Sound Tennis

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Name of Teacher: Kellan Fisher

Class/Grade/Language Level: Any

Textbook and specific lesson: None

Goal: Make students aware of the different sounds in English, and how to produce them

Preparation: None

Class time: Any. Ideally either warm-up or entire class


This lesson is just phonics but in game form.

Sound tennis is mentioned in the textbooks, but this is more of a game.

I start by splitting the class into two teams. They then rock-paper-scissors to decide who goes first.

I explain that each person in each team will have to have a turn, this is to avoid the game being dominated/participated in by only the confident kids. Teams can decide on the order of who will answer for the team.

Then I write some words on the board, all except one starting with the same phoneme.

e.g. apple, ant, africa, asia, america

I read them all out and have them repeat after me.

I tell them that one of these words is wrong, and that I’ll say “No” in the game.

I ask them to think about which one it is and why.

This is in the hopes of getting them to think about categories, spelling, and, ideally, pronunciation.

Hopefully somebody will put their hand up and say that the starting sound is different for ‘asia’.

Once pointed out by the student, hopefully others should be able to see it too. If not, explain.

Tell them that this is how the game is played; words have to start with the same sound.

Students have x seconds to answer, if they cannot answer then the other team gets a point and we move to the next sound i.e. a – apple => b – bear => c – cat etc

In the case of mistakes, point them out. Always. The point of this game is to fix their pronunciation. When trying to figure out if a word fits the bill they’ll be saying it in their head, maybe even mouthing out the sounds. It’ll become apparent very quickly that some, maybe even most, are relying on romaji or katakana to decide if something begins with the right letter. It’s definitely worth pointing out that this is unreliable. E.g. for the A – apple category I often hear Iceland because アイスランド – Aisurando. If they look like they don’t understand why you didn’t allow that word, clarify.

An optional rule is to allow only nouns. This makes it easier to judge but also can get them thinking about these important categories of words; nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.

An unintentional result of introducing this game to my students was that they did lots (full pages) of research before class and came prepared with plenty of words. In other words, you may unintentionally set them homework they want to do.