4 Workable ESL Worksheet Ideas for Teaching the Pronunciation of Problem Sounds
So, your students just can’t curl their tongues around certain English words?
You’re in need of some pronunciation lesson support, before either you or they become frustrated!
Most ESL students are longing to sound a certain way.
They’re looking to develop their English voices, in a sense.
You can show them the path to their unique English voices through the power of pronunciation!
That being said, pronunciation can be troublesome.
Pronunciation activities can actually be fun and exciting with a little well-planned effort on your part. Here, we’ll show you how to start developing informative pronunciation activities with your own, homemade ESL pronunciation worksheets.
Done correctly, a good worksheet is the first step to putting your students’ pronunciation problems to rest.
You won’t just show them how to pronounce a few specific words here and there, but rather you’ll give them the tools and knowledge to figure out pronunciation on their own down the road.
The trick is simply to show them the right way to listen carefully, break apart words into letters and syllables and connect the correct sounds.
To make things extra interesting, you can start by working with the words that have troubled them for as long as they’ve been learning English.
Why Make Your Own ESL Pronunciation Worksheets?
Every student, every classroom and every lesson plan is different, so you’ll need to make worksheets that meet your immediate needs.
You’ll soon find that ESL worksheets are a great way to present information to your students more clearly. Your most eager-to-learn students can rapidly (and more easily) engage in the new material with a well-developed worksheet in front of them, and those more reluctant or insecure students can follow along and feel comforted by the structure and guidance.
Sure, there are plenty of worksheets out there, perhaps enough to cover any possible topic and appeal to any student, but the benefit of making your own worksheets is that you’ll be certain of their quality.
Not all ESL pronunciation worksheets are created equal. There are a few things you can be sure to incorporate in every worksheet you cook up.
First of all, it’s essential to draw your students’ attention to the main teaching points within your lesson by utilizing structure in your worksheet. Think about the ESL method of “grading” when approaching your worksheet brainstorming.
Grading allows students to learn new material on a slope or grade. For example, the first activities on a worksheet would be the easiest with the following activities becoming gradually more challenging. Utilizing this will allow your students to build confidence and progress through the activities with ease. This also allows faster learners to scoot through the easy stuff and have more challenging items to work on, while their classmates can take their time and work at their own natural paces.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing your ESL pronunciation worksheets:
1. Think about the areas of pronunciation your students may need to spend more time developing. Oftentimes in ESL, students can have specific pronunciation issues that are specific to their linguistic region. For example, for Japanese students the “r” and “l” sounds are often the most troublesome, given that Japanese has one single sound that blends “r” and “l” together.
2. Use a visual aid at the beginning of your worksheet to get the discussion going. For ESL pronunciation, placing a picture of mouth and tongue placement at the top of the worksheet is usually a great place to start.
3. Utilize grading in your worksheet. As noted before, scale up the difficulty from easier to more challenging tasks as the worksheet progresses. Put something extra difficult at the end for extra credit, where your more advanced students can occupy themselves with lots of critical thinking or writing.
4. Keep your ESL pronunciation worksheet structured, concise and in order. Worksheets should have clearly separated sections with clear information and useful directions outlining each activity. Yes, you’ll provide them with guidance and instruction in person, but adding information for your students to reference on the worksheet will benefit everyone.
Keeping your students enthused and eager to overcome their pronunciation barriers is the cornerstone to any worksheet. So, ESL pronunciation worksheets are only as useful as the activities you provide your students to complete along with the worksheet. ESL pronunciation activities should be fun and have natural components of excitement for your students—such as games, challenges, brainteaser riddles, tongue twisters, interactive tutorials and more.
When it comes to pronunciation, it’s also vitally important to model spoken English in real-life situations. And one of the best ways to do this is with videos from the Fluentu library!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
If your students are learning in a fun and informative way, they’ll continue to work and learn without those little teacher nudges you often have to give them from time to time.
4 Workable ESL Worksheet Ideas for Teaching the Pronunciation of Problem Sounds
1. The “R” Pronunciation Worksheet
Pronouncing the “r” sound may be very troublesome for your students, especially if they’re in specific areas of the world that contain linguistic issues with the “r” sound—which are many.
A little secret tactic some teachers will employ before a pronunciation lesson is to have students focus on a task that’s unrelated to pronunciation, yet sneakily contains several words with the pronunciation area to be discussed later in the lesson.
For example, you’ll be discussing the “r” sound utilizing your amazingly crafted worksheet, so guide them toward the target secretly.
“The white rhino has become a rare and endangered species, so rare that there are only a few left in the ______.”
