For many learners the rhythm and stress patterns in English can cause problems. This is particularly true when the learners’ L1 is a syllable-timed language.  

On the board write the following sentences: 

  • Birds eat worms. 
  • The birds eat worms. 
  • The birds eat the worms. 
  • The birds’ll eat the worms. 

Ask: ‘Which sentence is the shortest when you say it? Which sentence is the longest?’  

Learners will say the first sentence is the shortest when spoken and the last sentence the longest. 

Say: ‘No. They are all the same when we say them.’ 

Learners will look at you with surprise. 

Say: ‘I’ll demonstrate.’  

Start by tapping your foot (or clapping your hands) – 1, 2, 3. Don’t do it too fast. 

Then say: 

  • Birds eat worms. 
  • The birds eat worms. 
  • The birds eat the worms. 
  • The birds’ll eat the worms. 

Stress the key words (birds, eat, worms) so that each of those words matches one tap of your foot or clap of your hand. 

Finally, say: ‘Let’s do it together.’ Start tapping your foot and get the learners to follow you.  

Say: ‘What do you notice?’  

Elicit that some words aren’t stressed. In English we stress the words that carry the meaning. Grammar words like articles and auxiliary verbs are usually not stressed. 


Articles: The words ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’. 

Auxiliary verbs: Provides additional information (e.g. about voice and tense) about the main verb which follows. ‘Do’, ‘be’, ‘have’ and modal verbs are the main auxiliary verbs. 

Demonstrate: To show and explain how learners should do a task. 

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

L1: The language learned from birth (= mother tongue). 

Rhythm: A strong pattern of sounds and words. 

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

Syllable-timed: A language whose syllables take approximately equal amounts of time to pronounce.