You are here

Sound discrimination

Average: 3.7 (29 votes)

This is an activity to help students differentiate and produce the short / I / sound as in 'milk' and the longer / i: / sound as in 'beef', although it can be adapted to any pair of sounds which your students have differentiation problems with.

Kevin Thomson

My students often claim that they can't hear the difference.


  • To help students hear the difference I explain that I am going to say a word with the / I / sound several times then change to a word with the / i: / sound. The students should raise their hands when they hear the word change. I then say "ship, ship, ship, ship, ship, sheep, sheep,…". This procedure can be repeated with other words ("hit"/"heat", "it"/"eat" etc.)
  • To help students differentiate these sounds in the context of longer utterances, I then do the same with a sentence: "I saw a big ship, I saw a big ship, I saw a big ship, I saw a big ship, I saw a big sheep, I saw a big sheep…" until the students can hear the change.
  • I then write, in phonemic script, the words 'Steve' and 'Jill' on the board above a picture of a man and woman. I ask the students "Who is this?" When it has been established that the two characters are Steve and Jill I ask "Who is Jill's partner?" (and point to the / I / sound). An acceptable answer would be 'Chris', 'Phil', 'Kim', 'Tim', 'Jim' or any other name containing the / I / sound. If you want to make it easier, you could ask "Who's her partner, Chris or Pete?" Students should understand the idea of this game quite quickly.
  • I then ask "What's Jill's favourite food / drink?" Answers could be 'milk', 'fish', 'chips', 'gin' etc. I write this information on the board and continue asking questions about Jill and Steve until there are two columns with information about Jill and Steve's lives (where they live, favourite colours, animals etc.)
  • I then drill sentences such as "Jill likes fish and chips", "Jill likes Brad Pitt" or "Steve lives with Pete Reid".
  • In subsequent lessons, when a student makes a / I /or / i: / pronunciation error such as saying 'deeficult' instead of 'difficult', I write the word 'difficult' on the board and ask "Is this a Steve word or a Jill word?". Students can answer then be asked to pronounce the word correctly.
Language level
Language Level: 
Pre-intermediate: A2