General ideas for teaching pronunciation

(This is a follow-up to my post on phonology-based activities. I’m sharing it now because some of our teachers are about to begin training for the Trinity DipTESOL. Phonology/pronunciation features quite a bit on that course, so I want to offer our teachers an ideas bank to help them explore this area in class)

Here are a load of random pronunciation activities to try out in class. These activities have pretty worked well for me with students aged 9-16. This is a work in progress! I’ll add more to this list when I get more time or try new things.

Note: there are not many activities here that focus on connected speech. That’s because most of my CS activities come from Marks and Bowen (2013) and I don’t want to do them a disservice by plagiarising their whole book! Buy it – it’s great!

If you find something useful then please share your own ideas in the comments! Sharing is caring 🙂

Use GIFs / images / actions

Use whatever you can to associate sounds with a particular object or action. If it’s /æ/ mime a cat, /ɪ/ then mime kicking a football. Keep it active. GIFs are pretty memorable too.

Mime games

The best thing about assigning actions to phonemes is miming games! Say, for example, you’ve taught certain sounds like /d/ (act like a dog), /b/ (throw a ball), /æ/ (act like a cat). You can play a ‘backs to the board game’ where each word includes only sounds that have been taught (bad, dad, etc). The students describing the words can’t say anything, they can only mime the action for the corresponding sounds. Great fun!

Fly swat games

You’ve introduced a set of phonemes. Display them on the board. Organise the class into teams, give each with a fly swat. They line up at the board. Say a word which includes one of the sounds (best to prepare a list of words beforehand). The first team to swat the correct sound wins a point.


Add more challenge. With the above sounds you can say either ‘vowel’ or ‘consonant’ before you say the word.


Teacher says: ‘vowel, butter’. Students must swat /ʌ/

Teacher says: ‘consonant, butter’. Students must swat either /b/ or /t/, or both in order if you’re feeling particularly cruel. Some of my students go mad for this!

Broken telephone

There’s a classic ‘bit, beat, bet’ activity for introducing discrete vowel sounds. See this post from my former boss Del Spafford.  Vowel sounds correspond to numbers, e.g. bit /ɪ/ = 1, bet /e/ = 2, etc. This task is great for Chinese whispers/Broken telephone.

Put students in teams, each in a line. The last student in the team is at the board holding a pen. Show students at the start of the line a number. Start simple, just one number (i.e. one sound). They must remember the vowel sound for this number and whisper it to the next person in line. Eventually the sound gets passed on to the final person in the team, who translates the vowel sounds back into a number and writes this on the board. Once the students understand the game, add some challenge!

Note: I like to eventually focus on numbers with a theme: e.g. 999 (UK police number), 4 (countries in the UK), and ask students to guess the theme at the end of the game for a bonus point.

Run and grab

Write down tonnes of words on separate pieces of paper, each including a phoneme you’ve introduced:

Elephant = /e/

Chicken = /ɪ/


Put all the words on tables face down at the back/around the room. Say a sound ( /e/ ) and one student from each team rushes around the room turning over the words, finding one that includes the target sound. The first person student to do so is the winner!

Variation 1

You can write the words with certain sounds underlined (like above). This helps focus the students. Or you can leave out the underlining. When a student picks up a correct word just ask them where the sound is, and they can underline/point to it themselves.

Variation 2

Just give the same set of words to each team. They put them on their table face down, and hold up the relevant card. It depends how active you want them to be really.

Corners of the room

General TPR (total physical response) activities work well too. Designate a sound to each corner of the room. Say a word that includes one of the sounds. Students move to that corner. Simple, effective, active.

Left or right?

For general discrimination tasks just use sides of the room. Students all stand in the middle of the room. You say a word, if they think it includes Sound A they move left, Sound B they move right. Again, fairly simple.


You can use this to clarify understanding of any metalanguage too. I use this to check students understand the difference between a vowel sound and a consonant sound. This is also good in my context (Thailand) for students discriminating between long and short vowel sounds.

Find your partner

Give each student a word that includes one of the target sounds. They must find a partner around the room who has a word that also includes their sound. Just a way to mix up pairs (see Martin Sketchley’s post on pairing students).

