How to Teach Intonation

How to teach Intonation

Click here for some thoughts on what intonation is and why it’s important.

Here are five ways to teach it in the classroom

Play a game The concept of intonation can be hard, but students are quick to know what’s wrong when they’re listening for it. So, create a dialogue and then and read it for the class. Read some lines of the dialogue with the wrong intonation. Have the students note which ones are wrong. The person/team that correctly identifies all the wrong intonation wins.

Dialogue Tree Lots of times, you can use rising or falling intonation, but the meaning changes. (For example: “I bought a car” –vs– “I bought a car?”.) Have the students write a dialogue on some theme. Every third line, they should write two possible replies—one with rising and one with falling intonation—and then continue on writing both dialogues. Make the dialogues short or they’ll run out of paper quickly.

I only go up Give the students a discussion topic, but tell them one partner can only use rising intonation. (So, one partner will need to ask lots of one word questions.) They should discuss the question for two minutes and then switch.

Identify the weakness and make it go away Do your students have trouble with some specific intonation pattern? If so, force them to practice it in creative ways. For starters, they should write dialogues that use the pattern. Then give them discussion questions that use the pattern or discussion questions that might elicit the pattern for the answer.

Just the intonation, please After students write a dialogue ask them to label it in a way that will let them know the intonation patterns. (For examples, they can put and “up” or “down” arrow on each word. Then, they should cross out all the words and read the dialogue without words. They can just make neutral sounds (e.g. grunts) or hum the sentences.

Website Review:

In short: Wow, what a great site. Some of the best things are:

  • 6 minute English—Real people being interviewed on a topic and explanations of the natural English. The vocabulary explanations that you can listen to and read are super helpful. Plus, there are two years of weekly episodes to listen to.
  • Get that job” has lots of useful quizzes that’ll help you get ready to apply for a job in English.
  • Short lessons on Business English and traveling in London with quizzes.
  • And much more. The “Grammar, Vocabulary, and Pronunciation” category has 11 sections (This pronunciation tool is especially cool.)

For students:The Flatmates” are fantastic short episodes about a group of young Londoners. Listen every morning. It’ll only take a few minutes. It’s a great way to start your day.

For teachers: Be sure to click on the for teachers tab to find tons of great stuff (like lesson plans) that practically turns the site into a full-on curriculum.

Website Review:

In short: They sell software or lessons to help students improve their accents. The software is different depending on your language (so you don’t waste time practicing sounds that are easy for you). In addition, they don’t just focus on making sounds, but also on things like intonation and word stress.

For students: This software (or the lessons) will definitely help you improve, but if it’s too expensive, remember to listen to as much English as possible and try to repeat what you hear. When you repeat, focus on the sounds, but also on intonation, word stress and timing. Try to copy things exactly.

For teachers: Check out the YouTube site at Unless your students have a pretty high level, these’ll be too tough for them to understand, but you can learn a lot about what’s important when teaching speaking.

Website Review:

In short: One of the five best ESL sites on the internet. They have everything. They’ve been putting out great material for 15 years and let’s hope they never stop. Their own menu bar says it all: Articles, Lessons, Techniques, Questions, Games, Jokes, Things for Teachers, Links, and Activities for Students.

The site is organized perfectly. There’s no distracting advertising. If you have a slow connection, this site will still load quickly. What more could you want?

For students: The “Activities for Students” button will take you to this site, There, you’ll find many fun things you can do to improve your English.

For teachers: You can learn from the articles and use the lessons, techniques, etc. Why not contribute as well? See if you can get an article published. You’ll learn a lot while preparing it and give a little back to the community of teachers and students around the world.

Website Review:

In short: Rules for how to count syllables. Knowing how many syllable are in a word is important for lots of things. For example, when students are learning how to make comparisons, they need to know how many syllables an adjective has before they can make it into a comparative.

For students: Type any word into the homepage to learn how many syllables it has quickly.

For teachers: Not every student needs this, so just be ready with the information (or a link) when it comes up.

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