TESOL Connections

Exploring Community Through Writing: Class Activities

by Elena Shvidko

Help your English language learners become familiar with their local academic and community environments using these project ideas and activities in the second language writing classroom. Your students will have a chance to socialize, become involved in their communities, and express themselves in a variety of written genres. 

In second language writing teaching, there are countless writing projects that teachers can implement to help students become familiar with their local academic environment (campus, institution, or program; see my July 6 TESOL Blog post for some project ideas). Here, I provide a list of writing tasks aimed at helping students socialize in their local communities by adding writing assignments that will give students a chance to become involved in their local social environment (i.e., city or town).

Here are some ideas for your writing students:

  • Attend an event (e.g., festival, fair, cultural celebration, sporting event, concert) sponsored by the local community and write a paper reporting on this experience.
  • Write a paragraph/paper analyzing one of the current issues in the local community. In addition to analysis, describe one of the current issues in the local community and propose a solution or a series of solutions.
  • Think of an area in your local town or city that could be improved. This area might be a single building such as the city library or a school, or it could be a larger area such as the city square, a park, downtown, or a certain street. Students could describe current problems they see with this area (e.g., insufficient parking, unclean conditions) and propose solutions to these problems.
  • Explore local businesses (e.g., companies and stores) and write a response to the following question: What effects (if any) does globalization have on local businesses?
  • Explore local restaurants, grocery stores, clubs, organizations, churches, and schools and write a paper describing the effects of globalization on (choose one):
    1. local food and dining industry
    2. social life, and
    3. religion and education.
  • Examine products in the local grocery store and write a comparative paper describing similarities and differences between local products and products in their home countries.
  • Analyze an article in a local newspaper, newsletter, or magazine.
  • Visit a local museum, library, or exhibit hall and write a reflective piece on your experience.
  • Write an opinion paper on cleaning and recycling measures (or lack thereof) undertaken by the local city administration.
  • Volunteer in an event sponsored by the local community and describe your experience.
  • Examine menus from local restaurants and write a paper
    • discussing whether or not you believe the restaurants cater to diverse populations of customers.
    • about whether or not restaurants offer healthy choices for customers (generally speaking). You could also offer suggestions on how to provide more nutritious options for the public.
  • Write a review on your favorite restaurant in town. The review might include type of restaurant, menu, price range, food quality, atmosphere, service, and your own experience.
  • You could invite a guest speaker from a local organization, club, or supporting services and ask students to write a paper about this visit. The prompt and the genre of the paper will depend on the topic or nature of the presentation.
  • Interview a representative of a local club, organization, or supporting services and write an interview report.
  • You could organize a photo contest in which each student submits a photo titled “How I See This Town,” along with a paragraph describing what the photo represents.
  • Write a short paper-advertisement (aimed at tourists coming to your area) describing (choose one):
    • shopping opportunities
    • performance arts and culture
    • family activities
    • recreation
    • dining options
    • outdoors opportunities
    • sporting events, and
    • nightlife.
    Students could use the city website (if applicable) to gather the information, or you could bring brochures and flyers from the local visitor center.
  • Create a 1-, 2-, or 3-day itinerary for tourists and visitors. Similar to the previous task, students could use the city website (if applicable), or you could bring brochures and flyers from the local visitor center.
  • Describe your favorite attraction in town explaining why you like it and why it is a must-see for all tourists.
  • Visit a local gift shop, examine the gifts for sale, and write a reflective paper on how these gifts may represent the city, town, or area, and why they might be memorable for visitors.
  • Explore a historical building in the city, look up factual information online (if available), and write a summary briefly describing the history of the building project, the materials, and the interior and exterior of the building.

These writing tasks can be adapted to your local environment, the level of your students, and your teaching objectives.

Apart from helping students develop their writing skills, these assignments will also allow students to become more familiar with the local community. They can be fun and motivating because students have a chance to participate in some local events and organizations and get involved in the life of the community.

If you have suggestions on how to engage students in the local community through writing projects, please share your ideas on my TESOL Blog.

*A version of this article first appeared on the TESOL Blog, 13 July 2018.


Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESL Canada Journal, Journal of Pragmatics, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.

Teaching Pragmatics Through Theater

by Alice Savage
Learn why plays are the perfect tool for teaching the "hidden" language of pragmatics, how to build a pragmatics lesson around them, and what types of plays are most effective for ELs. 

