Top ESL phonetic activities

As part of my phonetics project, what follows is a few phonetic activities for class. If it took me a couple of years to really learn the phonemic chart, then imagine how long it takes the students before it becomes useful for them. The key is that students are exposed to the sounds and symbols every lesson and constantly repeat activities and review the sounds to enable them to improve their pronunciation.

Photo by ctjonline
The main way that I use phonetics is spontaneously in class. When students are speaking with each other, or to me, I make a note of pronunciation problems. Then I write the phonetics on the board and ask students how they pronounce the word. Once they say it correctly I write the word up. I also do this when going over the homework. If a student says the answer wrongly, I write up the phonemic script next to the word and get them to repeat it, along with the class.

As well as that, here are a few activities that you can use at the start, randomly throughout, or at the end of your lessons.

Mallets mallet (no prep)
If you’re in your 30’s then you should remember this word association game. You get two students at the front of the class and say one of the sounds. Students take it in turns to say words with the sound in. If they say a word with the wrong sound or take longer than 10-15 seconds then they are out and another student comes up. You can do this as an individual or a team game.

Spell the Word (no prep)
There are several ways that you can spell out words with a copy of the phonemic chart in front of you. I have one next to my board and all my students have a copy. Use a board marker, or a long pointer, to spell out words by pointing to the sounds on the chart. Students watch and have to tell you the word. This is great for reviewing vocabulary from previous lessons, or a recap at the end of a lesson. Students can then spell words out to each other using their own chart. You can also say the word and students have to spell them out using the symbols.

Minimal pairs (some prep)
This activity draws students’ attention to similarities and differences between sounds. All you need to do is chose two similar sounds, like /ɪ/ and /i:/, write up, or type up, a few words with the sounds on the board and the students have to categorize them under the correct sound. I did try this to teach them the phonemic chart, but it took ages. It’s much better as a review activity or a game.

Odd one out (some prep)
Choose three or four words with the same sound e.g. born, torn, faun, drawn, and then slip in a word with a different sound, e.g. shop. You can then either read out the words and the students write down the odd one out, or just the number according to the order you read them. You can also write the words up on the board and students work the odd one out, or give them a hand out with a few examples. This is good for showing the differences in spelling of words with the same sound.

Hangman (no prep)
I normally try and stay away from this game, teacher’s excuse for filling a 5, or 20, minute gap in a lesson. But I use it now and then with the phonetic symbols. It’s simple to do. Chose a word from the lesson, or previous lessons, and instead of the students spelling the word they have to do so with the sounds; a great way to practise the sounds over and over again. They can then do it in pairs so there is a lot more interaction and everyone is participating.

Noughts and crosses (no prep)
Draw a noughts and crosses grid on the board and number the boxes from 1 to 9. Elicit 9 sounds and draw them in the squares. Divide the class into two teams. The first team chooses a sound and they have to give you three words with that sound. If they are correct they get their nought or cross. Normal rules apply, first to get a line, in case you’ve forgotten.

Class tennis (no prep)
Divide the class into two teams. Explain they are going to play phonetic tennis. Say a sound to the first student on your right or left. They have to say a word with the sound. If they say a correct word then it passes over to the other team. Continue until a student says a wrong word or can’t think of one. The other team gets the point. Then start fresh with a new sound from the next student.

That’s all I have at the moment. I’ll try to keep this updated as ideas occur. If you have any then add some below. Thanks.

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