Rubber Bands for Stress and Rhythm Patterns

Purpose: to help learners improve overall intelligibility of their speech by learning to hear and produce American English stress and rhythm patterns

Prep time: time to gather enough rubber bands for all students

Materials: rubber bands for everyone in the class, plus one for instructor; have some extras on hand in case of breakage


  1. Select a target word, phrase or sentence that you want students to work on.  Examples might include:
    1. Something a learner has just said using incorrect stress or rhythm
    2. A word that is similar to a word in the learner’s native language, but has a different stress pattern (CEL-lu-lar in English versus cel-u-LAR in Spanish)
    3. A part of a dialog that you plan to teach
    4. Two words that are similar in sound but have vowel sounds that are held for different lengths of time (beet, bet)
  2. Use the thumb and forefinger of each hand to hold the ends of the rubber band.  Say the target item as you stretch and relax your rubber band to show stress and rhythm or the amount of time a sound is held.  Pull the ends farther apart to show words or syllables that are stressed or vowel sounds that are held for a longer time.  Initially, you may wish to slightly exaggerate the sounds so students can hear them better.
  3. Examples:
    1. Length of vowel sound                beet      l--------l

bet       l----l


  1. Stress or accent within a word                   proDUCE: to make           l---l  l-----------l

                                                                            PROduce: fresh fruits and vegetables          l-------------ll---l

  1. Stress or rhythm in a sentence: In English we usually stress the content words, such as nouns and main verbs, rather than the structure words.  Pull the ends of the rubber band apart for the emphasized words or syllables and relax if the word or syllable is not capitalized.

I’d LIKE to go HOME to see my FAMily next SUMmer.

Note: In the above sentence, you can change the meaning by placing the stress on different words.Using rubber bands can also help clarify this idea.For example:

I’d LIKE to go HOME to see MY FAMily next SUMmer (instead of my husband’s family).

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