Sound Effects for ELT: A Sound Way to Energise Your Language Classes

Or, a sound start to the new year after a relaxing break!

A few weeks ago I was trying to find a good fluency activity that would make learners actually want to practise speaking and writing at the end of the year. You know that time of year – energy bars are depleted, and everyone (including teachers) is dreaming of vacation-land.

What makes a good activity at the end of the year? It needs to be low on resource-consumption but high on engagement, something that would jolt those ‘worn-out batteries’ back to life (at least for the class time). Ideally, it should be about holidays and adventures, which would make the activity highly relevant given the season.

The answer came to me in a flash of inspiration sparked by the message that a few old posts on this blog still refer to the old domain, with my SOUNDS LIKE A STORY post among them.

I decided to give the accompanying YouTube video a much-needed update and breathe new life into the activity. This time, I wanted to ditch the predictable ‘Teacher – Student/Students – Teacher’ routine, and add a bit more student agency – get them to craft their sequences of sound effects and sound stories. 

For this, I needed a good set of sounds.

I quickly repurposed my Th-Board to practise the th-sound, and put together a sound board with sound effects that are likely to be incorporated into stories about travels and adventures. Learners can access the sound board online in my Google storage (also shareable as an HTML file).

Click this link to open the Sound Board, or click on the image below

How to Make Your Own Sound Board

The easiest way to make your own sound board with various sound effects is to use Google slides or PowerPoint slides – set them to play ‘On Click’ using ‘Custom Animation’ – and share them with your learners.

As a quick solution, you can also try my template Sound Board. It uses sound files from local storage (your computer or phone) and plays sequences of sounds. All you need to do is prepare the sounds you’d like to include (see the links to some sound depositories below) and then click on the buttons to assign the sounds to them. The buttons will display the names of the files, so make sure you name the files appropriately. You can use the template on this blog. It doesn’t store the files, so make sure you do not close the window before you have played the sequence to your learners.

My go-to sources for free (and human) sound effects are freesound.org and soundbible.com (just remember to give attribution). You can try your luck with sound effects generators like the one on elevenlabs.com. It’s a bit hit-or-miss, but sometimes the algorithmic stars align, and you get exactly what you need.

Classroom Storytelling Activities using the Sound Board

Activity 1 – Individual Sound Effects

Play an individual sound and ask learners to describe the situation – where they are, what they’re doing, who they’re with, etc. 

You can also use it to revise various grammar structures or vocabulary units. For instance, to revise modal verbs of deduction, structure the activity as in CAN YOU GUESS WHAT I LOOK LIKE.

Activity 2 – Guided Storytelling

Play the sequence of sounds one by one, and ask learners a question/questions after you have played a sound effect. 

Example:

{The sound of suitcase zipping} – Before leaving, you do one last check to make sure you have everything you need. What do you check?

{Airport ambience} – Imagine you are at the airport, ready to start your journey. Where are you going, and how do you feel?

{Forest/jungle} – You have arrived at your first destination, a beautiful forest. What does it look like? What do you do there?

{River/waterfall} – As you walk through the forest, you come across a stream. Describe the scene and your thoughts as you sit by the water.

{Thunder} – Suddenly, a thunderstorm hits. Describe how you feel and what you do to stay dry.

Activity 3 – Story Writing (with the sound sequence chosen by the teacher)

Play a sequence of sounds and ask students to come up with their story. 

See the steps in SOUNDS LIKE A STORY.

Activity 4 – Story Planning and Telling (with the sound sequence chosen by learners)

Ask learners to select their sounds and plan and tell their stories using the chosen sound effects. 

Resources to Explore:

Singing in the Classroom with Suno AI from Robert Martinez (Not exactly about individual sound effects, but it could be interesting to explore and make a mood board)

Skills: Teaching Resources: Sound Effects by Jim Scrivener

Teaching With Sound Effects by Hall Houston (EFL Magazine)

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