Prosodic features of speech – Webinar held on Dec 17th, 2021 for Trinity College London.

During my DIP-TESOL tutorship, we had a session on Intonation by Mark Mckinnon. 

The session gave us a practical example of how to use sense groups to identify tone units and ultimately raise awareness on intonation and how it can be used to convey meaning. 

So when I was asked by Trinity College London, India to do a webinar on any aspect of speech and drama I chose prosodic features of speech. I was excited to see the stages of guided discovery as we moved from sense groups to content words to tone units as shown by Mark. 

Why is intonation difficult to teach? 

The teaching of intonation seems to have been characterized by even greater uncertainty and lack of confidence than other areas of phonology. It is because we are not in control of practical work and a trustworthy system through which we can make intonation comprehensible to ourselves or to our learners, Adrian Underhill, Sound Foundations of Speech. 

The webinar for Trinity College London is part of the Spotlight series where they cover one aspect of speech and drama awareness. 

I covered 3 examples of how to raise awareness on intonation patterns, how to use sentence stress to change the meaning, and how to do an exercise of rhythm with very young learners. The examples are explained below 

  1. Using intonation to convey meaning 

Take any poem and remove its verse form and type it out in a paragraph form keeping the punctuations intact. Try and make sense groups out of the poem grouping words that make sense. Your sense groups are your tone units. Identifying content words in the passage will help identify stress. Read aloud the sentence emphasizing the content words and ask the learners to interpret meaning. 

2. Using sentence stress to convey meaning

  • Listening exercises provide a useful opportunity for sentence stress recognition. 
  • The teacher plays or reads out monologues. Learners have the transcript of the monologues in their hands.
  • They mark out the stress as they hear it play or read. 
  • The second time it is played you include suitable pauses to give students time for the stresses. 
  • Students then compare the stresses and listen to the monologue again. 
  • The class then goes through the transcript and marked the stresses using annotation or on an overhead projector and discuss 
  • A final hearing of the monologue shows and confirms the results of the discussion. 

3. Learning a rhyme from recitation 

  • Tell the class that you are going to recite a rhyme once only and invite them to be alert. 
  • After reciting it naturally but with clearly emphasized rhythm recite each line again, leaving the last stressed word for the learners to provide. 
  • Do the same for the remaining lines. 
  • Repeat the rhyme with 2 unstressed words per line for the class to fill in orally. 
  • Continue the process till the class has provided all of the stressed words. Maybe they can write them on the board at this point. Now do the same with unstressed words. Each time provide less yourself.
  • If they get stuck at any point just provide the word yourself, pointing at the chart. 
  • In a short time, they would have worked the rhyme on their own not through repetition as such but through the alertness required in sharp listening and attention to all facets of making it sound English


Underhill Adrian,(1994) Sound Foundations: (pp 87 -107). Macmillan Heinemann. 

Mark Mckinnon, (2021), Phonology D, Oxford TEFL, tutorship video. 

Kelly, Gerald, (2001), How to Teach Pronunciation (pp 87-99)

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