As a teacher with limited class time, how can you best meet your students’ needs when it comes to pronunciation practice? With younger kids, if you teach phonics with a rigorous focus on phonemes, pronunciation is built into the program. In this post I detail some additional activities that you and your students may enjoy. When teaching older kids and adults, a bit of time set aside for pronunciation can allow for focused, effective, and enjoyable activities in an otherwise busy schedule. Importantly, consistent practice is key to making a difference in your students’ pronunciation.
There are a variety of downloadable pronunciation games and templates in this post. They are free for you to download and use in class. There are also numerous resource links you may want to return to in the future, so be sure to bookmark this page! As always, if there are activities you especially enjoy using in class, let readers know in the comments!
Let’s begin! I’ll start with activities for younger students and move toward activities appropriate for older language learners.
Read to Your Kids!
When I read a story in class, I seat my kids close to me so they can hear and feel the sounds resonating from me. I often invite students to turn pages, point to pictures, and when possible, participate as a group in the reading of the story. Your kids will be picking up your pronunciation as it arrives to their ears in word inflections, emotions, and the rhythms of the story. A tale well told can make a powerful impression on little kids!
Books are numerous, but here is a short list of 10 books I especially enjoy reading in class. As I’m always on the lookout for new titles, please let me know the books you enjoy for story time in the comments below!
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Today is Monday by Eric Carle
Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera
Clap Your Hands by Lorinda Bryan Cauley
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle
No, David! by David Shannon
Excuse Me! by Karen Katz
Cat in a Hat by Dr. Seuss
Phonics lessons are the cornerstone of my kids’ classes. Over the years, and with intention, I built pronunciation practice into my program and that includes phonics and spelling lessons all through elementary school. From the outset, songs, storybooks, and phonics associations introduce a vocabulary bank I exploit and build on in future lessons. As students progress learning CVC words, long vowel sounds, sight words, plurals, and verb conjugations, I never have to worry about exposing my younger students to enough pronunciation and listening practice.
The result of this isn’t only for good pronunciation delivery. In the beginning, it’s especially important that students learn how to hear me, to be able to individuate the 44 sounds of my language and then imitate how I vocally vibrate, aspirate, and fricitate as an English speaker. So, the path to proper and consistent English pronunciation starts with listening and identifying, and THEN speaking! Phonics lessons will give you a wealth of material and a consistent focus when teaching young children.
Chants and Tongue Twisters
As I mentioned in my post, The Drama is Real, chants have legs! Like songs, they dance about in children’s heads right out of the classroom. This kind of activity isn’t just for younger students. Older kids and adults can benefit enormously from pronunciation activities that include fun exercises like tongue twisters. Remind your students that professional newscasters, actors, and singers use tongue twisters as warmup exercises all.the.time! Check out engVid for 50 classic tongue twisters that will help your students learn to enunciate! And don’t forget rhymes for choosing players! You’ll be surprised how quickly your students will pick up these chants if you employ them regularly.
Icka bicka soda cracker,
Icka bicka boo.
Icka bicka soda cracker,
Out go YOU!
Bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish.
How many pieces do you wish?
1-2-3 and you are IT!
Minimal pair work is essential and a good deck of minimal pair flashcards is worth its weight in gold! Minimal pairs are words that differ in one sound only, like pit and pet. When you teach English words in groups that point out differences as well as similarities, your students will be able to hear the differences that distinguish words from one another. Early phonics lessons like cat, can, and cap, work like minimal pair exercises and shouldn’t be dropped once students learn to read. Minimal pairs are excellent listening and speaking practice for older kids and adults as well. They can be employed in a variety of ways besides testing and assessing.
Playing games with minimal pairs allows students to flex their vocal muscles and exercise their ears. If you’re looking for flashcard activity ideas, check out my 50+ Flashcard Activities. Try a game where students listen to a string of words to identify one that is different. A simple ‘missing card’ activity is easy to set up and can be a real challenge! Put three or four words on the board, have students cover their eyes, and remove one of the cards. Students guess which card is missing. Try silently mouthing or whispering target words during a game. This is good for focusing on and exaggerating mouth positions for English sounds. If you’re in a space that allows for more rambunctious fun, try relays or positioning students at opposite ends of the room for some loud pronunciation practice. Placing a physical barrier between players forces them to listen more carefully and communicate clearly!
You can download a free set of 25 minimal pair flashcards with five sets of words for each sound pair. The flashcards include master cards, pair cards, and individual word cards so you can adapt them to a variety of games and activities. Also included is a PowerPoint template for making your own! The zip file is large, so have patience when downloading. Caroline Bowen, AM, Phd, of speech-language-therapy.com has created a generous online list of words you can draw from when putting together your own minimal pair flashcards and worksheets.
