To help students hear the difference between two sounds (listening) and then
to correctly pronounce each of the sounds (speaking).
Simple differences in word-level pronunciation can get in the way of English
comprehension and pronunciation. Minimal pairs are a simple and fun way for
students to practice sound differences. Minimal pairs are two words that differ
only in one sound (e.g.,
hat/bat, rake/rate, hit/heat)
. The sound difference can appear
anywhere in the words (beginning, middle, end).
This activity focuses on the sounds /l/ and /r/, but see our sidebar resources for a list
of other sounds that you could use. Adapt this exercise using the sounds that your
students find difficult.
This activity is reprinted with permission and slightly adapted from
An ESL Resource Book
(2012; New Readers Press).
The Basic Activity
1. Prepare a list of words to demonstrate the minimal pair that you will
Here is an example of a minimal pair list for /l/ and /r/, which
are the focus of this article:
Here are resources to
help students master
Scroll down to “Minimal Pairs” to
find links to ready-to-use work-
sheets focusing on minimal pairs
such as /b/ and /p/, /g/ and /j/, /f/
and /v/, and more.
Phonetics: The Sounds of
This site from the University
of Iowa features the phonetic
sounds of American English,
German, and Spanish. The site
contains some linguistic terms
that might be difficult for stu-
dents, so it is best suited for
higher-level or even college-
prep focused ESOL students.
Minimal Pairs to Boost
Notebook • Winter 2014