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Pronunciation Choices

This activity is based on an idea from Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock which is a great resource for pronunciation activities. In this simple game, students have to listen to a word and decide which of two phonemes is being used.

pronunciation choices


PRE: Before the lesson, decide upon a pair of phonemes students commonly confuse (e.g. /b/and /p/ for Arabic speakers, /ɪ/ and /i:/ for Russians, etc.). Find or make a list of minimal pairs with these sounds, such as the lists  found here. It is a good idea to use words which will be known to students at their level. For this explanation I will use the sounds /b/ and /p/.

1: Check students can distinguish the two sounds. If they can’t, this activity will not work. One way to check is to line students up in the middle of the classroom. Tell students to step left if they hear /b/, and right if they hear /p/. Say words from your list of minimal pairs (e.g. park) and check students move accordingly (students do not need to be 100% accurate at this stage).

Before saying the words it is a good idea (and often humourous) to check students know their left and right. Students may also find it helpful if the minimal pairs are displayed (i.e. on the board).

2: Show students the handout, tell them to find number one and put their finger on it. Give out the handout and check students have followed the instruction. Tell students if they hear /b/ to move their finger left to number two, but if they hear /p/ to move their finger right to number two. Say a word from your list, e.g. bin, and check students have moved. Repeat this step from number two to number three. Continue until students have reached one final option.

3: Repeat, but this time do not stop to check. After four words, check whether students arrived at the same option. If students are struggling, make your pronunciation as clear as possible, over-enunciating if necessary. Repeat several times. Students should make some improvement during this phase, with almost all students getting to the correct option each time.

4: Hand over to the students in pairs or small groups with one student saying the words while the others follow. Give students a number of turns they should take to ensure they practise several times. At this point you should monitor to check students are producing the sounds accurately.

T: bark… Ben… pen… ball. What did you get?
S1: Ice cream
S2: Ice cream
S3: Umm… ham?


1: If space does not allow for students to line up, you can still use the activity in step 1 by telling students to raise their left hand for /b/ and the right for /p/. Alternatively you could tell them to stand for /b/ and sit for /p/. The important thing is to check that students have heard the difference, and these activities give a clear, visual indication.

2: This activity can be made to involve vocabulary from any lexical set, although there will need to be 32 options. If students have sufficient vocabulary they could come up with their own set.

Follow on:

The list of minimal pairs used in this game can very easily be used to play bingo.

As this is largely a receptive activity, it is students will need productive pronunciation practice afterwards. This can be done by challenging students to make sentences with the words so that they can play a number of games such as broken telephone/Chinese whispers.

Example Minimal Pairs with /b/ and /p/:

bin, pin, Ben, pen, ball, Paul, (James) Bond, pond, Bill, pill, bark, park, bull, pull, boy, poi, beach, peach, black, plaque, bad, pad, bile, pile, breach, preach, blume, plume, bray, pray, brawn, prawn

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photo credit: john shortland Where Do I Go From Here? via photopin (license)

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