If you are looking for some fun ways to practice pronunciation with your ESL students, try one of the following games that puts the fun in phonology.
7 Games for Practicing Pronunciation
While a classic game of telephone is fun for any group, it’s also a good opportunity for your ESL students to practice their pronunciation skills. Place students in a line and whisper a phrase to the first person in line. The stranger the phrase, the more difficult the activity will be. (For a real challenge, start the chain with a tongue twister.) Each person quietly passes the message to the next person in line, and they only get one chance to say it. That is why careful pronunciation is so important. When the message gets to the last person in line, they say it out loud so their entire team can hear. Odds are, the message will have changed from the front of the line to the end of it, but it is possible for students to carefully pass the message without errors. You can have two teams compete to see which team makes the fewest errors while passing the message along. If you like, have each person write down the phrase they hear before they pass it to the next person so you have a better idea where the pronunciation issues occurred in the line. Play again this time starting at the opposite end of the line or mixing up the order of the students.
Simon Says Run
Your students won’t be able to pronounce their sounds correctly until they can hear the difference between them. This game challenges their listening skills and gets students moving around the classroom at the same time. Label each wall of your classroom with one phonetic symbol representing a sound you want your students to practice. Have students stand in the middle of the room, and then say, “Simon says…” filling in the blank with a word that uses one of the sounds you have labeled on your walls. Students race to the wall with the correct symbol for the sound they heard. Anyone who runs to the wrong wall is eliminated and must sit down. You can also eliminate anyone who gets to the wall too late though that is optional. Each round, make a Simon says statement, eliminating anyone who runs to the wrong wall. The last person standing wins the game.
Same or Different
For this activity, you’ll need to make two sets of sentences, list A and list B. Some sentences in list A and B should be identical. But other sentences should differ by a minimal pair or two. For example, if list A contains the sentence “Don’t forget to bring your pens.” List B might contain the sentence “Don’t forget to bring your pins.” Choose your minimal pair words based on the specific sounds you are teaching your class or the ones they struggle with the most. Then put students in pairs and give one person list A and the other list B. Students should then read their sentences to each other, carefully, and decide together if the sentence in list A and the sentence in list B are the same or if they are different. Have students write their answers down and then award ten points for every correct answer. The team with the highest score wins the game. If you like, play two or three rounds with different lists of sentences.
What’s Your Number?
This fun game challenges students to listen for specific vowel sounds among a group of minimal pairs. Start by writing a group of ten words each beginning with and ending with the same sound. (For example, put, pat, pet, peat, pit, pout, pot, etc.) Write them across your board and then write the numbers zero through nine under them. Then tell your students you are going to give them your phone number, but instead of saying the numbers say the words above the numbers. Have students write down the number they think you gave them. When you are done, check to see who got the number right. Then have students make up phone numbers for themselves and recite the word equivalents to the rest of the class. Score one point for each number students get correctly for each phone number. The person with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Give It a Shot
Set up for this basketball pronunciation game by putting two trash cans at the front of your room and labeling each with a different vowel sound or two sounds your students have trouble distinguishing (r/l, p/b, etc.). Then put students into two teams. Have a player from one team come to the front of the room and read a word that contains one of the sounds on the trash cans. Another member of their team should then shoot a crumpled up piece of paper at the basket labeled with the sound the word contained. (You can also use a ball if you prefer.) The player scores one point for choosing the right basket and another point if they get make the shot. If they make the shot in the wrong basket, they score zero. Continue this way alternating teams until you run out of words or one team reaches a predetermined score. Award the winning team with a basketball trophy made from plastic cups.
Minimal Pair Up
This simple game challenges students to speak with accuracy as they search for the perfect match in their classroom. To set up for this group game, write words that comprise minimal pairs on index cards. You will need one card for each person in class. Give each person a card and tell them they cannot let anyone else see what is written on their card. Then have students mingle until they find the person who has the match to complete their minimal pair. When students find their minimal pair, they can sit down. You can play several rounds with the same set of cards by shuffling them and redistributing them to your students or by changing up the cards you use each time.
This game take some space to set up, so it might be good to plan it for a gym or outside if you have a day with no wind. To prepare, write several words with the sounds you want to target for pronunciation practice, each on its own sheet of paper. You will lay these papers out in a grid in the playing area. Break students into two teams. One member of each team stands at a line five feet back from the grid of papers and tosses a bean bag toward one of the word. If the beanbag lands on a sheet of paper, that person must correctly pronounce the word. If they do, they claim the sheet of paper for their team. If not, the paper remains in the grid. Keep playing until all of the papers have been claimed by one team or the other. The team with the most papers at het end of the game wins.
Pronunciation practice doesn’t have to be boring.
Put the fun in phonology with these games and watch your students get excited about saying things right.