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Intonation in Practice – intonation activity

EmoticonsIntonation in Practice is a simple exercise which you can do with almost any class to help them understand what intonation‏‎ is and how it works in English. It’s easily adaptable to all learner levels‏ and abilities.

Explain that in English you have to give stress (or emphasis) to certain words to deliver certain meanings. Go through a brain storming session to elicit some of the feelings we can convey through the appropriate intonation: disappointment, excitement, anger, surprise, happiness, annoyance, boredom, indifference, and so on.

Next, put on the board‏‎ (or handout if you’ve prepared this earlier) a simple A – B dialog and get the students to read it out loud in a fairly neutral tone. Of course the dialog should be of the right level for your class. Here’s a simple example:

A: Hi, how are you?
B: Fine, thanks. And you?
A: Very good. What are you up to these days?
B: Not much, but I’m always running around.
A: I see. Well…I’ve got to go now. See you.
B: Yes, see you…bye!
A: Goodbye.

Now get your students to repeat this mini dialogue over and over in a neutral tone. It should almost become a mantra! Then have them practice in pairs, still keeping a neutral tone.

Now it’s time to use some pre-prepared scenarios which you have written down on flashcards‏‎. Each one should have a possible situation where the dialog could take place, e.g.:

  • two actors out of work
  • a sick person in hospital and friend who visits
  • two old people who are all but deaf
  • a divorced couple
  • a landlady and her overdue tenant
  • two people who have met before, but can’t remember where
  • two old friends who run into each other on a railway platform

The first time you do this invite a good student up and choose a card at random which you can show the student but not the class. Do the scene with them saying the dialog in the manner of the scene. Of course emphasize your intonation so that if you were playing the two old deaf people you would shout a lot and say the words slowly. However, remember not to change the dialog, just the delivery!

Then, of course, invite the rest of the class to guess the scenario!

Once the class understand, give each pair a card which is for their eyes only and they must not reveal its content to anyone else. Get each pair to practice the dialogue they have just learned using intonation, gestures and body language to suit their assigned scenario.

After each pair has practiced it for about 5 min call them up and have them perform the dialogue in front of the class and the class will have to guess the scenario.

The idea behind this activity is that by by giving a different intonation to the same A – B dialogue they can appreciate the importance of intonation in speaking.

from an idea by Steve O’Connor, ESL teacher in Chengdu PRC

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