Tongue twisters in the ESL classroom – yes or no?
Although most don't make any sense at all, they can certainly help your students improve their pronunciation skills.
Besides, they’re a lot of fun! So, to spice things up a bit and inject a dose of silliness in the classroom, try using some of these classic tongue twisters combined with our useful suggestions for teaching them below:
Classic Tongue Twisters
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers? If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He would chuck, he would, as much as he could, and chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
Easy Tongue Twisters
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!
I Saw Susie
I saw Susie sitting in a shoe shine shop.
Medium Tongue Twisters
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?
Can you can a can
Can you can a can as a canner can can a can?
I have got a date
I have got a date at a quarter to eight; I’ll see you at the gate, so don’t be late.
Two witches, two watches
If two witches would watch two watches, which witch would watch which watch?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Betty Botter had some butter, “But,” she said, “this butter's bitter. If I bake this bitter butter, it would make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter – that would make my batter better.”
So she bought a bit of butter, better than her bitter butter, and she baked it in her batter, and the batter was not bitter. So 'twas better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.
When a doctor doctors a doctor, does the doctor doing the doctoring doctor as the doctor being doctored wants to be doctored or does the doctor doing the doctoring doctor as he wants to doctor?
Tongue Twisters Teaching Tips
- The first thing you’ll need to consider is your students' ages and level. Tongue twisters are typically not very easy, but even very young ESL learners can learn to say, “I scream for ice cream!” Some of the tongue twisters that are longer can be cut down to a smaller bite size; most often only the first question in “Woodchuck” is used. You know your students better than anyone else, so choose the right tongue twisters for your class.
- Choose a tongue twister with teaching potential. For example, “Peter Piper” is a great tongue twister if you want your students to practice the pronunciation of -ed endings (past form of regular verbs). “Betty Botter” has lots of great consonant sounds like the “b” sound. “I have got a date" is filled with words with the same vowel sound.
How To Proceed
Hand out copies of the tongue twister to your students and have them read it to themselves.
Discuss any words they may not be familiar with, like “batter” in Betty Botter. Make sure they understand what the tongue twister is trying to say; there’s usually a logic to what initially seems to be a random jumble of words.
Ask a student to read it out loud, but don’t make any corrections. Make a note of the problem areas. Do the same with the rest of the students in the class. Have them take turns reading the tongue twister, and you’ll see which have greater difficulties.
Read each line or section, one at a time, and ask students to repeat after you. You may wish to do this with one student only, small groups, or the entire class, but this is a great opportunity to work especially with students who have pronunciation difficulties.
Focus on specific consonant or vowel sounds. This is a great time to practice sounds like the “t” sound in “better”, “batter”, and “bitter”.
For extended practice, ask students to come up with more examples of homophones, like “which” and “witch”; or more words that sound like “date”, other than the ones included in the tongue twister; you may also choose to focus on the different pronunciations of the past form of regular verbs.
And don’t forget to have fun with them!
Try to read the tongue twister as fast as you can. Your students will be pleased to know that even YOU may get tongue tied! Or they may be very impressed as you roll one off your tongue perfectly. But remember that tongue twisters are not only fun. There are plenty of pronunciation lessons held within each and every one.
What do you think about our top ten tongue twisters? If you’re looking for even more good ones to use in class be sure to check out our Tongue Twisters Worksheets, where you’ll find plenty to choose from. What's your personal favorite?
If you’re an English teacher teaching students aged kindergarten to senior high (or even adults), check out our partner sites HelpTeaching, KidsKonnect, and Elementary Librarian for hundreds of additional ESL resources including worksheets, quiz questions, tests, books, and more!
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