Lesson 5: Emphasis

Lesson 5: Emphasis


Lesson Objective

            Students will be able to use emphasis by identifying “power words” in their radio drama scripts.



Slips of paper, one for each class member.


Homework Assessment

This homework checkup can be approached one of two or both ways:

  • Ask the students by a show of hands how many took their scripts home and read them.
  • Pass out slips of paper and ask students to write their name, the class period, and answer the question, “I read my entire script before class today” with either a “yes” or “no.” Collect the papers.



Tell the students you are going to write some terms on the board. As each one is written, you are going to ask them to define and demonstrate that term. During this review, write students’ definitions next to the terms. Invite students to demonstrate examples of each term.

  • Projection (Also ask if projection is shouting.)
  • Diction (Also ask what the phrase “chew your words” means.)
  • Pitch (Also ask for an example of a character who might use a high or low pitched voice.)
  • Rate (Also ask for an example of a circumstance where a character might slow or speed up rate.)
  • Tone (Also ask for an example of what a chest/nasal/head voice or tone might help us convey about a character, such as a cold, a geographic location, etc.)



Ask the students what “emphasis” is. [Adding stress to an important word in a sentence.] Ask the students how emphasis can help an audience understand the storytelling of a play. [Emphasizing certain words helps the audience identify what is most important and why. It helps them follow the story.] Point out that in theatre, words that are emphasized are sometimes called “power words”. A director or vocal coach may ask an actor to look in a sentence for the “power word”, or to “look for the line’s power.”


Demonstration/Guided Practice

Write, “My dog has fleas” on the board. Don’t use punctuation. Write an accent mark over the first word, “My”. Ask the students what the mark is called. [An accent mark.] What is it used for?  [To remind an actor where to place emphasis.]

Invite a student (ask for a volunteer or select someone) to read the sentence on the board, using the accent mark to emphasize the first word. After the sentence is read, ask the students what was meant when read with the emphasis on “My.” [Answers will vary.]

Erase the accent mark, and write a new one over the word “dog”. Invite another student to read the sentence using the accent mark in the new place. Ask the students if the meaning of the sentence changed. If so, what is the new meaning of the same sentence? [Answers will vary.]

If time allows, repeat this exercise with the remaining words in the sentence. Include writing a question mark at the end of the sentence to show the difference between a stated emphasis on the last word and a questioning emphasis.



Remind the students that looking for and using “power words” will help them clarify the story in a play and “punch up” a line’s meaning.

Invite the students to look at one page of their radio dramas that contains some of their characters’ lines. Ask the following questions, and have the students highlight/underline/otherwise mark their answers in their scripts:

What lines are important to the progress of the story?

What words in those lines can clarify meaning by adding emphasis?

Circulate the room and check off students’ responses. Ask a few students to read one of their marked lines without and with emphasis.



Inform the students that for today’s rehearsal they will read their entire scripts as a cast. This time they will be at least partially familiar with their plays when they read them. Today’s rehearsal goal is to begin to add elements of vocal variety that will create distinct characters.

Invite students to separate into their casts and begin practicing. Circulate the casts, listening to the readings. When appropriate, ask the students questions that will help them make choices about their vocal characterizations. [Examples: How can you use rate changes to clarify what is happening in this scene? How might a pitch change affect the way this character is understood by an audience?] Allow the students to use the remainder of the class to read their plays.



            About 3 – 5 minutes before class ends ask the students to return to their seats. Ask the cast leaders to each report on how far their casts read their scripts—did they read their entire radio dramas? Ask students to describe some of the vocal variations they have chosen for their characters.