Teaching Ideas for the ESL Classroom
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Teaching Rhythm to ESL Students

Can your students pronounce English naturally? They key to pronouncing English clearly and naturally is rhythm. Research done at McGill Universtiy in Montreal, Canada, highlights this fact. English speakers were taught the rhythm and intonation of Chinese and Japanese. They learned no vocabulary and no grammar. After six weeks, these learners recorded some sentences. Native speakers of Chinese and Japanese rated them all as intermediate level students or above. A few of the learners were even judged to be native Chinese or Japanese speakers, though they hadn't yet learned their first word!

The first step in teaching English rhythm is to make students aware of stress points within sentences. All students learn that long words, such as "impossible", have one stress point (imPOSSible), but phrases within sentences are the same. Teacher Joe uses the following sentences to illustrate this point when he teaches:

1. Joe likes jokes. (3 syllables, 3 stress points)
2. Kathy isn't hungry. (6 syllables, 3 stress points)
3. Amanda doesn't like elephants. (9 syllables, 3 stress points)
Say these sentences to students slowly, letting them hear that all three take about the same amount of time. The key to English rhythm is the number of stress points, NOT the number of syllables!

Now, students must practice. Here are four ways that Teacher Joe often uses:

1. Repeat and Clap - Lead the students by clapping your hands with each stress point. Repeat until all students can follow along. Make it like a song!

2. Repeat with Body Movements - Move your body up with each stress point. Make it seem like a silly dance. Students always laugh at this, but they remember!

3. Mark the Stress Points - Give students five or six sentences on a sheet of paper. Students must listen and put a dot over each stress point. Give feedback and have students repeat each sentence out loud at the end.

4. Count the Stress Points - Read five sentences or play them from a CD or cassette tape. Students must write down how many stress points there are in each sentence. Do the first sentence quickly as an example, then go through the rest rather quickly. (It is better if students write the number on a piece of paper, rather than say the number out loud, because it forces all students to listen carefully!)