Ever since I had learned about the PlayPhrase website last year, I had been trying to find ways to integrate it into my teaching. PlayPhrase is a cool multi-modal corpus-like website which allows you to type in a word or phrase and find short video clips from popular TV shows and movies that use that phrase. The clips play automatically and you hear only the sentence the phrase is found in. After the clip plays, the next clip automatically plays. According to their website:
The purpose of PlayPhrase.me service is to learn English using TV series. We create video sequence from scenes that contain the word you search for.
It’s a cool website and easily addicting, but I struggled to find pedagogically valid ways to use it in class. Until today.
In my advanced grammar class, we have been working on talking about past times. Our grammar points have included simple past, present perfect, past perfect, used to and would + verb for past habits (I would eat ice cream every day after school.), and would + verb for past predictions (I thought I’d be late, so I hurried.). A lot of these tenses, when spoken, have confusing counterparts due to contraction. For example, she’s can be she is or she has. They’d can be they had or they would. In order to help students discriminate between the different forms, I thought doing an activity that got them to focus not only on the contractions but also on the surrounding grammatical clues or semantic information would help them. Then, I remembered PlayPhrase.
I decided to use PlayPhrase to play clips of the grammar in context and then have them decide which tense the clip represented. In pairs, students had a simple worksheet with four squares, one for Simple Past, Present Perfect, Past Perfect, and Would. When students heard the sentence, they had to choose the correct tense by either touch or slapping the corresponding score. The student who was first and correct receives a point. (We didn’t actually keep trace of the points). It’s a simple activity to have students listen closely while paying attention to time frames and grammatical clues in a sentence.
After each clip, I would ask follow-up questions about vocabulary, the meaning (e.g. whether different time frames made any real difference) and have students practice saying the sentences themselves (they especially enjoyed trying to use British English from clips of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Dr. Who).
Preparing this activity did not take long. I searched for various instances of has, ‘s, had, ‘d and similar words. For the clips I thought would be suitable for class, I clicked on the # symbol to go to their Phrase Page. I then downloaded the clips (if you can’t download the clips, you can simply use the Phrase Page.). I then added each clip to its own slide in PowerPoint. I set the clip to play automatically for each slide and I also included the original sentence (hidden until clicked) for follow-up listenings/discussion.
The activity was challenging to say the least. Students had to deal with not only listening for the grammar, but for the grammar spoken at native speed with contractions, elisions, linking, stress, unstress, and pitch shift thrown in the mix – authentic English. Yes, they found it difficult, but they also found it useful and fun. I gave them the exact PowerPoint above and showed them how to use the site for their own practice.
PlayPhrase can be used as a cool tool to practice listening discrimination while using authentic speech. I used it to contrast past time frames, but it could be used for all sorts of contrasts, including different phonetic sounds, conditionals, stress and unstress, confusing tenses, etc.
Have you ever used PlayPhrase? How?