Author: Deb Bullock | Published on 2 January 2024


Read what a teacher says about this activity:

My learners have problems hearing and also pronouncing some sounds in English. But I’ve also noticed that the more times they hear these sounds, the better they can say them. I use minimal pairs because it helps them focus. They like this activity because they can test each other, and they love performing the dialogues at the end!

Stage 1: Prepare

Choose 8 minimal pairs that your learners find difficult or confusing

Examples of confusing consonant sounds:

free/three; tree/three; they/day; thin/tin; wash/was; shell/sell; heart/hard 

Examples of confusing vowel sounds:

sheep/ship; sit/seat; wet/wait; fast/first; saw/so; bed/bad; bat/but 

Stage 2: Introduce

Say: 'Let’s practise different sounds. Write the words I say.' You should then dictate one minimal pair, e.g. ‘tree’ and ‘three’. 

Ask learners to check their answers with a partner. One learner should write the answer on the board. Then drill the pronunciation. You should point, say, and get the learners to repeat together.

Say: 'Choose a partner and decide who is A and who is B.' Write A and B on the board. Write 4 minimal pairs under A and 4 minimal pairs under B. For example:


sit / seat

fast / first

bed / bad

saw / so

they / day

heart / hard

free / three

wash / was

Say: 'When we start, copy only your words in your books. Don’t copy your partner’s words.'


If you think your learners need to review the pronunciation first, drill all the words at this stage. 

Stage 3: Model

Say: 'Let’s try. I am A. Listen to me. Can you make a sentence with ‘fast’? Hands up.'

Take answers from 2 or 3 learners, e.g. He ran very fast. Ask the class if the answer is correct. You can tell from the sentence if the learner has incorrectly made a sentence with first (e.g. She was first in the race). 

Say: 'Good. Now it is B’s turn.'

Write some questions on the board for learners to use:

Can you make a sentence with ____?

What does ____ mean?

How do you spell _____?

Stage 4: Do pair work

Say: 'Choose a word and a question (point to the questions on the board). Take turns to ask and answer in pairs. A, you go first.'

Monitor, support and check/correct pronunciation. 

Stage 5: Extend and share

Ask groups to create a short dialogue. Tell them they must include 4 words from the board. Ask them to perform the dialogues for the class. The class should listen carefully and identify the 4 words from the board.  

Optional activity

Ask pairs or groups to think of one more example word for the sounds in column A. If possible, learners choose rhyming words. (Example answers: sit=fit, sing; seat=meet, need; fast=last, pass; first=turn, worst; bed=said, met; bad=sad, apple; saw=more, door; so=low, know.)

Using minimal pairs help learners to hear and pronounce sounds that are confusing. Make a note of sounds that are confusing to your learners. Can you think of other ways to use minimal pairs to practise these sounds?


Confusing: Sounds which are commonly mistaken

Minimal pair: Pairs of words that only have one sound different (e.g. bat and bet, cow and how).

Take turns: do something alternately or in succession