DipTESOL Tip – Phonology based activities

I found ‘Phonological Theory in Classroom Practice’ the most useful module on the DipTESOL. It really encourages you to try out new activities and integrate phonology into your lessons. During the final assessment for the module (which is a 30-minute interview), the examiner asked me a fair few questions on phonology in my own practice. I came out of the interview thinking this:

‘Phew, I’m glad I actually tried all that stuff out in class so I had something to talk about!’

My advice is to experiment with phonology based activities a lot during the course. Below I’ve listed a few tips to help you integrate phonology into your practice. These are all based on my experience during the 9 month distance DipTESOL course. It’s only a small insight into this topic, but I hope it gives you a few ideas.

  1. Buy the Book of Pronunciation

This is first on my list for a very, very good reason. As general resources for learning about phonology, Sound Foundations (Underhill) or The Phonology of English (Graham) are great. But for practical ideas, wow, The Book of Pronunciation (Marks and Bowen) is just exceptional. I’d say most of the phonology based activities I do in class have been shaped or adapted from activities in ‘The Book…’.

I can’t emphasise this enough. The final question I was asked in my interview was this:

‘If you could recommend one resource for teaching phonology what would it be?’

I said ‘The Book of Pronunciation’. After the interview, the examiner flicked through my copy of ‘The Book…’ and within 5 minutes had ordered it on Amazon.

For a diploma trainee, the activities in this book based on connected speech and stress, rhythm and intonation are invaluable.

  1. Try teaching isolated lessons on pronunciation

The diploma really focuses on integrating phonology into lessons, and I read quite a bit about ‘phontegration’ during the course. This quote from developingteachers.com is interesting:

“There is a tendency for teachers to treat pronunciation work as something different so that when phonology work is carried out in class, the whole lesson is taken up with it. This can result in overload, with phonology being seen as a chore for both students & teachers”

I agree. However, it’s good to see things from both angles.

I started scheduling 45-minute pronunciation lessons into my weekly plan. I based them around activities in Ship or Sheep (Baker), which were ok but a bit dry. I found Headway Pronunciation (Cunningham and Bowler) was a bit better as it added more context, English Pronunciation in Use (Hancock) was better still, particularly the conversation section.

I found that when a lesson focused on connected speech or sentence stress the students were far more engaged, and it was easier to build context and relevance. Lessons which involved practice of particular individual sounds or discrimination between two sounds never really went down that well, even if the students requested this type of practice. Anyhow, these are really general comments, but one way I realised the benefits of an integrated approach to phonology was by considering what the alternative might be.

You could explore these questions –

Are there times when teaching pronunciation as a separate topic is useful?

Do particular nationalities respond better to whole lessons on pronunciation?

Could you have changed the materials or delivery of pronunciation lessons to make them more interesting/engaging?

Could you think of a way to merge your phonology lesson with a different lesson you’ve taught?

  1. Introduce the phonemic chart

During the phonology interview you will have to show your understanding of the phonemic chart. I was asked various questions about place/manner of articulation, why the vowels are organised in a particular way, what sounds might be hard for particular learners, and what was the most common sound and why.

I learnt a lot about the chart when I started introducing it in class. I also learnt a lot about learner difficulties once I started to explore the sounds of English with my students.

It can be hard to convince students that learning the sounds is useful. I normally ask students to discuss ways in which they can use the sounds or why they are worth learning, just so they don’t feel like they’re learning another language in complete isolation! Drawing attention to the use of the script in a dictionary might be a good idea too.

You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to getting the chart into play. Some sounds are really suited to being taught through connected speech, like /ə/ (for weak forms) or /ʤ/ (Where ‘do you…?’ can sometimes become /ʤə/). Others may require less focus as they are very similar to sounds in the learners L1. However you want to introduce these sounds, I’d say two things:

  • Don’t do it all at once, just bit by bit
  • Make it fun

For my teenage learners, I have a regular game which I use to introduce the sounds bit by bit. I choose 2 vowels and 4 consonants at a time. Let’s say these: p, b, t, d, æ, ʌ.

I do some drilling, then get students to think of one word that has the sound in it

/b/ = bat

I get them to act out the word ‘bat’ somehow, like playing baseball.

Once all the sounds have an action, I display a word on the board which includes some of the sounds taught (e.g. ‘tap’, ‘bad’, ‘but’, etc). Students practise explaining the word to their partner (who can’t see the word) using only the actions. You’ll find their partner will get a lot of practice in shaping each sound. You can make this game a regular slot for a few weeks if it works well.

Just a quickie for introducing diphthongs, I remember this one from a summer school I worked at (Oxford International). Nearly all the diphthongs appear in features you can see in this picture…


Ok, here are the answers


I know, you can’t see ‘voice’. That’s cheating a bit.

  1. Think about learner errors

I’ve learnt loads from studying learner errors. If you get in the habit of transcribing the errors you hear, or doing error correction slots, you might start to see patterns among your learners.

