your laptop webcam or a similar device
(this list is inexhaustible. See Slideshow below)
Or, use no gadgets or tools whatsoever - your hands, mouth and whiteboard marker can do - simply employ Recognition, Matching, Odd-one-out and production activities.
Depending on your lesson Aims and Stage, you can get ideas from the revisited Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid for a plethora of Tools that can be applied, guiding learners through from Lower to Higher Order Thinking Skills around 'The Four Pillars of Education' by UNESCO.
The best way to approach this is through four simple Steps:
i. Step 1: Isolate the area of focus
To raise Phonological Awareness, first, learners need to recognise their areas of weakness on which to work.
After you prioritise, isolate the point in focus and bring it to the attention of your student(s). For this to happen, use any visuals to help them locate the physical part (movement of lips, tongue) producing the sound(s), including the phonetic symbols chart. You could even help learners understand how a sound feels when it is produced.
Segment words into phonemes explicitly or through elicitation.
Vary the pace and remember to point out common errors.
ii. Step 2: Modelling through Practice
- The earlier on in the learning stages you do this, the better.
- Expose to a Variety of Speakers/Accents. Forvo.com, dictionary.cambridge.com, are indicative free online tools that can offer a variety of accents for the individual words you may need.
- Vary the level of difficulty, from individual phonemes, to longer stretches, to stress, recognition of mood and attitude or purpose.
- In the early stages of learning, Syllabification can help raise young learners' phonological awareness skills. You could even employ clapping or hopping, tongue twisters, and short nursery rhymes (depending on the students' age and level)
- Traditional as it may sound, individual or chorus repetition and controlled practice drills can make the difference.
- If you are using an Interactive Whiteboard, make it a point to go through the pronunciation of recorded lists of words with their examples available (at any stage of the lesson, depending on your Aims).
- Don't skip the listening practice material in the publication you have chosen.
- Dig out whatever authentic material may give your students extra practice, such as songs, rhymes, poems, videos or recorded programmes.
- Use Listening Practice Tests to focus on the purpose of the speaker, their attitude or the register (most appropriate for more advanced levels). Select the extract which is most filled with useful phonological points, extract it on your desktop and replay accompanied with comprehension question.
iii. Step 3: Production
Once your students can recognise the sounds, words, phrases and articulate them, they can produce their own role play or story based on the topic/target language of the lesson which you can record on your desktop using your camera after rehearsing it many times (given the time restrictions). Allow them to bring in their imagination and personal preferences regarding the plot or scenario. Help them with the technical issues of typing, recording and make sure you have uploaded the required software (it works and you know how to operate it) before the lesson, to save precious time.
iv. Step 4: Feedback & Self-development
After playing the recorded end-product on the IWB or through a projector you can elicit feedback or self-correction with ideas on what areas to work on next time.
With larger classes, you will need thoughtful planning and good management skills to balance group dynamics and prevent shy students from being inactive or extroverted ones monopolising during cooperation tasks. By shuffling students around the classroom and through clear-cut aims in every stage of the lesson, you inspire them not to use their mother tongue during group work and to activate the target language.
Another consideration might be technicalities with the use of the equipment and web tools and time restrictions but to balance this, you could allot each group/pair different times for the recording of their end product. Be prepared to invest some extra time out of your working schedule for this!
Below is a sample of a video designed by a Young learner of English as a Foreign Language who also wrote the senario in English during her Pre-Juniors class. We hope you like it!
Making videos is always a pleasant experience for learners of all age.
Do let me know how you approach this and don't hesitate to leave your comment.
Education Origami on Bloom's Digital Taxonomy and 21st century Projects associated with Web 2.0 technologies for learning. Available on http://bit.ly/1ipoa1Q
(indicative tools suggested by Indiana State University (CC 3.0), Andrew Churches' Bloom's Digital Taxonomy, by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano - CC 2.0), Mary Bertram's version of Bloom's Taxonomy for the Early Years (CC 2.5 Canada)