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Session 4

Welcome to The Teachers’ Room. The show all about teaching practice. Grab a cup of coffee, pull up an armchair and relax. Learn something new, remember something fundamental or just have a giggle.

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

The Teachers' Room

Top tips about intonation

Why are Sian and Dan so robotic all of a sudden? It must be time to talk about intonation.

Watch the video and complete the activity

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3 Ideas for Intonation
Intonation is important. A lack of it will make your students seem rude, bored, uninterested or just boring!

Mix it in
Don’t do whole lessons on intonation. It’s better to mix it in where appropriate, such as when it has a specific grammar function (e.g. question tags) or whenever doing speaking practice.

Make it fun
There are lots of ways to teach intonation, but try and make it enjoyable and interesting. We suggest:

humming dialogues – students write short dialogues and practice the intonation of them through non-verbal humming.

one line emotional practice – Since intonation is linked to emotion and circumstance, have students practice saying the same things with different emotions. Note how it changes their intonation

role-plays – extend the above practice by doing role-plays and drama. Take a script or have students write their own script, thinking about how the character is feeling and how they show this in their intonation.

Contrastive stress
Contrastive stress is important when correcting wrong information and highlighting key words. Get students to play correct me, where one student deliberately changes what they have heard in order to allow the second student to correct it using their intonation. E.g.:

A: I bought a car yesterday
B: You bought a farm yesterday?
A: No, I bought a CAR yesterday.
B: Oh, you BROUGHT a car yesterday…

Rules of thumb
Remember that intonation depends on context and personality. Everyone’s is slightly different. That’s why it’s better to avoid deep intonation theory. But you can teach general rules:

wh word questions have a falling intonation
yes no questions have a rising intonation
question tags can rise or fall depending on if you are asking or checking
lists generally go down except for the last item, which is rising.

To do

Try our quiz to see if you've picked up our tips.

The Teachers' Room Quiz

5 Questions

Check what you've learned by selecting the correct answer to each question.

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Get involved

Well, those were just a few ideas that we here at BBC Learning English had, but we know that you teachers out there have lots of fantastic ideas too, and we’d like you to share them with us and everybody else.

If you have a great tip or technique for teaching intonation, or anything else, please email us at learningenglish@bbc.co.uk. Your email could be posted here on this page, or may even be mentioned in our show.

We are also looking for video tips to include in the programme. In order to do this, please include whether or not you’d like to be included for video with your tip.

Ekaterina, Russia
I totally agree with the statement that students' answer to the question "Is it clear?" is almost always "Yeees". So I think it's very important to make sure they CAN actually ask their questions in English (especially if we speak about beginners). In our classroom we have "classroom language" always present on a small board and if students decide they need some more phrases, we just add them to the list. Thus, they always know how to ask "What does ... mean?" or "Can you say that again, please?", for example. It really helps to get rid of frustration and make them more active while giving instructions.
As for making acquaintance with a class, I like helping students to find English equivalents to their names, giving mine as an example (Ekaterina - Kate). They enjoy it a lot no matter what age or level they are. With small kids we also make a sun or a flower out of these names, so that every name is a ray or a petal. It helps me to learn their names and them to feel the belonging to the group.

Two very nice and simple tips, Ekaterina. Displaying classroom language is a good idea from Day 1 and good classroom management in low level classes. As for the icebreaker, it's something simple that can be done with almost no preparation, so it's always useful to have in a back pocket. Thank you for your contributions.

End of Session 4

Next up is Learners' Questions, our brand new series, where we choose one question sent in by an English language learner, and provide an answer. What will this week's question be? Join us in Session 5 to find out.

Session Vocabulary

  • 3 ideas for intonation

    • Play games
    • Contrastive Stress
    • Teach general rules