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.)
|/b/ and /d/||/b/ and /p/||/p/ and /f/||/t/ and /d/||/l/ and /r/||/g/ and /k/||/y/ and/j/|
|/sh/ and/ch/||/s/ and /sh/||/b/ and /v/||/r/ and /w/||/v/ and /w/||/v/ and /f/||/s/ and /th/|
Note: Information adapted from the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons.