I am have been nominated to teach an accelerated course on phonology to grad students. The course emphasizes lab work and hands-on methods.

What's a creative and innovative idea to demonstrate some aspect of e.g. pitch which is engaging and meaningful, that students can participate directly in?

Provided unlimited resources but little time.

  • 1
    What exactly want to show? What intonation is, and how, say, two specific pronunciations of a sentence might differ in intonation? Or how specific contours/tunes influence the meaning of a sentence?
    – robert
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 14:06
  • yes, any of those things. I can plan a lesson around any of these -- the question is only what would be most interesting/interactive/delightful.
    – Teusz
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 14:18
  • In what language will the course be taught? Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 14:59

2 Answers 2


I would recommend that you use Praat's pitch tracking function to provide a visualisation of pitch (see footnote below). The blue line in the figure below shows first a rise in pitch, followed by a long trough of low pitch, and finally another rise.

pitch tracking

To make it more interactive, you could have your students record themselves reading the same sentence as a statement, a neutral information-seeking question, a surprised question, an incredulous question, with different emotions etc. and then ask them to compare the visualisation of their intonation using Praat - first the different readings by the same speaker, then in group work similar pronunciations by different speakers.

There are slight technical challenges here, depending on your and your students' technical expertise. They need to work with Praat's recording function (or other software), and preferably use headset microphones. Also, women have higher pitch than men (plus there are differences between individuals), so the upper and lower ceiling of the the pitch tracking algorithm might need to be adjusted individually in Praat. But that should be doable with most Bachelor level or more advanced students.

Your students might also compare their intonation in a foreign language they speak/are learning with that of a native speaker. This idea comes from an an article by Ulrike Gut, which unfortunately is available only in German - but I think you get the idea.

Footnote: Actually, pitch is a perceptual phenomenon, and fundamental frequency is its acoustic basis, but depending on the previous knowledge of your students you might not want to dwell on that for too long.


You divide your class into teams. All of the teams are given the same string that constitutes the same grammatical English sentence--same words, same syntax.

Each team tries to endow this sentence with as many different meanings as possible simply by varying the prosody.

Rinse and repeat with a different sentence.

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