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Minimal Pairs The KEY to Success for English Language Learners

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1 Minimal Pairs The KEY to Success for English Language Learners
Robin Lovrien Schwarz, M. Sp. Ed: LD, Consultant in ESOL/Adult Ed./LD

2 Part One: Teaching: Why teach minimal pairs?
1. Adult language learners brains do not hear/process sound as efficiently children’s brains do: Adults need more explicit instruction in the sound system of the language they are learning Because of normal adult brain function, it is harder for adults to discriminate between sounds that are similar—e.g sounds from one language that are similar to sounds in the new language-- than it is for children to do so.

3 Why teach minimal pairs?
2. Adult language learners often need to have their attention drawn to critical differences in sound that change meaning. In alphabetic languages, changing one sound usually changes meaning Grammar changes are often just a change of a phoneme. Many of the usual “ESOL errors” are the result of not hearing small differences (this/these)

4 Why teach minimal pairs?
Learners progress in language acquisition (using phonological memory) if they can hear sounds of language accurately. Fuzzy perception leads to fuzzy record in the brain i.e. if learner never hears English accurately, his/her brain never makes a complete and accurate store of sounds, words and strings of words—language

5 Why teach minimal pairs?
Minimal pair drills help learners increase reading/writing accuracy Increased listening accuracy helps them assign correct sounds to what they see Increased ability to understand conversation helps build foundation vocabulary for reading Increased attention to critical meaning differences produced by different sounds helps learners be more accurate in oral reading—increasing oral comprehension of reading.

6 What is a “Minimal Pair?”
TWO RULES for Minimal Pairs” Two words: One sound is different: cat/cut The sound difference changes meaning Look: Meaning changes when a sound changes pat/bat pat/pit pat/pad pat/pate pate/plate Grammar (and of course, meaning) changes: talk/ talks talk/talked we’d/ we’ve eat/ate her/hers he/he’s he’s/his

7 Teaching minimal pairs:
What you need to do before instruction begins: Teach learners the names of letters and sounds of letters individually first. (Do not expect them to hear or produce difference in sound; teach only what sounds are)

8 Teaching minimal pairs: Guidelines
Generally, it is good to drill short vowels, then short/long Drill consonants only as needed, depending on the language of the learners. This is NOT a vocabulary exercise. Do not attempt to teach vocabulary. Tell students this is to help their listening skills. They do not need to know the words right away.

9 Teaching minimal pairs: Preparation
Prepare lists of 6-10 pairs with regular (consistent) spelling Have a longer list of pairs (regular or irregular spellings) for extended practice (See sources at end). Introduce a set of minimal pairs--begin with an easy contrast (a/i --pat/pit-- is usually the easiest for ESOL learners to hear. Write pairs of regular spellings on the board or chart

10 Teaching minimal pairs:
Check pairs carefully so that they have only one sound different: What is wrong with these? Tuck/tank walk/works Vary other parts of pairs (see next slide)except the actual contrast At first, try to avoid other sounds that are hard for your learners to say (e.g. b/p contrast, or sh/ch) if that is NOT the focus of the drill (the contrast may be hard, but that is ok).

11 Teaching minimal pairs:
Now proceed: Step 1. Have students repeat all words with the same target sound in the pairs (a) : mad--mid crab--crib sack—sick tam--Tim slap—slip bag--big last--list ban--bin Step 2: Students repeat the words with the other sound (i)

12 Teaching minimal pairs:
A NOTE ABOUT DRILLING: You can do the initial repeat with the group BUT Be sure to have all individuals repeat the words– move around the room and listen closely to their responses. If a student does not pronounce the word correctly, have him/her repeat once or twice. Do not insist on perfection. Be careful not to embarrass those for whom the contrast is not part of their language.

13 Teaching minimal pairs:
Step 3. Have students repeat pairs Again, be sure every individual student gets to repeat the pair and makes an attempt to make the words sound different. Do not embarrass those who cannot yet do this—the purpose of the activity is more to improve auditory discrimination than pronunciation.

