Pronunciation: Controlled activities

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Guided or controlled activities

Truly communicative activities for pronunciation practice are difficult to create, especially for vowels and consonants. After listening exercises and production exercises, guided practice activities, controlled practice activities, or semi-communicative or quasi-communicative activities are at least possible and should be used. If possible, these can then be followed by more interactive activities. Some of the types below are particularly suited for practicing prosody (stress, intonation) and prosodic effects (e.g., natural speech phenomena).

1 Q&A

Pairs of students ask each other questions from a handout (each student could have a different handout, info-gap style, or the same handout) with model sentences containing the target phoneme. Each must respond in complete sentences.

Do you prefer ham or eggs? (for /æ/ cf. /ε/)
I prefer ham.
Would you eat green eggs and ham?
No, I would not eat green eggs and ham.

1.1 Q&A, mixed sentences

Students answer questions that make them attend to the target phoneme and another phoneme in the same sentence. In the example below, each person in a pair of students can be given similar sentences to ask each other.

    Set A
  1. Do you prefer ham or eggs?
  2. Have you ever been to Indiana or Tennessee?
  3. Do you eat apples or lemons?
  4. Was the weather yesterday bad or pleasant?
  5. Do you want to study math or chemistry?
  6. Will you take a bath, or go to bed?
  7. Would you like Spanish or French food for lunch?
  8. Do you buy black plums or red plums?
  9. Do you like cats or dogs?
  10. Do you like happy or sad TV shows?
    Set B
  1. Do you prefer salad or apples?
  2. Would you rather go to France or Indiana?
  3. Do you eat bananas or tangerines?
  4. Does the weather today make you feel bad or glad?
  5. Will you take a bath or take a nap?
  6. Do you want to study math or Latin?
  7. Would you like Spanish food or hamburgers for lunch?
  8. Do you buy black plums or blackberries?
  9. Is your dog bad or well behaved?
  10. Do you like happy movies or sad movies?

Other words: (Do you like...) lizards, iguanas, duck(s), snacks/snakes...

2 Sentence activities

2.1 Sentence construction

Students are given a list of words to arrange into sentences – they will need to add extra words to make complete sentences.

  1. next passage have to read
  2. Cynthia ran 7km to campus
  3. Einstein extremely intelligent man
  4. George Lucas extremely wealthy man
  5. roads here level but narrow
  6. professor really fat
  7. please answer questions in chapter 20
  8. rest after lunch
  9. accept reject our offer
  10. dog taking nap on bed

2.2 Correction exercises (in sentences)

Students must identify the incorrect words and say the correct word. This can be done as a class activity, as the teacher reads aloud sentences and student correct them in unison. Or students can be put in pairs, with each one being given a different set of sentences; in turns, they read aloud and correct each other's sentences.

  1. I had to pay 5 bugs for a Starbucks coffee in Seattle. (bucks)
  2. I don't have to worry about rash hour because I finish work so late every day! (rush)
  3. I had a hangover, but I drank three bulack coffees and now I feel much better (black)
  4. We had to go to the playground in the rain because some set off the fire ararm. (alarm)
  5. I always pill up the car on Saturdays. (fill)
  6. When I was a teenager you didn't have to wear a helmetu when you rode a motorbike. (helmet)
  7. I prefer selp-service restaurants because I hate having to split the bill or argue about who pays. (self)
  8. There weren't any double rooms so we had to take two shingles. (singles)
  9. Although they are mainly oil tankers, I think the sheeps in Bsan harbor make the scene more beautiful. (ships)

2.3 Naming task

Students ask each other questions to name and identify objects or items – from pictures, real objects (realia), or other items. Appropriate prompts or expressions should be provided or pre-taught if the students do not know them. In this example (from Celce-Murcia, Brinton & Goodwin), students ask each other about cuisenaire rods (small, colored wooden rods).

  • Where is the brown rod? - Here.
  • Which rod is over there? - The red one.
  • Which rod is on the left? - The blue one.
  • Where is the black rod? - On the right.
  • Which rod is longer? - The yellow one.

2.4 Menu task

Order your meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack) from the following list. Or: "Do you like/ eat X, Do you prefer X or Y, Have you ever eaten X, What kind of X do you like?

anchovy (small fish)



apricots (fruit)

asparagus (vegetable)     


Big Mac






haddock (fish)     

ham sandwich


hash browns

jam (fruit jelly)



rabbit stew (soup)

radishes (vegetable)



salmon (fish)

spam (canned preserved ham)     


yams (sweet potatoes)

yak meat

3 Info gaps

Various info gap and communicative activities can be adapted, such as maps tasks for asking directions, menu ordering tasks, or any other kind of material and activity. The teacher will probably have to develop a list of sample words with the target phoneme for the students.

