Author: British Council | Published on 1 April 2023
Sentence stress is important in English because it can change the meaning of a sentence.
When learners stress the wrong word in a sentence, the meaning changes. You can use this simple activity to show them how this happens.
Listen to the sentences:
[the highlighted words should be stressed. Do not record the words in brackets, these should be used as part of a but use as part of a transcript]
- I asked you to buy me two kilos of sweet potatoes. (e.g. not 3 kilos)
- I asked you to buy me two kilos of sweet potatoes. (e.g. not 2 potatoes)
- I asked you to buy me two kilo of sweet potatoes. (e.g. not your sister)
- I asked you to buy me two kilos of sweet potatoes. (e.g. not white potatoes)
- I asked you to buy me two kilos of sweet potatoes. (e.g. not sweetcorn)
Notice how putting the stress on different words changes the meaning in each sentence.
Write this sentence on the board: I asked you to buy me two kilos of sweet potatoes. Say: ‘Listen to this sentence.’ and say the first sentence with the stress in the correct place. Ask: What am I not happy about?” (= you wanted two kilos, not one or three, etc.) Underline the word ‘two’ on the board.
Repeat with sentences 3–6 and ask how the meaning changes for each sentence.
Write another sentence on the board, e.g. I asked you to put your book, your pen and your bag under your chair.
Say: ‘Work with a partner. Take turns to say the sentence in different ways. Your partner must tell you what you mean.’ Monitor and support.
Give learners other sentences to practise with. Examples:
I told you to work in pairs to do all the exercises on page five.
I asked you to clean all the desks, the big table and the board.
I asked you to bring me three red pens, the big book and the small dictionary.