English through Yoga: Lesson #1

yoga

CC Flickr Yoga by GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS

This is actually my second lesson inspired by yoga; the first was called Past Continuous Yoga and was designed for eight to eleven year olds. It was my maiden shot at writing a lesson for YLs and it won the Trinity College London’s lesson plan contest held at the Teacher Educator Conference in Hyderabad earlier this year. Trinity has compiled a sample of the entries into a document. I’ll post a link to that when they publish it online.

I’ve heard of teachers including yoga in their classroom routine usually as pre-lesson warmers but I don’t know if anyone teaches language through yoga. I became interested in yoga as an instructional medium through my friend Faredoon who at various times has been a hippie, actor and corporate trainer but always a lifelong practitioner of yoga and Vipassana.  I realize that the idea seems trendy and like many trends, questionable. I don’t know if it will work nor do I currently have an opportunity to test-drive these ideas. However, I do know that yoga heightens self and other awareness  and it improves breathing and sharpens concentration. These alone are surely attractive outcomes for any language teacher. The question is how to leverage them such that language teaching processes become seamlessly coupled with yoga derived activities.  Again, I don’t know the answer though I hope these posts will take me closer to it.

I’d love to hear your feedback if you are able to try this lesson out with your learners.

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Title: Vowel stretches

Aim: Differentiate between commonly confused monophthongs (ɪ & iː, ʌ & ɜː, ʊ & uː, ɒ & ɔː, ɑː & ə, e & æ). I’ve picked pairs of sounds that learners in Western India generally interchange.  These can be replaced by other vowel sounds including diphthongs that are appropriate in your teaching context.

Audience: A2/B1 adult learners

Duration: 75 min

Materials: Yoga mats, a whiteboard you can move around, Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart, Stickups or flashcards with the target sounds,  a noisemaker (preferably a small brass bell), pairs of words with the target sounds from a book like Ann Baker’s Ship & Sheep.  Ss should be wearing loose, comfortable clothes and footwear they can take off easily.

Stage 1: Warm-up 

Lead the group in doing some warm-up stretches. This site has a list of simple stretches that you could use; a sequence of sukhasana, seated spinal twist, cat-cow stretch, and maybe end with the child’s pose.

Stage 2: Breathing exercises

If Ss are seated, ask them to continue sitting cross-legged in a circle.  

  • Close your eyes and visualize a swan gliding serenely over a still lake.
  • Just as the swan moves smoothly over the water, inhale and exhale through nose in a long and smooth manner.  Try to expand your breath as much as possible. 
  • Do this for 7 counts. Observe your breathing.  Then gradually breathe normally.

Ask Ss to stand.

  • Rest your hands gently on your stomach. Say any word in English in a loud voice. 
  • Now breathe through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Do this three times, inhaling and exhaling as deeply as possible.
  • Do the same exercise again but this time when you exhale say the word you’d said before in a loud voice.
  • Ask Ss to repeat the process but this time as they exhale, enunciate a single sound from the word they had said before.

Stage 3: Focus on sounds

  • Ask Ss to sit in a circle on the floor and focus on the sound they enunciated at the end of the last exercise – in all likelihood, they’ll be vowel sounds. If you get syllables, ask Ss to split the syllable into individual sounds.
  • What’s common among all of these sounds? Elicit that they’re all vowel sounds.
  • Say the sound again. When you make it, do you obstruct the air as it comes through your mouth? No.
  • Try saying the sounds that you hear others saying. How is it different from the sound that you made? What’s happening inside your mouth? How is the tongue positioned differently? What about your lips and jaw?
  • Derive that we shape the sound in our mouth using tongue and lips, creating different kinds of vowel sounds.
  • Pick up one of the vowel sounds shared by a student and demonstrate a short and long variant of it. What’s the difference? Elicit that one is a short sound and the other is a stretched, long sound.
  • Ask Ss stand in the mountain pose. Model a short sound and get Ss to repeat it in this position. Now, have Ss move into the Warrior II stretch and get them to repeat after you as you say a long vowel sound that you’ve paired the short sound with. Get them to do this a few times before you move to the next pair.
  • As you do each pair of sounds, get Ss to note the positioning of the tongue, lips and jaw.
  • The only pair I’ve selected which bucks the trend of short and long is e & æ. Maybe, Ss could do a half-warrior to demonstrate that æ is not a long sound but it has a different vocal quality than e.

Stage 4: Focus on form 

  • If using the IPA in class gives you an allergy, you can replace this stage with some drills or a review before moving on. 
  • Use the phonemic chart to associate the sounds you’ve taught with symbols. Point out what the colon does to the sound.
  • Use stickups or flashcards to do a quick review. Display the stickup with a phonemic symbol and nominate Ss to “perform” the sounds i.e. both the vowel sound and the mountain or warrior pose.
  • If more practice is required, get Ss to sit down in a circle and drill the sounds chorally, in groups and then individually.