When people have a conversation, they do not just exchange information. Rather, they negotiate a relationship, and the social skills involved are called pragmatics. To be good at pragmatics is to be good at the art of sending and receiving implicit messages and intentions. This can be done through gesture, intonation, the choice of specific phrases, or even silences.

For example, if I say, “I don’t want you to take this wrong way, but…” you are immediately alerted to the fact that I’m about to make an observation that is not flattering. I may also underscore my sincere good will through the pitch of my voice, my eyes, and my body language. Likewise, when my college-aged son tells his friend, “Yeah, I got you,” he usually nods in a gesture of empathy and understanding. “Yeah, I got you,” is a short, frequently used phrase that young adults in his subculture use to bond with each other and signal their willingness to continue listening.

These expressions and gestures are loaded with meanings beyond the literal, and they help speakers make moves in a conversation. Conklin & Schmitt’s (2012) research suggests that English learners can increase their fluency by storing these frequently occurring formulaic sequences. They can also benefit from watching and mimicking the body language of different types of conversations.

Recently, there has been a call for instruction in the “hidden” language of pragmatics, but the field is only just beginning to figure out how to create appropriate classroom materials. Most course book dialogs do not include the patterns of real conversations with their backchannelling and culturally embedded messages. Yet according to Ishihara and Cohen (2010), without direct instruction, it can take up to 10 years in a second language context for a learner to acquire these pragmatics skills.

Playwrights and Pragmatics

Fortunately, there is a group of people whose career depends on their awareness of pragmatics, and that is playwrights. They may not know the term pragmatics, but their job is to write conversations that resonate authentically with their audience. A play explores what happens when people use their pragmatics skills, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

“I put words in their mouths,” writes Australian playwright Bovell (2017).

It is this, more than anything else that distinguishes what I do as a playwright and screenwriter from the work of the novelist, or the poet, or the short story writer. They write their words primarily to be read. I write mine primarily, to be said and heard. (p. 11

In addressing this distinction, Bovell (2017) is very aware of the pragmatics of the situations in which he puts his characters. Their impulses and reactions inform his decisions about the dialog. He knows that a character wants something and must use social skills to achieve it. For example, if Nora wants approval from Torvald, she has to create the conditions in which he is likely to give it. If she speaks recklessly, she may hurt her chances of success. This movement toward an outcome is what theater artists call rising tension. The situation is constructed, but it resonates with people because it reflects the patterns and dynamics of real life.

Teachers and students can make great use of these conversations in the classroom. A theater script can showcase the unfolding of a relationship through the language moves that characters make. Here’s an example from Only the Best Intentions (2018) by Alice Savage, a one-act family drama written for English learners. In the opening scene, a mother and father are talking about their son, who has missed the bus. There is a short exchange in which both are frustrated. We only hear the mother (Fiona), but her language choices reveal a movement from venting her frustration to collaborating on a solution. Here is Fiona, talking on the phone:

Jaime missed the bus again
I thought you were taking care of it.
I was, but the repair guy is coming.
For the dishwasher. I told you.
I know, but I can’t leave. He’ll be here any minute.
I know you can’t. So…what do you want to do?

When Fiona shifts to, “So…what do you want to do?”, she pauses to signal a transition. Then she invites her husband to offer a solution. In this way, she’s signaling her willingness to collaborate. This interaction can be highlighted and discussed. Students can read the scene aloud and feel “the words in their mouths” and process the experience, perhaps coming away with a strategy they can use in group projects or with coworkers.

Or not. With pragmatics, it is important that learners have agency. Ishihara and Cohen (2010) make a distinction between raising awareness of pragmatics patterns and imposing them:

It is up to the learners themselves as to whether they will choose to be pragmatically appropriate. Even if they gain an understanding of the social and cultural norms, they could still resist accommodating to L2 norms in their own pragmatic performance. (p. 14)

In other words, pragmatics through theater is about helping students investigate the language choices of characters. Then they can make informed choices about how they want to function in the new language identity.

Building a Pragmatics Lesson

In designing lesson plans that involve pragmatics through theater, there are several approaches you can take. The following example sequence is just one option among many, and not all the elements would need to be included.

