7 Incredible Pronunciation Games Every ESL Teacher Needs to Know About


What’s that?

Excuse me?

There are tons of ways to ask someone to say something again, and this makes sense if you think about it.

After all, you can’t know what a person means if you don’t hear what they say!

That’s what makes pronunciation such an important skill for your ESL students to master.

They might be using the best English grammar in the world, but if you can’t understand what they’re saying, their words will fall without meaning.

So here are some awesome games to make their pronunciation flourish.

Playing for Keeps: 7 Games That’ll Give Your ESL Students Pronunciation Chops for Life

1. Let’s Roll

You’ll need to do a little preparation for this game, but it’s oh-so-fun-and-worth-it. It’ll test your students’ pronunciation skills and listening accuracy, too.

For each group of three to five students, you will need two blank dice. You can use whiteboard dice if you have them, or make your own “dice” by folding paper cubes.

On each die, write six words that include sounds your students should be able to pronounce correctly. Try to focus on two target sounds, for example, the vowels [i] (pronounced “ee” as in tree) and [I] (as in “trick”). You will want about half of the spaces on each die to have a word that uses each of those sounds, that is, 3 [i] words and 3 [I] words.

If you like, give your students a list of words for each sound and let them make their own dice and choose which words to put on them. If you have taught it to your students, write the words using the International Phonetic Alphabet to avoid spelling confusion. Each group of students will also need a box with the top open (like a shoe box).

On each person’s turn, they will roll two dice in the box so their group members cannot see. They will then read the word on each die. The group will decide if the words contain the same vowel sound or different vowel sounds. If they answer correctly, both the speaker and the listeners got their part right.

If you need a simpler version of the game, just write the sounds on each side of the dice or use the phonetic alphabet. On their turns, players will roll one die, and then they must give a word that contains that sound.

2. Shadow Speaking

Shadow speaking is an easy game that tests your students’ pacing, intonation and pronunciation. It’s really quite simple. In essence, your students will speak along with a short audio passage to see if they can match the pacing and intonation.

Start by playing a selection for your students so they can listen to it. Then play it again and have them speak along with the recording. If it’s just a simple dialogue that’s easy to memorize, your students should be able to remember it after one or two times through. If it’s more complicated, provide your students with a transcript to read along with.

Keep in mind that you can use a video clip for this game, too, and you can always find appropriate videos with quality transcripts on FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

While you can definitely build a lesson around FluentU, the online immersion platform also provides students with engaging at-home practice, with fresh new videos being added every week!

Play the recording a third time, turning the volume a little lower in the middle of the recording. And then again with the volume even lower. Eventually, work your way down to turning the volume off completely in the middle of the recording. Your students should try to maintain the pace and intonation of the recording even though they can’t hear it.

Before you get to the end of the recording, turn the volume up again and see which students are still in time with the recording. You can do this activity with your entire class at one time, but you might be able to better assess your students if you work with them one-on-one.

If you like, practice a few times through with your whole class before dividing up into teams. Meet with each student one-on-one for their final time through the recording (when you turn the volume off completely). Award each person still in synch with the end of the recording a point toward their team total. The team with the most points wins.

3. Stations

Before your students can pronounce words correctly, they will have to hear them correctly. This is where the game Stations comes into play. It will test how well your students hear what you say.

Before you play, designate each wall in your classroom with a sound. For example, if you were teaching fricatives, you might label one wall [s] (as in “see”), another [z] (as in “zoo”), a third [sh] (as in “ship”) and the fourth [j] (as in “measure”).

Have students stand in the middle of the room. Then say a word. Students will have to run to the wall labeled with the sound that they heard. If someone runs to the wrong wall, they are out and must sit down. If they run to the correct wall, they are still in the game. Then say another word, eliminating students as necessary, until only one student remains standing.

For a more complex version of this game, label two walls with “same” and “minimal pair.” Then say two words at the start of each round. If students heard the two words you said as the same, they run to one wall. If the words differed in only one sound, they run to the other wall.

