Activities for Practice: Same or Different Sounds

(excerpted and adapted from Tutoring ESL: A Handbook for Volunteers)

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Purpose: To practice skills in listening and sound discrimination.

Materials: List of sound contrasts (you can make it yourself, or get it from a pronunciation guide).


Pick two contrasting sounds that your student has trouble distinguishing and list words that differ only in the key sounds. For example:

thank, tank

thigh, lie

three, tree

bath, bat

both, boat

tooth, toot

Read aloud the list of pairs of words that differ only in the key sounds, repeating each word at least twice. In some cases, it helps to show objects grouped in contrasting pairs so students see that the words have different meanings.

Then read pairs of words like “thank” and “tank,” “three” and “tree” at a quick pace.

After you say two words, have the student say “same” or “different” or “yes” (answer to “same?”) or “no.” Try this with your back turned.


Give your student a piece of paper and have her write the numbers 1 through 5 In a column on the left. Read five pairs of words such as “tank” and “tank,” “tree” and “three,” “tie” and “tie.” Have the student write same or different, yes or no, next to each number.

Then repeat each pair of words, tell the students if the pairs are the same or different, and have students correct their own papers.


Give the student a prepared sheet with pairs of words that come from the same category, but have contrasting sounds. You can use numbers, words, time, letters, phrases, etc.

Say one of the words or numbers. The student finds and copies the word you say onto another paper.

If you have a group of students, divide into two teams.

If you have one student, give her a goal of finding and copying correctly five out of ten words you say.

Tell your students you will say four words and that they must listen carefully and tell you whether all the words sound the same, or one of the words sounds different. Here are some examples:

ball call tall tell

like look book cook

smack track back truck

dish wish wash fish

Consonants, or consonant clusters of problem sounds, can be used in place of vowel differences. Also remember that the sounds can be placed anywhere in the word and not just the beginning:

ball band

pike bowl

either atoll

pathos weather


Your student can take the role of teacher in all of the above activities, making it a speaking or pronunciation exercise.

From Tutoring ESL: A Handbook for Volunteers. Reproduced with permission from the publisher, Tacoma Community House Training Project, Tacoma, WA 98405.

Excerpted and adapted, with permission, by

Kaizen Program
for New English Learners with Visual Limitations
email: kaizen ( at )