Sound-effect CDs are an exciting teaching resource. These are recordings that have hardly any words on - but instead contain a sequence of noises such as crashes, bumps, bangs, whistles, screams etc. Here are some ideas for using sound-effects in the classroom.

  1. Making your own 'sound sequence' tape

    Plan a sequence of about 7-10 distinctly different easy-to-make sounds. Choose noises that will be loud and easy to record - for example, a set of plates being dropped, rather than a glove. Do some test recordings. If possible, use a recorder that doesn’t set an automatic recording level otherwise you will get very 'hissy' recordings when no-one is speaking. 

    This is an example sound sequence: (1) someone says “shhhh!” (2) noisy footsteps (3) something breaking (4) moving with difficulty, grunting etc (5) rapidly opening and closing a number of boxes, drawers etc (6) “Oh!” (7) lots of things dropped (8) running (9) an amused “ah-ha!”
  2. Story-building

    Learners listen to the sequence, then in pairs work out what they think the story is. They then compare with others and try to agree on a consensus story. Groups tell their versions to the class.
  3. What’s wrong with my story?

    Prepare - and tell - a story with parts that do not match the tape recording (e.g. characters use a motorbike rather than walking). Learners discuss and agree which noises do not fit with your story.
  4. Pictures from noises

    Bring a set of Cuisenaire Rods or building bricks* to class and distribute these around the class. After hearing the tape groups use their rods or bricks to create a picture of a scene they imagine from the tape (e.g. walls with other pieces representing burglars breaking in). Afterwards, mix up people from different groups, keeping at least one of the original group with their 'picture'. New people to the group should look and ask questions to find out what the construction represents (and work out the story) e.g. “Is this a person?”  “Is she climbing through a window?” etc Members of the original group can only answer 'yes' or 'no'. 

    * If you don’t have rods or bricks you could do the activity by asking learners to draw a sketch of the scene.
  5. Verb hunting

    Play the tape a few times. Learners find as many verbs as possible to explain what people are doing. (Of course, you could do exactly the same task with nouns, adjectives, adverbs…)
  6. Wacky ideas

    Ask learners to think of the wackiest, most amazing, most unlikely interpretation for the sound sequence.
  7. Tense focus

    Prepare a story yourself. In class tell it like a football commentary, using present tenses i.e. as if it is happening now - for example “The burglar is lifting up the window. He’s climbing through it.” using the tape to provide exciting sound effects at various points. Afterwards, ask the class to write down the story as a news item about the past.