Want to lessen the anxiety that comes with pronunciation-focused classes and get students excited to learn?
Here are eight simple and fun short vowel sound activities you can use to teach students of any age or level:
1. Pronunciation Maze
Best suited for children.
You’ll need to prepare a worksheet filled with words in a maze layout for this activity. Students have to make their way through the word maze by finding words with the same vowel sounds.
It goes without saying that you should tailor the maze to their English level. Some students may find it too easy, and that’s fine. The focus of the activity is making the students aware of the vowel sounds, getting them to use them, and helping them hear the difference between similar sounds, like “bit” and “beat,” for example.
Pronunciation mazes work well because they help students notice patterns, like words with “ea” sounding the same.
Here’s a maze for the short “u” sound
Here’s a maze for the “oo” sound, as in “book.”
Here’s a maze for the “o,” “ou,” and “u” sounds.
Looking for a helpful resource for teaching short vowel sounds effectively? Check out the Creativa course Mastering North American Pronunciation. Our team has carefully designed the course with high-quality, engaging videos that dive deep into every area of English pronunciation so learners can speak fluently sooner.
Don’t miss the video episode on short vowel sounds that features real-life examples and tips you won’t find in coursebooks! Check out this free video from the course and get started today.
2. Shadow Reading
Suitable for any age and level.
Shadowing, or shadow reading, is a technique where you repeat an audio or video just after hearing it. You’re acting like an “echo” or a “shadow” (hence the name). Students listen to the words and then say them back out loud, focusing on the correct pronunciation of the sounds rather than vocabulary.
There are two ways you can use the shadow reading exercise:
- With an audio or video clip.
- With a text, like material from your coursebook, if you use one.
There are a few obvious benefits to shadow reading or shadowing:
- Students can do it on their own.
- It takes only about 15 minutes.
- It improves listening, prosody, and intonation.
- It’s often free– no need to print materials, etc. Just access to audio, videos, or an existing text.
Steps for shadowing:
- Find a suitable audio clip or video for your student’s level. You can use Youtube, Netflix, and even podcasts for English learners.
- The student listens once for context. It undoubtedly helps when the student understands the context of an audio or video before repeating the dialog. Get them to listen once, so you’re sure they understand the context and all the essential vocabulary.
- The student shadows the audio/video with a transcript. Speaking along while reading a transcript helps the student better understand the context and gives them the chance to review any vocabulary they don’t understand.
- The student shadows without a transcript. Depending on your student’s level, they may benefit from shadowing the audio/video without a transcript. While understanding all the vocabulary has its benefits, the focus here is on listening and imitating the sounds.
3. Fill in the Blanks
Better suited for children or beginner adults.
Fill in the blanks is perhaps one of the easiest and most effective activities for younger students. Everyone loves learning from images, and there’s a wealth of worksheets available online.
Prepare some easily recognizable images of things that have short vowel sounds. The words don’t have to be only three letters, but they must be suitable for the level of your students.
Create sentences with the short vowels blanked out that the students can easily guess with context, using the image. Be sure to put blanks in each short vowel so they can count the sounds.
After they’ve written their phrases, they can compare in pairs or groups and read aloud to practice the sounds.
Some phrases you could use:
- My pig is in the mud.
- The dog is on my bed.
- I go to the park in a car.
- The sun is very hot.
- The frog is on the log.
4. Minimal Pairs Bingo
Suitable for children or adults.
Minimal pairs bingo is an excellent activity for all ages and levels because you can easily adjust the words you use to suit your students.
For this activity, you’ll focus on two similar short vowel sounds using a bingo-style card of 25 squares. Before starting, tell each student to put each word in any square of the card.
Once they’ve done that:
- Ask one student to pick a word from a hat (you’ll have to cut them up beforehand) and read it to the class.
- The students should then cross out that word on their cards.
- Continue until a student has crossed out a complete row of 5 consecutive squares (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally). The winner has to yell “bingo!”
- After a student gets bingo, they should read back the words out loud for pronunciation practice.
You should keep track of the words you draw to check the winner’s card at the end.
All ages and levels.
Spelling should improve as well as pronunciation when learning short vowels. Dictation serves to make that happen, and it’s easily adjusted to all ages and levels.
You can make standard dictation more exciting by putting students into groups or even making it a little more competitive with a time limit or something similar, which can also work well for a single student.
- Give everyone a piece of paper or mini whiteboard.
- Dictate words at a steady pace, repeating each once.
- Check all words and correct spelling where necessary.
- Dictate another round of new words slightly faster without repeating.
- Try moving onto sentences if they find it too easy.
6. Scrabble-style Phonics Game
Better suited beginners and young learners.
Memorizing pronunciation rules is usually challenging for most students learning short vowel sounds, but putting what they’ve learned into practice can be even more difficult.
This scrabble-style phonic game is a hit among beginner and young ESL students. Teachers present a short vowel sound, and students have the chance to get creative with the words they come up with.
- Give your students their sheet of letters. You can even design your own but make sure to exclude vowels.
- Give them a vowel (or more if you want to do bigger words).
- Student draws two or more letters and dictates the words they make. Then you list which words are real vs. not real.
- Students get the points for the corresponding letters. The point system is often an encouragement.
7. CVC Dice Game (consonant-vowel-consonant)
Children or adults of beginner level (A1/A2).
You can use real dice with a chart of vowels or print a premade set for this activity. Similar to the scrabble-style activity, the focus here is on the student using the short vowel sounds, not vocabulary.
There are two ways you can approach this activity:
- Using real dice with a corresponding chart of vowels.
- With a premade set of consonant and vowel dice.
With Real Dice
- Set a vowel for each face of the dice
- Give the students two consonants
- Students roll the dice (two if you want bigger words)
- They create as many CVC words as they can and say them out loud at the end
Premade Consonant Dice
You can adjust this for more advanced students by allowing them to create bigger words using the two consonants, as long as they follow the CVC format.
- Students continuously roll the dice (for a predetermined amount of time) and write down all the words they create.
- The students read their words out loud at the end while you note which aren’t real words.
Beginners may make some silly words, but that’s fine; the importance is that they use the short vowel sound out loud.
8. Read Dr. Seuss
Better suited for children, but some adults of beginner/intermediate levels may enjoy it.
Who hasn’t read Dr. Seuss and loved the rhymes and illustrations? The books are designed to teach kids the simplest way possible, so the catchy and memorable rhymes are perfect for helping students practice and remember vowel sounds.
These three Dr. Seuss books are considered the best for learning vowel pronunciation:
- Oh Say Can You Say
- Fox in Socks
- Hop on Pop
Remember to bring attention to, or mark, the words with short vowel sounds so the students can write them down and practice them.
You can easily adjust all these activities to suit online and one-on-one classes, no matter your teaching style, so there’s something here for everyone.
Students will gain confidence with time and a few different activities and soon look forward to pronunciation-focused classes without nerves or overthinking!
The proof of the progress is in the pronunciation, and our free worksheets are an excellent way to get students to practice at home and solidify what you’ve taught them in class.