How to teach phonemic script to your students

Struggling to teach your students the 41 phonemic symbols in a quick and easy way? I used to, but not any more. In this blog, and part of my phonetics project, I aim to give you some pointers on how to teach any group of students the phonemic script. There are three different methods to chose from.
Great to show the positions of your mouth.
Photo by andy-walker

Method 1

During the summer I teach in London and the Academic Director has produced a great pronunciation and vocabulary workbook. In each class we concentrate on four different symbols. I used to start the class by drawing the symbols on the board and eliciting whether any of the students knew them. After drilling the sounds a few times, students would then attempt to write the correct spelling of certain words from the phonemic script.
For example, after drilling the sounds of /i:/, /ɪ/, /ʊ/, and /u:/ students would then have to write the word under the phonemic script (plus a few more examples):

1)      /bi:k/     2) /bɪn/        3) /bʊk/      4) /blu:/
(beak)        (bin)            (book)        (blue)
The next class would be based around four new symbols, including a quick recap of the previous symbols. So in about ten classes you can teach all the symbols. I liked this method because there was logical progression, the students could keep a record of how the symbols sound and it gives you a chance to recap and review.
Method 2
This was my own idea and I tried it out with a couple of classes last year. The focus was on minimal pairs. I systematically went through the chart and focussed on two symbols (normally quite similar) per class. I used this minimal pairs website and found four or five words with each sound and typed them on the board. Before telling students the sound they had to separate the words into two groups.
For example, I might write the following words on the board randomly.
 see, she, knee, eat, tree
 fit, ship, lit, chip, bin
Students then had to separate the words into the correct group under the sounds of /i:/ and /ɪ/. I would then write the symbols of each sound and they would record them in their notebooks. I also gave them a phonemic chart so they could write a word under each symbol.
The kids did enjoy this method, but it went down like a ton of bricks with the adults. It was too long-winded, a bit dull, and because the words were not in context they didn’t really provide students with a good way of remembering them. This could be a great activity once the students already know the sounds and symbols as a type of recap, or a
quick game
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Method 3
This is by far my favourite method. One of the tutors on my DELTA taught us this during the course and everyone loved it. If you’re reading Mike Carter then thanks a lot.

This can be done over two or three classes.
In the first class concentrate on the monothongs (the singular vowel sounds) and write them on the board like so (there’s a word document at the end of the post):
1___________________________   /i:/  _____________________
2___________________________   /ɪ/   _____________________
3___________________________   /ʊ/  _____________________
4___________________________   /u:/ _____________________
5___________________________   /e/  _____________________
6___________________________   /ə/  _____________________
7___________________________   /ɜ:/ _____________________
8___________________________   /ɔ:/ _____________________
9___________________________   /æ/ _____________________
10 _________________________    /ʌ/  _____________________
11__________________________   /ɑ:/ _____________________
12 __________________________  /ɒ/  _____________________
Then jumble up two words with each sound, like this:
after  ship   fit    apple   pen    hot   good     shore     floor    at  bird    shop    father
knee     under   should      two    when    water     word    blue     butter     about       see
The key, and funny, part of this method is that each sound has an action. I’m not going to give away Mike’s actions, so you’ll have to make up your own ones. But just to give you an idea, the symbol /i:/ goes well when you act as if you are pulling string horizontally from each side of your mouth.
Once you have your own actions, this is a good order of doing the activity.
1)     Show the action and mouth movements to the students (without making the sound).
2)   Get them to copy the action, paying particular attention to their mouths. Make sure they have the correct shape.
3)     Students listen as you do the action and make the sound 3 times.
4)     Students copy the action and make the sound.
5)     Do some individual drilling.
6)  Ask students which two words have the sound and write them up next to the symbol. Students copy the words.
7)     Repeat for the next symbol.
8)     Don’t forget to recap all the sounds and symbols each time (repetition is key)
The reason you get them to watch first is to highlight the importance of their mouth shape. You can normally spot the ones that are struggling and help.
A lot of the consonants are similar to the alphabet so students can normally figure out which words go with the sounds. However, there are a few consonants sounds that need to be taught.
A good way is to use the following table:

p
b
t
d
ʧ
ʤ
k
g
f
v
θ
ð
s
z
ʃ
ʒ

m
n
ŋ
h
l
r
w
j
Get the students to match these words to the symbols, but only to those which are similar to the alphabet.
dog             Germany      cat               ghost           fry              violet           
snake          television      moon           nose            light             rabbit
worm          yes               ball              table            house          three
zoo             shoe             fishing          pen             chicken       then
They should find it easy and get something like this:
p
b
t
d
ʧ
ʤ
k
g
pen

ball
 table
  dog
  cat
ghost
f
v
θ
ð

s
z
ʃ
ʒ
fry
violet
snake
  zoo

m
n
ŋ
h
l
r
w
j
moon
nose

 house
light
 rabbit
 worm
  yes
Then you have to teach them the difference between the following sounds. The difference is that one is voiced and the other is unvoiced.
Unvoiced                                                            Voiced
ʧ – chicken                                ʤ- Germany
θ – three                                    ð – then
ʃ – shoe                                      ʒ – television
They normally get the nasally ŋ sound in fishing.
Then you’re done.
These aren’t too tricky either. A quick way of teaching them is to cut each of the diphthong symbols in two and then do a dictation activity where they have to put the symbols together.
So cut up each of these symbols
ɪə ʊə  eɪ ɔɪ aɪ əʊ aʊ
and then give each pair a set and dictate each symbol. I normally dictate the sounds in the order above so they notice how the diphthongs end.
That’s it. Thanks Mike. Easy as pie and you can do the whole lot in two or three lessons. I prefer whacking out the monothongs in a class, then doing the consonants in another class, and then doing the diphthongs. I usually do it the second or third week of a course once I get to know the students.
The benefits of this method are that by giving the monothongs actions it’s funny and more memorable. Also students learn the symbols quickly so you can start using them in class. The key is that they have a copy of the phonemic chart and write down a word for each symbol.
In the next couple of blogs I’m going to give you some ideas on how to do activities in class and keep the sounds and symbols fresh in their minds, and yours. Hope that helps. Here is a word document of the phonemic script which may come in useful. Have fun!