By Louise Spratt

25 October 2018 - 07:25

Black headphones on a yellow surface
'Though it can be uncomfortable to listen to your own voice, it can also be an effective method of self-reflection.' Photo ©

Malte Wingen used under licence and adapted from the original

Louise Spratt teaches English to young learners at the British Council in Madrid, and encourages learner autonomy through use of technology in class. These are her favourite activities that use audio made for, and created in, the classroom. 

Teachers do the speaking exam 

Record yourself and a colleague practising the collaborative parts of a speaking test, like B2 First (FCE), C1 Advanced (CAE) or IELTS. Use the test that is most relevant to your class.

In class, play the recording and ask learners what language in the made the dialogue successful. Depending on your target for the lesson, try to elicit:

  • accurate use of common expressions
  • appropriate turn-taking
  • varied use of tenses
  • accurate use of phrasal verbs.

Write the observations on the board and use these as criteria for successful speaking. 

Alternatively, play your recording after watching an authentic speaking exam on YouTube. Then, compare the language used by the teachers in your version, and the candidate in the YouTube video.

You can elicit any common errors that the candidates made, and write them on the board. This makes learners more aware of the grammatical or vocabulary-based errors they are likely to make.

Record two versions of the same speech

Record a short presentation on a familiar topic. Record a second version of the presentation, incorporating errors or inaccurate use of the target language that you have collected in previous lessons. Those could include:

  • false friends
  • mispronunciation of the past simple/ –ed/ (for example, pronouncing the 'e' in 'fixed')
  • wrong conjugation of tenses
  • use of wrong tense
  • confusion of prepositions
  • literally translated expressions

For each recording, focus of two types of error as a maximum, but include several examples of these errors. This will allow learners to recognise those mistakes in a variety of speech.

In class, play the version with mistakes, followed by the correct version.

Provide a handout with two exercises. In the first exercise, learners select which of the two error types they found, from four or five suggestions. In the second exercise, learners listen again for detail and write the mistakes they hear.

Practise intonation with a short presentation 

Record yourself delivering a one- to-three minute presentation, debate, conversation or interview on a familiar topic.

Transcribe your recording, including pauses and fillers (errr, umm, uh-huh, well). If you record a conversation, include interruptions. Leave a some space above each line for annotations. 

In class, hand out the transcription or project it on a whiteboard. As you play the recording, annotate some of the words on the board in the space above the line.

  • / for rising intonation
  • \ for falling intonation
  • /\ for rising and falling
  • \/ for falling and rising

Once learners understand the task, play the rest of the audio and give them time to discuss the intonation in pairs.

Play the recording once more, pausing after each sentence, and invite individual learners up to the board to mark the intonation. 

To make this more challenging, remove stressed words, leave a gap, and ask learners to write the missing words.

As an extension, start a discussion on how intonation and stress can convey emotion and modify meaning. You can try asking these questions:

  • How is the speaker feeling? How do you know?
  • Does the speaker feel differently at different points of the presentation/conversation?
  • How does person A encourage person B to respond with information (answers)?
  • How would a listener react if the stress were on X word instead of Y word? Try it.
  • How would a listener react if the intonation were falling (instead of rising)? Try it.

Learners speak for a minute, transcribe each other and correct errors 

In this game, learners record themselves for one minute speaking about a topic you have discussed in class. 

Give learners a tablet with a voice recording application pre-installed, or allow them to use their mobile phones so they can work in pairs to time and record each other. If facilities permit, send learners to quiet corridor spaces, empty classrooms or the library to do this.

After recording, ask one confident learner if you can play part of their audio for the class. Show learners how to transcribe by playing snippets of the audio and pausing it to write a sentence at a time on the white board.

Explain that it could take between three to ten minutes to transcribe the audio, depending on how much the speaker developed their ideas, and how easy or difficult learners find the task.

In a lower-tech classroom, set recording as a homework task and have learners share audio files with your professional email account.

In very low-tech environments, set this up as a dictagloss activity. Learners work in groups of four. While one speaks, the other three simultaneously transcribe. The advantage of three note-takers is that they can compare versions to compile a more accurate one. Be sure to rotate the roles.

Then, give learners a correction key:

  • sp = spelling
  • p = punctuation
  • pr= preposition
  • t = wrong tense

Ask learners to identify their errors and the category they fall into.

You can also ask learners to swap their transcripts in class, to identify and categorise errors. Monitor and assist with this.

Ask each group how many of each error type they found, noting their observations on the board. Based on their collected data, ask learners to decide which errors are more common. As an extension, use those errors to create a class correction checklist.

Learners interview and record a friend or relative

Write interview-style questions with a focus on a grammar point e.g. present continuous, use of phrasal verbs, or a classroom topic. 

  • What are you working on /studying /planning at the moment? (present continuous)
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? (second conditional)
  • How would you have reacted if you hadn’t won the prize? (third conditional)
  • Where were you brought up? (phrasal verb)
  • Have you ever turned down a great opportunity? (phrasal verb)

Set a homework task to record an interview with a friend or family member, using five of the questions from the class.

In the next classes, learners work in small groups. Ask them to listen to one of the interviews for the target language in the interviewee's answers. Learners work together in the same groups to identify and correct mistakes made by the interviewees.

Learners create and record a presentation from a recent lesson topic      

Ask learners to prepare short presentations, with the help of the teacher and online or library resources. Allow learners to choose from four or five recent classroom topics, and give them five generic questions to structure their presentation.

  • Why is this an important issue in our society?
  • How does this affect young people?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  • Are any famous people involved in….?
  • What can we learn from…?

Encourage learners to make notes on paper, and support them by checking for errors. Learners then record themselves and upload the audio file to a class Google Drive from home, or see above for low-tech alternatives.

From these recordings, the teacher can make listening comprehension activities and exam-style tasks for later classes.

What are the benefits of using voice recordings in the classroom?

Learners have time to think before they speak

Confidence and personality can affect learners’ willingness to participate. They are not necessarily a reflection of their knowledge of grammar. Some learners need more time to process their ideas, while some may speak spontaneously.

Recordings can give learners the chance to gather ideas and have several attempts at constructing sentences, which in my experience is beneficial to learning.

All learners have the chance to participate

In class discussions and feedback sessions, some learners will dominate. Setting voice-recording tasks ensures that all learners have the opportunity to develop speaking skills and functional language for presentations, conversations or debates.

Learners (and teachers) don’t usually hear themselves

Though it can be uncomfortable to listen to your own voice, it can also be an effective way to self-reflect. In my experience, it allows learners to better identify errors and strengths.

Learners take responsibility for their learning

Voice recordings can become the learner’s self-created language learning resource. That makes review work more meaningful than textbook audio. Encouraging learners to work in groups and peer-correct grammatical errors contributes to the class rapport and increases learner autonomy.

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger.

Louise collaborates in programming courses with the BBC Micro:bit. Teachers and learners can find BBC Micro:bit resources here, and organisations interested in partnership can read about our coding for refugees activity here.

British Council are founding partners of the Micro:bit Educational Foundation. 

This article includes advice for using the internet in classrooms. We also recommend that teachers use the 360safe online self-review tool for a whole-school approach to online safety.

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