15 easy ways to start using phonemics in adult classes

1. Photocopy some pronunciation games Lots of teachers’ books nowadays have a few photocopiable games for pronunciation. There is also a whole book full of such activities, “Pronunciation Games” by Mark Hancock, which is highly recommended. 2. Make your own simple photocopiable games Almost any photocopiable board game or card game can be easily converted […]

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

1. Photocopy some pronunciation games
Lots of teachers’ books nowadays have a few photocopiable games for pronunciation. There is also a whole book full of such activities, “Pronunciation Games” by Mark Hancock, which is highly recommended.

2. Make your own simple photocopiable games
Almost any photocopiable board game or card game can be easily converted to include phonemics practice, for example SNAP (students get the cards when the phonemic symbol matches the sound of the word on the other card), pellmanism/ pairs (same rules and even cards as SNAP, with students trying to find matching pairs from the cards placed face down on the table), dominoes, crosswords, word searches etc. etc. You can easily make a grid for your own pack of cards or board game by using the grid function in Word or by tippexing out the contents of a photocopied board game from an English teaching book.

3. Play pronunciation whiteboard games
If you lack the resources or preparation time for photocopiable games, you can also convert most classic whiteboard games to include phonemics practice. For example, you could play hangman but with the students guessing sounds from the word instead of letters, or do a board race with students racing to write as many words on the whiteboard as they can with the sound of the phonemic symbol you have written at the top

4. Use a pronunciation rich textbook
Recommended courses for teaching the phonemic chart to yourself and your students include New English File and Market Leader Practice Files. Both of these can be used as a set textbook or for occasional classes.

5. Practice one sound per class
Although you should aim to eventually gain the ability to write the pronunciation of words students ask you about or make mistakes with as phonemics as they come up in class, it is much easier to plan the pronunciation point you want to deal with before the class and therefore only have one or two symbols to learn and teach. Possible ways to choose which point to tackle include working your way through the phonemic symbol chart systematically week by week or finding out which sounds your students have problems with from a book like “Learner English” (Michael Swan and Bernard Smith). As well as the sound you are planning to practice, you might also want to make sure you have learnt the symbols for any sounds the students might easily confuse that one for.

6. Do minimal pairs
An even better way of controlling which sounds and therefore symbols come up in class is to choose a couple of sounds in English that all or most of your students have problems distinguishing, e.g. “s” and “th”. There are whole books of similar minimal pairs, e.g. the series containing the books “Ship or Sheep” and “Tree or Three”

7. Just do schwa
There is also a way of improving your students’ pronunciation and understanding of natural speech while just learning and using one phonemic symbol. That is “schwa”, the last sound in the word “computer”, which is the most used sound in English and also the easiest to pronounce as it is made with your mouth completely relaxed. Tackling this point is not only easier for you and the students than trying to tackle more difficult sounds, it is also usually more important when trying to understand native speakers and leads onto other important points like sentence stress and weak forms of words like prepositions.

8. Teach different spellings for one sound
Another way to tackle many common problems while avoiding too many difficult sounds and symbols is to look at just one sound, e.g. the /ai/ from “pie”, and then look at all the other spellings with exactly the same sound in them (”by”, “mine”, “rye” etc.)

9. Teach different sounds for one spelling
Another way to tackle many common problems while avoiding too many difficult sounds and symbols is to look at just one spelling and then go into how many different pronunciations it has e.g. “ch” in “character” and “cheese”

10. Teach the magic E rule
If students get confused with the irregularities of English spelling, there is a very good rule you can show them that makes spelling and pronunciation easier and can be taught with a minimum of new symbols and difficult sounds. This is the “magic E” rule that all English speakers learn at primary school, that changes the pronunciation of the “a” in “man” and “mane”. This rule also explains the doubling of letters in some -ing and -ed forms (e.g. “stopping” and “stopped”), and so is easy to tie into a grammatical syllabus.

11. Tie it in with the grammar
There are many grammar points you can tie teaching the phonemic chart in without needing too many phonemic symbols. Two of the easiest and most common are “third person s” (the three pronunciations of the endings in “ends”, “wants” and “rises”) and regular Simple Past (the three pronunciations of the endings in “stopped”, “robbed” and “wanted”).

12. Put the phonemic chart on the wall
If you have a copy of the phonemic chart on the classroom wall at all times (or stick it on the whiteboard at the beginning of each class), rather than having to write out the phonemics of words that come up in class, you can elicit the correct ones from the students and/ or point at the chart

13. Look up the phonemics in a dictionary before the class
If you can predict which words you are likely to need to write up the phonemics of during class- by which words you are going to pre-teach, which words have difficult sounds for students, which words have strange pronunciations for their spellings, which words are pronounced differently in the students’ language(s) and English, etc- you can copy all the relevant words straight from your dictionary onto your lesson plan, and then from your lesson plan onto the board.

14. Learn a foreign language using the phonemic symbols for that language yourself
Some of the sounds (and therefore symbols) will be different for each language, but learning another language this way will still help prepare your brain for the use of the phonemic symbols used to represent the sounds of the English language and help you understand the problems students have with learning the sounds and the symbols. If English is not your first language, you could try learning the symbols used to represent your own L1 first instead.

15. Teach your students dictionary skills
If words come up in class that you haven’t had a chance to prepare for by looking them up in the dictionary before class, by getting students to look up the pronunciation for themselves you will give yourself time to think, and might even be able to copy the phonemic symbols from their dictionary onto the board.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
February 2008 | Filed under Pronunciation
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.

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