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Acting with Intonation

Elizabeth Walcott
Texas Tech University

This activity is called, “Acting with Intonation,” and is a variation of “Intonation Fun”,
taken from the TESL web site. This activity requires students to use intonation to convey
meaning, because one phrase can have different meanings in different situations just by
varying the stress on the word. The main goal of this activity is to help ESL students
understand the importance of intonation in English, and how word stress can change the
meaning evoked by a phrase or sentence, depending on the situation. The main objective
of the activity is to help them use intonation in very common phrases that will give them
an understanding of English intonation.

Level of learners
Novice ESL students, any age

Group size
14 participants (can be altered to accommodate any group size)

Handouts that have each phrase with the different situations

Time frame
Approximately 20 minutes

1. Students are put into groups.
2. Each group is given a specific phrase, with several different situations that require
different intonation when saying the phrase.
3. Each group member picks out a situation.
4. Group members work together to differentiate the intonation for each situation.
However, group members should work quietly so that the other members of the class do
not overhear their phrase and situations. The other members of the class do not know the
phrase or the situations of the other groups.
5. Each group comes to the front of the class, and one at a time, each group member
“acts” out the phrase with their designated situation, using intonation to differentiate each
situation. (They do not announce their situation, only “act” it out, or express it.)
6. After each group member has “acted” out his/her situation with the phrase, the teacher
shows the list of situations to the rest of the class, and the class has to decide which
situation description goes with which group member’s “performance.” For example:
“Excuse me”
You are trying to get by someone in a store
Someone accuses you of lying when you did nothing wrong
You want to ask a gorgeous girl/guy to dance with you
Three students would “perform” each situation in which an English speaker would say,
“Excuse me.” The rest of the class would have to decide which “performance” went with
which situation.

This activity can be done with simple one word phrases, or longer phrases. Also, the
teacher can give a phrase to a group of students, and then the students have to come up
with as many situations as they possibly can that would require different intonation to
convey meaning.

This activity could be used as a warm-up for lessons throughout a semester or school year
by giving the class one phrase each day in which they have to practice using intonation to
convey different meanings in different situations.

Supplementary Materials
See handout.

This activity is a variation of the activity, “Intonation Fun” which may be found on the
TESL Journal web site.
“Intonation Fun.” The Internet TESL Journal: For Teachers of English as a Second

2001. <>.


Intonation Fun

Level: Medium

Use this activity to underline the importance of intonation when your students, as they
often do, talk like robots. Basically, get them to say the words in quotation marks in the
contexts that follow.

GROUP 1 - 'Hello'
A) to a friend
B) to a friend you haven't seen for 3 years
C) to a neighbour that you don't like
D) to a 6 month old baby
E) to someone you have just found doing something they shouldn't
F) to someone on the phone when you're not sure if they are still on the other end
GROUP 2 – 'Goodbye'
A) to a member of your family as they are going through the boarding gate at the airport
B) to someone who has been annoying you
C) to a child starting his very first day at school

GROUP 3 - 'How are you?'

A) to someone you haven't seen for 20 years
B) to someone who has recently lost a member of the family
C) to someone who didn't sleep in their own bed last night


GROUP 1 - 'I never go to pubs'

A) by a person that totally disapproves of drinking alcohol to someone who often goes to
B) as a response to someone who has told you they sometimes go to pubs
C) said before: '…but I quite like discos.'


GROUP 2 - ‘What have you done?'

A) to someone who claims to have fixed your television only that now it's worse than
B) to someone who is scolding you for not doing anything when you suspect the same
about them.
C) to someone who has just done something very bad and which has serious


GROUP 3 – ‘I saw that’

A) talking about a movie you liked with a friend
B) to somebody that is trying to hide something
C) you are embarrassed you witnessed something you weren’t supposed to

Put students in pairs. Give student A a list of questions or statements. Give student
B a list of replies. Student A should hum the intonation patterns of his utterances.
Student B should reply with the correct response. We like to make sure that all of
the sentences have the same number of syllables so that Student B really has to listen
to the intonation to get the sentence. Example utterances:

Student A Student B

I like pizza, pickles, and chips. Not all together, I hope.

(list intonation)

Would you prefer coffee or tea? Tea, please.

(choice intonation)

Would you like some ice cream and No, thank you. I'm not hungry.
(double-rising intonation)

Next week we are flying to Rome. Really? How long will you be there?
(falling intonation)

Is he going to the dentist? Yes. He has a toothache.

(rising intonation)

Hard of Hearing Activity

- Students create a sentence following this format: (who) will go to (where) (when) to (do
- Students form groups of 3-4 people.
- They each take turns saying their sentences and their group members will pretend they
are hard of hearing and ask many questions: Who? Where? When? To do what?
- Original student responds by saying the complete sentence again, stressing the
information that was missed.

Here’s an example…

A: The mice will go to the moon tomorrow to take over the world.
B: Who?
A: The mice will go to the moon tomorrow to take over the world.
C: Where?
A: The mice will go to the moon tomorrow to take over the world.
D: When?
A: The mice will go to the moon tomorrow to take over the world.
B: To do what?
A: The mice will go to the moon tomorrow to take over the world!