English Central

Pronunciation Mirroring with EnglishCentral.com

Heather Torrie, Purdue University Calumet

Teaching Suprasegmentals
When attempting to teach pronunciation, teachers often wonder how much focus should be placed on segmentals and suprasegmentals. While both are important in improving intelligibility and communicativeness, suprasgemental pronunciation instruction may be a better choice of emphasis in a classroom with diverse L1 backgrounds. Some research also supports a focus on the suprasegmentals (see Hahn 2004 and Pickering 2001).

To teach suprasegmental pronunciation, including intonation, sentence-level stress, rhythm, and linking, one useful activity is mirroring. Basically, mirroring means that learners listen to a short segment, such as a sentence or phrase, in the video, and then repeat the speaker immediately after hearing it. If you think about it, this is how we learned our L1 in the first place—by hearing and imitating the intonation and rhythm of our parents. In the classroom, mirroring native speech in movies or recordings can be extremely fun and engaging.

What is EnglishCentral.com?
While mirroring can be done with any pre-recorded audio or video passage, it is easier for students to use a resource that includes the transcript. Websites such as About.com or Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (esl-lab.com) are great tools for mirroring, since they allow learners to see the text while they here it.

EnglishCentral.com is a great site that has an extensive gallery of short video clips with subtitles. Videos can be searched by keyword, genre, or difficulty level. A basic account is free and contains all the capabilities needed for successful mirroring. After the login, there are three modes. The watch mode shows the video clip with or without the captions. The learn mode stops after each line, allowing learners to replay the line slower, as well as do a cloze listening exercise. The speak mode is where learners repeat back and record their own speech samples, getting instant computer-generated feedback.

Classroom Application
While instructors can have students work on this site independently as homework or in the computer lab, it is also useful in class. Instructors could select a meaningful video clip, perhaps based thematically based, and have students do a choral mirroring of each line.

To add even more focus, instructors can choose a particular pronunciation feature for the class to work on, such as thought groups. EnglishCentral.com includes the complete transcript, in addition to showing the text line-by-line. Instructors can then print out the transcript and have students mark pronunciation guidelines as they listen, and then follow them as they mirror the speaker. In this example, students could draw short lines to mark the divisions between thought groups. This will then help them to focus on dividing the speech into chunks as they repeat after the speaker.

After teaching a particular pronunciation feature, an assessment could be having the students record their own version of the video clip in its entirety. Although EnglishCentral.com allows recording, it only saves the student’s speech temporarily. For assessment purposes, a good option is to use a free audio recording tool, such as Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). Once recorded and submitted via email or Blackboard, the instructor could use a focused scoring rubric. In this type of assessment, the only thing being graded is the pronunciation feature in focus.

The Bottom Line
Overall, this is a great tool that students love! The broad range of video clips ensures something for every lesson and every proficiency level. Of course pronunciation mirroring can be done with any website with speech samples and a transcript, but the interactive features and self-recording make this one of the best.


Hahn, L.D. (2004). Primary stress and intelligibility: Research to motivate the teaching of suprasegmentals. TESOL Quarterly, 38(2), 201-223.

Pickering, L. (2001). The role of tone choice for improving ITA communication in the classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 35(2), 233-253.


In writing class my students work on writing paragraphs, and within that context they develop their sentence writing skills. Attached to this post is a very short presentation that gives students practice writing sentences that use the imperative. It also reviews some prepositions that are used when giving instructions on how to cook something. To use it, I suggest that you

  1. Show the picture and the words that are used as prompts.
  2. Ask the students to write the sentence.
  3. Ask the class to show their sentences to their partners or the people sitting near them.
  4. Show them the sentence with a blank where the preposition should be and ask them what they think the preposition is.
  5. Show them the sentence.

Note – It is always put in and add to.

Prepositions for Cooking / Writing Sentences That Use the Imperative

Source for the photo:


That Is Why (Noun Clause)

I’m afraid that I made a mistake in the presentation that I posted on transitions for cause and effect. It seems that that is why is a noun class, so there should be no comma after that is why. I’ve corrected the presentation. I apologize.

Transitions for Cause and Effect (That Is Why)


Reading and analyzing other people’s writing is one way for students to improve their own writing. In the beginning, it can be helpful to guide the analysis. As they gain experience analyzing other people’s work, they will become increasingly capable and eventually independent.

The attached presentation is a simple paragraph written by a student in the fourth week of the semester. Some semesters I attach the presentation to Blackboard, and ask my students review it as part of their homework. Other semesters we analyze it in class. In this case, I write the aspects of spatial order paragraphs that we have studied and that are found in this paragraph on the board.

  • topic sentence
  • detail
  • concluding sentence
  • background information
  • article (a/an/the)
  • there + be (to introduce something)
  • a signal word or phrase
  • punctuation after a dependent clause
  • a starting point

Students sit with partners and talk together about each highlighted section of the paragraph. After the pairs talk, we review what the pairs have discussed.

An Analysis of a Spatial Order Paragraph — My New Kitchen

A simple alternative to using PowerPoint would be to give the students the paragraph on a piece of paper and ask them to find the aspects of spatial order in the paragraph. The advantage of doing the activity this way is that the students are able to see the entire paragraph at one time. The PowerPoint slides present the paragraph in halves.

Source for the image:



Almost every semester one of my students asks about the difference between a crocodile and an alligator. The answer to this question is not really very simple. The fastest way to figure out if something is a crocodile or an alligator is to ask yourself where you are. If you are not at the zoo, and you are in Florida, it’s an alligator. If you are in Australia, it’s a crocodile. Unfortunately this method of determination didn’t help me at all with the lesson on comparatives that I was planning to write. Luckily I was able to find a few differences that fit nicely into the grammatical points I was hoping to teach.

The presentation can be found at


Sources for the photos:


Toward the end of the semester my writing class works on summary paragraphs. One of the challenges of writing a summary paragraph is paraphrasing. In order to paraphrase successfully, the writer needs to convey the correct meaning of the original without plagiarizing. This is especially difficult for students who are still developing their English language skills. For the last few semesters, I have been using a PowerPoint presentation with paraphrasing exercises created by Professor Jean Van Meter of Montgomery College in Germantown, Maryland. Slide one starts with the words reading, thinking, understanding, and rewriting. The first time I viewed this slide, I had the feeling I was about to see something good. This first slide gives me the opportunity to remind my students that paraphrasing it not piece by piece work. A successful paraphrase is not a puzzle with tiny parts that you arrange. In order to paraphrase well, you must truly think about what you are reading and understand it. The rest of the presentaion is a series of quotations. Each quotation is followed with wh-questions. These questions are presented one at a time, and after each question the key words used to answer the question are highlighted in the text. This step by step approach is extremely helpful, and students can use this same process later when they paraphrase without the help of their instructor.

In order to help students activate their schema before reading the quotations, I added some images and prereading questions to the orignal presentation. When I asked Professor Van Meter if I could share her presentation with the readers of this blog, she very kindly said yes. The link is



The professional organization for TESOL Illinois just published the latest version of the newsletter. The link is


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