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stress box

Box the stress

Of all the areas of phonology, word stress is the most accessible for both students & teachers. The stress placement is part of the identity of a word & placement can cause confusion. Have a look at this example:

At a conference ' I'd like to introduce you to this IMportant man who is going to give a talk about haPPIness.'

Lots of chuckles all round. Word stress problems can get in the way sometimes & needs attending to systematically in class.

When teaching vocab or when it crops up, stress on words of two or more syllables needs attention. On the board & handouts put a small box, in a different colour, above the stressed syllable. Explain what the box is & get the students to copy the stress down with the word - go round & see that they are copying correctly.

For a procedure for dealing comprehensively with word stress when introducing vocab through a story, see the past Tip & lesson plan, 'A Vocabulary Procedure' at:

Word families can cause problems. Have a look at these words:

SIMple, SIMplify, simplifiCAtion, simPLIStic

The stress moves around but students generalise from the stress on the root word & in the case above would put the stress on the SIM on all of the words in the family. We need to point out the changing stresses when dealing with word families.

Rather than one or two general rules of some languages, English has lot of different rules. Have a look at these group of words& work out the tendency - there are exceptions!

Group 1
pretty, happy, funny, people, father, water

Group 2
increase, import, decrease, insult

Group 3
refugee, evacuee, entertain, pertain, volunteer, mountaineer, Japanese, journalese, cigarette, courgette

Group 4
geographic, climatic, invention, prediction

Group 5
photography, geography, opportunity, tranquility

Group 6
loudspeaker, second-class, bad-tempered

Group 7
credit card, shop assistant, living room, post office, dishwasher, suitcase

Answers below

So how would you prioritize these rules for the classroom? I suggest dealing with 1, 2, 6 & 7 at the appropriate level, deal with 3 when it crops up & deal with 4 & 5 with the especially curious students. There are more rules.

To look at specific rules in class, design problem-solving tasks such as the one you did with the rules above.

There are some practical classroom word stress games in the excellent 'Pronunciation Games' by Mark Hancock (CUP). To get hold of the book:

For a past Tip connected to syllable awareness, check out 'Hopeful Haikus';
For a past Tip on stresses within utterances, see 'Thought Groups & Prominence'

A couple of word stress rules

Group 1
Two syllable adjectives & nouns have the stress on the first syllable.

Group 2
Words that can be used as verbs & nouns: the verbs take the stress on the second syllable, while the nouns take it on the first syllable.

Group 3
The suffix takes the stress with these 'foreign' suffixes.

Group 4
Words with the suffix '-ic', '-tion' have the stress on the penultimate syllable. 

Group 5
Words with the suffix '-ty', -phy' have the stress on the ante-penultimate syllable.

Group 6
Compounds - adjective + noun - stress is on the second element.

Group 7
Compounds - noun + noun - stress is on the first element.

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