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TEFL Masterclass – Word and Sentence Stress

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Susie Bridges – CELTA Trainer Former Academic Manager @British Council.

With two decades of dedicated service in Education & Training, Susie boasts a rich professional background encompassing renowned TEFL franchises such as IH & EF, intimate private language schools, esteemed UK and International Universities, The British Council, and an FE College. Functioning as a versatile freelance Teacher Trainer, she revels in the diverse roles she assumes.

What you will learn

Watch this practical workshop and take the stress out of stress!  We’ll cover word and sentence stress and look at ways we can show this to learners on the board.  There’ll be some ideas for activities you can use in the classroom to help your learners see, hear and recognise different stress patterns, especially with word families/different parts of speech.

The workshop will also cover how stress can affect meaning and why this is important, together with some useful tips on how to have fun when drilling common stress patterns.

Finally, there’ll be some information about connected speech: how we can introduce elision, linking, pron and stress specifically with functions with a focus on some everyday expressions and useful language. 

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Word and Sentence Stress

Susie Bridges, in her masterclass, explores the fundamentals of word and sentence stress, essential for clear communication in English. She emphasises the importance of correctly stressing syllables in words, as mispronunciations can lead to misunderstandings. For instance, mispronouncing “bottle” as “battle” can confuse native speakers. Word stress typically involves emphasising pure vowel sounds or diphthongs, requiring more facial muscle effort. She suggests using tools like spots, circles, underlining, or boxes to visually represent stress in sentences, aiding in student learning.

The Role of Word Stress in Pronunciation

Bridges highlights the role of word stress in pronunciation, outlining its necessity for clear understanding. Students can utilise online pronunciation tools that visually and audibly demonstrate stress in words. She introduces the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as a resource for students to independently understand pronunciation, including vowel sounds and consonants. Variations in stress patterns, like the different stresses in the word “record” when used as a noun versus a verb, are also discussed.

Word Families and Stress Dynamics

The dynamics of English stress within word families are explored. Bridges uses examples like the transition from “decide” to “decision” to “decisive,” showing shifts in stress placement. She also notes the change in stress from “equal” to “equality” and then to “equalise.” Engaging teaching techniques, such as the ‘Mexican wave’ format, are recommended for interactive learning. These methods help students understand the nuances of stress changes in different contexts.

Teaching Techniques for Stress in Words and Sentences

Bridges discusses teaching techniques for stress in words and sentences. She advises employing kinesthetic movements, like a Mexican wave, to make learning word stress memorable and interactive, even in online settings like Zoom. The use of visual aids and role-play helps students identify stress shifts in similar words and complex multi-syllable words. Integrating activities on word families and shifting stress in course books can also be beneficial, especially in teaching patterns like stress in ‘-ation’ endings.

Sentence Stress and Intonation

The importance of sentence stress and intonation is highlighted. In English, not all syllables carry equal weight, a contrast to languages like Spanish or Portuguese. Teaching students to recognize content words in sentences enhances their listening skills, as they can grasp the overall meaning even if some words are missed. Natural contractions and chunking in sentences are emphasised as tools for achieving natural-sounding speech. The critical role of intonation in conveying meaning is also addressed, with activities focusing on contrastive stress and intonation proving particularly effective.

Practical Applications and Classroom Activities

Bridges concludes by discussing practical applications and classroom activities for teaching stress. She recommends activities like Mark Hancock’s pronunciation games, where students shift stress in response to questions. Stress spaces, centred stress activities, and stress dialogs are other suggested classroom activities. These methods help students understand and apply stress in sentences, enhancing both their speaking and listening skills. Additionally, Bridges advises against overwhelming students with technical terms, advocating for more relatable terms to teach about changes in sounds.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. (How) Do you integrate word/sentence stress into your daily teaching?
  2. Why / Do you think your students care about how they sound when speaking in English?
  3. What ways have you seen/tried to make stress more interesting and fun?
  • ESL Games. Word mazes are great for teaching pronunciation. Available: https://eslgames.com/word-mazes/.
  • Hancock, M. (1995). Pronunciation Games. : Cambridge University Press; Spi edition. p108.

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