14 Teaching minimal pairs:
Step 4. With list still on the board or flip chart, tell the students: “I will say the word with ĭ. YOU say the word with ă.” Practice as before—with group responses followed by individual responses. Note that this is a predictable answer—learners are always successful.

15 Teaching minimal pairs:
Step 5. Now reverse the process—you say the word with ă and the students will say the word with ĭ. Point to pairs as students give the other word. Call on students randomly.

16 Teaching minimal pairs:
Step 6. Now erase the lists (but have your own cheat-sheet ready!). Repeat steps 4 and 5 –except that the students cannot see the words. Start with the stronger students so others get the idea. Keep the answers predictable by NOT mixing the order of the words (that is, stay with one sound until all have practiced that, then switch.) Once students are competent, begin to add unpracticed pairs from your longer list

17 Teaching minimal pairs:
Step 7. Testing stage: Now you will mix up the words so the students can only answer correctly by listening carefully and giving the other word. Say “ I will say a word with one sound. You say the word with the other sound. If I say ‘mid’ you will say ‘mad.’ If I say ‘sack’ you will say ‘sick.’ Now you try.”

18 Teaching minimal pairs:
If a student repeats the word you say, you say, “No, I said HAD.” YOU say “----?” (Keep your voice neutral! No judgment.) If the student still cannot say the right word, have another do that pair and then come back to the first student. Some of your students will be able to do this step very easily. Some will still be puzzled. Show them again what is wanted. Use writing to illustrate, if they can read.

19 Teaching minimal pairs:
Some students will persist in having difficulty. It is important Not to practice too long each time To review the contrast a little each day To add new contrasts only when the previous ones are solid for everyone about 95% of the time. (Use other activities in your additional handout to practice in other ways. ) Once students do the practiced pairs easily, keep adding new pairs from your list so they cannot memorize.

20 Teaching minimal pairs:
Other things to know When you start visual review, be sure to stay with regular spellings If you have to use a syllable or nonsense word, be sure to let students know by using parentheses or other signals. For example : sip sap sop sup (sep) Be careful to avoid irregular spellings: cat KIT cut cot (KET) (you can use these orally, but not in the visual practice exercises.)

21 Contrasting Consonants
Here are examples of consonant contrast drills. Note that they may rhyme! Ch/sh ( initial position): ship/chip; shard/chard; shatter/chatter; shill/chill (Why didn’t I use sheet/cheat here?) --nk/ng: tank/tang; rink/ring; lunk/lung --b/p (initial) bad/pad; bit/pit; bunch/punch

22 Keys to Success of This Activity:
Pairs have only one sound different Activity is presented clearly so students understand what is wanted and why Teacher uses enough pairs to prevent students’ memorizing instead of listening Teacher reviews often--and in a predictable fashion--but for short periods of time Teacher insists on high levels of accuracy Teacher maintains strict consistency on the pronunciation of words/vowels (Do not use words you do not pronounce with pure vowels, e.g. dog, )

23 Part Two: Practicing Minimal Pairs
Once the initial drill has been done successfully, learners will need to review every day until all can do the contrast almost perfectly. Review will be effective when learning is multisensory. Here are some activities to get started:

24 Practice Activities Listening, looking writing (Practice #1):
You say a word– learners write the other word (e.g. you say HAD; learners write HID) BE SURE to structure answer papers so learners see both vowels/sounds:

25 How to prepare a practice paper for writing ONE sound:
ă Put an X here when teacher says a word: Ǐ Write the OTHER word here: With consonants: --nk --ng

26 Grid for mixed drill: “I say one, you write the other.” Practice #1
ă ǐ

27 Using a grid with numbers, not writing words
Set up a grid with consonants in the left column, and vowels at the top of each of the other columns (use the vowels you are contrasting; when you do another contrasting pair, add the new vowel to the grid until finally all five vowels are being reviewed.) You say “Write the NUMBER of the word I say in the correct box. Look” ( Do a demonstration of ONE word in a grid on the board. Then have a volunteer come to the board to write another one.” (Remember that after the first time, you will not need to demonstrate this again –unless you have new learners)

