Hands up for good pronunciation

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Getting a class of boys to engage in a foreign language text is no mean feat. Getting them to read for purpose and listen for meaning seems almost too good to be true. However, the simple ploy of HAnde-hoch-lesen (hands-up-reading) never fails.

One student begins to read loudly and clearly. The rest of the class listen and immediately put up their hands if they detect an error in pronunciation. The teacher then selects one of those with their hands up to give the correct pronunciation. If the student pronounces the word correctly, then he may continue to read. If his pronunciation is also incorrect the teacher selects another student, and so on. This exercise fosters an unusually intense engagement. You can also divide classes into teams and award points for correct intervention.

Although I have been playing this game for a number of years, I am still surprised by students' attention to pronunciation. Peers are far more exacting than most teachers would dare to be. The game is non-threatening, not only because everyone (eventually) makes mistakes, but because the success of the activity is dependent on students' errors and the excitement generated creates uncharacteristically elementary slips.

This activity focuses on matching word and sound, and content can become disjointed. A simple way to guarantee comprehension is to follow "hands-up-reading" with "hands-up-translation". One pupil begins to translate and if he makes a mistake other pupils put their hands up and correct him. I often set reading preparation homework beforehand and know of no more effective way of getting students to engage with a text.

Jane Breen, Advanced skills teacher in languages, King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford

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