Time to Kill the Consonant Sound Bug

Posted: September 16, 2012 in Tribute to ELT Classics
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My next post is an adaptation of the popular game HANGMAN.  I have called it THE BEETLE SLAYER, and the original idea comes from my friend Liz Howell, from the University of Waikato Pathways College in New Zealand. Like Liz, I find the picture of hanging a man of poor taste for the language classroom, so I have decided to use an imaginary bug instead, the BEETLE (Figure 1).

Figure 1

The activity can be used for focusing learners of any level on vowel and consonant sounds.In this post, however, I would like to show you how to use it for giving learners practice of CONSONANT SOUNDS.

When using the activity with your class for the first time; it a good idea to start with a presentation, or review, of the CONSONANT PHONEMIC SYMBOLS.  For this, use an online phonemic chart such as the one provided for free at the British Council Teaching English website.

British Council Phonemic Chart

By clicking the symbols on the chart, you can help the learners hear the consonant sounds as well as sample words.

Do a bit of drilling of the consonant sounds with the learners and highlight relevant aspects of pronunciation, such as which consonant sounds are voiced and which ones are voiceless..Also, use the chart for a sound dictation by combining consonant and vowel sounds. For example, click the following sounds on the chart in sequence (Figure 2) and check if the learners can guess which word is being said. In this case, SPEAK.

Figure 2

Then, give the learners a photocopy of the chart. Get them to select a few words they have learnt in class recently, check their pronunciation (maybe in a learner’s dictionary or dictionary app.) and dictate these words to a partner as demonstrated above.

After that, display the BEETLE (Figure 1) and write the following row of dashes on the board for the sounds in the word TEACHER:

 ___  /i:/ ___ /Ə/ ___

Once you have explained the instructions below to the learners, play the game once with the class for the word TEACHER as a demonstration.

NOTE: if using the word above as an example,  raise learners’ awareness of the rhotic sound /r/ by pointing out to them that this sound is not always pronounced by all speakers of English.

The game:

Now, tell the learners that they are going to play a competition in which they will take turns to be BEETLE SLAYERS and BEETLE SAVIOURS.

Tell them also that the competition works in the same way as the game HANGMAN. However, instead of using letters to guess words, they will use sounds

Some small logistics here: because you will want  the learners to play the game several times, give them some plastic sleeves and OHP pens to play the game. This way, they can easily erase the marks on the beetle using an eraser and restart the game.

Organise the class into pairs, A and B and give each pair the set of beetle cards below.

Tell the pairs to place the cards on the desk.

Get each learner to select 10 words they have learnt in class recently and make sure that they choose words which other learners are likely to know too.

Explain the rules of the game to the learners. Tell them that…

  • A’s  will think of a word and look its phonemic sounds up, or ask the teacher, and write a row of dashes for the sounds on a piece of paper. They will also write down the vowel sounds in their words in their correct place on the dashes (as example above). Also, tell them that they should be prepared to give  hints such as parts of speech, definitions , drawings.
  • B’s will suggest consonant sounds they think occur in the word.
  • If B’s suggestions are correct, A’s record the sounds in its correct position on the dashes.
  • If the sounds do not occur in the word, A’s will cross out a part of the beetle’s body i.e. its  antennae, legs, head and wings.
  • The game is over when either B’s guess the word correctly or A’s manage to cross out all parts of the beetle’s body. Either way, the winner takes one beetle card from the desk to mark their score at the end of each game.
  • Learners then swap roles and play the game one more time.

The competition continues until all the beetle cards have been used up, . In this case, the winner is the learner with the most cards.

One variation to activity would be to use phrases or sentences as the basis of the game too, but I would recommend you do this only once the learners have become more familiar with the phonemic chart.

Hope you enjoy this post.

Arizio Sweeting

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