Questions for “What did you say? Fabric masks can really muffle voices”

a teacher weaing a fabric face mask and standing in front of her class

New studies show that some types of masks muffle speech more than others, making it difficult for students to understand a teacher’s words.

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To accompany “What did you say? Fabric masks can really muffle voices


Before Reading:

1.  Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, where do you wear face masks? And what tasks do you perform when you wear them?

2.  Describe as many different types of face masks as you can. What are they made from and why are there so many types? Do they have different functions or are choices of one over another based solely on cost or appearance?

During Reading:

1.  Pasquale Bottalico is an acoustician. What’s another term for that?

2.  Bottalico says masks can make things harder for both speakers and listeners. Based on the story, what does he mean by that?

3.  How did his team design an experiment to test the extent to which different types of masks might muffle speech?

4.  What types of sounds are hardest to distinguish?

5.  Which types of masks made a speaker’s words hardest to understand? 

6.  Would the change is voice clarity due to mask types matter much in a classroom, based on the findings?

7.  David Woolworth has some doubts about how well the findings of the new study would predict the voice clarity of some particular mask you might buy. Why is that?

After Reading:

1.  Based on what you learned in the story, which type of mask would you prefer to wear and have those around you wear?

2.  Think how often you and your family members wear a mask. Based on that, how many might your family need in an average week? Keep in mind that with disposable masks you would need at least one per person each day that you’re masked.

3.  Now imagine that the best-performing masks cost $4 each (and are disposable), the next best masks cost $1 each (and are disposable) and the worst-performing masks cost $9 and (are machine-washable)? What would be the cost for your family per week, on average? Show your work. Based on these cost calculations, would you alter your choice of masks? Explain your reasoning.

4.  Consider a teacher, ride-share driver, train engineer and house painter. Which would have the greatest need for the best-performing masks? Which could best justify using a mask that muffles voices a lot (if the cost were very low)? Explain your reasoning.