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?



Brilliant activity, Hall - I very much enjoyed reading it and thinking about how to use this in my own classes... expect a post sometime, at some point :-) when I take up your challenge to create a sound sequence.

But yes, it will take some time especially because I reckon there should be a "point" - either reviewing a specific lexis or the bones of a story that the students could perhaps tell digitally.

Thanks for sharing this superb tip!


Hall Houston said...

Karenne: I'm very honored to have you visit my blog! I've enjoyed reading your blog over the past few months, as well as your interviews at TEFL Tradesman and It's Magazine.

I agree it's best to have a language point. I think here the language point could be using the past tense, describing actions, or using the phrases for telling a story (Then... After that...).

I did a web search after I posted and I discovered that Jim Scrivener wrote a good piece on sound sequences over at One Stop English:


Nicky said...

Hi there! Great ideas, never a bad idea to revisit things like this. I've been thinking about putting together one of these (I have some examples on the class CD of one of my books here at home), and had been thinking about doing one DIY style--these links to free sound effects should come in handy!

As per your questions: I like sequences 2 and 4 best, they seem to strike a good balance between conventional enough to fit in with some kind of mental "script" but also have room for student to use their imagination.

I think it's probably best to get students accustomed to the task, perhaps by using a more straightforward sequence first, then giving them another, more ambiguous one.

And as for the optimum level of interpretation, I think that should probably correspond to the students' level--lower level students will have enough of a challenge as it is finding the words and formulating the storyline, etc.

And the ideal number...I don't know--between 5 and 7?

Tom said...

Thought I'd share an other good source I've found for online sound effects: http://www.Sounddogs.com/