3.1 Info gap table

Two students sit facing each other. Each has a different version of a table with words; Student A has half the words on his/her table, and Student B has the other words. In turns, they ask each other about which words go where. For example:

A: Can you tell me the word which is in D-2?
B: Slither
A: Could you repeat that, please?

3.2 Info gap matching activity

Students ask each other questions from a prompt while matching information. The following activity is called "Who lives where?"

Match these personal names with place names, creating questions and answers; e.g., "Does John Reese live in Reading? - No, John Reese lives in Leading / No, John Leece lives in Reading".
Personal names Place names
John Leece - John Reese     

Betty Lawson - Betty Rorson

Peter Lowe - Peter Roe

Mark Warne - Mark Vaughan     

Paul Wayne - Paul Vane

Ann Whicker - Ann Vicker

Alison Ray - Alison Way

Les Right - Les White

Susan Wain - Susan Rayne

Loxwood - Rockswood     

Lorton - Rawton

Lambsgate - Ramsgate

Vines Cross - Whines Cross     

Vorden - Warden

Venby - Whenby

Ryton - Wyton

Ridcombe - Widcombe

Rateby - Waitby

4 Dialogues

4.1 Creating dialogues or stories from scratch

Students are given a prompt, and are to create a story, dialogue or role play with the words. a The prompts include words with the target phoneme, such as a list of words with a common theme, a story, or a picture or chart with sample vocabulary items. For example, they might be given the following /r/ and /l/ words to create stories (from Celce-Murcia, Brinton & Goodwin)[1]. For a simpler, more controlled exercise, the teacher can create short stories or scenarios featuring such words.

  1. colors: red, yellow, blue, green, brown, purpose, maroon, black, gray
  2. professions: bar tender, bank teller, waitress, cab driver, doctor, English teacher, lawyer
  3. places: library, flower shop, grocery store, hair salon, church, temple
  4. comparatives, superlatives: better, worse, more graceful, less realistic, most terrible
  5. body parts: elbow, ear, finger, knuckle, ankle, leg, wrist, eyebrow, forehead
  6. names: Ralph, Beverly, Harold, Pearl, Laura, Larry, Marlon, Laverne

4.2 Artificial dialogues

Students practice in pairs or small groups with prewritten dialogues. Before reading it together, the teacher can also have them try to identify instances of the target sound, or predict occurrences of a sound, as in these examples. Afterwards, they then create their own dialogues based on the example. These are particularly suited for teaching sentence stress, intonational emphasis, and sentence intonation. They they can also be adapted to more interactive activities, also, by having students create their own dialogues based on these examples. The first is based on an example from a source that I'm not sure of (maybe Nespor & Vogel), #2-4 are from Lee (2001)[2] and Lee (2013)[3], and I'm not sure about the last one.

1. (dinner table conversation)

A. So why isn't Johnny eating his octopus?

B. He thinks it looks disgusting, and it's hard to chew.

A. Can you get him to eat squid?

B. No, he won't eat squid. He doesn't eat seafood besides shrimp. How about Fritz?

A. He only eats octopus or squid with peppers. He's so very picky.

2. (dinner table conversation)

A. I read in the paper last night... That they're filming Star Wars episode three now.

B. I'd love to see it sometime. Will it be out soon?

A. Not anytime soon. - Say, could you pass the salad, please?

A. I'd like to watch all the past episodes again. Have you seen episodes four thru six before?

B. Yeah, but it's been a while. I'd sure love to watch it again. Do we have them on video, Chuck?

C. Sure, and we have the afternoon free, you know. Why don't we watch them today?

A. Sounds great, I guess.

3. (dinner table conversation)

A. Say, have you ever seen Star Wars episode four?

B. What is it?

A. It's the original Star Wars.

B. I don't think so. But I should have.

A. I think you must have.

B. Maybe...

A. Remember, it came out in the late seventies.

B. When was it?

A. Oh, about 1979.

4. (dinner table conversation)

A. Hey, you wanna watch one of those Hitchcock movies tonight?

B. I don't know. You know, I don't really like Hitchcock.

A. I think Hitchcock movies are great. We should watch The Third Man. # The Rise is a good movie. It's got Paul Newman in it.

