Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ESOL Teacher Resources - Minimal Pairs for ESOL Students' Pronunciation (Part 1)

Minimal pairs are two words that are similar in sound but have one phonemic difference between them. Minimal Pairs exercises are used to help students practice and improve their pronunciation of distinct sounds in English. Because some English phonemes are difficult to hear and pronounce, minimal pairs exercises can be used to provide extra practice with particularly difficult phonemes. This practice is helpful for ESOL students because they are able to concentrate their pronunciation efforts on areas of difficulty.
There are different ways that minimal pairs exercises may be used. Teachers may choose to review minimal pairs with their students as a whole class. Other teachers may choose to have their students work with a partner and “quiz” each other by having one student read one of the words in the minimal pair and having the partner point to the word that he/she hears pronounced. Caution should be taken, however, to ensure that students are not required to decode words that are beyond their skill level. Therefore, it may be best to use Minimal Pairs exercises initially in a teacher-guided format where you, the teacher, read the words on the list aloud and your students listen for the differences. You can also use these lists as a guide to create Minimal Pairs exercises that contain words your students can decode.
If you would like to use the Minimal Pairs exercises as a vocabulary development exercise simultaneously, you can create pictures that represent the words in each Minimal Pair to teach or reinforce the meaning of vocabulary while practicing the pronunciation of the words. Students can also put words in meaningful context sentences.

Following are a few example lists of minimal pairs. (See also Part 2 for minimal pairs practice with vowel sounds in English, and Part 3 for minimal pairs practice with murmur diphthongs and special vowel sounds.)

Contrast the following sounds:
/b/ and /d/ /b/ and /p/ /p/ and /f/ /t/ and /d/ /l/ and /r/ /g/ and /k/ /y/ and/j/
bad dad
bean dean
bark dark
bib bid
beep deep
bunk- dunk
big dig
bump- dump
cub cud
robe road
rib rid
brag drag
sob sod
brain- drain
web wed
bribe bride
bait date
stub stud
bay day
buck duck
rib rip
mob mop
gab gap
lab lap
big pig
bet pet
sub sup
but putt
pan fan
past fast
pat fat
paint- faint
pig fig
gulp gulf
beep beef
cheap- chief
leap leaf
cop cough
pace face
copy coffee
pact fact
pale fail
pile file
bat bad
ate aid
fat fad
fate fade
hat had
set said
pat pad
knot nod
pot pod
hurt- heard
ten den
heart- hard
tip dip
tent dent
coat code
lock rock
liver- river
lake rake
light- right
fly fry
blue brew
glass- grass
flea free
flute fruit
long- wrong
got cot
clog clock
grab crab
tugged- tucked
glad clad
ghost coast
bag back
gripped- crypt
bug buck
grew crew
lag lack
haggle hackle
peg peck
rig rick
tug tuck
yam jam
yard- jarred
yet jet
use juice
year jeer
yacht jot
yoke joke
yak Jack
yes Jess
yell gel
/sh/ and/ch/ /s/ and /sh/ /b/ and /v/ /r/ and /w/ /v/ and /w/ /v/ and /f/ /s/ and /th/
bash batch
she’s cheese
hash hatch
hush hutch
lash latch
mash- match
marsh- march
mush much
mass mash
crust- crushed
sake shake
fist fished
same- shame
rust rushed
save shave
sack shack
seat sheet
cell shell
sip ship
sock shock
plus plush
said shed
self shelf
sigh shy
sell shell
base- vase
bend- vend
bent- vent
best vest
boat vote
bail veil
bow vow
berry- very
ray way
crest- quest
rent- went
raise- ways
rate wait
rich- witch
rave- wave
rail wail
raid- wade
rage- wage
rest west
raced- waist
vet wet
vow wow
vest west
viper- wiper
vent went
vary- wary
vend- wend
vine wine
Vic wick
verse- worse
vat fat
have- half
vast fast
view few
vest fest
veil fail
save safe
vine fine
veal feel
leave- leaf
strive- strife
lived lift

mass- math
tense- tenth
moss moth
force forth
pass path
sigh thigh
seam- theme
gross- growth
sin thin
mouse- mouth
face faith
saw thaw
sank thank
worse- worth
sink think
some- thumb
sick thick

Note: Information adapted from the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons.



  2. i loved it, it was very usefull cuz i could train a student with this excellet work.. bye and thanks!

  3. Thanks for your comment, Joshua. I'm glad you found this information useful!


  4. Do you have any activities for /i:/ and /I/

  5. Excellent! The table of the minimal pairs is really the work of art.