28 Using a grid with numbers, not writing words
When there is only one box empty, ask learners what word it is. Cheer when they know!! BE SURE you have a numbered list for yourself to be able to check. Provide feedback on every activity you do. Learners need to know how they are doing and so do you. If a student continues to miss more than one word on this exercise, s/he should do more activities with a partner or alone. Here is a sample grid:

29 Grid for numbers (three vowels being practiced) (Practice #3):
ă ǐ ǒ p--t 1 S--d 2 fl--p

30 Using a grid for “reading” without words:
Use a grid set up as for the number exercise. Ask the learners to “read” boxes across or down or diagonally on the grid. They must imagine the words since the words are not written for them to “read” Be sure every student gets to read. Be alert to those who don’t quite “get” the concept of the intersection of columns and rows. Indicate with parentheses which are syllables or non-sense words so learners do not think they are real words.

31 “Reading” a grid—two vowels
h--t s--p p--n b--g l--st

32 Practice Grid for “reading” (all vowels being practiced)(see slide 41)
ă ě ǐ ǒ ŭ B--g * L--st P--ck H--t ( ) D--n

33 Listening/reading sentences : (Practice # 4)
Students have these in writing on paper You read. They circle the word you say Examples: The bug/bag is on the table. Don has a mop/map. Ruth likes him/ham. BE SURE there is no contextual clue to determine which word is used!

34 Listening/writing: (Practice #2) Dictation sentences:
Sentences have only words with sounds being practiced plus very common sight words: With a/i : Pat will sit with Sam. The cat hid in the black bag. With o/e/i Sid and Ted got a lot of big sticks. Tom got the best fish with his red rod.

35 Making the practices multisensory:
Be sure to put grids on colored paper. Have learners use highlighters for marking the grids or circling words in practice sentences. Once learners have written from dictation, have them go back and color words according to the sound used (i.e. color all a words pink; all e words yellow.)

36 Making the practices multisensory:
For alternate reviews, use colored paper chits or colored chips to place in boxes on grids. Another time have learners place letter tiles or cut-out vowels in boxes on grids. Be sure to have several learners go to the board or write on a flip chart when the class is practicing with grids. ( YOU put the grids on the board unless you have a learner you can trust to do it fast and accurately to help you. ) Prepare “reading” grids with consonants one color, vowels another.

37 Other multisensory activities:
Have learners place colored cards in a wall-pocket instead of marking on grids. Use pictures from “Pronunciation Pairs” to make cards. Have learners sort pictures into wall pockets with vowels or other sounds on them. Put practice sentences on cards in sets. ( all sentences with only e/i in one set.) Have learners work in pairs- one reads while the other circles the word on a paper.

38 Other multisensory activities:
Write practice sentences large on colored construction paper leaving a blank for the target word: Pam likes ____. Use Post It glue or removable tape on the back of two cards with the word choices written on them. Say the sentence; have the learner choose the correct word, then walk up and place it in the blank.

39 Finally: Use your imagination to create other ways for learners to practice pairs. When learners have reached 95% accuracy, move to a new contrast, but continue to review old contrasts regularly. Be sure to keep adding new contrasts—especially vowel contrasts. Be sure to review EVERY time you meet with learners, but only for a few minutes. Vary review techniques to avoid boring the students and keeping brains focused on the purpose of the task: discriminating critical sounds.

40 Recording progress: Create record sheets for learners: Vowel Cont-rast
Date # right/ Total_ Date Mas-tered: ǒ/ă Date: ---/--- ě/ă

41 Recording progress Or use a pie chart for the five vowels, or
A graduated chart to show increasing accuracy with consonants, or Pictures representing sounds that are glued on a larger picture to complete it as sounds are learned.. ETC…..Have fun watching and hearing learners’ English improve!

42 Sources of Minimal Pairs:
Pronunciation Contrasts in English Nilsen & Nilsen (recently reprinted-this is the most complete) The Teacher’s Book of Lists English Sounds and Spelling (McLelland, Hale & Beaudikofer) (out of print but still available online.) Pronunciation Pairs

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