For five years or so we have been using tennis balls for one of our haptic pronunciation teaching protocols (techniques). A couple of months ago, while looking online to renew our recycled tennis ball supply, I stumbled onto a website that had this intriguing set of (haptic) "qualities" for tennis balls that might equally apply to our work, with analogical-metaphorical lenses on, of course. Among them:
"Soft, thick felt, designed for beginners, consistent, delivers a great gaming experience, very responsive, highly visible, can handle a beating while not playing too fast or bouncing too high . . . "
Basically, it works this way. The ball is held in the right hand or the hand that is touched (or squeezed) on the stressed syllable or a word or phrase (as the other hand moves from across the visual field to land on that spot). It appears to strongly increase concentration and energy expended on the stressed syllable and give the instructor a new, more visual perspective on monitoring what students are doing and how they are doing it. Holding the tennis ball, students generally speak louder, more confidently and move more consistently.
There are probably any number of reasons for those effects, including consigning touch to a hand on a ball rather than a hand on another hand, or a shoulder, or a forearm or the abs. We'll figure that out. My guess is that the uniquely "haptic", felt-sense qualities of the tennis balls contribute greatly to holding attention and linking the sound to the syllable. (That is, in essence, what our haptic modality does for us!)
We have tried many other kinds of balls, including stress balls, baseballs, golf balls, sponge balls, oranges, etc., but none seem to have the consistent impact of yellow (not white or red) tennis balls. Used ones are fine as long as they are reasonably clean and have adequate colour left.
In meantime, if you haven't already, get some recycled tennis balls and have students use the protocol linked above (The Rhythm Fight Club--substituting a yellow tennis ball for the cute chickadee, of course) with new pronunciation or vocabulary or idioms.
Game. Set. Match.