When you teach English stress you must emphasise the strong and weak parts of words and sentences. I do this by using a child’s play ball.
Teach the basics: Strong stress will sound longer, louder and have a higher pitch. Weak stress will sound shorter, quieter and have a lower pitch.
Practice it with words: com PU ter, SA tur day
Use the ball to show the stress intonation. For com PU ter, hold the ball low-high-low. for SA ter day, hold the ball high-low-low.
I like to have the students move the ball in a left-to-right progression. This is how we read in English. Since I stand in front of them, I use right-to-left, and they copy me (mirror-like) and do left-to-right.
The balls I use in class can be purchased at a party supply or toy store, and they should be about 3 inches in diameter. Large enough to fit comfortably in the hand. The soft ones, or the ones designed to use as water toys, are best. Bouncy balls will go shooting, or rolling, across the room when dropped. The soft balls do not roll away.
I like these stress game activities from Mark Hancock’s Pronunciation Games book. Hancock is writing about British English, so some of the words may have an unexpected spelling or accent, and may not be appropriate if you are teaching North American English. Still it’s a good resource. I introduce the Rhythm Dominoes first (just the lesson, no game) because there are only 6 stress patterns covered. More advanced classes can play the dominoes game afterward.
Then I do the Fishing game next. It has 11 stress patterns so it will take more time to go through and have your students practice. Whether you play the Rhythm Dominoes or the Fishing games, help your students by practicing the stress patterns many times. Some students might even need hand-over-hand demonstration of how the pattern rises and falls. So be prepared to put your hand over theirs and help them make the rising and falling movements.
It may help with multi-syllable words to instruct students to “jump” up, and “step” down in the intonation.
You may notice that weak syllables may have reduced vowels, and I explain that more in the next post.