Transcription races

If you’re going to introduce phonemes to young learners / teens, remember that you are basically teaching another alphabet. They’re unlikely to need to transcribe words themselves (unless they are budding linguists) but it doesn’t hurt to try. You can try activities like the spelling races I’ve mentioned before but with phonemic script. You’ll be surprised what your learners can do!

Board transcription

Fast finishers in any activity? Don’t miss a chance to consolidate their knowledge of phonemes you may have taught. Hand them the board pen, get them to underline sounds in any word on the board and highlight the phoneme. You can keep it simple (‘underline any long vowels on the board’), specific (‘underline any /e/ sounds on the board’). Whatever. Make it up, at best make it relevant to their context, ones they might find particularly difficult.

Last team standing

Say a phoneme (‘e.g. /ʌ/’). Give students (in teams) 2 minutes to think of all the words they know with that sound in. After two minutes, play a game of word tennis – each team in turn says a word that includes the sound. They can’t repeat a word. Pauses longer than 5 seconds lose a point (make up your own rules). If you want to really check they know WHERE the sound appears then get them to write the words down on slips of paper (with the sound underlined) and hold them up. Takes longer that way though, but you can reuse what they’ve written.

Mini whiteboards word race

Say a phoneme. Students work in a group to write a word on their whiteboards which includes the sound (underlining the sound). The first team to hold up the board with a correct answer wins. Easy… add a challenge…

‘a word with 2 syllables including /e/’

‘a word with 3 syllables including /i:/’


Silent drilling

Mouth a word without saying it, can the students guess which target word it is. It sensitises students to the mouth shape when pronouncing words.

Other drills

You know stuff like choral drills, whole class drills, etc? On the CELTA young learner course drills included things like ‘whisper the word’, ‘shout the word’, ‘say it in a scared/excited/bored way’. This just brings a bit of life to the classroom!


If you’ve forgotten what backchaining is from your CELTA days then here’s a refresher.

Dealing with word stress

Me and Se Tucker @TalkTEFL were chatting quite a bit about teaching word stress to YLs last year. He commented on our informal chat here. You can find a few ideas I wrote about it in this post.

This includes…

  • Identifying the stress pattern of a word by throwing a sticky ball at targets on the board
  • Using different sized sports balls to represent word stress
  • Standing up/ Sitting down games, probably best explained in this diagram
  • Using Cuisenaire rods to mark stress


Disappearing dialogues (stress gaps)

I read this in Marks and Bowen, I can’t remember if I’ve blogged it already. Anyway, here’s an example of what I mean, taken from my lesson the other day. Students were reading this rhyme from a British Council video…

I did a disappearing dialogue type activity, but instead of just gaps, I gave a hint to the missing word using its stress pattern. This actually worked well as a prompt.

Pronunciation patterns from texts

I mentioned this tip in ‘5 ways to make reading tasks more fun’. If you’ve been dealing with a written text you can always add some random pronunciation tasks. Board some stress patterns, and get students to find any word in the text with that particular stress pattern. You can play a game like Last Team Standing (see above) to make this fun, and to practice quick scanning skills.

Funny spellings

One of our teachers doesn’t bother with teaching the phonemic chart. They prefer to write connected words / phrases as they sound, and have students practise saying them. There are pros and cons to this. On the one hand, students find it funny, and it can be a good way to deal with juncture. On the other, it might lead to bad spelling habits (as my manager pointed out). Still, I’ve used it a few times and yeah, I thought it worked well.

Contractions game

I’ve used this contractions game with both teens and adults. It worked quite well.

Fist pumping stress

I was drilling phrases like these the other day…

‘That’s a tough question’

‘Hmmm, let me think about that’

I get students to fist pump the air when a word is stressed (underlined here). They fist pump on the stressed syllable if it’s a longer word. Sometimes I tell them to do this when they actually use the sentence during a discussion – just for fun!

Correcting pronunciation errors

Take a look at this post I wrote on teaching Vietnamese learners. It includes some methods for correcting pronunciation errors which could be transferable to your context.

Also, check out this game called ‘Pronunciation Mountain’ from TEFL Waffle – I’ve used this a few times and it was useful (and popular).

More to follow…


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