How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears
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How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears

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Teacher's Guide

Lesson 2—Explore/Explain

Sound Communication

At a Glance

Overview

Figure 2.1. Man signing next to a teacher speaking and writing on a marker board
Figure 2.1.
Human communication can involve both sight and sound.

Students watch and listen to human speech and explore visual and audio cues that aid their understanding. During a short walk, students listen to the sounds around them and classify them as environmental, voiced, or musical.

Major Concepts

The most effective communication is multisensory. Sound is a powerful and important means of communication. There are three categories of sounds: environmental, voiced, and musical.

Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will

Teacher Background

Consult the following sections in Information about Hearing, Communication, and Understanding:

  1. 3 Major Concepts Related to Hearing and Communication
  2. 3.1 Communication is multisensory
  3. 3.2 Language acquisition: imprinting and critical periods
  4. 3.3 Sound has a physical basis
  5. 3.4 Perception of sound has a biological basis

In Advance

Web-Based Activities
Activity Web Version?
1 No
2 No
Photocopies
Activity 1 no photocopies needed
Activity 2 Master 2.1, Sound Safari Data Sheet (Make 1 copy per student and prepare an overhead transparency.)
Materials
Activity 1 no materials (except photocopies)
Activity 2 no materials (except photocopies)

Preparation

Activity 1
No preparations needed.
Activity 2
Make photocopies and overhead transparency of Master 2.1, Sound Safari Data Sheet.

Procedure

Activity 1: How Do We Understand?

Teacher note
The purpose of this activity is twofold. First, it helps students become aware of sounds they experience and normally take for granted. Second, it sets the stage for thinking about sound in terms of its loudness, pitch, and timing. As the module concludes, students will reflect on their own sound exposure and provide recommendations about how they can minimize their risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

PART 1—VISUAL CUES

  1. Remind the class that the previous lesson focused on human communication. If you have saved the Path to Understanding diagram from Lesson 1, review it with the class. Explain to students that they will now explore how humans understand what they hear.
  2. Illustrate the multisensory nature of communication by silently mouthing a sentence such as, “I wonder if you can read my lips.” Ask the class if they can repeat the sentence that you mouthed.

Students may be able to pick out some of the words, but the meaning of the sentence will remain obscure. If you have a hearing-impaired student in the class who is adept at reading lips, ask him or her to let the rest of the class respond first.

  1. Next, silently mouth a sentence such as, “You’re the best class that I’ve ever had,” while conveying a happy facial expression. As before, the exact meaning of the sentence will be obscure. Ask the class if they think the sentence was conveying a happy, sad, or angry thought. On what did the students base their impression?

You should stress that facial expressions help represent the emotion behind speech.

  1. Finally, silently mouth a sentence such as, “I’ve just won $1 million in the lottery.” This time use a facial expression that conveys an angry or sad emotional state and ask the class to identify the emotion behind the sentence. Again, ask students to explain the basis for their answers.

The mixed messages sent by the mouthed words and the facial expression make the meaning of the sentence more difficult to establish.

  1. Ask the class to summarize how visual cues influence communication and understanding.

Students should realize that visual cues, such as facial expressions, affect how others interpret what is said.

Figure 2.2. Sad boy frowning  Figure 2.2. Surprised girl with open mouth
Figure 2.2. Facial expressions can convey emotion.

PART 2—INTONATION CUES

  1. Ask the class whether they can think of any other aspects of speech (aside from the words spoken and visual cues) that help convey meaning.

Answers may vary. Be alert to answers that speak to characteristics about the speaker and not the meaning of what is being spoken (for example, accents and vocabulary).

  1. Write the following sentence on the board: “The blue fish is too big for that tank.” Read the sentence aloud to the class, stressing the word “blue” as depicted in example a below, and have students discuss the meaning. Repeat the sentence stressing different words and discuss how the meaning of the sentence changes. Does this sentence always convey the same meaning?

For example:

  1. The blue fish is too big for that tank. (Meaning: The blue fish is too big, but fish of other colors are the appropriate size.)
  2. The blue fish is too big for that tank. (Meaning: The blue fish is too big, but other blue creatures are the appropriate size.)
  3. The blue fish is too big for that tank. (Meaning: The blue fish is too big for that tank but may be the appropriate size for some other tank.)
  1. Ask students to suggest another sentence that can take on different meanings depending on how it is said. Write the sentence on the board, and ask the class to see how many ways it can be read to give different meanings.

Another sentence that can take on different meanings depending on which words are stressed is, “We are going to the mall tomorrow.”

  1. Ask the class to summarize how the manner in which words are spoken can affect our understanding.

Review the idea of how word stress changes the meaning of a sentence. Relate to students that actors often practice saying a line in different ways that change the meaning of the words being spoken.

Figure 2.3. Three actors reading aloud from scripts
Figure 2.3. The meaning of spoken words can change depending on how the words are spoken.

PART 3—EMOTIONAL CUES

  1. Ask the class, Can you detect the emotional state of the person speaking by his or her tone alone, or do you need to understand the words being spoken?

Answers will vary, though many students will believe that they can identify the speaker’s emotional state just by hearing the tone and not the words.

  1. Test this idea by speaking a random string of numbers to the class, such as 7, 52, 12, 39, 75. Use a voice that suggests a specific emotion, such as anger, and ask the students to identify the emotion.

