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Quite Simply, Teaching English Individual Sounds & Intonation

English as a language is actually made up of many smaller sound units, called phonemes.  These small pieces of sound are the “building blocks of words.” 

Beginner readers should develop phonemic awareness by learning to hear and break down words into individual sounds, blend sounds, manipulate them to make new words and then, say the words in short sentences with the right intonation.

Individual Sounds

Individual sounds include mainly the following sounds:

  1. Consonant sounds (voiced or unvoiced).
  2. Consonant clusters or blends.
  3. Vowels (short or long).

Teaching individual sounds should go into two stages: presentation and practice. Here are the steps to follow in each stage.


  1. Name the letter(s) and write it(them) on the board in uppercase & lowercase form.
  2. Say the sound of the letter(s) showing students clearly how to pronounce it with your mouth.
  3. Say some words that include the sound clearly.


  1. Using word and picture cards, ask students to point to the letter(s), say the sound and show the meaning.
  2. Ask students to repeat after you: the letter(s) and the corresponding sound.
  3. Ask students to repeat the words that include the sound.
  4. Write words that include different sounds on the board, say a sound and students circle the word(s) that contain that sound.
  5. Write words in two columns on the board and ask students to match the words that contain similar sounds.
  6. Students give more words that contain a certain sound.
  7. Ask students to write a word that contains a certain sound.


It is the variation in volume and pitch in a whole sentence. It is important in language functions and expressing emotions or feelings. There are three patterns of it:

1. Rise/Fall Intonation:

  • The pitch rises first then falls right down at the end of the sentence.
  • It indicates that the speaker finished what he wants to say and has nothing more to be said.

2. Fall/Rise Intonation:

  • The pitch is low at first then it rises at the end of the sentence.
  • It indicates one of the following:
  1. Surprise or disagreement.
  2. The speaker wants the person to whom he speaks to respond or confirm.
  3. The speaker hasn’t finished yet what he has to say.

3. Flat Intonation:

  • The pitch is at the same level along with the whole sentence.
  • It indicates one of the following:
  1. The speaker doesn’t really have much to say.
  2. The speaker doesn’t want to communicate.

Techniques for Teaching Intonation:

1. Using Nonsense Words:

  1. Ask students to utter nonsense sentences to convey a certain attitude or feeling ( e.g. pride, indifference, anger, boredom, ….. etc ) and get them to speak with expressions.
  2. Then repeat the exercise with a real sentence.
  3. At last, show them how to utter the sentence with suitable intonation according to each attitude or feeling. Talk about different patterns.

2. Using Gestures

  1. Use your hand either up or down in order to indicate the general direction, whether the sentence starts with a high or low pitch.
  2. Ask students to imitate you when saying the same sentences and other ones of their own.
  3. Talk about different patterns while using your hand.

3. Using songs:

  • By singing some sentences or verses you can refer to intonation without the need of producing every single word.

4. Using the board:

  • Make marks on the board using arrows up or down on sentences to show the direction of the intonation.

As teachers, we should aim ultimately at making sure that our students can produce clear speech that can be understood by others, for successful communication. 

Mispronunciation, due to unfollowing the phonological rules that the native speakers follow, may result in altering, hindering or having an effect on the meaning of the message conveyed. That’s why the teachers should be well aware of how to teach pronunciation and beginning reading using the phonics approach.

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