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Integrating Word Stress into Lessons

Submitted by David Bohlke, USA

Some languages pronounce each word with equal emphasis. In other languages, such as English, word stress is important for comprehension. A stressed syllable is said longer, louder, and with a higher pitch.

Word stress is important because stressing the wrong syllable can cause misunderstandings. It might be difficult to understand the word, or a wrongly stressed syllable can cause confusion or even annoyance for the listener. In some cases, stressing the wrong syllable word’s meaning changes the meaning or type of word.

The following suggestions may help teachers integrate word stress into lessons.

  1. Raise awareness of the importance of word stress To show how important word stress is, say a familiar word with the wrong stress. For example, say computer as COMputer instead of comPUter. Students will quickly get a feel for why this is wrong.
  1. Show stress patterns when you teach new vocabulary.

How you do this is up to you, but find a system and stick with it. You might draw large and small stress bubbles over words, underline stressed syllables, mark them as a familiar dictionary might, or write capital letters for stressed syllables.

PHOto / PHOtograph / phoTOgraphy

  1. Have students categorize new vocabulary by stress pattern.

They might do this in a vocabulary notebook to show connections between word families:

Equal / eQUAlity / Equalize / equaliZAtion NEUtral / neuTRALity / NEUtralize / neutraliZAtion

You probably would not devote a whole lesson to word stress but there may be times you create an activity to give it extra focus.


  1. Group by stress pattern

Give each student a piece of paper with a word on it. Have them regroup themselves by finding and sitting with others with the same stress pattern. For example, for a class of 28 students prepare 4 words with each of seven stress patterns.

O o (happy) / o O (enjoy) / O o o (energy) / o O o (computer) / o o O (volunteer) / o O o o (biology) / o o O o (politician)

  1. Word stress bingo

Go over words noun / verb pairs where the stress is on the first syllable for nouns and the second for verbs, e.g. EXport / export. Have students write 16 of the words in a mixed order on a 4×4 Bingo card. To play, say a word as a noun or a verb. Students mark the ones they hear. Possible words include rewrite, invite, insert, misprint, escort, contrast, increase, decrease, discount, permit, conflict, insult, contest, export, import, present, contract, object, reject, record.

  1. Scavenger hunt

Give each group a different color pack of Post-its. Tell them they will have exactly one minute to labels things in the classroom with the O o pattern (jacket, whiteboard, window, etc.). Once an item is labeled it cannot be labeled again. Give one point for each correct word.