4. Did You Read What I Read?

This game is played in pairs, and it will test your students’ pronunciation and listening skills. Start by preparing two numbered lists of words for your students. Some of the words on the lists should be the same while others should be minimal pairs.

For example, one list might be “bark,” “back,” “boo,” “pan” while the other list is “bark,” “pack,” “boo,” “ban.” Each student should keep their list hidden from their partner. Students will go through the list reading each word and listening to the corresponding word their partner reads.

For each pair of words, the two students must decide if it’s the same word on both lists or if they are minimal pairs. On your cue, students start going down their list and come to you when they think they have all the correct answers. For each incorrect answer, the team receives a 15-second penalty. The team with the fastest time wins the game.

5. Listening Tower

In this game, students will work with a partner to build a tower before the opposing team can. Your students will practice their pronunciation and listening accuracy as they play.

You will need several plastic cups—at least six per every two students in your class. Give each group of four a stack of cups to put on their table. Each round, students will write a minimal pair on the cups—one word per cup.

You can write the minimal pairs on your board and have students copy them on the cups (make sure they write the word on both sides of each cup) before setting the cups between one person from each team. These two players, who are sitting, are the listeners for that round. They will choose the cup with the word that they hear a third player say.

The other two players are the speaker and the judge. One will say the word and the other will make sure there are no problems with that round of play. After students have their cups ready, have the speaker and the judge come up and look at a word you have written down before returning to their group. The word should be one of the words in the minimal pair you just wrote on the board.

When you say “Go,” the speaker will say the word he or she read on your paper. The listeners will race to grab the cup with that word written on it. Whichever person grabs the cup with the right word gets to keep the cup.

Play another round with another minimal pair, but this time the judge becomes the speaker and vice versa. Each team will use the cups they earn to build a six-cup tower. After two rounds, have the listeners become the speaker and judge. Play until one pair has their six-cup tower complete. The winners then get to knock down both towers.

6. Say It Again, Sam

This silly game will get your students talking and laughing as they try to say the same sentence as many different ways as possible while practicing intonation and inflection. Start by dividing your students into two teams. One student from each team comes to the front of the room.

The first student tells you an emotion he will try to communicate through a sentence (surprise, anger, frustration, disappointment, excitement, etc.) and then says the sentence in front of the class. It can be an original sentence or one you provide.

As he says the sentence, he should use inflection and intonation to convey an intent or emotion behind the words. His team then guesses the emotion he was trying to get across.

The second student, the one from the other team, then tells you a different emotion and says the same sentence with different intonation and inflection, trying to convey that emotion. Her team then guesses the emotion behind her words.

Keep going back and forth between the two players until one of two things happens:

  1. The speaker is not able to think of another way to say the sentence.
  2. The speaker’s team cannot correctly guess the emotion he was trying to convey. When that happens, the point goes to the other team.

Play until one team reaches a score of five. As you play, you will find that general, nonspecific sentences are easier to say multiple ways, such as the following:

“You think that.”

“I want to go.”

“It’s raining outside.”

“The test is tomorrow.”

More specific sentences, especially those that imply emotion already, such as “I hate you,” will be more challenging for this game. But if you have more advanced students, this challenge might be more fun for them.

7. Bingo

Bingo is always a great go-to game for teaching English. In this version, students will practice their listening accuracy, since good listening is key to good pronunciation. Give each student a blank bingo board and have them write different target sounds in the open spaces. You might want to give them a list to choose from.

Then, rather than calling numbers, you will say a word to your class. If that word contains one of the sounds on their board, they mark it. When someone has five squares in a row marked, he calls out “Bingo!” He should then bring his board to you to see if he correctly marked the sounds that he heard. If he is right, write out the words you said on the board, pointing out spelling versus word sounds.

Pronunciation is key for comprehension, so the more your students perfect their pronunciation the better off they will be. And if you can make that practice fun, even better!

So try one of these games in your next class, and see how pronunciation practice can be fun for everyone.

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