English speakers use intonation to express meaning. We can emphasize a word to show that it is important. This may not be true of the other languages your students speak. In some languages, intonation is only applied at the sentence level. In some languages tone is linked to the meaning of the word itself. Students need a chance to practice using emphasis in speaking to make their meaning clear. This quick and easy activity comes from Rising Water. Students can listen to the audio recording or get the podcast of the play to hear where those actors chose to put their word emphasis, and decide why the actor made those choices.

Intonation Sensation

  1. Demonstrate how putting the emphasis on different words in a sentence changes the meaning. You can read the sentence below with the indicated emphasis and elicit the meaning, or explain as needed.
    • At least MY life isn’t boring. = Your life is boring
    • At least my LIFE isn’t boring. = Something else, such as my work, is boring.
    • At least my life isn’t BORING. = My life may have problems in other areas.
  2. Hand out a list of sentences that can be emphasized in different places. You may want to take this from a text or script you are working with.
  3. Put students in pairs. Partner A says the first sentence, picking a word to emphasize. Partner B says which pattern they heard and what they think it means.
  4. Students take turns reading and listening until they have done all the sentences. Then switch.
  5. To extend, students can discuss what situation they think the speaker is in and create longer scenes or role plays using the lines they practiced. If you’re doing a play, they can mark words they want to emphasize.

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