I’d never heard of a kazoo before I came to the U.S. I’m not sure if we don’t have them in Australia or if we do and I’d just never encountered them before. But now I know about them, I love using them in class.
I attended a couple of really interesting sessions on teaching pronunciation at the national TESOL Convention earlier this year and was struck by a study cited that had 3 groups studying pronunciation over several weeks. One group studied prosody (non-sound aspects of pronunciation), one studied phonetics (sounds) and one was a control group. Only the group that studied prosody showed significant improvement in their pronunciation. So all that practice with minimal pairs I’d been doing over the years suddenly seemed like a waste of valuable class time.
Enter the kazoo. Once I’d learned to hum into it rather than blow into it, it became a wonderful way to practice stress and intonation. It takes away the sounds and leaves pure intonation, stress and rhythm. If you can get some for your class, try this activity. Give the students several short sentences. Students work in pairs. Student A hums one random sentence into the kazoo and Student B has to identify the sentence being hummed. It not only practices correct intonation and stress, but also shows just how much meaning is conveyed by these aspects of pronunciation.