One of the best ways that you can improve your students’ pronunciation is by teaching them and giving them opportunity to practice thought groups. Many teachers dive straight into vowel sounds and digraphs, but focusing on rhythm, intonation, focus words, and thought groups will make a much bigger difference in how well your students are able to communicate with native and non-native speakers alike!
That being said, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to get your learners to practice identifying and incorporating the use of thought groups into their daily speech. Today I’m going to share 4 new activities that will help your students work on improving their communication through thought groups.
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A Few Notes on Thought Groups:
Before we dive into the activities, there are a few things to note. First, thought groups can vary greatly depending upon who is speaking and what context they’re speaking in. More formal speech tends to contain much shorter thought groups, which means more pauses. On the other hand, informal speech tends to feature much longer thought groups.
That being said, every speaker will break up their speech in a different way. When working with thought groups, prioritize the act of listening for and thinking about how to group words together. When your students are able to identify thought groups and chunks of speech, they’re better able to follow long strings of speech and comprehend in terms of phrases or thought groups, and not simply in terms of individual words.
If you’re not familiar with thought groups or want to brush up on your knowledge of this aspect of pronunciation, I’ve written an entire article about what thought groups are, how to teach them, and a few basic activities to use with your students to practice, which you can find by clicking the button below!
Can I Have Your Number? (Beginner)
When working with lower-level learners, pronunciation may be the last thing on your mind. However, introducing thought groups or, more specifically, pausing while speaking to communicate meaning, is a great way to make sure your students are starting off on the right foot.
Lower-level learners may not have the language necessary to listen to and comprehend short speeches, take note of pauses in everyday speech, or practice pausing while having a conversation. If this is the case for your learners, numbers are a great place to begin!
Telephone numbers only require a basic knowledge of the numbers 1-10, and they’re a great place to practice pausing in speech. Have your students read phone numbers to one another, pausing where the dashes are, while their partner writes the number down.
For an extra challenge, give your students phone numbers from other countries as well. Every country follows a different pattern of numbers, which requires your students to actually listen to where their partner is pausing in order to put the dash in the correct place.
Did You Know That…?
Reading sentences and practicing pronunciation can become repetitive and boring very quickly, which is why it’s important to find a way to “spice things up!” With this activity, your students will have to read some mismatched sentences that are sure to elicit a few laughs.
For this activity you’ll need three different colored papers. On one color, you’ll want to write subjects of a sentence. Cut out each subject on a different square. On the second color, you’ll want to write the verb phrase of the sentence. Cut each of these out as well. Finally, on the third color, you’ll want to write the adjective phrase of the sentence.
A penguin ----- likes to waddle ---- on top of the ice.
The president ----- works all day and all night ----- in order to make sure we’re safe.
My mom ------ enjoys reading ---- when it’s raining outside.
You can get as creative as you’d like with this activity, but you’ll want to make sure the sentence pieces all work together.
Have students work with a partner and choose one of each color. Students must read their sentence out loud to their partner, pausing slightly after each card in order to signal the end and beginning of a thought group. Have students put their sentence at the end of the phrase, “did you know…?” in order to create a more natural flow.
Students can practice their sentence a few times and have their partner help make sure that they’re pausing for thought groups.
If your students have trouble pausing for too long or too short, model these extremes. Put a sentence up on the board and say the whole sentence with no pauses. Then, say the sentence with really long, unnatural pauses. Finally, model one of the correct ways to separate the sentence by thought groups. Have students do the same with a partner.
Formal or Informal? (Advanced)
Like I mentioned above, formal and informal speech both use thought groups in different ways. Formal speech tends to have shorter, more frequent thought groups, while informal speech tends to feature longer, less frequent thought groups. If you’re working with higher-level learners, explain this concept to them and find a few different audio clip examples to listen to.
Give your students the opportunity to practice both identifying these differences in audio clips, as well as practice incorporating these differences into their speech before moving onto the next activity.
Before class, put a bunch of different quotes (both informal and formal) into a hat or container, as well as a bunch of different roleplay situations (both informal and formal) into a different hat or container. Have students pair up and choose three quotes and one situation. Each group must write a role play that involves the situation they chose and incorporates their three quotes. Make students pay attention to the situation their role play takes place in because that will influence where they choose to put their thought groups!
When working with thought groups, it’s important that students have the opportunity to practice both identifying them in someone else’s speech (to practice active listening and comprehending chunks of speech instead of individual words) and incorporating thought groups into their own speech patterns.
In this activity, students will work in pairs to both listen and speak. You’ll need to prepare two different speeches or pieces of text for each pair to work with. Each student should have a copy of both (Speech A and Speech B). Student A will begin by marking Speech A with slashes (/) to signify the beginning and ending of each thought group, according to them. Meanwhile, Student B will begin doing the same to Speech B.
After students have a chance to work through their own speech, they’ll take turns reading the speech to one another. While Student A reads Speech A, Student B should be marking their own copy of Speech A according to where Student A has signaled a thought group. They should check their answers against one another’s speeches and discuss any differences. Next, Student B will take a turn doing the same thing with Speech B.
Who knew that pronunciation could be fun to practice? Thought groups are a great way to improve communication, practice speaking, and have fun while you’re doing it! Try out one of the activities above with your learners to help them become more fluent and confident when speaking English!
If you’re looking for more information to help you become confident teaching thought groups, be sure to check out our English Pronunciation Guide: Thought Groups Edition!
I Want to Hear From You!
How do you teach your students about thought groups?
How do you improve your students’ rhythm and intonation?