Listening Practice – 20 Different Words


T or SS find a suitable text. Choose a text that is interesting for you and your students, and at a level that will challenge them, i.e. just above their current level. You might want to adapt the text, e.g. you could make it easier by changing harder words for synonyms and deleting harder sentences. The text could be:

  • from a real source of English, e.g. a newspaper, book, leaflet
  • one that a group has created, e.g. in a Mode 1 class
  • one that an individual SS has written
  • one that T has written

T chooses 10-15 keywords from the text – this is the target vocabulary.

T creates a second version of the text with 20 changed words. T takes a word and replaces it with a similar-sounding word, e.g. ‘home’ changes to ‘comb’ (minimal pair). The new words should be fairly easy, i.e. your students should already know them.

By taking time to prepare, T improves their language and teaching skills. The short time that is invested in preparation can provide hours of lessons, because this lesson can be repeated with other classes and individuals.


1. T writes the keywords on the board. SS copy them into their notebooks.
2. T drills the words with the class. The class could discuss:

  • meaning, e.g. translate the words
  • no. of syllables
  • stressed syllable
  • stressed vowel sound
  • spelling patterns, e.g. any phonetic words or unusual spellings

3. T gives a copy of the text to each student.

4. One SS reads the text aloud. T asks if there are any more new words; SS write down any new words and their translations.

5. T elicits the teaching point: what are minimal pairs?

  • A minimal pair is a pair of words that have the same sounds apart from one sound, e.g. in ‘light’ and ‘like’ the first two sounds are the same, while the final sound is different. (See p.119 for a useful list of one-syllable minimal pairs.)
  • The different sound can be an initial sound, middle sound, or final sound.
  • Key teaching point: the vital importance of the stressed vowel sound for understanding a word. If the stressed vowel sound is incorrect, the SS can say a completely different word to what they wanted to say, hindering communication, e.g. bike/book/bake/beak/bark/beck, etc.
  • SS could think of as many minimal pairs for the following words (or other example words) as
    they can: book (look), car (far), real (meal), hill (will), etc.

6. T explains that he/she is going to read the text aloud, but with 20 changed words. There will be many minimal pairs. T reads the text with 20 changed words. SS have to listen carefully, underline the words that have changed, and if possible write the new words as well. They should note which pairs of words are minimal pairs. After the first reading SS check their answers with their partner/group.

7. T reads the changed text again. SS have to check their answers and try to catch any more changed words. After the second reading SS check their answers with their partner/group.

8. T checks the answers – changed words and new words – with the whole class. SS check their answers.


  • When choosing the 20 words in the text to change, T should choose mainly one-syllable words that will be more likely to have minimal pair partners than longer words. T can make this activity easier by choosing new words that sound less like the original words, e.g. ‘pen’ changes to ‘table’, or harder by choosing very close matches, e.g. ‘pen’ changes to ‘Ben’. It depends on the level of your group. But if you aim for easier pairs, try to throw in a few harder ones too! It is nice when you see SS suddenly hear the word that you have changed – their pen writing furiously!
  • This is a ‘do-it-yourself’ version of an activity from Talk a Lot Elementary Book 3. See p.173 in that book for one of ten examples.