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Teaching Tips 150

Box that stress
To poppy or not
Keeping it in English

Stress box

Box that 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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To poppy or not

It's Remembrance Day in the UK on the 11th (hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice) & for some teaching material, including the famous poem, see the past Tip 'In Flanders fields the poppies blow':

On 25th July of this year Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches in World War 1, died at the age of 111. For some history about Harry:
The rock band Radiohead released a song 'Harry Patch (In memory of)' for 1 GBP with the proceeds going to the British Legion. You can get it here:
The main Radiohead site:

The song can be hear at YouTube:
And together with some WW1 footage here:

Some lyrics from the song:

"i am the only one that got through
the others died where ever they fell
it was an ambush
they came up from all sides
give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
i've seen devils coming up from the ground
i've seen hell upon this earth
the next will be chemical but they will never learn"

One of the traditions of Remembrance Day is to wear a paper or cloth poppy as a sign of sympathy for the day, & in recent years a degree of controversy
surrounds the wearing. Some people choose not to wear the poppy & come in for a great deal of criticism as they are thought to be uncaring & disloyal to the memories of those who have died in the two World Wars. Jon Snow the TV presenter refuses to wear a poppy on television & here's what he says about the issue:

Why I don't wear a poppy on air

8 November 2006, 11:53 AM

By Jon Snow

A message from last night's duty log is not untypical. It reads:

"I'm disgusted at Jon Snow for refusing to wear a poppy. He interrogates those people sitting opposite him, but refuses to answer questions on why he refuses to acknowledge those who fought on his behalf."

The Poppy issue is an interesting one - opinions are much more bitterly divided and assertively put than on any other symbol.

Fiona Bruce is to be allowed to continue to wear a crucifix, or a cross-shaped item of jewellery. I am allowed to wear unspeakably bright ties. But there's a world of difference there that we should be assertive about.

My ties are abstract - I do not believe in wearing anything which represents any kind of statement. You may say my ties, my socks are a statement anyway. But of what? A statement of rebellion? Joy? Absurdity? You see we don't know what the statement is - if indeed there is one - and that is as it should be.

I am begged to wear an Aids Ribbon, a breast cancer ribbon, a Marie Curie flower... You name it, from the Red Cross to the RNIB, they send me stuff to wear to raise awareness, and I don't. And in those terms, and those terms alone, I do not and will not wear a poppy.

Additionally there is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there - 'he damned well must wear a poppy!'. Well I do, in my private life, but I am not going to wear it or any other symbol on air.

I respect our armed forces, the sacrifice and the loss, and like others I remember them on Remembrance Sunday. That's the way it is. I won't be wearing a black tie for anyone's death - I don't for my own relatives, so why on earth would I for anyone else's?

When the Queen Mother died, our coverage was not of dark grief but of a happy life remembered.

In the end there really must be more important things in life than whether a news presenter wears symbols on his lapels.

And on the same page you can read some responses from the public.
A couple more opinions on the subject from fellow broadcasters can be read at:


It might appear to be a pretty trivial issue but it's a very emotional one in the UK, with some of the tabloids whipping up criticism of non-poppy wearers, what Snow calls 'poppy fascism'. Those in support of the non-poppy wearer talk of the all those deaths in the wars being for the freedom to choose. This might make for an interesting discussion for mid-intermediate & upwards.
This could then lead on to a look at the responsibilities that public figures have & who lives up to them & who doesn't.


There's an excellent book of materials about special days, including Remembrance Day, in English-speaking cultures: 'The Book of Days Teacher's Book: A Resource Book of Activities for Special Days in the Year' by Adrian Wallwork. To get hold of it:

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Keeping it in English

For material for a lesson on Bonfire Night on the 5th in the past Tip 'Remember, remember':


There are many valid uses for mother tongue use in a language lesson & then there are lots of other times when it is not valid. The students might be using their mother tongue because they don't understand what they have to do, they might be tired, they might be taking their lead from the teacher using it indiscriminately, among a host of reasons. This needs attending to, encouraging the students to stay in English as much as possible. Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Use their mother tongue in a principled way - if you use it all the time, then they will as well.

2. Talk to your students about using their mother tongue in class - why & when it might be valid.

3. Draw up some classroom 'rules', one of them being to try to stay in English. Put the rules on the wall to refer to when needed.

4. Listen to what they're saying in their mother tongue & teach them the English for it. Develop the language of the classroom from the beginning - probably at the top of their list of needs.

5. For the persistent user, give them a tutorial to try to see if anything can be done. There are students that can't do without it - & after all, it is a very natural reaction.

6. For the younger learners some kind of forfeit for persistent speakers. These ideas are used for general behaviour problems.
- The Hand - draw the outline of a hand on a piece of card & stick it on the wall & whenever a learner reaches the threshold, they stand up with their hand on the Hand for 5 minutes - they look & feel a little foolish.
- Or put up the digits of their phone numbers on the board for each infraction & when the number is complete, ring the parents.
- Again teach them the English for it & make them memorise it.
- Ignore them when they speak in their mother tongue.

7. Some schools 'fine' their students a very small amount for each use of the mother tongue, the teacher collecting the money for drinks at the end of the term. Careful with this as if one student is resistant then it's not possible to do. Instead of a financial penalty, some kind of forfeit could be given - help you with something, sing a song....

8. Stop cards - here's a past Tip:

Henny was telling me about an experiment she tried out recently with her beginner group. It has to do with the age-old problem of encouraging the students to speak in English & not reverting unnecessarily to their native language.

Henny had the idea of giving each student a card with 'In English, please' written on it. These cards were nicely presented on coloured card & plastified, helping to increase their value.

When in pairwork, if their partner was speaking too much Spanish, the student would simply hold up the card. So instead of just asking each other not to speak Spanish, which they rarely would, this way of doing it means less loss of face for the 'offender' & more chance that they will ask each other to cut down on the native language.

It was working well. The students were enthusiastic about using the cards & time spent in the class was being maximised.

Another important use for the cards is for the students to also use them for the teacher if they feel the teacher is using too much of their native language. Democracy at work, empowering the learners.

Try it out & see.

You can read Henny's articles on the site:
Cultural diversity - Managing Same-Sex Orientation in the Classroom
Listening to the Learners: The Role of the Learner Diary in RSA/ UCLES
CTEFLA Teaching Practice

Using the In-Service Feedback Session to Actively Promote Teacher Self-Development


For ideas on using the mother tongue in class, do check out the excellent 'Using the Mother Tongue - Making the most of the learner's language' by Sheelagh Deller & Mario Rinvolucri
(Delta Publishing/English Teaching Professional, 2002) To see a review:
To buy the book:


Another aspect of mother tongue use in class is when the teacher doesn't know the language of the students- check out this past Tip 'But I don't speak their language!'

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