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10 ESL Activities for Powerful Pronunciation Progress

10 ESL Activities for Powerful Pronunciation Progress

10 ESL Activities for Powerful Pronunciation Progress

Do you find yourself nagging your students about their incorrect pronunciation?

That’s okay—ESL students with a great grasp on English pronunciation are hard to come by.

You might bypass pronunciation mistakes so you can focus on vocabulary or grammar instead. You might even think that too much pronunciation correction could be disheartening when your students are trying so hard. When all, or at least several, of your students are struggling with the same problem, it is definitely worthwhile doing some activities to target specific areas.

First, they need to be able to hear the difference between the incorrect and the correct sound.

What Are Minimal Pairs and How Can They Help Your Students?

A simple example would be:

“ship” and “sheep”

The sounds “i” and “ee” in these two words are significant because they’re the only difference between two words which have different meanings, but for many ESL students the two sounds aren’t distinct in their mother tongue.


There are many websites that provide lists of minimal pairs. Try to choose pairs of words that not only contain your required minimal pairs, but are also suitable to the ability level of your students. The pairs will be useful to practice the target sounds through fun activities.

1. Minimal pairs bingo

A Bingo card commonly has 5 x 5 squares, so you can use 25 words (12 minimal pairs, or more than two words for some sounds). One or more spaces on each card could be a “free” spot

Go to a website such as ESL activities to create your Bingo cards. You simply type in the words you want to use, choose how many individual cards you need and then let the program randomize the cards so that they each have a different arrangement of the same words.

This activity can give students the opportunity to hear the difference between the minimal pairs, recognize the different words written on the card and clearly pronounce the difference when they win and have a chance to be the caller. As each word is called, students tend to all say it quietly to themselves as well.

2. Odd One Out

Put similar words into groups of three:

meet, seat, sit (for vowels)

plays, pace, space (for consonants)

Ask the students individually to read through the word groups and pick which words have different sounds. Make the question part of another game like Tic Tac Toe. The team or individual whose turn it is to place an X or an O must first pick the odd one out. They proceed with their turn if they choose the right word. If they can’t identify the odd word, then they lose their turn.

3. Run and Grab

You could have your minimal pairs on flashcards or you could simply write two (or more) words at a time on the board. When you call one of the minimal pairs out, the pair races to the front to touch the correct word (the odd word out) on the board or grab the appropriate flashcard. Students from the winning team could have a turn at calling the words for others to run to.

4. Basket Ball

Set questions using minimal pairs such as choosing the “odd one out”, when students give the correct answer, students take a shot at throwing a ball into a hoop or receptacle after they identify the correct odd word. (Making the shot wins them another point.)

5. Sound Total Physical Response

Designate particular movements to particular sounds, as lively or as gentle as you like. The students respond to words on flashcards by correctly pronouncing them and moving in the prescribed way, or they could respond to the teacher (or another student) saying the words.

6. Dictation

Dictation is when someone speaks out loud and someone else writes it down. Getting your students to write down.There are a few different dictation activities you can use:

Running Dictation – One student runs to read the words or sentences from somewhere farther away, then dictate to the other student who writes them down.

Fast Dictation – The dictation is read in one continuous stream instead of a few words at a time with breaks. The students listen and write any words or phrases they notice.

Picture Dictation – The students have a picture, background or series of pictures containing objects that represent the minimal pair words. They follow instructions to highlight the pictures of their minimal pair words

7. Fruit Salad

The players sit in a circle with one player standing in the middle. The players have each been designated as a type of fruit. The middle player calls a fruit, and all of the players who’ve been assigned that fruit must rush to change places while the middle player tries to take one of their chairs. Periodically they can call “fruit salad!” and then everyone must change places.

8. Chinese Whispers

One student could be outside the door and you tell them what the message is. Then the second student goes outside and they tell them the message. The first student comes back in the classroom and sends the next student out. This goes on until every student has heard the secret word. The final student comes back into the classroom to say what they think the message was.

9. Card Games

You can create multiple smaller sets to be used by individuals at their desks or in pair/group work activities.

Hold it High – If students have individual sets of cards on their desks, they can hold up the appropriate one when it’s called, and the teacher can then look around and have a quick check that everyone is correct.

Happy Families – Create a set of cards containing maybe 6 – 10 families of 4 cards. Supply a complete list for each member. The cards are distributed like in Go Fish. Students in groups of four play, trying to collect sets of four by asking the person next to them if they have particular cards.

Snap – Make the same decks of cards as in Happy Families. The student placing the card down on the deck should call it at the same time. The next student must put down a card that fits in with that card family. The group proceeds until the winner has no cards left.

10. Minimal Pair Math

Assign a number to each of the minimal pair words you wish to focus on. Then call out the words in your chosen sequence, possibly joined with mathematical symbols (e.g., plus, minus). Students can write down the words and their associated numbers while you speak. Ask the students to give you the final number that all these words add up to.



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