Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Teaching Ideas for Word Stress


Pronunciation Practice Activities” by Martin Hewings

So the past few months, I have been focusing more and more on pronunciation for all levels of learners, no matter whether they are young learners or adult learners of English. Anyhow, I tried out a new lesson idea today which was partly inspired from the wonderful book, “Pronunciation Practice Activities“, written by Martin Hewings. I would recommend any teacher worth their salt to purchase this book, as it offers some great pronunciation lesson ideas which could be incorporated into class immediately.

Most teachers would identify word stress with the teaching of new vocabulary or as a technique to support pronunciation for problematic lexical items. This is all well and good but it reminds me of a teacher reacting to issues rather than proactively focusing on areas of language learning. Personally, if a teacher is able to develop a lesson based around pronunciation and developing learners’ awareness of pronunciation, so much the better. There is by no means anything wrong by reacting to pronunciation issues as they arise but I think it would be a nice change of focus when we remind learners that there are some basic principles that they can learn no matter how large or small the lexical item. Nevertheless, lets look at one lesson idea which is published in “Pronunciation Practice Activities“.

The key aim for the lesson it to identify words by their stress patterns and I first introduced this by writing the following on the whiteboard:

  • photograph (Ooo)
  • photography (oOoo)

I asked learners to tell me how many syllables there were in each word and I broke it down by underlining each syllable. Afterwards, I drew small circles above each to illustrate the syllable and then I elicited from students the stress location within the word, rubbed out the corresponding small circle and replaced it with a large circle – look at the stress patterns in brackets next to the words.

The next stage of the lesson was to draw a person, and I named this lady Sarah. I told the students that she travels a lot for business and that she has been several countries over the past few months on business. I wrote up a list of countries in random order on the whiteboard: Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Venezuela. I told students that they need to determine which countries she visited in order by matching it with the corresponding stress pattern. I then drew stress patterns numbered 1-8:

  1. Oo
  2. ooOo
  3. oOoo
  4. oO
  5. O
  6. ooO
  7. Ooo
  8. oOo

I put students into pairs and asked them to match the words to the stress patterns. I monitored the learners and afterwards elicited from the groups each country from 1-8. As I mentioned before, it was the first time that I tried this activity. It worked really well and the students enjoyed the change of pace.


What words related to ‘countries’ or ‘jobs’ could you write in the table?

As an extension, I decided to draw up a table on the whiteboard, asked learners to work again in pairs and write down some country names within the table (see the image of the table above). I elicited different country names and expected word stress patterns from the class and we all were drilling the pronunciation of country names. As a final activity, we looked at jobs and using the same word stress patterns. It was successful and the learners left the class with a smile on their face.

Finally, I had this idea which I will use in the very future: you could create a flashcard activity whereby students have to match vocabulary with the corresponding stress patterns such as with a flashcard game (pelmanism), calling out a word and having the stress patterns up on the whiteboard and students run up to the whiteboard and then try to grab it before the other team or just using different stress pattern cards and you call out a topic and go round the class, eliciting vocabulary related to the corresponding stress pattern. I could record a future lesson using some of these ideas, so you get a better idea on how you could use these ideas in a future lesson. Food for thought, hey?

Anyhow, over to you now! How do you incorporate word stress in the classroom? Do you have any favourite activities? How do you get learners more aware of word stress?


  1. Penny Roux

    One thing I always try to stress (!) to students when I’m helping them with word stress is the physicality of it. The stressed syllable requires more muscle power and more energy so you can both SEE the stressed syllable (for example by using a mirror or working face to face with a partner) and also FEEL it in your body (lungs, face muscles etc). Many students do get the word stress right (almost intuitively) but they don’t hear or feel it so they are not confident they are pronouncing the words correctly. It’s so easy to record nowadays (smart phone) I make the students record themselves and listen to themselves. It really helps. There are also some apps available online so you can visualize the pitch changes in stressed syllables which is fun, too.

    • Martin Sketchley

      Wonderful ideas Penny! Definitely using mirrors can help. Some fantastic ideas as well about using smart phones and apps.

  2. Liana

    Thank you for this interesting post! I hardly ever incorporate word stress activities in my lessons. My usual excuse is lack of time and large number of students. I think the real reason is lack of knowledge/training/confidence. Your suggestions are really tempting so I’d like to have a go. I teach learners 6-12 y.o., who are usually more flexible and … adventurous than older students 🙂 My problem is that M. Hewings’ book is quite expensive for my budget. I will have a look on the internet for more (free!) pronunciation ideas. Are there any (free!) resources you could suggest? Thanks! Liana (Athens, Greece)

  3. HA

    It’s nice to read your post. However, my student is struggling with telling where the stress is even when she could pronounce the words perfectly, and she’s struggling even with 2-syllable words. I actually wouldn’t mind this un-recognition as long as she can produce the correct pronunciation, but I have to help her do some paper tests in which she is asked to tell where the stress is. I guess I’ll just need to give her baby-step guidance and regular practice exercises in every single lesson. (I’m teaching her one-on-one btw.)

    • Martin Sketchley

      One way for students to recognise where the stress within a word is located, is by getting students to clap the word stress and the longer/harder the location of a clap indicates where the stress is. Another approach is getting students to find the word in the dictionary and then seeing where the stress is within the word. One final approach is to demonstrate the stress, drilling and getting students to aware. It takes time but they will get there in the end. Good luck and thanks for sharing.

      • HA

        Thank you for your response. Recently I taught my student to try saying words with different stresses to hear how different it is when we stress on differerent syllables. This way seems to work well for her as now she could tell which pronunciation is similar to the way she’s been pronouncing. It’s a bit longer way for her to figure it out, but she enjoys that now she has a way!

        • Martin Sketchley

          That’s great to hear that you have negotiated a method with your student which she likes. That is half the battle.

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