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3 Ways to Use the Phonemic Chart in Class

3 Ways to Use the Phonemic Chart in Class

The first time I saw the International Phonemic Alphabet (IPA) in a /ˈdɪkʃ(ə)n(ə)ri/ I thought it looked like a different language! Thankfully, Adrian Underhill devised the English Phonemic Chart to make sense of the English sounds, making life easier for teachers and learners. This chart offers limitless potential to aid pronunciation teaching, as shown by Underhill himself in this workshop. This is down to its design, which maps sounds to where and how they are produced in the mouth. With it, we can demonstrate to our learners what our lips, tongue, teeth, and jaw should look like as a sound is uttered.  

If you are new to the Phonemic Chart or are looking for ideas to help your learners practise their pronunciation, check out the following three activities below.  

Activity 1: Odd one out 

The vowel sounds are a good place to start because most learners would be familiar with some of them. Here is a way in which you can introduce vowels and engage learners in practising them.  

Step 1: Model pronunciation 

Use your camera if you are teaching online and a picture of the chart to show your students what to do when producing 2-3 sounds you have pre-selected (e.g. /ɪ/, /æ/ and /ɒ/), first in isolation and then included in short CVC words (e.g. tip, cat and lot). By using the chart, you can highlight details such as lip shape, jaw height, and where the sound originates within the mouth or throat.   

Step 2: Controlled practise 

Ask students to match the individual sounds to a list of words. They can also come up with words containing these sounds in pairs, and practise pronouncing them with each other.   

Step 3: Freer practise  

Instruct your students to come up with a list of 3 words which use a sound correctly (e.g. shipliphit for /ɪ/) and one incorrectly (e.g. sheep), like an ‘odd-one-out’ exercise. They can then say these words to another pair and have them guess which one is the incorrect word and why. Having a time limit or point system can help create suspense! You can also use the camera to provide non-verbal hints to help learners if needed.  

Activity 2: Student dictation 

One of the most interesting aspects of these sounds in English is that most consonants in the chart are paired up, produced in the same way except one is voiced and the other is voiceless. /tʃ/ and /dʒ/, /f/ and /v/, /p/ and /b/ are all such examples.   

Step 1: Model pronunciation 

Show learners a pair of these sounds in the chart, demonstrate how to produce them and then ask students to place their hand against their throat and produce them again. The voiced sound will produce vibrations that they will be able to feel, while there should be no vibrations when producing the voiceless one. Go ahead and try it yourself! When pronouncing /p/, /f/ or /tʃ/ only air comes out, no vibrations no matter how hard you try!  

Step 2: Practise 

Put students in pairs to prepare a list of words or sentences containing the sounds you studied. Then pair them up with new partners and play some music. Students take it in turns to read a sentence, while the other student writes it down exactly as it is said. When you stop the music, they come together and compare. A variation of this for the online classroom is to send the words or sentences to only one of the students to read to everyone else while you play music or any sound through your device to increase the level of challenge.  

Early finishers in these lessons could return to the chart to try and identify more pairs of consonant sounds using any of the tools online classrooms have to offer (e.g. circle sounds with paint or type them in the chat).  

Activity 3: Rhyming pairs 

ESL students need to have a good understanding of vowel sounds before delving into this activity because diphthongs are two vowel sounds combined and uttered in a single breath. Though these sounds are more complex, they can be a lot of fun to include.  

Step 1: Model pronunciation 

Starting with a popular rhyme or an excerpt from a song, you can first show students how these sounds can be properly produced by pointing to the diphthong and the sounds it combines in the chart. For more advanced learners, ask them to show you where the sounds are instead.  

Step 2: Controlled practise 

Next, show students how diphthongs can be manipulated to create a rhyming effect. This will also increase students’ overall phonological awareness of the language. A good example sound from the phonemic chart would be /ɪə/ as in herepeerneardeer  

Step 3: Freer practise  

You can prepare a short song or poem as a class before moving on to group or pair work for students to create their own. When students mistake the diphthong with another one, direct them back to the chart, highlight the relevant sounds and show them again how to produce them with their lips, teeth and jaw at the right place.  

There are infinite ways to teach and have your students practise sounds from the phonemic chart. We hope you have fun adapting and using these activities in your online and face-to-face classes. 


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