10 Tried and True Steps to Teaching Vowels and Consonant Sounds

Can consistently miraculous results ever be guaranteed? Probably not, but I will say that with adult learners I’ve found it most effective to present vowel and consonant sounds by performing these steps in various sequences:

1.  Explain the mechanics in a slow, simple manner;

2.  Model the mechanics using your hands to represent the articulators;

3.  Draw a mouth on the board and show how the articulators must work;

4.  Use imagery, an analogy, or otherwise vivid explanation to make the production of the given sound memorable;

5.  Repeatedly model the sound yourself as you perform the steps above so that the students can watch the movements of your mouth.

6.  Put the sound in context, focusing on its placement in different parts of words (i.e., initial, medial, final).  Note any changes in articulation of the sound depending on its position within a word.

7.  Contrast the sound with another one when possible. For example, voiced and unvoiced pairs such as /g/ and /k/ or commonly confused sounds such as / ɪ / and / i /.

8.  Build upwards. For example, if it’s a consonant sound, does it appear in blends or clusters?

9.  Move to the phrase and sentence level so that students can practice smooth, connected speech.

10.  Incorporate fun, meaningful practice to encourage sound production that is less conscious and more automatic.

For a demonstration of these 10 steps, click here.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. alexcase says:

    Nice summary. Can I add “make it as physical as possible”, e.g. blowing on mirrors and pieces of paper, holding your hands over your ears, and holding your hand by the side of your mouth in the shape your tongue should be

    TEFLtastic blog- http://www.tefl.net/alexcase

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Excellent addition! Thank you. Two heads are always better than one. This point should have been added from the very beginning. I certainly try to incorporate a physical exercise when possible, from blowing on a sheet of paper to demonstrate aspiration to asking students to plug their ears so they can hear voiced consonants.

  2. Edson says:

    Ok, very good

  3. It is a real pleasure to visit your blog and to enjoy your exclusive articles here. I like that so much. I realize that you paid much attention for those posts, as all of them make sense and are very useful. Thank you very much for sharing. I can be very good reader & listener. Appreciate your work!

  4. Ksusha says:

    Dear Jennifer!

    Thank you so much for all your work and help that you’ve provided! I’ve been exploring your blog for a few days already 🙂 It’s sooo helpful!

    I have a question though too 🙂 What steps do you find effective to сформировать грамматический, лексический навык? (don’t know the term :)) I would be very grateful for some online reference or may be there is something that you have here. Something more methodological 🙂

    I would appreciate it very much 🙂


    1. Hello Ksenia

      Thank you for visiting my blog. I love grammar, so I understand your pursuit of knowledge! 🙂 To get into more complex grammar and learn more terminology, you can refer to some advanced students books. Focus on Grammar 5, Azar and Hagen’s series (especially Understanding and Using English Grammar, the blue book, 3rd level), and Grammar Dimensions 4 are all options. When I have questions, I often refer to Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. There’s a student version, but it’s not as thorough as the bigger volume for teachers. You may also like the Guide to Grammar and Writing by Capital Community College Foundation. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/definitions.htm

      Good luck!

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