The thing I love about Exit Tickets is that they’re a quick way to assess lessons taught or determine lessons that need to be taught. Hand cards out just before the end of class, go through a quick listening exercise and get them back as students go out the door. Voilà! Instant data to mull over!
These free Exit Tickets are aligned to the Minimal Pair Flash Cards above and include a PowerPoint template. I also have ABC Exit Tickets and CVC Exit Tickets available in my online store that I recommend checking out!
This pronunciation maze is a simple but effective puzzle I regularly use when teaching my kids past tense conjugations and the three -ed sounds /id/, /d/, and /t/. The grid template can also be used for the plural sounds /s/, /z/, and /ez/ and first, second, and third syllable accents. To play, students move from the top-left starting point to the bottom-right Finish by connecting the same target sounds in a maze-like fashion. Use the same board as a warmup or review in a 4-in-a-Row game! Laminate the boards and use counters and you’ll have this game at your disposal for years to come!
You can download three past tense mazes here. The free download includes an answer key, blank and PowerPoint templates for creating your own mazes.
Record Your Students
Recording your students doesn’t have to be for a presentation or speech contest. Having students listen to themselves can be fun, revealing, and instructive! It’s like a sound selfie! Choose an easy reading passage that students are familiar with for individual recordings or a dialogue where students can work in pairs. A simple passage from a fairy tale provides older students with expressive melodrama and fun characters like villains, princesses, and frogs. Remember, many of your adult students are also parents and can be pretty good at reading a children’s story!
This activity will give you lots of listening and speaking practice in a unique and challenging format! In short, you’re replacing the numbers of a telephone pad with a set of 10 minimal pair words. First, practice the set of words that appear in the activity. Hand out the telephone sheets to students and practice the words again until students are somewhat familiar with their placement on the telephone pad. With a prepared set of telephone numbers, dictate the words to your students. When everyone is finished, check their accuracy. This is a good activity for small groups and pairs as well.
Download this free activity with six gamepads plus a blank pad and PowerPoint template for creating your own.
This is a classic activity, easy to set up, and an excellent warm-up or cool-down exercise. Starting at the top tier of the pyramid, say one of the two words and have students circle the word they hear. Gradually work down the pyramid until you arrive at a number at the bottom. Ask students what number they ended on and see how accurately they listened! Up the ante on this activity by preparing a list of sentences so students have to catch the words in context.
Three free pyramid games plus blank and PowerPoint templates can be downloaded here.
Phonemic Charts are a wonderful tool to help students make sense of English pronunciation. Click here to download the free chart above that includes a black and white version. The British Council at teachingenglish.org.uk put together a set of free and very large phonemic symbol charts you can tack to classroom walls or reference during lectures. I recommend exploring the British Council website as they have some excellent online resources!
If you want to transcribe words or grab the phonemic symbols for your own resources, check out phonetizer.com/ or ipa.typeit.org/ You can translate or type in the codes and then copy and paste to your own documents. When working with the symbols, many fonts will not support the characters. Charis SIL is a supported font you can download here. If there are other fonts you recommend, help a teacher out and let me know in the comments below!
Charts, Word Walls, and Games
To maintain an awareness of proper pronunciation, as an intervention when necessary, or for specialized practice, I developed a series of easy charts, flash cards, and games. With age-neutral images and easy vocabulary, I use these with my elementary through adult English classes.
The charts include consonants, vowels, blends, digraphs, ‘r’ controlled sounds, and plurals. Each set also has aligned flashcards, Bingo games, and I Have/Who Has activities. Click here to learn more about the complete lineup of resources from my online store, Donald’s English Classroom. In a previous post, A Game With Legs, I detail the myriad ways you can use I Have/Who Has activities in class!
It should go without saying, just doing a couple of activities once or twice will not guarantee good pronunciation or fix the problems your students may be having. Pronunciation is NOT a one-off lesson. It’s also important to remember, language learners will only be able to take in so much pronunciation input at one time. More is not always better. Studies have shown that you can teach as few as 3 to 5 minimal pairs in order for students to show spontaneous generalization to other words containing the target sounds. Focused practice will lead your students to a better understanding of English pronunciation so that an occasional “nudge” will keep them on track.
The important thing is to integrate these activities into your class routine whenever possible and find ways to make pronunciation practice an enjoyable challenge.
For convenience, here is a quick list of the six free downloads in this post from Kinney Brothers Publishing:
- Minimal Pair Flash Card Set
- Exit tickets
- Pronunciation Maze
- Telephone Activity
- Pronunciation Pyramid
- Phonemic Chart
You might be interested in checking out Teaching Pronunciation, A Followup. This post details a variety of activities I created for my own classes and available in my online store, Donald’s English Classroom.
As always, best of luck in your classes!
Kinney Brothers Publishing