This sentence contains several words using the “r” sound, yet students will be focusing on identifying the missing word instead of their pronunciation skills. The instructions can tell students to read aloud as they go, or you can go around the classroom and encourage students to read from the worksheet so everyone can figure the answer out together.
This is a great tactic when beginning your pronunciation lesson. Now, move on to the real meat and potatoes.
Section 1: Tongue and mouth position
Placing the “r” sound tongue and mouth position at the top of your worksheet is very important. Show your students how their mouths should be moving by placing illustrations at the top.
Next, create a short list of words that include the “r” sound that you can pronounce out loud in class together for practice.
Section 2: Pronunciation warm-up
Here, start by pairing “r” words together and having students practice saying them together to develop more fluid pronunciation. Create a short list of five to ten “r” word pairs.
For example, the first item on this list could be the word pair “right, run.” Say these out loud in class, have your students repeat after you and then have them all practice together. Developing a few of these word pairs is essential for a solid pronunciation warm-up.
Next, add a short tongue twister to this part of your worksheet. Provide instructions that let students know that they should start slow, perhaps even breaking the tongue twister down into phrases or syllables for isolated practice of each part. Then have students take turns trying to say this as fast as they can.
Section 3: Circle the picture activity
Make sure that you have concise and informative information and directions for your main activity printed clearly on your worksheet. A good rule of thumb is to dedicate a whole side of the worksheet to the main activity.
The “r” sound activity could be the circle the picture activity, or something similar. Here, your students will see several pictures and will have to think of the word which represents each one. Some pictures’ words will have the “r” sound and some will not.
Your students will work in pairs during this activity. Let them know what will be required for the activity to be successful by utilizing the top of each section for clear instructions. For example, add at the top of your worksheet “pair activity” and let your students in on the plan.
Student A will say an “r” word which correlates to one of five random pictures. Student B, their partner, will listen carefully and try to identify the word and circle the correct picture. The students will then trade places and Student B will say words out loud while Student A circles the correct pictures with the “r” sound.
2. The “l” Pronunciation Worksheet
Pronouncing the “l” sound can be just as troublesome as the “r” sound for many, and additionally it can be very confusing to tell the difference between the two sounds in certain areas of the world.
In many cases, presenting your “l” pronunciation material, worksheet and lesson should be done before or after your “r” pronunciation lesson. These two ESL pronunciation lessons can be a very beneficial two-day exercise.
When focusing on the “l” sound, remember to get your students warmed up with an easy activity that they may or may not realize is a pronunciation activity. Building confidence in pronunciation lessons is essential. Keep an abundance of encouraging comments moving in their direction to help your students power through to pronunciation success. Show them how to pronounce the “l” sound by placing the tip of your tongue between your teeth.
Be sure to let them know that, with a little practice, they can be successful.
Section 1: Tongue and mouth position
Have your students practice as a class, while you show them examples of your own face.
Placing a visual aid of “l” sound tongue and mouth placement in this section of your worksheet is essential. A list of “l” words can also fall up here at the top of the page—but start with simple, short “l” words that have the focal letter at the very beginning, such as “list,” “love,” “like,” “lunch” and so on.
This aspect of your worksheet will combine visual and practical material for your students to see and develop correct pronunciation.
Section 2: Pronunciation word development and tongue twisters
Make sure the words in your worksheet contain different “l” sound placement within the word. Go crazy with “l” words and stick in some more advanced ones like “lily pad,” “lilt” and “lollipop.”
Give your students the variety they’ll encounter and use in everyday English conversation. Putting together some well-developed yet short tongue twisters (such as: “Lily licks a lemon lollypop.”) is a good way to get students playing around with “l” pronunciation in a fun way.
This can be easily placed into this section of your worksheet, or you can go ahead and create your very own section for tongue twisters as well.
Section 3: The “l” bingo activity
This is the meat and potatoes of this ESL pronunciation worksheet and should have its own page dedicated to it. Feel free to swap out bingo for whatever you’d like to play, but we think bingo happens to be a real winner for this subject matter.
So, for this targeted round of ESL bingo, your students will find a large bingo card printed on one whole face of their worksheet. Everyone should have a different mix of “l” words printed in the various bingo squares.
Make up a list of “l” words that are on the bingo squares and chop them up into small bits of paper. Then stuff them inside something to be drawn from. Students will take turns drawing the many words with “l.” Float around the room and let students draw the words from a cup, hat or bag. The student will say the word aloud for his classmates to hear, and they’ll set about on the hunt. This continues until someone gets a bingo!
Once they’ve gotten the bingo, they’ll need to read out the “l” words that they’ve marked on their worksheet for extra practice—and to ensure that they really won.