Start by selecting a specific scene that has examples of functional language such as persuading, apologizing, or airing a grievance. Then follow the steps.

1. Begin With an Experience

Ideally, a pragmatics lesson starts with an experience, so a video or audio recording of a scene can provide a model and initiate discussion. (If a recording is not available, move straight to 2.) When the rhythm of a naturally scripted dialog unfolds, students’ innate ability to extract patterns and meaning can be surprisingly keen. They can listen to a scene and identify the context, the relationship between the characters, and what they are talking about through the intonation of the actors and the backchanneling in the script.

2. Read and Discuss

Students do a close read of the script and discuss characters’ choices and their outcomes. Does the character achieve a goal, or does she make an error? Here’s an example from Let the Right One In, a play about teenage vampires by Lindqvist and Thorne (2004). In the play, Oskar is a bullied high school student who meets a strangely pale but athletic girl named Eli. She is a vampire, but Oscar does not know this.

Eli: I can’t be friends with you, just so you know.
Oscar: What?
Eli: Sorry, I’m just telling you how it is. Just so you know.
Oscar: What makes you think I’d want to be friends with you? You must be pretty stupid.
Eli: Sorry. But that’s how it is.

In this scene, Eli is trying to be honest, and she uses just so you know twice. It softens the effect of her statement, though it still hurts Oskar. His defensive response is understandable, but it is not what he is really feeling. This short interaction can be decoded and discussed with students and perhaps lead to discussions of students’ experiences, in their L1 or L2. They come away with language they can use when they need to relate information that is difficult to hear.

3. Rehearse the Scene

After reading and discussing the script, students can break into groups and take on roles. In their rehearsal groups they can practice line readings with the goal of getting the stress, intonation, and gesture of the moment. An interesting side activity is to regroup all the people playing the same role to discuss their character. They can then return to their rehearsal group with new insight. Actors can also experiment with stress, intonation, and gesture to see how it feels to communicate emotions and messages in English contexts.

Students can also go “off-script” and improvise in a new context. For instance, after reading a scene in which a couple discuss their rebellious son, students can improvise a scene in which the son complains to a friend about his parents.

4. Performance and Production of Language

A production can take different forms. Students can memorize and stage a full production. A staged reading is blocked for movement, but actors carry scripts. Finally, in a readers’ theater version, the actors focus on fluency and read from a script.

For logistics, there are also different options. You can divide a larger class into two groups and have them develop the same or separate scripts and then perform for each other. Students can add scenes, adapt scenes, or even change the ending. You can also switch genders. For example, the female lead becomes a male with a name change. That can lead to an interesting conversation about how gender affects language choices.

After a performance, you can lead a talkback in which the audience comments and asks questions, and the actors respond. Some questions might include

  • How did you prepare for your role?
  • Why didn’t your character…?
  • What was the relationship between X and Y?

These questions can also lead to interesting discussions about human behavior and lead to insight into the pragmatic elements of culture.

Finally, have students write and perform their own role-plays and simulations that reflect their unique realities. Writing a play starts with a conflict. Just have students explore a question, such as what happens when a daughter and her parents do not agree about her career choice. Have students create characters and explore what they might say to achieve their goals.

Plays to Use With English Learners

A professional play such as Let the Right One In often has more intense situations than real life, but it still contains the “truth in fiction” dialog that can resonate with readers. Many of the classic 20th-century family dramas include similar opportunities to feel a character and his or her language from the inside. The following plays were recommended by Frances Boyd and Christopher Collins at the annual TESOL convention in Chicago:

  • Lost in Yonkers, Neil Simon
  • Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  • Our Town, Thornton Wilder

A naturalistic play written specifically for language learners is another option. Alphabet Publishing has a series of 20-minute plays for students from high-school age to higher education with pragmatics and pronunciation activities, and Theatrefolk has scripts for the K–12 age range for purchase.


Listening to and performing in a play can be a rewarding experience for teachers and students as it opens up conversations about culture, history, language, and human behavior. It can also give students a chance to move beyond the study of words on the page to the dynamics of real people struggling with real issues.


Bovell, A. (2017, August). Putting words in their mouths: the playwright and screenwriter at work. Strawberry Hills, New South Wales: Currency House.

Conklin, K., & Schmitt, N. (2012). The processing of formulaic language. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 32, 45–61.

