Same sound, different sound

This is an activity for more advanced students. It is diagnostic because it reveals the mental picture of English sounds that students have.

Alan Stanton

When you do this, you will feel as if you are looking inside students' brains. You will gain valuable information about their knowledge.


  1. Begin by explaining what a homophone is. You can give examples in the students' own language and in English, emphasising that the words have the same sound, but not the same spelling or meaning. Obviously, homophones are written with exactly the same phonemic symbols.
  2. Show students a list of pairs of words, some homophones, some not and ask them to identify the homophones. Choose the words according to the level of the students. 'See' and 'sea' are a lot easier than 'sword' and 'soared'. If students think that 'caught' and 'court' are not homophones (they are) or that 'pull' and 'pool' are homophones (they are not), this will give you valuable information about how students are thinking about English phonology.
  3. This activity is best done in pairs and groups because students do not necessarily agree and the discussion can be useful.
  4. When you check the answers, you can practise minimal pairs with the words that are not homophones. Write up the phonemic symbols to show that they really are different. If the words are in columns headed 1 and 2, you can ask students to say 'One' or Two' when you say each word. If they make mistakes, you need to repeat until they improve.
  5. If students are doing well, you can reverse the minimal pair exercise and ask individual students to say one word of the pair that you then identify as 1 or 2. Do not proceed to this stage unless students are performing well.
  6. An extension to this activity is to ask students, in pairs or groups, to produce pairs of homophones of their own. Ask them to say the pairs. They will also need to spell them or show what they have written (they can write in large letters on cards). If they have produced genuine homophones, write them up in one colour. If they are not homophones write them up in another colour - these are the sounds they need to practise. This activity will give you valuable insights into students' pronunciation problem areas.
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