Rat Race, giving directions

This is not my idea, I got it as I was searching for videos related to directions by youtube user dabitkim [Update – youtube version no longer available, added google drive version]:

Also the notion of starting from the middle of a recording comes from this post on listening by Rachael Roberts/@teflerinha after John Madden.

Typically I use this video after I have done previous work on giving directions.

I made my own cut of the scenes without the subtitles and also extracted the sound file as an mp3. (Let me know if you want a copy, I don’t want to tempt any copyright issues by posting to the blog).

I draw three columns on the board, I label the middle column first – “What I heard” and say to students to note down as much as they hear.

I play the audio mp3 recording from the middle of the scene, where the squirrel lady says “Now listen carefully” (1.09) up to when the driver says “Thank you very much”.

After a few listens I ask students to compare their transcription with a neighbour. Then I play the audio recording phrase by phrase and, with the help of the class, write down the dialogue on the board.

Once the dialogue is written I go through some alternative language for directions that one could substitute into the dialogue.

-Now listen carefully.

-You wanna go straight

down here exactly 1.8 miles.

– 1.8.

– And make a left at the Totem Pole Ranch.

-Go 5.4 miles and

then go up a big hill.

-And you’ll see a big yellow sign

with some graffiti on it.

-There’s a little the dirt road, take that on the right.

It’ll take you right to the interstate.

– Thank you very much

Then, referring back to the three columns on the board, I ask students what they thought “Came before” (I write that in the first column) and “What comes after” (I write that in the third column).

During the preceding section, after Madden, I may prompt them and ask about who they think the characters are, their emotions, their relationship.

Before playing the video recording I ask them to listen out for a word and a phrase related to giving directions – “shortcut”, “it’ll save you …”.

I then play the video and the ending usually gets a laugh. This activity lasts about 20 minutes more or less depending on the level of your group.

Hope you like it and do comment if you have used this video already.


Used this recently and added a little production activity, after students watch the video – ask them to imagine that the squirrel lady gave the correct directions because the two lost people bought a squirrel.

Using the IDEA accent archive in one-to-one classes

Recently I’ve been using the International Dialects of English Archive frequently when teaching Business English one-to-one to employed adults.

This post outlines what I usually do, hoping to learn from readers who may comment on other ways that one can use the archive. So please do let me know.

Usually the need for listening practice with an accent occurs in class, this is not a problem as the archive’s interface allows one to look for and download a file fairly rapidly (see Update 5 below). I download both a recording and its transcript. The recordings are monologues recounting personal information about the speaker.

The student is told to listen a couple of times (more if needed) and note down as much as they can understand. They are also told to listen out for only the second part of the recording as the first part is of the person reading from a set text. The transcript is then given for the student to read and listen to the archive at the same time.

As well as practising listening, I also use the transcript to look at any lexis questions the student may have.

Although I have yet to do this, for students wanting more accent training, selected phrases/chunks from the recording could be used for students to write down word for word. The transcript could also be used to get students to mark word stress/sentence stress/connected speech.

A post by Rachael Roberts/@teflerhina describes some ways to focus on decoding skills.

I have also been toying around with the idea of pointing to words and phrases in the transcript which the student would have to seek in the recording using the forward/back buttons on the player.

How would you/do you use it?

Update 1:

A news article describing recent research looking at accents and comprehensibility (HT @TESOL_Assn) caught my attention. I always wonder how much accent listening work would be useful for my learners, thinking I do too little. This research suggests that comprehensibility in the form of grammar and vocabulary may be more important than pronunciation. Food for thought.

Update 2:

A rich post by Kevin Stein/@kevchanwow on helping beginners with listening to English has given me some ideas to check whether my learners have segmentation issues or not.

Update 3:

A great post on connected speach by Rachael Roberts/@teflerhina led me to this video by Mark Hancock explaining one way to help students with accents. He identifies 5 vowels and 5 consonants which are vulnerable to change according to the speech community the speaker is from. I find this is to be a very handy guide and look forward to applying it with my students. The handout of the talk can be found here.

Update 4:

A great post describing the use of micro-listenings by Carolyn Kerr/@KerrCarolyn.

Update 5:

It is not as simple now to download recordings for offline use. If you have Firefox from the page with recording you want go to Tools/PageInfo/Media tab and you will see mp3 in list.