Ishihara, N., & Cohen, A. D. (2010). Teaching and learning pragmatics where language and culture meet. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman.

Lindqvist, A. J., & Thorne, J. (2004). Let the right one in. London, England: Nick Hern Books.

Savage, A. (2018). Only the best intentions. Branford, CT: Alphabet Publishing. 

Download this article (PDF)

Alice Savage teaches an English through drama class at Lone Star College, North Harris. She is the author of several short plays for the classroom and is currently working on a book for teaching language skills through drama. For more information about drama in English language teaching, visit her blog at EnglishEndeavors.org

    Push for Change: 2018 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit

    The 2018 summit brought nearly 100 professionals to Capitol Hill. Learn what the attendees accomplished and what you can do to start advocating today! 

    This past June, TESOL International Association held its annual TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit, which brought more than 90 TESOL professionals from all over the United States, including representatives from 26 affiliates, to Washington, DC, for 3 full days of learning, networking, and advocating on Capitol Hill. This year’s summit was supported in part by TESOL’s strategic partner, the American Federation of Teachers.

    With the goal of equipping TESOL professionals with the tools to become influential advocates on behalf of English learners (ELs) and embedding the knowledge of key education policies, the summit saw attendees spend the first 2 days learning from policy experts, networking with other TESOL professionals, and understanding effective advocacy techniques and strategies. The summit concluded with attendees holding more than 150 meetings with senators, representatives, and staffers on Capitol Hill.

    Jennifer Slinkard (left) of AZ TESOL and John Segota

    Preparing for Effective Advocacy

    Following opening remarks from TESOL International Association President Luciana C. de Oliveira and Executive Director Christopher Powers, both of whom stressed the importance of collective advocacy, the summit began with a detailed legislative update from TESOL’s John Segota, Associate Executive Director for Public Policy and Professional Relations, and David Cutler, Policy and Communications Manager. Touching on significant issues facing all ELs, the speakers provided attendees with a wealth of policy information from the very start. Both Segota and Cutler detailed the Fiscal Year 2018 federal budget for major education programs, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); spoke about the numerous bill in Congress that aim to address undocumented students, such as the Dream Act and BRIDGE Act; and also discussed the possibility of reorganizing the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) within the U.S. Department of Education. Following this in-depth update, participants gathered for a general session led by Roger Rosenthal of the Migrant Legal Action Program, who discussed the rights of immigrant children and ELs in public schools.

    Learning Strategies and Building Background Knowledge

    After a productive networking lunch, the afternoon offered a general session presented by Anne Marie Foerster Luu and Lori Dodson, two of the editors of Teachers as Allies: Transformative Practices for Teaching DREAMers and Undocumented Students, and Sandra Duval, a chapter author, which focused on strategies for advocating for ELs based on real stories from the classroom. The speakers focused on the following:

    • The importance of using your story as an ally and of highlighting students’ stories to personalize your message.
    • The importance of using counter-stories to help legislators really understand the challenges faced by our students and their families and how they can help us meet our mandate to educate.

    The busy first day concluded with a general session that introduced various advocacy techniques, skills, tips, and other helpful information to attendees as they prepared for their meetings on Capitol Hill.

    The summit opened its second day on Tuesday with a general session that provided attendees with updates from the U.S. Department of Education. José Viana, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the OELA, gave participants a full update on current OELA initiatives and progress reports for ELs across the nation. Additionally, Deputy Director Chris Coro of the Office of Career, Adult, and Technical Education held a breakout session and provided helpful information on his office’s current initiatives and the implementation of WIOA across the United States. The morning continued packed full of breakout sessions from the Migration Policy Institute, National Skills Coalition, and American Federation of Teachers.

    A Congressional Speaker: Encouragement and Advice

    Before breaking for lunch, participants welcomed the first-ever member of Congress to speak at the summit, Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI), who discussed his recently introduced bill, the Reaching English Learners Act (HR 4838). The bill would create a new funding stream within Title II of the Higher Education Act to help better prepare future English language teachers by providing grants to create partnerships between teacher education programs and local schools, allowing for future teachers to work with ELs earlier and more frequently in their training. As participants prepared to ask their members of Congress to become cosponsors of this important bill, the congressman offered words of encouragement and advice for this year’s advocates, emphasizing the importance of advocating for ELs and their teachers.

