Listening for Thought Groups

Scrabble tiles spelling the word pause

Purpose:  To practice noticing and using thought groups. Thought groups are when speakers break their sentences into chunks by pausing after phrases or to add emphasis to their speaking. Using thought groups in speech makes it easier for the listener to understand the speaker’s message.

Preparation Time:  None

Materials Needed:  Copies of a reading text


  1. Give the learners a chance to read through the text if they haven’t read it previously in class.
  2. Read the text out loud, emphasizing the places where you pause for thought groups while the learners follow along.
  3. Read the text again at a more natural pace while the learners follow along.
  4. Read the text a third time while the learners mark where they hear the thought groups on their text.
  5. Have the learners compare where they marked the thought groups with a partner.
  6. Read the text again, and have the learners check that they marked the thought groups correctly.
  7. As a group, read the text out loud, pausing for the thought groups.
  8. If you have time, have the learners read the text for a partner. The partner follows along and checks that they paused in the correct places.

Example: Listen to native speakers around you / and try to identify which words / they are emphasizing in their message. It’s subtle, / but once you know what to listen for / it will become easier to identify.

You can practice / by reading news articles / while listening to broadcasts of the stories. NPR and Voice of America / post several audio or video versions of their stories / accompanied by a transcript. Listening and reading at the same time / will help you anticipate  which words should be emphasized.

Knowing what to listen for / makes thought groups easier to identify / in a native speaker’s conversations. Being able to identify the components of American English rhythm / makes it easier to imitate. The more you imitate,/ the more natural it becomes.

Excerpt from:

Expansion: Before the learners listen to the reading, have them go through the reading and make predictions of where they think pauses will occur. Ask them to compare their predictions with a partner to see if they made predictions that were the same or different. Then, when they listen to the reading, they should check and see which predictions were accurate.


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