Speaking with Emotion

This is a fun activity I do with my students to teach them to speak with emotion. Sometimes they have problems focusing on intonation or emotion because 1) they are too busy thinking about grammar and vocab and 2) because, especially here in Kazakhstan, they don’t get a lot of chances to listen to native speakers. English is a surprisingly emotional language–we change the tone of our voice and volume a lot compared to other languages.

Objectives

  • Help students speak more fluently by thinking about intonation and emotion

Materials

  • A simple dialogue like the one above
  • Optional: a video or recording of people speaking without emotion

To help students learn how to express emotion, I take a simple dialogue like this one:

A: Hey, did you remember to bring the DVD I lent you last week?
B: No, I forgot
A: You forgot again? But you’ve already had it for a month.
B: Don’t worry. I’ll bring it tomorrow.
A: You always say that but you never do.
B: Relax. I said I’ll bring it tomorrow.
A: You better or I’m going to tell everyone in school you’re a jerk.

First, I have two students read it out loud and then we go over it to make sure they understand the situation and all the vocab (“jerk” is usually the only problem word). Once I make sure they have the dialogue down, so they don’t have to really think about the words, I ask them to identify the logical emotions for each line. i.e.

A: Hey, did you remember to bring the DVD I lent you last week? (Question, No particular emotion)
B: No, I forgot (Relaxed)
A: You forgot again? But you’ve already had it for a month. (Annoyed)
B: Don’t worry. I’ll bring it tomorrow. (Annoyed, Defensive)
A: You always say that but you never do. (Angry)
B: Relax. I said I’ll bring it tomorrow. (Defensive, Angry)
A: You better or I’m going to tell everyone in school you’re a jerk. (Very Angry)

Now I ask two students to really ham it up and read it with strong emotions. After doing that a couple of times, I go over what students did to sound angry. What words did they emphasize? Did they speak louder or more quietly? Did they use body language? Did they pause at some points?

Then, to practice other emotions, I give students an emotion and have them reread the dialogue. For example, Student A is sad and Student B is bored. Student A is happy and Student B is angry. Student A is depressed and Student B thinks this is funny. You can even do a competition for which student pair can come up with the most inappropriate combination of emotions.

This can also be an effective way of teaching differences between related emotions–how would students read it if they were sad? What if they were depressed? What are the nuances between sad and very, very sad?

Finally, I put students in pairs and assign each one an emotion and have them write a dialogue. In this way, they can focus on word choice and emotions. When we are angry we sometimes speak more formally, with fewer contractions but when we are happy we are more relaxed about how we speak.

I was thinking about this idea because I stumbled on Xtranormal, a site that lets you make animated movies with your own dialogue and I think it would be fun to show this dialogue as a movie to show students how foreign language students sometimes talk:

Note the stiffness and robo-talk. This could provide a good model of how not to speak English.

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