Minimal pairs are pairs of words that have one phonological element that is different.
Bet - Bat
In the above case, the vowel sound of both words is the different phonological element.
Practicing minimal pairs can help students localize the often minute differences in pronunciation between one word and another. It also helps students practice the finer elements of common muted vowel sounds which are common to English vowel production. The following lesson provides a lesson outline with a handout minimal pairs sheet.
Aim: To improve recognition and pronunciation skills of single words
Activity:Minimal Pair practice
Level: Any level needing to improve pronunciation skills
•Write examples of minimal pairs on the board. If students have learned the IPA, it is a good idea to employ the phonetic transcriptions of the words on the board.
•Demonstrate the correct pronunciation of the minimal pairs written on the board.
•Elicit students to give examples of other words which use the same changing phonemes.
Example: bat - bet (written on board) student: "cat - kept"
It is a good idea to accept more than one phonological difference as long as the target phoneme has been reproduced.
•Distribute minimal pair sheet.
•For lower levels: Reproduce the minimal pairs in chorus by first giving the example and then having students repeat together.
•For upper levels: Have students work in pairs taking turns reproducing the minimal pairs.
•Repeat as many times as you feel necessary.
•Have students use the minimal pairs sheet as a model to produce another, similar, minimal pair sheet.
•Extend activity into a game, by having students distribute their minimal pair sheets to other pairs.
Added activity: If students are proficient in the IPA, have students transcribe the minimal pairs as a means of strengthening their knowledge of the IPA.
lit - light read - red sing - sang
bed - bad saw - sought boot - boat
soot - suit but - boot why - way
know - now wreath - wreathe leak - lick
look - luck sock - suck vest - vast
cod - card dug - dog thirst - first
fair - fear pay - bay read - lead
need - mead zoo - sue near - ne'er
catch - cash azure - assure jet - chet
leige - lease whistle - thistle beige - bays
fur - fear care - chur noon - nun