Stage 5Controlled practice

  • I don’t like to do word association until this stage. A lot of teachers disagree with me but many learners in India have  had mispronunciation reinforced through their education – it’s not merely a question of L1 influence.  I find associating words with sounds too early in the lesson can often lead to minimal pronunciation change in words with the target sounds other than those drilled in class. 
  • Have Ss pair-up and sit cross-legged facing each other. They should sit such that one person from each pair faces the whiteboard while the other has her back to it.
  • Ask Ss to to place their palms on their partner’s palms.
  • Write the first word on the board e.g., TIN.  Ss facing the board push their partners hands while saying this word. Ss who can’t see the board listen to what the partner is saying and supply its minimal pair (TEEN) while pushing back their partner’s hands. Monitor and check for mispronunciation. Model if required; board the other word. Ask partners to swap words to repeat the process.
  • Continue with the next pair of words. After doing 8 pairs, ask partners to swap positions and do the next eight pairs.

Stage 6: Semi-controlled practice 

  • While Ss are doing the exercise in the preceding stage, write numbers against all the pairs on the whiteboard. 
  • Divide Ss into groups of three. Have them stand such that they can see the whiteboard.
  • Ask Ss what yoga poses they are familiar with. Ask them to demonstrate a few.
  • Announce a number. One Ss from each group creates a sentence using the minimal pair. When she says this sentence aloud, her group members repeat the sentence while doing an impromptu asana that involves stretching the arms or legs on a word with a long sound and constraining the arms or legs on a word with a shorter sound.
  • Ask Ss to keep swapping roles as you call out newer numbers. Encourage peer correction and creativity of movement.

Stage 7: Freer practice 

  • Get Ss to stand in two circles; inner circle facing out and outer circle facing in. 
  • Get each student to stand directly opposite another from the other circle in the tree pose or Vriksasana. In this pose, the hands are normally clasped above the head but to make things easier, ask Ss to clasp their hands in the “Anjali mudra” at their chests.
  • Ask Ss to talk to the other person about how they think improving English pronunciation might help personally or professionally. Ask them to think about how similar or different their partner’s perspectives are. They can also consider if there are any drawbacks to improving English pronunciation.
  • After a minute, ring the bell and ask Ss to lower their leg, thank their partner with a namaste and move one step to the left if they’re in the inner circle and one to the right if they’re in the outer one.
  • Get Ss to greet their partners with a namaste, get into the tree pose and repeat procedure.

Stage 8: Cool-down 

  • Get everyone to sit in a cross-legged position in a circle. Lead the group in doing a seated twist.
  • Ask them to share interesting opinions they heard from their partners. 
  • Point out sounds that everyone is doing really well with and sounds that they might need to practice. Inform them that you will send them an email that will have additional resources for self-study.
  • Now, get Ss to lie down in the corpse position and do a breathing exercise. You may want to accompany this with a visualization of the swan from the warm-up taking off and flying high in the air.

References

1. Baker, Ann. Ship or Sheep? An Intermediate Pronunciation Course. CUP: 2002.

2. Mehta, Silva et al. Yoga The Iyengar Way. DK: 1990.

NB. The asanas in this lesson are really simple ones meant for beginners and I’ve got them vetted by a professional yoga teacher. I don’t recommend replacing them with other poses unless you have an experienced practitioner present to help you out. 

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6 thoughts on “English through Yoga: Lesson #1

  1. Unfortunately I don’t have learners I could try this on. I like the pushing of the palms on the minimal pair; really drawing attention to the differences. May it result in over-accentuation though? Or would that not persist into more natural language use?

    Perfect lesson for a summer camp or language activity course, looks great.

    Like

    • Thank you! I’m glad you like it. It’s possible that the pushing of the palms might lead to learners exaggerating the sound. However, I think some exaggeration is okay particularly for the learners I have in mind. Indian languages tend to have poor vowel length distinction in speech and these sound switches are fossilized. It’s very difficult for example to get students to say /fuːd/ instead of /fʊd/ and /hɪt/ instead of /hiːt/ despite lots of drills. So, if they over-accentuate the sound in class, they might just articulate it closer to natural speech outside the classroom. Hope that makes sense?

      Like

  2. Gosh, this is the first time I have ever read about this, amazing. Thanks for sharing. Yoga is so much more than what we first take it to be. The asanas are really just a most superficial starting point.

    Andrea

    Like

  3. How interesting! I never thought yoga and elt could ever go together, but what you suggest is very clever and I’m sure it works, and has a ver y positive impact in many ways: atmosphere, learners’ confidence…
    I hope I have the chance to try one day.

    Like

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