Lesson idea: Equal accents?

I don’t often share my lesson plans on my blog, quite simply because my lessons tend to be written on and by the experiences of the people in the room. But I’ve been using one lesson consistently at the start of the academic year for some time now, and this year in particular it found echoes in everything I did with my language students for the rest of the year – we kept referring back to the conversations we had in this lesson, so here it is!

Age group:
Ability level:
Intermediate onwards
Teacher tells students to explore the following web sources before the class, and write out some questions they raise for you at the end:
Adrian Holliday on ‘What is culture’
Alex Hammond on English as a Global Language
What is ELF
David Crystal on Global English
In small clusters, one device per cluster

Step 1:
Ask students to describe to you how they would like to sound in English – if they could magically sound like that without needing to do any work. Encourage each cluster of students to look up a brief moment from a film / other media on YouTube to illustrate this ‘perfect’ accent. Have a little fun sharing.
(Teacher: Note on the board the specific features they describe about the accent that makes it sound good.)

Step 2:
Talk about where these accents come from – whether they’re mainly from countries where English is the official / historical first language, whether they’re from countries where English is very widely used, and so on. Allow students some freedom to describe why they look up to certain accents.
(Teacher: Note down in your journal how your students react at this stage)

Step 3:
Share some facts with the students about the spread of English around the world – a simple Wikipedia entry will do. Note how there are more people who speak it as a second and foreign language than there are native speakers.

Step 4:
This is the most important step. Ask your students what they think English in the future will sound like, as more and more people speak it. Ask them also what they feel they need to sound like. Ask “who really judges your spoken English?” “ What is the standard that informs this judgement?”. Please feel free to allow a little L1 use at this stage, reframing their words into English on the blackboard as required. You want this bit to come from the heart!

Step 5:
If there’s time, show them some of the content from the David Crystal videos that you’ve watched beforehand. Decide which part is best for your class.

Step 6:
Get them to write a short piece of reflective writing entitled “My pronunciation goals for this year”. This piece must include information on how they perceive their accent now, which aspects of it can be adjusted, how they would practice and what they think is really important given the context in which they learn English.

Step 7:
Explore the idea of equal accents-equal access, explaining the pun if need be. End the lesson with some reflection on accents and access by linking the discussion to similar hierarchies/issues relating to the students’ L1.

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