Hands over Mouths

This is part of a series of lesson plans on word stress, timing, and intonation. Click here to read a short introduction.

Name: Hands over mouths

Prep Time: None (Enough time to print the worksheets)

Materials: Worksheets (Click to download or see below)

Primary Objective: Practice Word Stress

Other Benefits: Discuss Travel


15 Minutes

Give the students the worksheets. First they should write their own endings to the sentences. Then they should match the given endings. Just walk around and check them as they’re writing.

15 Minutes

Now, read the sentences out loud for the students. They should listen and repeat. Pay careful attention to make sure that they are stressing the correct words. If you’d prefer, you can play this track for them instead.

5 Minutes

Now, students should look at their sheets and underline the stressed words.

5 Minutes

Next, read the sentences out loud and have the students repeat them again.

10 Minutes

Walk around and give specialized help as the students practice reading in pairs.

5 Minutes

Now, choose a random sentence and read it with your hands over your mouth. The students should guess which sentence you read. Do another. Ask them how they were able to guess if they couldn’t understand any sounds?

5 Minutes

Now the students should again practice reading the sentences in pairs, but this time with their hands over their mouths. Partners should guess which sentence they were reading.


After reading each sentence again, students should ask each other: Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Ideas for Homework: Write 10 travel sentences and underline the stressed words.

In case you have trouble downloading the handout, here are the sentences for this activity. Of course you can also write different sentences that better suit your class.

I like to travel alone, but sometimes I travel with other people.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you travel to?

When I fly, I prefer to have a window seat.

I spent too much time on the beach and got sunburned.

I’d much rather walk around a museum, than sit on a cruise ship.

There’s no way one suitcase would ever hold everything I want to bring.

The last place on earth I’d want to go is Alaska. It’s too cold!

I never forget to bring my towel when I travel; it’s the most important thing for me.

I just love tasting all the new foods when I’m at restaurants in new cities.

My advice is to travel in the fall; it’s not too cold, but it’s also not too busy.

Stressed Words

Stressed Words

Beaker can communicate with just stressed sounds, intonation, and timing. Can you?

Teachers, when you teach word stress, how do you explain it? What is a stressed word in a sentence? How can you tell which word it is? What’s more, why is it important? Here are answers to all of those questions. Here’s to hoping they’ll help you build and enhance lessons.

First, listen to this sentence.

I ate three eggs and two big bowls of cereal.

Now, listen again.

I ate three eggs and two big bowls of cereal.

Hopefully, you instantly see that the first time, the sentence is about eggs and the second is about the size of the bowls of cereal. We can tell because of the stressed words in the sentence (“eggs” in the first and “big” in the second).

How do we know which words are stressed? They’re louder and we stretch them out. For example “big” becomes “BIIIIIG”.

Why is word stress important? Well, it tells us which words are important in the sentence.

In the first sentence, the stress on “eggs” means the speaker really wants the listener to understand that word. Maybe the listener didn’t understand the first time they heard the sentence.

In the second sentence, the speaker wants to emphasize that they didn’t eat small bowls of cereal. Perhaps they were supposed to finish the cereal and are feeling defensive.

Finally, listen to a more regular reading of our sentence.

I ate three eggs and two big bowls of cereal.

The stressed words are: three, eggs, two, big, bowls, cereal.

Even if you only heard these six words, you would understand the sentence perfectly. (Assuming some context tells you that the sentence was in the past.) The words “I, ate, and, of” are less essential, so we don’t stress them.

When speaking naturally, we rarely stress each word in a sentence. In fact, some words are so diminished, you couldn’t possibly know what they are unless you know the language well enough to guess.

In lessons, if you can get the students used to listening for word stress and not worrying so much about catching every word, but rather knowing the kinds of words that are likely to be unstressed, listening will become that much easier.

Next week, you’ll see some suggestions for how to do just that.

Limericks Lesson Plan

This is part of a series of lesson plans on word stress, timing, and intonation. Click here to read a short introduction.

You might Read this Teaching Strategy on using limericks in the classroom before doing this lesson plan. You’ll find some limericks you might use at the beginning of the lesson.

Name: Limericks

Time: 1 hour

Prep Time: You’ll need to get a few limericks beforehand. (Here’s some.)

Materials: Some limericks

Primary Objective: Improve timing and word stress skills

Other Benefits: Practice counting syllables


Present Some Limericks (15 minutes): Present three short limericks of the AABBA structure. Write them on the board one at a time. Discuss what they mean. Mention the number of syllables in each line of the poem and that they rhyme.