    (Left to right) Christopher Powers, John Segota,
    and David Cutler with (bottom) Rep. Langevin

    Following Rep. Langevin’s visit, attendees spent the afternoon preparing for their meetings on Capitol Hill, where they learned about current legislation in Congress affecting ELs and TESOL educators, as well as tips on how to effectively hold meetings and discuss EL issues with members of Congress and their staffers. Throughout the afternoon, participants worked in small groups, often with peers from the same state, where they strategized for their meetings on the Hill.

    Visiting Capitol Hill: A Fruitful Endeavor

    On Wednesday, summit participants descended on Capitol Hill, meeting with their representatives in the House and Senate. Many participants from the same state met with their representatives as a group, in a concerted effort to advocate on behalf of ELs and fellow educators from their home state, on issues such as passing the Dream Act, securing funding for Titles I and II of ESSA, and passing the Reaching English Learners Act. After crisscrossing the Capitol grounds, participants gathered for one last dinner, where they shared their experiences after a long day of advocating.

    Noting the importance of teamwork when advocating for her students, Cherri Washington of Georgia noted, “If it wasn’t for being able to meet with my team members from Georgia, I wouldn’t have been able to stand my ground.” Other participants also had positive reflections after their meetings, including Judy O’Loughlin of California, who said, “All of the representatives we met with really listened to us and our issues.” Finally, Efrain Soto Santiago of Puerto Rico applauded the summit, saying, “I couldn’t miss out on the genuine messages being sent out here. Next year, I can’t come alone, I need to bring more people with me!”

    Rep. Moore (D-WI; left) with Lori Menning, WITESOL

    In the aftermath of this year’s summit, participants saw their hard work pay off almost immediately—which is truly remarkable. A major accomplishment that can be directly attributed to the advocacy work of summit attendees was the several members of Congress who agreed to become cosponsors of the Reaching English Learners Act, including the bill’s first Republican cosponsor, making it a bipartisan piece of legislation. Members of Congress who agreed to cosponsor this bill after meeting with TESOL advocates include Rep. Moore (D-WI), Rep. Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Rep. Hurd (R-TX).

    Support Your Students: Become an Advocate

    If you weren’t able to attend the 2018 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, that doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for your ELs. Emphasizing what she experienced during the summit and the need to focus on continuous advocacy efforts, TESOL President de Oliveira said, “Being advocates is a yearlong activity. I think we can bring back what we learned here to our affiliates, schools and students.”

    To get started advocating, check out TESOL’s Advocacy Resources page, which includes

    To go to the source and schedule a meeting with your congress member, begin with this helpful infographic: 6-Step Guide to Scheduling Congressional Meetings

    Information about the 2019 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, including the dates and location, will be announced in early 2019.


    Listening to Real-World English, Part 1: Connected Speech

    by Mark R. Emerick, Elvis Wagner, Linlin Wang
    In the first of this three-part series, learn about the challenges of listening to real-world language; the lesson plan raises your ELs' awareness of connected speech. 

    Listening in a second language (L2) is hard! A challenge for many L2 listeners is that spoken language is quite different from written language. Unplanned speech usually contains connected speech, pauses and hesitation phenomena, and backchanneling, all of which can cause comprehension problems for L2 listeners:

    • Connected speech is the natural process of articulating rapid speech resulting in phonologically modified forms that differ from citation forms (clear pronunciation of a word in isolation).
    • Hesitation phenomena, including false starts, repetitions, and pauses, are often found in oral language because speakers are composing and uttering their message at the same time.
    • Backchanneling, through which an effective listener demonstrates engagement with the speaker, indicates comprehension and agreement.

    Materials developers and teachers often address L2 listening difficulties by modifying spoken texts to make them more comprehensible to learners (often referred to as “textbook texts”). An obvious way to do this is by using audiotexts created especially for L2 listeners, where the speakers speak slowly without the authentic aforementioned features. This approach can be beneficial in exposing learners to spoken language without overwhelming them, because listening to rapid, authentic speech with abundant connected speech, false starts, and hesitation phenomena can be frustrating for learners, especially beginning learners, and can even be demotivating.

