Using Kazoos to Teach Suprasegmentals

Although I’m a huge proponent of Jenkin’s Lingua Franca Core ideas and a view of English as a World English when it comes to teaching pronunciation, I do teach a few suprasegmental skills that I think very rapidly improve student’s comprehensibility in communication with native speakers.
In my experience, the suprasegmentals that are both most effective for improving comprehensibility and easiest to teach are awareness of thought groups, sentence level intonation, and focus word stress. Even if students have noticed these things, they may not produce them. It may be that their first language doesn’t have sentence level stress or intonation.
I’ve been told by these students that English sounds humorous, sing-songy, to them.
They seem to feel a little shy about trying it. In addition, they may just be so distracted by trying to remember grammar and vocabulary that they can’t also process stress and intonation as well.
This lesson uses kazoos to help them begin noticing and producing the “music” of English.
The kazoos are enough fun that, used in a group, the students seem to feel comfortable “being silly” and they remove the need for grammar and vocabulary long enough for the students to focus on stress and intonation.
I’ve done this lesson many times, but I’ve only written it up in this form once. For a job application. I include it here in that form because, when I was working on the application, I searched for samples of such lesson plans and couldn’t find any. This one here is for teachers who may be searching, especially if they wish to apply to the English Language Fellow program.
There are many ways to write up lesson plans, and, truthfully, though I learned many of those ways in school, I never write them that way when I’m actually teaching.
So, I’m not saying this is the best way. Heck, it’s not even the best way to write this up as a blog post. This one is only offered here as an example of one format that, if it didn’t actually help me get the job, at least I know, it didn’t prevent it.

Using Kazoos to Learn to Emphasize Focus Words
with Pitch and Length
Class Description: High-Intermediate to Advanced linguistically-mixed teen to adults. This is particularly effective with mixed groups who may have different levels and accents that challenge their comprehensibility of each other. It is especially useful for students with backgrounds in languages that lack sentence level intonation. 75 minute class. 8-10 students.
Rationale: Proper use of suprasegmentals is at least as important to a student’s comprehensibility, if not more so, and is quicker and easier to produce than proper pronunciation of phonemes, but students may have trouble identifying and reproducing intonation and emphasis when they are focused on vocabulary. This lesson draws attention to the “music” of English by temporarily omitting the need for pronunciation or vocabulary.
Objectives: Students identify focus words in recorded dialogs, then use kazoos to “play” the emphasis with pitch and length that they hear on these words. Students then reproduce those played sounds in their speech.
Prerequisites: Students should already produce vocabulary from the dialogs with ease and be able to understand classroom instruction at a high-intermediate to advanced level.
Materials: New/or sanitized kazoos for each student. Printed and recorded dialogs. CD player/speakers. Permanent markers (optional). (Dialogs can easily be invented if necessary and teacher can read them if equipment is lacking, but it’s best if recordings are used so that the sound of the dialogs remains constant. For this lesson plan Cambridge University Press’s Clear Speech, Chapters 6 and 8, CD#2 was used.)
I. Introduce the idea of emphasis and focus words. Show written sentences on board or paper. Play recorded sentences or speak phrases with clearly emphasized content words: You look TERRIBLE! Does she live in IDAHO? I need the MONEY. Ask the students to point to or underline which words are easiest to hear. Point out that these words are not just louder, but clearer, higher in pitch, and longer. Point out that focus words are usually content words, words that carry information. (5 minutes)
II. Give students the rule that, at the beginning of conversation, the focus word is usually the last content word in a sentence. Play more examples (from Clear Speech 3rd edition, p 59): The dog chased the RABBIT. We’re WAITING for you. What are you DOING? Continue playing examples and asking students which words are emphasized until they are easily identified. (5 minutes)
III. Introduce the idea that the sentences can be hummed, then pass out Kazoos for each student. (If necessary, students could just hum, but even in the States, many international students have never encountered kazoos and the resulting amusement helps them forget that they are nervous about speaking loudly or pronouncing English correctly. If students will be able to keep them, provide markers, so they can label their own.) Introduce the students to the kazoos, making sure they can each play them loudly. (10 minutes)
IV. Tell students to listen again to the above phrases and try to play what they hear. Expect a lot of noise and giggles but listen to make sure that students can play the intonation they hear. This is usually quite easy after a few minutes. (5 minutes)
V. Put students in pairs. Give them a list of written phrases. Tell them to first underline one word in each phrase to be the focus word (from Clear Speech 3rd edition, p 60): There’s no electricity. We need a photograph. This is my sister. (Teacher can check to see that they have chosen appropriate words but it’s more important for them to produce the sounds for whatever word they choose than to choose the way a native speaker might.) Tell them to alternate phrases so one student plays on the kazoo and the other student tries to reproduce the sound. Let them do this until they are comfortable they can each do it. (If extra practice is needed, have students switch phrases so they each do the ones they missed the first time.) Repeat the drill where one student kazoos the phrase, but this time, transition to speech; have the other student say the phrase with the same intonation they hear from the kazoo. (15 minutes)
VI. Play another recorded dialog, giving students the new rule that, after a conversation begins, the focus word is the new thought in each sentence (from Clear Speech 3rd edition, p 60-61): I lost my HAT. What KIND of hat? It was a RAIN hat. Have pairs kazoo the entire dialog, then repeat the kazoo to speech pattern above, finally, speaking the words. (Teacher should begin to hear distinct improvement in students’ intonation, especially from students who previously showed little or no focus word emphasis. Monitor the students’ interest level in the kazoos. Some classes will enjoy the noise longer than others.) (10 minutes)
VII. Assign different dialogs to each pair but don’t provide recordings so that students can work out their own emphasis. (Clear Speech 3rd edition, p 61-62 have five short dialogs that work well): I want some SHOES. What KIND of shoes? The BEAUTIFUL kind. Have them follow the kazoo to speech pattern above (to the degree that the kazoos are still helpful) until they are speaking with strong focus word emphasis. As a final assessment of the lesson, to make sure objectives are met, have each pair perform their dialog for the class. (15 minutes)

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