Writing Pomes as a Class (15 minutes): Now you’re going to write some new poems as a class. First, ask the class for a short sentence. Write it on the board. On a separate piece of the board, write the last word. Then ask the students for a bunch of words that rhyme with it. Write those on the board too. Now, ask the students for another short sentence that ends in one of those words. (Don’t worry about the syllable count just yet.)

You should end up with something like this…

Short sentence: I went to the store to buy a red dress.

Dress: Mess, Confess, Less, Guess, etc.

Second Short sentence: When I eat I make a mess.

Repeat the process to get the third and fourth lines of your poem

Now get one more sentence that rhymes with the first line.

Now, you should have something like this:

I went to the store to buy a red dress.

When I eat I make a mess

I hate using a spoon.

I hope you come soon.

When I buy things I want to pay less

It’s not a great poem, but it doesn’t matter. You’re just working on the form.

You’re almost done. Next, count the syllables in each line with your class. Change the sentences as needed to make the lines that rhyme have the same number of syllables. You can easily change the syllable counts in sentences by adding adjectives and adverbs. (e.g. I bought a book à I really bought a green book.)

Now you should have something like this:

I went to the store to buy a dress. 9

When I eat I really make a mess. 9

I hate using a spoon. 6

I hope you come home soon. 6

When I buy things I want to pay less. 9

Congratulations! You and your class have written a limerick. Now, write two more.

Write Poems in Groups (30 minutes): Finally, put the students into groups and have them write a few poems of their own.

Extension: Ask the students to draw a picture related to one of their poems and then present it to the class.

Ideas for Homework: Send the students on a hunt for limericks on the internet. At the beginning of the next class they can share them in groups.



Using Limericks to help students improve intonation, timing, and word stress.

A limerick is a humorous, five line poem where the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme. The third and fourth lines rhyme too (i.e. AABBA rhyming). Often, the lines that rhyme also have the same number of syllables.

After the bear caught the fish 7

A genie gave him a wish 7

The bear didn’t know what to say 8

So, he sent the genie away 8

“I already have the fish!” 7

Note: This site is helpful learning how to count syllables.

Limericks (and other poems) can be great for helping students improve speaking skills. They give English a little bit more structure and repetition makes it easier to feel intonation, timing, and word stress patterns.

When students write enough of their own poems, they’ll begin to instinctively write lines with the same number of syllables. This is when you know they’re really getting English patterns down.

Moreover, if students are paying attention to the syllable counts, they’ll begin to see how we can play with English to create new effects. Exceptions to rules drive students crazy, but not native speakers. We use and create exceptions to make English work for us. To wit: subjects don’t have to come at the beginning and words like “everyone” can be pronounced with three or four syllables.

The only problem is that limericks often have so much new vocabulary and strange grammar that teaching them can be tricky. So, with apologies to actual poets, we wrote four limericks that you might use in the classroom. Can you add anymore? Post in the comments!

There once was a sad man with a beer 9

From the side of his face fell a tear 9

Yes he was so sad, 5

His heart felt so bad, 5

When he saw his face in the mirror! 9

The rain fell upon the once dry ground 9

And sent everyone running around 9

They didn’t want to be wet 7

So they were filled with regret 7

For warm summer sunshine they moaned 9

Tim rode his blue bike to school 7

Brad took his time like a fool 7

Judy wandered alone 6

Bobby talked on the phone 6

Tim was all alone at school 7

Introduction to Word Stress, Timing, and Intonation (Prosody) Lesson Plans

Prosody (Word Stress, Timing, and Intonation) Lesson Plans

In recent years, language teachers have generally agreed that teaching word stress, timing, and intonation are very important. Not every class, nor every student, needs prosody work; but many do.

Fine and dandy, but how to teach it exactly? This is the introduction to a series of lesson plans on prosody. The lessons will appear in the coming weeks.

Just a few notes:

First, in the introduction to Sue F. Miller’s wonderful book “Targeting Pronunciation: Communicating Clearly in English”, she says that the most important thing in any lesson on prosody is listening and repeating. Word to that and you’ll see it a lot here.

Also, there needs to be something to practice. Material is provided here around various themes. You can easily switch it up though. Using sentences and vocabulary from your units is a great idea.

Click here to see all the lesson plans.

Here are some other helpful posts on prosody.

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