    However, an overreliance on these artificial textbook texts can also be problematic. Too many language learners have had the unsettling experience of diligently studying a foreign language for years, only to visit a country where that language is actually spoken and discovering that the language sounds vastly different from what they learned in their L2 classroom. In rapid speech, the act of articulating an utterance is affected by numerous processes, including word stress, sentence timing and stress, reduction, elision, intrusion, assimilation, juncture, and contraction. These processes result in extensive instances of connected speech (Brown, 2012). Common examples of connected speech are phrases like What are you doing? or I am going to, which are not fully articulated in everyday, natural speech. Instead, they sound more like Whatch doin’? or I’m gonna, respectively. Connected speech is not bad, sloppy, or lazy speech; rather, it is a naturally occurring process in virtually all spoken registers and styles, although it is more common in informal contexts. Connected speech can be more difficult for L2 listeners to comprehend than spoken texts without connected speech (Brown, 2012).

    The purpose of this series of three articles is to give concrete examples showing how teachers and curriculum developers can effectively incorporate real-world spoken language in the L2 classroom, without overwhelming or discouraging learners. We provide three general lesson outlines for teachers to use and adapt for their particular class contexts.

    Real-World Spoken Language in the Classroom

    Three Lessons

    These three lessons are focused on raising learners’ awareness of (1) connected speech, (2) hesitation phenomena, and (3) backchanneling in real-world interactive conversations. They include web addresses for videotexts and audiotexts that can be used in the lessons, and suggestions about how to use the spoken texts. Though these lessons are focused on upper beginners, the texts can be used with a variety of ability levels. In fact, one of the advantages of using authentic, real-world spoken texts like these is that activities can be tailored for use with both advanced and beginning learners (Wagner, 2014).

    It is important to remember that humans are not good multitaskers. Thus, you should avoid asking L2 listeners to simultaneously listen for overall comprehension and specific vocabulary or linguistic features. With this in mind, the three lessons focus on particular forms in the text (i.e., connected speech, hesitation phenomena, and backchannels). Before focusing on these forms, however, we suggest that lessons begin with a focus on comprehension. After the learners have a fairly complete understanding of the text, you can then do postlistening tasks focused on specific linguistic features. Indeed, it is important to provide multiple playings of a spoken text, each time with a specific while-listening task.


    Connected speech is often covered in speaking instruction (mainly with the goal of speaking more naturally) but may be neglected when teaching listening. This is unfortunate, because acknowledging the importance of connected speech in listening can not only help learners develop better L2 listening skills but can also facilitate students’ understanding of the differences between oral and written language. The lesson presented in this article is designed to capitalize on the benefits of utilizing top-down processing in the first few steps to support comprehension, and then, after learners achieve a basic level of comprehension, the lesson shifts to develop their bottom-up processing skills (Field, 2003). The lesson provides students with direct and guided instruction on connected speech, which benefits them even with no prior knowledge of the linguistic feature. Because much of the difficulty in connected speech comes from students’ inability to draw the nexus between the connected words in spoken language and the citation form, using visuals to introduce connected speech is important. The visuals for this lesson include slides and handouts with an accessible definition of connected speech and several examples of common occurrences of connected speech in English.

    The noticing connected speech in discourse activity (Steps 5 and 6) requires re-viewing the video to give learners an opportunity to identify connected speech in discourse and use it as a tool for comprehending aural input. The final step, a brief discussion on the effectiveness of recognizing connected speech, is especially important, because the debrief helps promote metacognition, which is an important factor in L2 listening comprehension (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012).

    Adapting for Different Proficiency Levels

    The use of real-world spoken texts should be motivating for learners, and you can stress to your students that this is the type of language they will hear outside the classroom. Instead of using textbook texts that lack the characteristics of real-world spoken language, use authentic spoken texts in your classroom but make them accessible and comprehensible for your learners by modifying the task demands according to their needs and abilities. For beginner learners, more prelistening and scaffolding activities will be needed to provide context and allow learners to access their background knowledge. In addition, shorter segments of the texts can be used, with repeated playings. Pauses can be inserted (at natural discourse boundaries) to provide opportunities for the learners to catch up with the aural texts.

