Improving Oral Intelligibility with the Stress Stretch

Marsha Chan
© Marsha Chan

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About This Technique:
The author developed the Stress Stretch to complement and amplify other techniques for indicating stressed syllables to learners of English. While used with learners of all language proficiencies, the author has found it particularly beneficial for the fluent speaker whose stress and rhythm patterns are ingrained and in need of a dramatic force for change.

Language Level: Any

To gain awareness of stressed syllables in spoken English
To associate stress with vowel length, clarity and pitch; to internalize these elements into body memory
To activate and link kinesthetic, tactile, visual and auditory learning modalities
To pronounce multisyllabic words with proper stress and intonation

Some learners have difficulty perceiving the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables in English. If their perception is weak, they also have difficulty producing the rhythm of words and phrases with correct stress and intonation . The stress stretch integrates kinesthetic, tactile, visual and auditory perception to aid in the production of proper stress.

Class Time Required:
This teaching technique can be integrated into any lesson for any length of time. An introductory lesson may require 15 minutes.

Preparation Time:
None when integrated into a lesson. Planning an introductory lesson may require 15 minutes.

Resources Needed:
Other than vocabulary, no resources are needed when the Stress Stretch is integrated into a lesson. Chairs or benches are useful but not required. For an introductory lesson, a writing board or a screen with data projection is helpful but not essential.

Introductory lesson:

Follow-up lessons:
Conduct the Stress Stretch as a regular part of oral vocabulary practice and when students encounter difficulty pronouncing multisyllabic words with proper stress.

Note that the duration of the vowel sound in the stressed syllable is longer. As students do the stress stretch, have them observe each other. Remind them to synchronize their upward stretch and downward motions with their vocalized stress pattern of each word. For example, they should rise in pitch and stretch the vowels in stressed syllables as they stretch their bodies upward.

If students don't have chairs, have them rise from a crouching position. Make suitable adjustments for learners with disabilities.

Stress Stretch Twins: Have pairs of students face each other, hold hands, and do the Stress Stretch together in synchrony.

The Eyes Have it! Have students open their eyes wide on each stressed syllable instead of stretching their whole body.

Sentence Stress Stretch: Have more advanced speakers perform the stress stretch with phrases and sentences in paragraphs.

Selected Publications focusing on pronunciation:

  1. Phrase by Phrase Pronunciation in American English, 2nd edition 2009, Marsha Chan. Student book, 5 audio CDs, 5 DVDs. Sunburst Media.
  2. College Oral Communication Book 1, 2006, Marsha Chan. Patricia Byrd, Joy M. Reid, Cynthia Schuemann, Editors. Student book, 4 audio CDs. National Geographic Learning (first published by Houghton Mifflin Co., then Heinle, then NGL).
  3. Pronunciation Dos and Don'ts, DVD, 2008, Marsha Chan. A video production for teacher training and faculty development.
  4. Using Your Hands to Teach Pronunciation, DVD, 2006, Marsha Chan. A video production for teacher training and faculty development.
  5. Stress Stretch, in New Ways in Teaching Speaking, 1994, Kathleen Bailey and Lance Savage, Editors. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL)

To Marsha Chan's Presentations

This page first appeared in 1993 and was most recently updated on Feb 13, 2013.