Published 25th June 2018

Word Stress

Pronunciation is often overlooked by English as a Foreign Language teachers, to the detriment of their students. Pronunciation is a vital element of speaking a language in terms of comprehension on the part of the speaker and the listener. Teachers often only consider sounds and accent when it comes to pronunciation. Just as important, though, is stress – both word stress and sentence stress.

When speaking, utilizing word stress incorrectly can lead to the listener mishearing or misunderstanding certain words – desert versus dessert, for example. As you can imagine, this can change the meaning of a sentence entirely. Even if the speaker is understood correctly, listeners may attach judgement to their consideration of the speaker as a result of their pronunciation. (As much as we like to give the benefit of the doubt to people, we have to accept this to be a sad fact of the world today.)

It follows that it is important to incorporate activities which deal with pronunciation, and stress in particular, in the EFL classroom. However, as a result of their reluctance to teach pronunciation, many teachers are not familiar with appropriate activities to teach word stress.

Here, then, are three activities to teach word stress.

Word stress tables

When dealing with word stress, it is beneficial to draw attention to the differences in stress patterns in word families. When dealing with a topic, choose a group of words which can easily be categorized according to their stress. For example, if you are teaching occupations, you can choose the following word families and their stress patterns:

Oo                          Ooo                                       oOoo

photo                    photograph                        photographer

The students can complete the table in their notebooks or it can be done as a class activity by sticking the words on the whiteboard.

Stress Bingo

You are probably familiar with Bingo, so there should be no need to explain this simple game. For this version, the words in the Bingo grids can either be stress patterns (oO or oOo) or words which correspond to the same stress patterns as the words chosen by the teacher. In other words, the teacher calls out happiness, the students tick off Ooo or teenager.

Revision Extra

This activity works well to revise vocabulary that has been learnt recently in class. Write the vocabulary words you would like to revise on the board in a grid. Divide the class into teams. The teams take turns to choose a word. Then they have 2 minutes (or whatever time limit you want) to write the number of syllables and stress pattern of the word. They also need to pronounce the word correctly. To up the difficulty level, you can ask them to provide another word with the same stress pattern.

Word stress may seem like a simple, and even insignificant, aspect of pronunciation but it is crucial for accurate pronunciation and effective communication. When planning your lessons, don’t forget to include activities like these to practise word stress in the EFL classroom.