Literacy Today Logo

Spoken Word: Inflection Theater

Download the printable document here.

We give stress to certain words to deliver certain meanings. For example, when we say the sound "oh" we can vocalize disappointment, anger, surprise, understanding, etc.

Have students commit this simple dialogue to memory:

A: Hi, how are you?

B: Fine, thank you. And you?

A: Just great. What have you been doing lately?

B: Oh, not much. But I've been keeping busy.

A: Well... It's been good to see you.

B: Yes, it has... Well, bye!

A: Goodbye.

Do a group choral response until they seem to know it, then have them practice in pairs, still keeping an uninflected, neutral tone. (If they cannot remember it, provide the text.)

Then, give each pair a situation, emphasizing that it's a SECRET and they must not show it to anyone else. They will act out this situation and others will have to GUESS who they are by their inflection, gestures, and body language.


  • A sick person in hospital & a visiting friend
  • Two elderly people who are hard of hearing
  • A robot & his designer
  • A divorced couple
  • A person with a crush on the other person
  • Two secret agents on separate missions
  • A criminal & a detective
  • Michael Jackson & Bob Marley in heaven

The idea is: they don't change the dialogue of A and B, just the inflection/intonation to suit the situation.

After each pair has practiced about 5 minutes or so, call each pair up and have them perform the dialogue. After each skit, the class tries to guess the situation.

It's good to ask: "How does A feel toward B in this situation?" if it's not clear what's happening in the skit. Then you give positive reinforcement to the actors by at least acknowledging the emotion they were trying to convey.