    Understanding Connected Speech: Lesson 1

    • “UC Riverside student talk about their first year of college” YouTube video (beginning to 1:10)
    • Appendix A: Connected Speech Examples (.pdf)
    • Appendix B: Connected Speech Guided Practice (.pdf)
    • Appendix C: Connected Speech Cloze Activity (.pdf)

    Audience: WIDA level 2; CEFR A2
    Objectives: Students will be able to identify connected speech in real-world language and evaluate their own comprehension of connected speech.
    Outcome: Students will watch a video, identify connected speech in a video, and evaluate their experiences processing connected speech. 
    Duration: 45 minutes–1 hour

    Prelistening Activity

    Assign each of the following topics to a pair or group of students to activate background knowledge. The students should discuss the topic and prepare to explain what they discussed.  As they share out, record some of their responses on the board or on poster paper.

    • Challenges that first-year college students face
    • Myths vs. the reality of college
    • Differences between high school and college
    • The best things about college


    1. Show the video and instruct students to listen for the four themes discussed in the previous activity.

    2. After listening, have students complete the following tasks:

      1. Write down examples of the four themes that they heard in the video.
      2. Share and compare examples with a partner.
      3. As a class, add anything new that was said in the video on the board or poster paper from the brainstorming in Step 1.
      4. Have students relisten and note any areas where they have difficulty understanding the speaker. 
      5. Discuss difficulties as a class.
    3. Introduce the concept of connected speech to students by explaining that native speakers talk quickly, resulting in connected speech, which occurs normally in English. Define connected speech in general (e.g., when talking quickly, a speaker joins words together, so the words sound different than they look when written). Provide examples of connected speech (Appendix A).

    4. Hand out Appendix B. Students will listen to you pronounce a phrase or a sentence containing an example of connected speech and work with a partner to match the connected speech they heard to the citation form provided in the word bank. This activity could be facilitated in a number of ways based on the composition of the class and the background of the learners—as an individual paper-and-pencil task, as a whiteboard activity, or as a partner listening and matching activity.

    5. Transition the students back to the videotext used in the comprehension portion of the lesson, explaining that the video they watched at the beginning of the class contained examples of connected speech and that it is possible that the connected speech may have made the video more difficult to understand. Explain that they are going to watch the video one more time to identify the connected speech and that on the first listen, they should just listen and note any examples of connected speech that they notice while listening. After listening, ask students to share instances where they noticed connected speech or to identify areas where they thought the speaker was talking quickly and they had difficulty understanding.

    6. Distribute the cloze activity (Appendix C) and word bank with the citation forms. Play the video a second time so that students can complete the cloze. Repeat as necessary. After listening, students consult their partners to compare their responses.

    7. Finally, debrief the students, asking questions about the effectiveness of attending to connected speech while listening. Possible questions are:

      1. Did learning about connected speech help you understand the video? How?
      2. Do you think paying attention to connected speech will help you with comprehension in other situations? What situations?
      3. When do you think understanding connected speech would be most helpful?


    This lesson is meant to introduce and draw learners’ attention to connected speech in listening because connected speech can cause comprehension difficulties and is often neglected in L2 listening instruction (Wagner & Toth, 2014). Ideally, this lesson would be the first in a series on connected speech and segmenting aural input.

    The next two lessons in this series will focus on introducing and drawing learners’ attention to hesitation phenomena and backchannels.


    Brown, J. D. (2012). New ways in teaching connected speech. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

    Field, J. (2003). Promoting perception: Lexical segmentation in L2 listening. ELT Journal, 57(4), 325–334.

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    Mark R. Emerick is a doctoral candidate in applied linguistics at Temple University’s College of Education. His research interests involve the ways in which beliefs, identity, and language policy facilitate and/or restrict ELLs’ opportunities to achieve college and career readiness. He has taught ESL and sheltered language arts to 7th–12th graders, designed and implemented ESL curricula, and worked on curriculum and assessment projects for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

    Elvis Wagner is an associate professor of TESOL at Temple University. He is interested in the teaching and testing of second language oral communicative competence. His primary research focus examines how L2 listeners process and comprehend unscripted, spontaneous spoken language, and how this type of language differs from the scripted spoken texts learners often encounter in the L2 classroom.

    Linlin Wang is a third-year doctoral student in the Teaching and Learning Department, Temple University. Her research interests include L2 assessment, L2 pedagogy, and multicultural educational issues. She has a master’s degree in TESOL from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in teaching Chinese as a second language from Beijing Language and Culture University. She has been teaching English and Chinese for more than 6 years, working with students with diverse backgrounds.