“You’ve probably never encountered real silence. Finding a place that remains sonically unmolested by the roar of commercial jets or the steady hum of highways is nearly impossible. Whether you live in a city, or on a ranch in Montana, sound in the modern world is more or less inescapable. Turns out, that’s a good thing… when confronted with absolute or even near silence, human brains and ears react in ways that can result in a wide range of bizarre sonic experiences.” B. Gardiner, Wired
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: “…Why Silence Make You Hear Things That Aren’t There?” By Bryan Gardiner, Wired
“Sound is such a constant thing, we don’t even think about it says Eric Heller, author of Why You Hear What You Hear. Even a quiet house is 40 dBA (A-weighted decibels). For context, zero dBA is considered the point at which humans can start to detect sound. A soft whisper at three feet is about 30 dBA. And a busy freeway at 50 feet is 80 dBA.
Now compare that with something like the -9 decibels of Orfield Lab’s anechoic chamber in Minneapolis, the quietest place on Earth according to Guinness, and you begin to see the stark sonic difference between the natural world we live in and the one contained within these artificial 3-D sound sponges.
They’re able to squash reverberation (echoes) and keep external sounds out through a combination of architecture and special materials. Yet even after all that effort to block external sound and thwart internal reflections, silence is surprisingly hard to come by in an anechoic chamber. In fact, people have a habit of discovering new sounds both real and fake in these disorienting environments.”
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
The K-W-L chart is used to activate students’ background knowledge of a topic in order to enhance their comprehension skills.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Complete silence may even explain auditory hallucinations.
- Zero dBA is considered the point at which humans can start to detect sound.
- According to Guinness, Orfield Lab is the quietest place on Earth.
- Anechoic chambers are quiet by design.
- They’re able to squash reverberation.
- Most are rooms are soundproof.
- Sounds become unbearably loud.
- Abumrad had sealed himself inside the chamber.
- For a long time it was assumed that sound simply enters the ear.
- These inputs help our brains distinguish between thoughts and reality.
Directions: Students are to circle or underline the correct word or phrases from the article. This exercise reinforces students’ attention on words that have been introduced in the reading. Have them skim the article to check their responses. Students should also find the meanings for all unknown words.
“The real staff/stuff is usually what people notice/note first. Starved for output/input, our ears and brain essentially/essential go into overdrive. Sounds/Sights that are typically drowned/down out in the den/din of modern lift/life become, in some cases, unbearably load/loud. Spontaneous firings/fire of the auditory/audit nerve can cause a high-pitched hiss, for example.”
Grammar Focus: Preposition Exercise
Prepositions: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, around, over, from, during, after
Directions: The following sentences were taken from the article. Fill in the blanks with the correct prepositions. Note that not all of the prepositions listed are in the article.
Anechoic chambers are quiet___ design, and are typically used ___test things like audio equipment and aircraft fuselages.
Yet even___ all that effort___ block external sound and thwart internal reflections, silence is surprisingly hard ___come ___ ___an anechoic chamber.
Starved ___input, our ears and brain essentially go ___overdrive.
Many people also have the strange experience ___hearing their own blood pumping___their head, their breath, their heartbeat, ___ well___ their digestive system’s symphony___ gurgles and blurps.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. The following two statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.
“For a long time it was assumed that sound simply enters the ear and goes up to the brain…there’s actually more connections coming down from the brain to the ear than there are going back up it. Why is that important? Well, for one thing it allows the brain to tweak the gain levels in the inner ear…We’d all be constantly hallucinating were it not for the grounding input we receive from our other senses.”
“In other words, while sitting alone with your own thoughts in a pitch black, soundless room, whatever happens to pop into your brain, whether it’s the voice of a friend, or a random sound triggered by some memory, you’re more likely to perceive it as real.”
2. Would you like to visit the Orfield Lab’s anechoic chamber? Explain why or why not.