Saturday, September 2, 2017

Marsha’s Mixers for Pronunciation and Listening

Teachers at PSLLT 2017 (Pronunciation in
Second Language Learning and Teaching)
conference at the University of Utah

This classroom mixer activity gives students a great number of opportunities to practice listening, speaking, and pronunciation with many interlocutors. 


  • Speak clearly, listen carefully, ask and answer questions in complete sentences.
  • Practice pronunciation, phrasing, stress, intonation, and linking. Oh, and grammar and vocabulary, too!
  • Develop fluency and confidence listening and speaking.
  • Mix and mingle; travel and talk to as many players as possible.
Focus: Stress and intonation on phrasal verbs and linking to pronouns

Prepare the cards

  • Consider the age, language proficiency, interests, majors of your students, and/or current theme of study. 
  • For each mixer set, choose a point of pronunciation and listening for them to practice, ideally something they have been learning, e.g., Yes-no questions, Wh- questions, Questions with two choices/three choices, tag questions; words with /æ/, /ʧ/, plural endings, multiple syllables; separable and/or inseparable phrasal verbs with pronouns; phrases needing linking; short or long sentences, etc. 
  • Determine the pronunciation point(s), be prepared to inform the students what aspects of language they should concentrate on, and provide examples.
  • Write one question on each card (using a pen, typewriter or computer and printer). Use 3” x 5” index cards or paper cut into quarters or smaller strips. Make at least as many cards as students.  
If you have a class of 10, and you are copying questions from a book, it might take 10 minutes to write questions on the cards. If you have 50 students, and you are creating your own questions with more complex requirements, it will take longer to prepare a set. You could create more than one copy of the same question (see the suggestion below about making more than one group of students).

Adult learners engaged in a mixer activity


  • Have students stand.
  • Distribute one card to each student.
  • Explain the language objectives and procedure
  • Demonstrate asking, answering, and exchanging cards with at least one student.
  • Ensure that each student holds a card with a question, turns and faces one other student, and takes turns asking and answering the questions on their partners’ cards. After doing so successfully, these two exchange cards, take their leave, and find another partner, continuing to mix, speak, and listen until the teacher says to stop.
  • Circulate, monitor, clarify students’ understanding of the activity, encourage students to speak with other classmates, give assistance, determine when to end the activity, collect the cards, and sum up the learning points.

"Thank you! Let's exchange cards. See you later!"


  • Everybody participates; nobody sits out.
  • Everybody speaks and listens.
  • Everybody has a chance to ask and answer any given question.
  • Shy students are not silenced by talkative students.
  • Students can learn from each others' responses.
  • Students can help and encourage each other.
  • Students get acquainted with more classmates, not just the ones they typically sit with.
  • Students can get mini-lessons from the teacher or classmates without their misunderstandings, mispronunciations, or other mistakes being broadcast to the whole class.
  • If the teacher participates, students can get live interaction with the expert.

Sample question types for pronunciation and listening           

Yes-no question intonation

Q: Is there a clock on the wall? (Tell students whether to use a short or long answer.)
A: Yes, there is. / Yes, there’s a clock on the wall.

Wh-question intonation

Q: What’s that round thing on the front wall↘?
A: It’s a clock. / That round thing on the front wall is a clock.

Regular past tense endings /t/, /d/, /id/ and linking to “it”.

Q: Did Jack bake the cake? (Answer Yes; use the past tense and a pronoun.)
A: Yes, he baked it. /beykt ɪ t/

Minimal pairs / Target sounds

Q: Which can you eat, a bear or a pear?
A: I can eat a pear, but I can’t eat a bear.

Q: Does Shirley want a shirt? (Answer No; add another statement with /ʃ/.)
A: No, Shirley doesn’t want a shirt. She wants a shawl.

Tag question and listing intonation

Q: Scott has a Volt and a Prius↘, doesn’t he↘? (Answer Yes; add one more.)

A: Yes, he has a Volt, a Prius, and a Tesla↘.

Observations and suggestions

  • If possible, move furniture aside to create space to mix and interact. If the furniture can't be moved, find an area where there’s more space, perhaps at the front of a classroom, or in the hall. For large classes, create more than one group. It’s best not to let students sit, unless their health requires it, so that they can readily turn and move around to find new partners.
  • A mixer can be done for any length of time, say, 15-30 minutes. Plan 20-30 minutes for your first mixer activity, depending on the age. language proficiency, and/or physical ability of your students. Shorter sessions are needed after the students have learned the procedure.
  • Listening-speaking mixers can be conducted at the beginning, middle, or end of a class. At the beginning can help children transition from reading, writing, or recess to oral/aural language learning. It can help older learners transition from work, child care responsibilities, or other classes to target language learning. In the middle of a long class, a mixer can change the pace and awaken the physical and interactive aspects of language learning. At the end, a mixer can solidify points learned during the day's lesson and leave learners upbeat.
  • A relaxed, non-evaluative environment in which students get to interact with many others in the class–not just those who typically sit next to them–can be an incentive to get to class on time (if you do them at the beginning) or stay for the whole class period (if you do them at the end).
  • You may be able to use written activities in your textbook, turning them into listening-speaking activities by copying the sentences or editing them into questions on your cards.
  • Edit and adapt the objectives for each mixer to your class.
  • Decide in advance how much to focus your students’ attention on the language aspects of the questions (for example, stress and intonation) and the interpersonal communication (for example, polite greetings and leave-takings). Vary the focus from one mixer to the next!