Author: British Council | Published on 1 August 2022


It is difficult to hear all the words in a sentence when listening to English. This is because many words are weak and spoken quickly. 

This counting activity helps learners to hear weak forms.


Listen to these sentences: 

[sentences should be spoken at natural speed and rhythm, i.e. weak forms and stress]                                                 

  1. I went to the shop to buy some bread.                                                         
  2. There was a cat and a dog in the street.                                                           
  3. They waited at the bus stop for an hour.                                                   
  4. Where were the pens and the pencils?

Notice which words are stressed and which words are weak. In English, words that are important to the message are strong or stressed (e.g. went, shop, buy, bread) but ‘grammar’ words (e.g. to, the, a, for, at, was, were, and) are usually weak.  


Say: ‘Listen to the sentences. How many words are there?’ Turn your back to the learners so they can’t see your mouth. Say the first sentence at normal speed. Repeat two times.

Ask learners to compare their answers in groups. Take feedback:

  • Write the sentence on the board. 
  • Ask learners which words they could hear. 
  • Elicit that these words are important to the message, e.g. went, shop, buy, bread. 
  • Elicit what kind of words these are (nouns: shop, bread; verbs: went, buy). Mark the stress over the words. 

Repeat with sentences 2–4.

Elicit the words that are difficult to hear. Ask what kind of words these are (articles: a, the; auxiliary verbs: was, were; prepositions: to, for, at; conjunctions: and).


Drill the sentences (point, say, repeat). Say: “Practise the sentences with your partner.”

Learners may find it difficult to produce weak forms, but helping them to hear these can help them when practising listening in class.


Elicit: How a teacher gets information from learners e.g. asking questions, prompting.

Stress: Emphasis given to certain syllables in words. In English, stress is produced with a longer, louder and higher pitched sound than unstressed sounds.

Weak: Not strong. 

See also