How to teach stress & intonation of english

Written by karen farnen
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How to teach stress & intonation of english
Teach your English students to speak with proper stress and intonation. (speaking her mind image by Pix by Marti from

Correct stress and intonation will help your English students communicate better with others. As they learn to emphasise the sounds native speakers do and reduce or eliminate the sounds native speakers hurry over, their pronunciation will improve. Even their consonants and vowels will become much more accurate. Teach these important aspects of pronunciation early so that your students acquire clear English pronunciation more easily.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • English pronunciation texts and exercises
  • Chants in English
  • Poems in English
  • English conversation texts

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  1. 1

    Teach your students the correct stress whenever you teach new words. Show how stress affects meaning for individual words; it sometimes changes the part of speech, as in "CONtract" (noun) and "conTRACT" (verb). Have them clap or tap the stress as they say words aloud.

  2. 2

    Teach that each related group of words or breath group has one main stress, normally on a content word such as a noun, verb or adjective rather than on a structure word such as a preposition. Practice putting the stress on the correct syllable in conversations. Show them how the pitch or intonation rises with the stress. Model the conversations, and then have them practice with partners.

  3. 3

    Use phrases and sentences to teach the different ways stress accent influences meaning, for example to show emphasis, contrast or contradiction. In the sentence "I want a new book," the meaning changes depending on what word is given the main stress: "I," "want," "new" or "book." Pronunciation textbooks such as "Clear Speech" give many exercises to practice these stress changes for meaning. Have students tap or clap to show the stress as they repeat sentences or exercises.

  4. 4

    Help students learn correct rhythm by teaching contractions and other reduced forms. Reduced forms occur when native speakers omit sounds or run them together, as in "I dunno" instead of "I don't know." Good practice materials include "Whaddyasay" and "Jazz Chants." Give them oral practice, using correct intonation at the same time.

  5. 5

    Practice the stress-timed rhythm of English. This means English has regularly spaced accents or stressed syllables, whereas many other languages have equally spaced syllables (syllable-timed). Have students practice aloud with poems, songs, or chants that have a strong beat as they clap or tap.

  6. 6

    Teach intonation for the basic types of English sentences, such as statements, yes-no questions and wh-questions (who, what, etc.). Also teach the intonation for tag questions ("don't you?"), exclamations and contradictions. Write on the board, drawing arrows to show the direction of the pitch. Or say the sentences while drawing the shape of the intonation in the air with your hand. Have students write intonation arrows on worksheets or in their textbooks. Then have them practice aloud and use their hands to draw the intonation in the air.

  7. 7

    Give students extra practice with realistic conversations from a conversation textbook. Model correct stress and intonation. Then have them practice with partners and perform for the class. The more they use correct English stress and intonation, the better their pronunciation will become.

Tips and warnings

  • Make liberal use of the audio program that comes with your conversation or speaking text if you are not a native speaker.

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