Making Pronunciation Exercises Meaningful: Activity for Minimal Pairs

Vowel sounds can be troublesome for all language learners, beginner to advanced. The use of minimal pairs in classroom exercises helps develop recognition and production of vowel sounds. Some pronunciation textbooks offer exercises based on minimal pairs, but they are often limited to controlled practice. With the help of minimal pairs lists, such as the ones offered by John Higgins (based on English RP, but useful regardless), you can create communicative activities of your own. Here’s one idea:

 “Sound Search”

Targeted skills: Vowel sound discrimination and production via minimal pairs.

Level: High intermediate to advanced

Number of students: 9+ (If you use my lists. If you use your own, you can set the number.)

Materials needed: Index cards

STEP 1 – Prepare two stacks of cards in advance: role cards and item cards. You can use the nine role cards BELOW or create your own. Each role card should list four items (things that the student will search for). Each item is part of a minimal pair – each on a different role card to ensure the need for discrimination between the two given vowel sounds. Some role cards may be duplicated so that there are enough cards for each student in the class. You need to have a separate stack of cards with the individual items listed (one per card). Note: If you duplicate a role card, say “Baseball Player”, then you’ll need two item cards for “a ball”, two item cards for “a bat”, and so on.


Baseball Player                         Cook                       Nature Lover                    

a ball                                          a bowl                               an owl

a bat                                           some pepper                     a boat

a cap                                           a cup                                 a tent   

a good pitch                               a good peach                    hills


Seamstress                                 Hairstylist                           Doctor

collars                                          curlers                                 a pain

a curtain                                      a tint                                    cotton

       a cuff                                            an oil                                     heels

       pants                                            a new cut                              a cough


     Writer                                             Jewelry Maker                  Hotel Manager

     a pen                                                beads                                    beds

     some paper                                     a disc                                    paints   

     a desk                                              a pin                                      a new cot

     tales                                                 tools                                      towels


STEP 2 – Pass out the role cards. Ask students if they have any questions about vocabulary. Then explain that they must assume their assigned roles and search among their classmates for the items on their list. They may inquire however they’d like: I’m looking for…/ Do you by chance have…?/ I could really use…

STEP 3 – Now pass out four item cards per student, making sure they don’t receive items on their own lists. These are the cards they must give away to the appropriate person. When asked about an item, one student must confirm the other’s request: Did you say a PEN as in P-E-N? / A pen? You mean something to write with?/ Etc.  If a student has the item requested, then the asker may take the item card. Each student’s goal is to collect all four item cards to match the items on his or her role card. The game is over when all students have collected the necessary items on their lists.

SUGGESTION: Encourage creative dialog among advanced students. They can make, grant, and decline requests with more than one line:

– Hi. I’m a writer. I’m old-fashioned. I don’t use computers. I write with a pen. Do you have a pen?

– A pen? No, I’m sorry. I only have a pin as in P-I-N.



One Comment Add yours

  1. IQ says:

    Great idea, thanks for this tip!

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