Each language has its own phonology which deals with the language's patterns or structure sounds. Phonology examples in the English language include items like unvoiced and voiced consonants, blending syllables, diphthongs and various pronunciations for the same letter or letter combination. Rather than simply correcting your ESL students' pronunciation as they speak, related activities can assist in learning the phonology of the English language.

Rhyming in Phonology

Rhyming and alliteration are one of the first levels of phonological knowledge. Before starting the activity, brainstorm with your students various words that rhyme. Write the words on the whiteboard so that students can see that some words still rhyme even with different ending spellings like in "try" and "pie." Familiar nursery rhymes or Dr. Seuss books are good ways to introduce rhyming as well. For the phonology activities, write a short English poem on the board but omit some of the words that are part of a rhyming pair. For example, if line one rhymes with line two, omit the last word in line two. Ask students to guess which words belong in the blanks based on the context and the rhyming sound.

Phonemic Awareness Games

Combining movement with a study of patterns and sounds can create fun phonemic awareness games for ESL students. A relay race focusing on specific phonology incorporates teamwork and a greater awareness of sounds through active practice. If students have been working on voiced and unvoiced consonants, a relay race might consist of teams sorting between both types of sounds. As an example, make word cards like "berry, able, same, zoo, tower, collect and late," to represent words with voiced consonants while "choke, pressure, rich, tooth, afraid, stew and sheep" are potential words for unvoiced consonant cards. Provide a copy of each voiced and unvoiced consonant card to each team with sticky tape on each card's back. Create a table for each team on the whiteboard with two columns, one for unvoiced consonants and one for voiced consonants. Teams race to stick their words under the appropriate heading. Make sure each student takes a turn. The first team to complete the challenge with correctly sorted words wins.

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The Sounds of English

ESL students tend to have the most difficulty pronouncing sounds that do not exist in their native language. For example, Korean students have difficulty with "th" and "ph" words. Once students have studied various phonological concepts, test them to see how well they know the 44 phonemes characteristic of English. Phonetic analysis activities can involve various made-up words using English phonemes but intersperse real words with made-up word that have sound(s) that aren't in the English language. For example, the Russian language has sounds that do not exist in English such as a sound that is a cross between a short "i" and a short "u" vowel sound. The French language has front-rounded vowel sounds that are also not part of the English language. Through these phonemic awareness activities, assess if students can identify the English and non-English language sounds.

Using Songs for Phonetic Awareness

Using songs as part of phonemic awareness games is another way to guide students. Singing songs can help ESL students focus on particular phonemes and offer pre-made lyrics. For example, the lyrics to "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan contain long i, long y and long o vowels sounds and /f/, /m/, /w/ and /h/ sounds. Have students identify words in the song for each phoneme. If students are struggling, go over the pronunciation of troubling words and sing the song again to reiterate the sounds.

About the Author

Michelle Brunet has published articles in newspapers and magazines such as "The Coast," "Our Children," "Arts East," "Halifax Magazine" and "Atlantic Books Today." She earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies from Saint Mary's University and a Bachelor of Education from Lakehead University.