Learner English (Swan) is on the diploma reading list and it’s a great resource. It summarises common errors made by students with different L1s, and explains a bit about why these errors may occur. I like to use the book in response to learner errors rather than preparation for them. For example, next week I’m teaching Chinese students. I could read the section in Learner English about Chinese students which explains common grammar/pronunciation errors they may make, and why. Or, I can note down some of the errors they make, think about why they might make them, then read the book to see if I was correct.

I feel the second approach keeps me a bit more attentive during class. Of course, once I’ve taught a certain nationality multiple times I lose that element of fun exploration!

Here’s an example of pronunciation errors I noted down by a Thai learner during a class (forget the grammar mistake), and some notes I made on them:

/ʃpɔ:t/ = sport. Post-alveolar instead of alveolar consonant

/bɪ ˈges/ = biggest. Wrong stress, pause between syllables

/æpˈta:r ju: wɪnɪŋ dɜ: bɪg ˌtɔ:næˈmɪnt/ = no weak forms across sentence. No ‘weak vowels’ i.e. schwas either. Final word, all vowels articulated and wrong primary stress. In the first word, /f/ becomes /p/

/ma:bɜ:ˈlʌs/ = marvellous. Again, lack of weak forms

/pɒˈgæm/ = programme. Completely missing /r/ though…?

/sʌˈʤet/ = suggest. Should end with consonant cluster

And here’s a few things I read about the errors

Thai speakers tend to ellipt the second sound in a consonant cluster in their own language. The same is happening in their English here (/bɪ ˈges/ = biggest)

Also, they normally stress the last syllable in a word (says Swan) – evidenced in the pronunciation of ‘tournament’

Learner English can help you find out why learners might make mistakes. However, imagine jotting down errors you hear yourself in class – think how much practice you’ll get with writing in phonemic script…

One other thing to mention. Learner errors inform your practice. Analysing other learners in this class revealed that many struggled with weak forms, so I focused on this in a few activities the following week.

  1. Record your learners

audacityGetting students to record their spoken English is really useful. It’s one of my favourite things to do as it really helps them to reflect on their own speaking ability, plus it gives you a great chance to upgrade their language.

I often revise what my groups have studied over the last few lessons by asking them to create dialogues that include the taught language. I record them, then play the dialogues back to the students and get them to focus on certain parts of the conversations where the pronunciation could be improved.

There’s some really good sound recording software online, the one I use is called Audacity. It displays the amplitude of the recorded signal, which varies a lot depending on sentence stress, intonation, etc. Some of my learners have found it really useful to see a visual representation of their speech, especially when they are having trouble with sounding more ‘animated’ in English.

After you’ve picked out areas for improvement in the previous dialogue, you can get students to practise the conversation again and re-record it. They can then compare the new version with the original. This is real feedback – it’s much more effective than me saying ‘you sound a bit more natural now’.

There are advantages to recording dialogues that go far beyond pronunciation. You can focus on some of those fiddly things that I find really hard to teach, especially ellipsis and anaphora. Here’s the start of a conversation that my students recorded a while back:

A: hi mate, how are you doing?

B: I’m not good.

A: oh. What’s up?

B: I think my girlfriend is seeing someone else

A: no way! Why do you think that your girlfriend is seeing someone else?

B: I saw her with her ex-boyfriend

A: does she still like her ex-boyfriend?

C: what will you do if she is seeing someone else?

B: if she is seeing someone else I would break up with her

There’s so much you could focus on here:

A: hi mate, how are you doing?

How is this said naturally? Are there still 3 words when you say it quickly?

B: I’m not good.

Would we say the ‘I’m’ bit? Does it sound more natural without?

B: I think my girlfriend is seeing someone else

A: no way! Why do you think that your girlfriend is seeing someone else?

B: I saw her with her ex-boyfriend

A: does she still like her ex-boyfriend?

Can we replace these phrases with something else?


So there’s a few things to start you off if you’re just getting to grips with the phonology module. I’ll post up some more specifics about the module assessment in due course.

Categories: DipTESOL tips

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8 replies

  1. Thanks a lot for your help bcz I new teacher I need yo know about how I teach pronunciation

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post. I will be dealing with some of these issues as well..


  3. Hi Peter,
    This is a fantastic post, thanks so much! I’m just about to attend a workshop at my school on how to teach pronunciation, and upon Googling ‘pronunciation ELT’, I found your blog as one of the non-book-selling links on the first page.
    It was a really helpful introduction to some ways to better integrate pronunciation into my teaching, but also a brilliant source of some prompts for questions to ask to be covered in this afternoon’s session.
    Thanks again!


    • ah thanks! I hope all is well. From your blog you look very busy with workshops and freelancing – I’m really glad you’re getting a lot of CPD.
      Hope to get some ideas for a collaboration some time soon, but lacking inspiration at the moment! Let me know how the workshop goes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hehe I’m afraid ‘hectic’ has always been my middle name… I just wish I had more time to write it all down 🙂
        Still enjoying it, though! The workshop was great thanks – hoping to blog about it soon, too. (The list grows…!)
        Hope all is well with you?
        As for a collaboration, how about some kind of situation where we all teach a similar lesson and discuss how differently it was received? Or something like that…


  4. As someone currently studying the DipTESOL and a lover of using pron in the classroom whenever possible, this was a great read. Special thanks for the book recommendation!



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