A web site for the developing language teacher

Raising student awareness of
intonation at discourse level
- by Jeanette Corbett

- Lesson Plan 2


This lesson forms part of a series in developing the students listening skills and strategies. This focus has been spread across Unit 15 and Unit 3 of Proficiency Masterclass.
As the group are following a two year preparation course, we have been able to choose which units to do and when. At the beginning of the year, the group decided on their chosen eight units. Having completed four, we've almost completed the fifth - Unit 15 The Media and the Message.
Previous lessons have focused on the news in printed form, visual (a news broadcast), language of advertising and the genre of radio advertisements

Choice of Material
I will use a recording made of two colleagues talking about advertising, focusing on three sub topics. The students will listen to the entire dialogue, before analysing their allocated segment. I decided to use this recording for the following reasons:
· It is as close to an authentic conversation that I could obtain and therefore I believe shows clear intonation patterns at discourse level.
· The topics discussed are relevant to the students and they already have knowledge of the lexical field.
· There is a natural use of fillers, as well as the features of natural discourse: turn taking, topic management etc…

For a while we have focused on improving their listening skills and strategies, primarily for the Proficiency exam and as a means of developing their awareness for their conversational ability.
As a teacher, I believe too many course books offer inadequate listening scripts for higher levels - they are not recorded based on an authentic source nor hold true to natural discourse, by virtual of the fact that they are cleaned up. I hope that students will find this recording challenging and that it begins to redress the balance.

Focus of the lesson
Once I had selected my material, I decided the focus of my lesson

- to develop the listening strategy of my students, by raising their awareness of intonation.

This was for the following reasons:

- In the previous week, students did a mock Proficiency listening exam, as their mid year test. We used a recording of the new Proficiency exam. Students expressed concern about their performance on Part 4 - the opinion exchange. Quite often, we express our opinion by use of a filler or repetition which is evident in voice pitch

- During tutorials in December, the majority of the class cited listening as their weakness and highlighted the problems as being not enough time, differentiating between accents and extracting relevant information. This lesson is a continuation of a series to develop their strategies and skills.

- In general I feel too little focus is given to listening in course books in relation to the other skills. Exercises focus too much on accuracy rather than understanding from the piece of discourse and associated voice patterns.

- With the revised exam, there are 40 marks available for the Listening exam.

Links to past and future lessons
I recently read an article about listening and agree with our shortcomings of practising the skill rather than teaching it. Agreeably it is a process, we shouldn't expect learners to extract accurate answers if we haven't developed their strategies, how to manipulate the surrounding factors.

Over the past month, I have focused a segment of some lessons in developing their listening strategies and micro skills and it's applicability to an exam task.

In previous lessons we have looked at voice quality and promience to assist with listening, therefore this lesson continues the process of developing their awareness.

Equally as outlined in my accompanying report too often intonation has been used in the classroom as an add on rather than being integrated with the language presented or the skill being focused on. Hopefully, this lesson will also redress the balance as well as raising their awareness for future lessons and for conversation in general.

The lesson
After introducing the topic, students will compare typical advertisements for perfume and cosmetics. This is to generate interest and revise the language used in advertisements as this has been focused on in a previous lesson.

After which, I will introduce a copy of the Opium advertisement, for comment to see if in their opinion, its fits the typical genre. Then as a prediction activity for stage 4, students will consider what would be offensive about the advertisement. I have included this stage to develop their predictions skills but also to elicit a natural response to the advertisement. Myself, I'm unsure if it has been published in Spain or not.

After checking their predictions (stage 4), students will answer comprehension questions about the article and the situation. I have chosen to include this stage primarily to develop their reading skill but also to provide them with background information before the listening. Hopefully by providing them with some knowledge about the topic, students will not panic by attempting to focus on content rather than voice - voice patterns being the objective of the subsequent activities.

Following the reading, I have included stage 6 - this is to develop their understanding of the factors involved in conversation and listening equally to create a purpose for Stages 7 -11. Too often in classes, we ask students to complete activities blindly without allowing them to see the relevance to their learning by labelling them 'practice'. By creating a reason and purpose for listening, I hope to motivate my students.

The 1st listening is to practise listening for gist, dispel any panic before they have to complete a detailed exercise and to raise their awareness that across languages, all topics have sub topics. An awareness of this will help them when listening.

Stage 8 is to revise the voice features of speakers in conversation before the subsequent stage. I have included this stage, so that students can define the speakers' normal key, changes over the sub topics and develop an awareness of their natural voice tone, then they will be able to predict the pitch changes more effectively in stage 9 and notice them when listening in stage 10.

The analysis of the script is an important stage for the students. Prior to asking them to analyse it I will list the features of discourse to focus on: topics, turn taking (yield, take up, signalling), transactions (opening, closing markers) and information (given, new) and use of fillers. I have chosen to highlight this information to them, so that they can categorise the functions as per the tape script and think more effectively about the voice pitch in comparison to their language (if needed as a guide). I have decided to ask them only to distinguish between the areas as highlighted on the tape script (which are underlined, in italics and brackets) equally only to predict a conscious change in key (high, normal, low). I have decided on this because I feel to distinguish between fall (new) and fall-rise over such a dialogue would be very difficult. Also this lesson aims to introduce features of discoursal intonation as a strategy to assist with the listening. In my opinion, it would serve no purpose to ask for such an indepth analysis of the script.

This stage may be very challenging for them, not before have they completed such a task. Throughout which I will monitor and provide explanation if required. Stage 10 will act as a confirmation of their predictions or as a noticing activity of the differences against their expectations. It's aim is to highlight the reality in natural speech.

Then in the interests of student autonomy they will explain each relevant section to other members of the class and I will monitor to check their understanding. (Stage 11)

Finally as with all my lessons, I will ask the students to evaluate the listening activities and stage 9, to conclude whether it has been of use to them and how it can assist their listening and speaking skills. Hopefully by integrating intonation into a skill, it will develop their awareness and move it forward as something, which they can manage and understand as part of the language package

To the lesson procedure

To the article

Back to the articles index

Back to the top

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us Online Development Courses    Lesson Plan Index
 Phonology — Articles Books  LinksContact
Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2016© Developing