A. What is it?

B. It's The Rise. It won an academy award.

A. I've thought about maybe getting Notorious. I've never seen that.

C. Oh, that's a good movie. It's got Cary Grant in it.

A. The other one that I haven't seen is Rear Window. It's got Jimmy Steward, who's a good guy, and Raymond Burr, who's a bad guy.# That one I've heard is a little strange, but I haven't seen it. Notorious, though, is the one where Cary Grant's a spy, and Ingrid Bergman is the daughter of a Nazi German, who just committed suicide after a trial, and they want her to infiltrate his contacts. And they fall in love.

B. Oh, that might not be bad.

5. The thermos

One day Joe was walking across a building site and saw his foreman pouring coffee from a thermos flask.

"What's that you've got there, foreman?" Joe asked.

"A thermos flask," said the foreman.

"And what does that do?" says Joe.

"Well," said the foreman, "if you put anything hot in it, then it stays hot, and if you put anything cold in it, then it stays cold."

"That's fantastic!" said Joe. "I must get myself one of those."

The next day Joe sat eating his lunch when his friend Mick came in.

"What's that there Joe?" asked Mick.

"A thermos Flask," replied Joe.

"And what does that do?" asked Mick.

"Well," said Joe, "if you put anything hot in it, then it stays hot, and if you put anything cold in it, then it stays cold".

"That's marvelous," Mick exclaimed. "And what have you got in there now?"

"Well," said Joe, "I've got two cups of coffee and an ice-cream."

5 Rhythm activities

5.1 Tongue twisters

Tongue twisters can easily be found on the Internet for practicing various phonemes (a good place to start is [1]).

  1. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  2. Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore. But if Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore then where are the sea shells Sally sells?
  3. The sixth sick sheik's sixth sick sheep.

5.2 Limericks

Limericks, a type of poem named for the Irish city, follow an A-A-B-B-A rhyme scheme, and can be useful for practicing phonemes as well as rhythm.

There was once a lady from Bright
Who could travel faster than light.
She went out one day,
And in a relative way,
Came back the previous night.

The above limerick is a famous science limerick; Bright is a city in England.

5.3 Rhymes

Various kinds of rhymes and songs can be done in groups, pairs, and interactively, including children's nursery rhymes like this one.

Hey diddle, diddle, The cat and the fiddle. The cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to see such fun,

And the dish ran away with the spoon.

6 Prose activities

6.1 Short stories and reading passages

Many kinds of artificial and authentic stories, poems, and reading passages can be used, from children's stories like "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" or Dr. Seuss books. Artificial texts written for practicing particular sounds can be created, such as these. I wrote the first one for practicing consonant clusters, and the second for the /ey/ sound.

At the zoo (for palatal & fricative consonants & consonant clusters)
In the zoo at night, silence fell as the zoo visitors left. Crickets chirped as church bells rang out from an adjacent district. In the cages, crocs guarded their eggs as ducks lapsed into slumber. The elks cringed as already satisfied tigers nearby loudly belched. The asps blitzed about their dens, while hedgehogs rummaged for grubs, and black bats emerged from the warmth of their crypts. A lynx triumphed over its prey and plopped it down before its mates, as wolves glimpsed at the skunks kept safe from them by a chain link cage, and loathed the four-legged morsels that they could not grasp.

7 See also

  1. Phonology & pronunciation portal
  2. Phonology & pronunciation topics (Minimal pairs will appear here later in wiki pages for various segmentals)
  3. Pronunciation: Teaching overview
  4. Pronunciation: Listening exercises
  5. Pronunciation: Production exercises
  6. Pronunciation: Controlled activities
  7. Pronunciation: Interactive activities

7.1 External links

  1. Sounds of English
  2. Phonetics flash animation practice (U. Iowa phonetics site)
  3. English phonetics and phonology for non-native speakers
  4. Tongue twisters website (also, tongue twisters for other languages)
  5. Phoneme flashcards for kids
  6. MoreWords] (Here you can search for words by spelling patterns)

8 References

  1. Celce-Murcia, Marianne; Brinton, Donna M.; & Goodwin, Janet M. (2010). Teaching Pronunciation, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press.
  2. Lee, K. (2001). Teaching discourse stress to Asian students. KOTESOL Proceedings 2001, pp. 103-116.
  3. Lee, K. (2013). Sentence stress in information structure. Oeneohag [J. Korean Ling. Soc.], 66,3-30.