Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sound sequences

One of my favorite ELT activities is the sound sequence. Here's how it works: Students hear a series of sound effects, then work in groups to produce a story based on the sound effects. A very simple, yet engaging way of getting students to produce an inventive story. I'm always amazed by the variety of stories conjured up by different groups.

Sound sequences first appeared in two books by Alan Maley and Alan Duff, with the brilliant titles Sounds Interesting and Sounds Intriguing. They came with a cassette of sound effects for the activities in the book. Unfortunately, these Cambridge University Press titles from the 70's are long out of print. Mario Rinvolucri wrote up an unplugged version of a sound sequence, published over a decade ago in Humanising Language Teaching, which you can see here. He also included a sound sequence titled "From Sounds to Mumblings to Stories" in the book Imagine That!, which he co-authored with Jane Arnold and Herbert Puchta. This book included an audio CD with the sound effects for the exercise.

What I want to know is, WHY hasn't anyone created a website with a collection of sound sequence podcasts? I think this would be a fantastic project for some hardworking podcaster out there.

For teachers who want to use sound sequences in their own classes, I can think of a few options. One is to follow the advice of Mario Rinvolucri in the article linked above, and create your own sound effects live. (Perhaps if you excel at this you might consider a second career as a foley artist.)

You can purchase CDs of sound effects such as this one, which contains hundreds of sound effects.

Another choice is to go online and find sound effects websites where you can download sounds for free. Here are a few examples:

A1 Free Sound Effects
Partners in Rhyme
PacDV Free Sound Effects

Now, a few random (very random) sound sequences I generated, using descriptions of the sound effects on the websites mentioned above.

striking a match...knocking...kisses...climbing wooden stairs...crowd cheering

horse gallop...scream...footsteps...glass breaking...snore...police arrive

elevator...fax...sneeze...machine gun...maniacal laughter

lion roar... pour drink with ice...wolf whistle...camera click...slap

Some questions:

Which of these four sequences do you think is the best? Can you think of a better arrangement of the sounds?

In terms of designing a sound sequence, should the sounds be put in an order that obviously tells a story (footsteps, knock on door, door opens, scream, gunshot) or should the order be made to challenge students (bird song, typewriter, laugh, toilet flush)? Should sound sequences include mostly sounds that are easily identifiable, or mostly sounds that are open to interpretation? And what is the optimum number of sounds in a sound sequence?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Calling on students randomly

While reading Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, I came across the following set of instructions in a fun activity called Best in 24:

Give everyone in the room, including yourself, a number. Roll the dice and ask the person corresponding to the number that comes up: What's the nicest thing you ate or drank in the last 24 hours?

I thought this over and realized there were two small flaws to this procedure.

First of all, this could be rather unwieldy in a large or extra large class. I have taught classes of 120 students before, and I can't imagine rolling 20 dice and counting up the numbers while students wait. However, I'm sure that Thornbury and Meddings intended this activity for more ideal class sizes.

Secondly, and more importantly, I wondered if rolling 2 or 3 dice and assigning numbers might make certain students more likely to be called on. I checked with a website called The Wizard of Odds, and realized that I was right. When rolling two dice, you are far more likely to roll a 6, 7 or 8, than a 2 or 12. And when rolling 3 dice, you will get a 9, 10, 11, or 12 more often than a 3 or an 18. In addition, when rolling two dice the number 1 never comes up, and with three dice, 1 and 2 never come up.

A solution? I have a few ideas for improving these instructions. One solution might be to use the odds for your own devious purposes. For example, give students who hardly ever speak out the numbers that you are more likely to roll, and give students who dominate the class the numbers you are less likely to roll.

If you want to get a real random number, you can use a random number generator. Random.org has a random number generator that is easy to use. Type in the range and click to get a random number instantly.

Another solution is to write everyone's name on index cards (or blank business cards) and shuffle them. This is probably the easiest solution, as you can make the cards once and use them many times.

One more (not so random) technique is to get a student to choose a second student to answer the question. This can be made more interesting by demanding that a student give a valid reason for passing the question on to a second student. If you think the reason is good enough, the second student must answer the question. If you think the reason is unacceptable, then the question goes to the first student. My students have come up with some pretty clever reasons!

Can you think of any other ways to call on students randomly that I haven't mentioned here?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

New discussion at Think Tank (ELT News)

This new article from ELT News Think Tank Panel got me smiling. I really enjoyed Marc Helgesen's idea about how to end a class properly.


Friday, January 01, 2010

Thinking Skills and CLIL

Over at the One Stop English website, Jean Brewster has contributed this article on thinking skills in CLIL:


It includes a clear introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy, as well as some examples of how thinking skills fit into CLIL lessons. Teachers interested in this topic might also want to look at my new book, Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT.