English teaching resources: Minimal pairs, the /ei /versus the /ai / sounds

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English level: B1/B2

Objective: To train the students to hear the difference between sounds that seem the same.

A lot of English language students have a hard time distinguishing between the two different sounds in words like “may” /ei / and “my” /ai /.

They might get some help from the context, but what if both words would match, they would just give the sentence another meaning.

This must be practised repeatedly and with a lot of patience both from teachers and students.

The following activity is being used on the EBC Trinity College CertTESOL courses and in the teaching practice classes where our EBC trainees do their teaching practice classes with non-English speaking students.


Activity 1

The teacher gives the students a worksheet with the following sentences and the possible choices on:

She thinks she is going… a) Today b) To die
I don’t want… a) To pay b )A pie
I’d like a…please a) Tray b) Try
My house is at the end of the… a) Lane b) Line
The workers were very unhappy in the… a) Main b) Mine
I didn’t like the… a) Wait b) White
I wasn’t certain that it was… a) Tame b) Time
It covers a big area,…Washington a) Lake b) Like

You instruct the students to read the sentences silently, followed by the two rows of words to the right and make sure they understand the meaning of all the words.

Group of students

Activity 2

You tell the students that you will be reading the sentences underneath, and the students will have to pick out the correct words (a) or b) and write them in the blank space.

– She thinks she is going TODAY. (a)

– I don´t want TO PAY. (a)

– I´d like a TRY, please. (b)

– My house is at the end of the LANE. (a)

– The workers were very unhappy in the MINE. (b)

– I didn´t like the WAIT. (a)

– I wasn´t certain that it was TIME. (b)

– It covers a big area, LAKE Washington. (a)

If necessary, you read the sentences twice.

Activity 3

To review, you have the students read the sentences aloud, saying whether they used alternative a) or b).

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Header picture from ccPixs.com.

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