Pronunciation games

11:40 am

Fun & Helpful Pronunciation Games!

Pronunciation games are fun and interesting.  They are perfect time killers and true life saviors especially for ill-prepared ESL teachers. Oops. Now why did I have to say that? Well, maybe because I know my website would not appeal to those sort of teachers in the first place.  So we’re good. The pronunciation games or activities you are going to see here have all been tried and tested and, with a bit of tweaking, will most probably work quite well with all kinds of students regardless of age (10-100), level, nationality or linguistic background. Some of these pronunciation games do not even require handouts as you can get the students to write it all down in their notebooks or on any blank piece of paper. OK. Down to business.

Pronunciation Game 1-The Dial Pad (10-30 minutes)

How to play the game

Step 1

Choose a minimal pair that is challenging to your students. For example, if they are mostly Asians, go for /r/ and /l/ as in [rice] and [lice], if they are South Americans, go for /i:/ and /ɪ/ as in [sheep] and [ship].

Step 2

Once you settle on your target minimal pair based on your students’ linguistic background, think of 5 examples of that minimal pair, that is 10 words in total. Assuming we have decided to go for /r/ and /l/, your 10 words could be as follows: [list] [wrist] [lock] [rock] [lice] [rice] [light] [right] [lap] [wrap].

Step 3

The Dial PadNow draw a dial pad up on the board or insert a table in your word document (3 cols, 4 rows) as shown below.

Step 4

Write down 2 or 3 (random or not) 10-digit phone numbers: 9672486310, 9643052781, 0185728532.

Step 5

Before you start the game, offer your students some hints and tips to help them distinguish between the sounds. Tell them what they should be keeping an eye out for. It’s fine if they can’t hear the difference in the beginning, giving them some visual cues is equally helpful. Tell them, for example, if they see your lips form a tight circle at the beginning of the word, it will be a word beginning with /r/, if lips seem relaxed and they happen to catch a glance of the tongue tip behind the upper teeth, then it will be /l/. Feel free to tease them in the 2nd or 3rd round by covering your mouth and thus forcing them to rely on their hearing skills, it’ll remind them how difficult it is without the visual cue.

Step 6

Now, advise the students that you will be reading the words on the dial pad randomly and that they should write the number above the word.

Step 7

Start the game.

Step 7

Ask the students to form pairs and to compare the numbers they have written. Now ask for a volunteer to read the number aloud. Do not correct immediately. No need to rush. Ask another student, and third before you disclose the correct number.

Step 8

Repeat the process. You can even ask the students to come up with their own 10-digit numbers and exchange phone numbers among each other.

Pronunciation Game 2-Information Gap (10-15 minutes)

Step 1

Pron game 2-student 1 Choose 1 or 2 key phonemes that are challenging for your students based on their level and of course linguistic background. As you can see in the two tables on the right, the key phonemes we are targeting are /θ/ and /ð/, but since most learners either confuse them with /d/ /s/ or /f/, other minimal pairs have been incorporated. You need 16 words in total.

Step 2

Insert two separate tables (4 cols, 4 rows), for a pair of students. As per the examples here, each table contains 8 words.

Step 3

Pron game 2-student 2Now, practice the minimal pairs with the students and draw their attention to key mouth movements they should perform during the game. For example, when pronouncing the [th], the tongue tip must be seen between the teeth. The teeth must not press hard on the tongue though etc. Provide your students with whatever information they can use during the game. That is what is going to make the game fun, challenging and most importantly beneficial.

Step 4

Write the following two sentences up on the board:
1-Could you tell me what you have in (A1)? OR
What’s in [A1]?
Practice these questions with the students before starting the game.

Step 4

Now form pairs. It would be better if you could have students from different backgrounds working together but it is also fine if you are teaching a monolingual class.

Step 5

Set a time for the students, say 5 minutes. Start the game.

Step 6

Advise the students to reveal their sheets to each other and check the results of their work.

Step 7

Pick a pair or two to share their experience with the rest of the class and maybe to tell the others about about the toughest challenges they faced in the game.

Pronunciation Game 3-Pick the odd one out (5-10 minutes)

Step 1

Choose a minimal pair, say, /i:/ and /ɪ/ as in [seat] and [sit].

Step 2

Write 3 or 4 examples of the same minimal pair like [feet] and [fit], [sheet] and [shit] (crack a joke about how funny it would sound to say [do you have the time shit?]), [eel] and [ill], [meal] and [mill] etc.

Step 3

Prepare 10 groups of 3 words consisting of 2 identical words and one different.

Step 4

Now explain the difference between the two phonemes. Mention how the lips are tense and retracted (as in a smile) when we say /i:/ while they are usually lax (say more relaxed to the students) when we say /ɪ/. Also advise the students that the /i:/ is longer than /ɪ/. Finally, explain to the students that the reason /i:/ is longer and more tense is because the center of the tongue has to be very high and close to the hard palate. Use your hand to show the students the shape and movement of the tongue during production. It is always more helpful for the students to visualize the sound they have a problem with.

Step 5

Now it is time to inform them of how the game is played. Advise them that you will be reading a group of 3 words, two of which are the same and one different. For example, [Sheet, sheet, shit] or [bin, bean, bin]. Their job is to guess the number of the word that is different from the other two. So in the example above [bin, bean, bin], it’s number 2.

Step 6

Pick the odd one outAs they choose the odd one out, all they have to do is write [2].

Step 7

Start the game.

Step 8

Ask the students to compare their answers.

Step 9

Have a discussion, hear the students’ comments and answer their questions.

Pronunciation Game 4-Minimal pairs double

Step 1

Instead of choosing one minimal pair, we’re going to choose two for this game. For example, not only are we going to target /f/ and /p/ but also /v/ and /b/, which are quite similar with voicing and DE-voicing being the main difference. So now we have basically made it harder for the students by broadening the scope of the game. We are no longer only challenging the Koreans in the classroom but also Arabic speakers and every learner who can’t distinguish between voiced and voiceless consonants.

Step 2

Minimal pairs 1-4Inset a table (8 cols, 10 rows) with 4 cols for words and 4 for numbers and 10 rows for 10 groups of words. Each row contains two minimal pairs (though you may have 4 words of the same minimal pair).

Step 3

As with the previous games, make sure you jot some examples on the board and talk about the phonetic differences between the two phonemes of each minimal pair (f and p, v and b) and then between the two minimal pairs themselves (voicing in [v] and [b] VS. DE-voicing in [f] and [p]) .

Step 4

Read the examples aloud and advise the students to listen, watch your mouth and lips, and repeat.

Step 5

Inform the students that you are going to read the words of each row RANDOMLY. They need to number what they hear (or what they think they heard) from 1 to 4. Looking at the example on your right, if you say [pan] first, they should write “1” next to it, if you say [bat], they write “2” etc. Ideally, they should hear them in the same order you say them in but that hardly ever happens.

Step 6

Start the game. (Don’t forget to plan the order you are going to read the words in before starting)

Step 7

When you finish, ask the students to go in pairs to compare their answers, it’s always interesting for them to see how different their hearing skills are.

Step 8

Now read the numbers from left to right as you ordered them.

Step 9

Ask some students how many mistakes they made and get some feedback from them about the game.