Inspired by The British Council definitions of intonation. This activity is for the teachers to boost and foster the teaching of intonation in their lessons.
What is intonation?
Intonation is about how we say things, rather than what we say. Without intonation, it’s impossible to understand the expressions and thoughts that go with words.
Listen to somebody speaking without paying attention to the words: the ‘melody’ you hear is the intonation.
Why teach intonation?
Intonation exists in every language, so the concept we’re introducing isn’t new. However, learners are often so busy finding their words that intonation suffers. Yet intonation can be as important as word choice – we don’t always realise how much difference intonation makes:
- Awareness of intonation aids communication.
- Incorrect intonation can result in misunderstandings, speakers losing interest or even taking offence!
How I help my studentsAwareness-raisingSome techniques I find useful for raising learners’ awareness of intonation:
- Provide learners with models – don’t be afraid to exaggerate your intonation.
- Let students compare two examples of the same phrase, eg: varied/flat intonation, English / L1.
- Ask students to have a 2-minute conversation in pairs as ‘robots’ (elicit the word using a picture if necessary), i.e. with no intonation. When they then go back to speaking ‘normally’, point out that the difference is made by intonation – this is what gives movement to our voices.
- Get students to imitate my intonation, but without words, just humming.
Ask the students to watch the segment and talk about the little girl’s speech rehearsal. How can she improve it? Ask them to say what they would do if they were her teacher.