Zombie Story: A Simple Activity for Speaking, Listening, Pronunciation and Reading

We were talking about connected speech in my advanced listening and speaking class last week. Mostly about how certain phrases like /meɪdʒɚdəsɪʒən/ sounds like either “major decision” or “made your decision” and only context will clear it up. Or how vowels following consonants link to form what seems like a single utterance. Or how the letter /t/ between two vowels actually has the /d/ sound in American English, like water /wɔdɚ/.

So, I wanted to give them a chance to analyze a short text and figure out what would be connected and changed, I wanted to give them a chance to practice using connected speech, and listening for it. And, I wanted to do it in a fun way. I remembered a one-off activity I did years ago with my middle school students and thought that it would be perfect. I wrote a zombie story that included teachers and students, and made a kind of reading relay in which each student has a piece of a single story and must read their piece aloud when they hear the line before them. They don’t know the entire story – only the line before and their line, so they have to listen carefully.

Here’s what I did:

  1. First, I wrote a story with enough lines so that each student would read twice. I included the students in the story to make it more interesting. They liked that a lot. You can read my example story here.
  2. I printed and cut the story up so that each student got two cards, each of which looked something like this:
    When you hear:
    “Once upon a time…”You say:
    “It was a dark and stormy night.”
  3. I had them look at their lines and figure out connections, sound changes, etc. I practiced with each student and gave each student pronunciation feedback.
  4. When everyone was ready, we read the story. I started the story and it took about 2 minutes to read the entire thing. They liked it so much, we did it again, a little faster.

 Here’s What I Thought

This turned out to be a really good activity, even for advanced students. This is a university-level EAP class and students found it to be both interesting and challenging. It gave them practice is speaking using connected speech, and listening to connected speech (as well as each other). It also gave me insight into a pronunciation problem almost all of them have that I hadn’t noticed before: pitch control. Some of the lines used commas and quotations marks, and even ellipses. Students usually blew right through these with nary a change in their pitch. They seemed to have little regard for how to speak reported speech or even add suspense to a reading. Basically, they lacked dramatic reading skills. How often will they need to read aloud and worry about changing their pitch when they come across a quote? None of them are drama majors. Still, it’s an important skill that all native and many non-native speakers employ in their speaking. So, It’s something I need to consider for a follow-up lesson.

Overall, this is a quick lesson that is easily adaptable for any level, skill, or topic and i am happy that I could share it with you.


2 thoughts on “Zombie Story: A Simple Activity for Speaking, Listening, Pronunciation and Reading

  1. Hi Anthony,
    This is a really simple activity that clearly has great results – I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Hope I’ll be able to try it out at some point!
    BTW Be careful with here/hear on your cards 😉

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