This ESL pronunciation activity is a great way to develop “l” sound speech and listening in a fun and exciting way. You can even mix the “l” and “r” sounds together using this fun activity for a more challenging experience, but that might be a job for a whole different worksheet.
3. The “Th” Pronunciation Worksheet
Within ESL pronunciation, the “th” sound is prevalent wherever an ESL student looks. Words like “the,” “that,” “those,” “they,” “there,” “their,” “them” and so on are found constantly in everyday English speech, so it’s essential that your students can identify and say these words correctly.
The “th” sound is all about tongue placement and breathing. Spend some time with your students, making sure they have a solid understanding of how the “th” sound is made with their tongues and teeth. Warm them up and give them some easy confidence building activities from the get-go, eagerly encouraging them to continue with a smile.
Section 1: Tongue placement and exhalation
Focusing on tongue placement and a well-timed exhale in this area of your “th” pronunciation worksheet is essential to your students’ success with this pesky sound. Add an image or two of how to physically produce the sound, and the front page of your worksheet will be off to a good start.
Section 2: Pronunciation warm-up with key word groups
In this part of your pronunciation worksheet, continue to build on those great “th” sounds with new and fun words for your students to practice. You can also utilize some key word groupings like “this” and “that” to further their knowledge of word usage.
Section 3: Tongue twisters
To further your students’ pronunciation abilities, utilize short and easy tongue twisters using the “th” pronunciation.
Keep this area short, maybe using only one or two very short tongue twisters to get your students more loose and ready for the main activity—this one’s a doozy!
Section 4. Pair dictation activity using “th” pronunciation
Utilizing a pair dictation exercise in your “th” pronunciation worksheet is the perfect finale after your students are warmed up and ready to go. This will focus on communication between students as they enjoy learning “th” pronunciation in a fun and easy way.
Note key instructions for your students to follow at the top of your worksheet. By now, you should be looking at the second face of the worksheet, and your students are going to use all of the space here. Concise information and instructions will help your students follow along and understand all the material.
On this backside of the worksheet there will be two paragraphs labeled Student A and Student B. These paragraphs will have numerous words with the “th” sound in them. Write up your own unique stories, or opt for some online offerings such as this fantastic list of “th” sounds in sentences. If you plan to write your own worksheet content entirely, you can still draw inspiration from a well of online resources such this list of English words with “th” sounds.
Student A will read his or her paragraph to Student B slowly as Student B writes every word down. The roles will switch and the activity continues, allowing each student to read and write. At the end, the students will compare their mistakes and give each other feedback.
This activity is a great “th” pronunciation activity that focuses on some essential ESL sub-skills as well. Allow ample time for your students to discuss the activity afterward, ensuring enough practice and communication discussing “th” pronunciation.
4. The “Sh” Pronunciation Worksheet
“Sh” is another commonly found sound in English, and it’s essential for your students to understand it and say it with ease.
In many cases, your students will already be familiar with a few words beginning with or containing the “sh” sound. Ask around the class and find out what words they already know with “sh” and build on those words as a class. Warm them up and develop your lesson around what they already know or what’s familiar to them.
Section 1: Tongue and mouth placement
It’s essential for your ESL pronunciation worksheet to contain informative instruction on how to make the “sh” sound using proper tongue and mouth placement. Utilize a picture to enhance your explanation and pair this with some practice and repetition.
Section 2: Building pronunciation with “sh” warm-up words
Building on proper pronunciation techniques, you can use this area of your worksheet to highlight common words in conversation which contain the “sh” sound. “Share,” “shout,” “she,” “shell,” “sharp” and so on are all great examples of commonly used “sh” words. You can also incorporate words with “sh” at the end or middle of the word like “wash,” “push” or “cash.”
Section 3: Tongue twisters
This is a good time to discuss and practice tongue twisters. After all, I bet you’re already thinking about how to teach the classic “she sells seashells” bit.
Utilizing a tongue twister activity you may have in mind from previous pronunciation lessons is a great way to further your worksheet, lesson aim and objectives.
Section 4: The “sh” pronunciation drawing dictation exercise
This stage of your ESL “sh” pronunciation worksheet can involve a drawing dictation exercise. In this exercise, your students will turn over their worksheets and find a nice big blank space for them to draw the “sh” word you just used in a sentence.
For example, you’ll say to your class, “I have $20 cash in my wallet.” Here, your students will have to identify “cash” as the “sh” word and draw it in a wallet. You can then ask students to come up with their own sentences and share them with the class for drawing.
Now you’ve got four fantastic worksheet ideas to focus in on pronunciation.
All that’s left is for you to type these bad boys up!
Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.