To avoid giving the class any visual cues from your facial expression, you might face away from the class while speaking.

  1. Ask for a volunteer to repeat the test by speaking a different string of numbers and using a different emotion. See if the class can identify the emotion. Repeat the test using different students, numbers, and emotions.

Again, have the speaker face away from the class to eliminate cues from facial expressions.

National Science Education Standards icon
Content Standard C:
Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.
  1. To reinforce the importance of multisensory communication, ask the class what other factors, besides hearing, help us communicate with others.

Answers should include the idea that visual cues, such as facial expressions and body language, help our brain interpret the speech that we hear.

  1. Wrap up the activity by asking students to list ways, other than speech, in which we can communicate.

Answers will vary but may include

reading and writing body language
sign language gestures
facial expressions whistling

Activity 2: Sound Safari

Teacher note
The sound safari consists of a simple, five-minute walk down the school hallway. Decide ahead of time where the class will walk. Ideally, students will walk by areas that have a wide variety of sounds, such as the cafeteria, music class, and shop class. If weather permits, you might consider taking part of the walk outdoors.

  1. Remind the class that we categorize sounds as voiced, musical, or environmental. Ask students to give some examples of each category.
  2. Explain to the class that they will take a short walk. Instruct students not to talk to each other during the walk and to keep noise to a minimum.

The goal is to concentrate on the number and types of sounds around them and list as many of them as possible. For the purposes of this activity, students should ignore any sounds made by students in the class (such as talking, coughing, feet shuffling, and writing) and only pay attention to those sounds that aren’t produced by the class.

National Science Education Standards icon
Content Standard A:
Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects and phenomena; and some involve making models.

assessment icon
Assessment:
Ask students to summarize, in writing, their thoughts about how audio and visual cues influence our ability to gain meaning from sound. Ask them to provide specific examples of sounds that can have different meanings depending upon their context. Ask students to share their ideas with the class.

  1. Give each student a copy of Master 2.1, Sound Safari Data Sheet. Explain that each of the sounds they list can be classified as voiced, musical, or environmental. Instruct students to list each of their sounds in the appropriate column on their data sheet.

Environmental sounds are simply those that are not voiced or musical.

  1. After returning to the classroom, place an overhead transparency of Master 2.1, Sound Safari Data Sheet, on the overhead projector. Ask students to call out the voiced sounds from their data sheets and write them down on the transparency. Repeat this process for the musical and environmental sounds.
  2. Ask students whether their list of sounds was the same as that written on the transparency. Ask the class to account for differences.

Students will have many of the same sounds on their lists. Differences arise when sounds are hard to hear or are ever present and therefore difficult to notice.

  1. To conclude this activity, remind the class that visual and audio cues help us better understand speech. Ask the class if they can think of similar cues that help us understand musical and environmental sounds.

Context is important. A piece of music played during a parade may convey a different emotion from the same music played at a funeral. A whistle blown by a policeman directing traffic has a different meaning from a whistle blown by an official at a sporting event.

Figure 2.4. Referee blowing whistle  Figure 2.4. Police officer blowing whistle
Figure 2.4.
The same sound can have different meanings that depend on context.


Lesson 2 Organizer
Activity 1: How Do We Understand?
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Review the Path to Understanding diagram from Lesson 1.

Part 1, Step 1

Silently mouth the sentence, “I wonder if you can read my lips,” to the class.

  • Ask students if they can repeat the sentence.
Part 1, Step 2

Use a happy expression to mouth the sentence, “You’re the best class that I’ve ever had.”

  • Ask students to identify the emotion.
Part 1, Step 3

Use an angry or sad expression to mouth the sentence, “I’ve just won $1 million in the lottery.”

  • Ask students to identify the emotion.
Part 1, Step 4

Ask the class to summarize the roles of visual cues in human communication.

Part 1, Step 5

Ask the students whether other aspects of speech convey meaning.

Part 2, Step 1

Write the sentence, “The blue fish is too big for that tank,” on the board.

  • Discuss how emphasizing different words can affect meaning.
Part 2, Step 2

Have students suggest another sentence that can convey different meanings depending on how it is said.

Part 2, Step 3
Summarize how word stress and intonation can affect meaning. Part 2, Step 4
Ask if a speaker’s emotion affects understanding. Part 3, Step 1

Recite a random series of numbers using a voice that conveys a specific emotion.

  • Ask students to identify the emotion.
  • Repeat the activity having a student recite numbers using a different emotion.
Part 3, Steps 2 and 3

Reinforce the importance of multisensory communication.

  • What factors, besides hearing, help us communicate?
  • How can we communicate without using speech?
Part 3, Steps 4 and 5
Activity 2: Sound Safari
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference
Have students give examples of voiced, musical, and environmental sounds. Steps 1–3

Take class on a short walk through the school.

  • Have students record the sounds they hear on Master 2.1, Sound Safari Data Sheet.
master iconSteps 2 and 3

After returning to classroom,

  • Construct a list of sounds heard on the transparency of Master 2.1, Sound Safari Data Sheet.
  • Have students compare their lists with the master list.
transparency iconSteps 4 and 5

Have students discuss how they use their senses to interpret musical and environmental sounds.

Step 6
master icon= Involves copying a master.
transparency icon= Involves using a transparency.

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