Spot the Difference

Level Aims Grammar Time Materials
junior high school to Adult To demonstrate the difference between sounds Japanese S/s always have difficulty with. E.g., 'th', 'r', 'l', 'sh'..... none 15 mins 'Word-tree' work sheets

This is something which even brilliant JTEs find impossible to teach well, which is probably why they often welcome this activity in their classroom. It makes an excellent warm-up activity, because it focuses the students' attention on you and on the lesson. Copy enough worksheets for every student, and distribute them. Run through the words you are using, and take the time to explain (briefly) their meanings. If, for example you elect to use the word pair vowel/bowel, the activity becomes more real for the students when they perceive the importance of understanding the difference (i.e., "I'm having trouble with my vowels!").

Pronounce one word of each pair for each level, keeping track of which route you take. Students have 10 seconds, after you have pronounced the target word twice, to decide which word you said and mark their sheet appropriately. After you have completed the fifth level ask students which number they have arrived at. It will invariably be different from where they should be. Next, try running through the exercise again, using the 'Teaching Tip' outlined below. Teachers, students, and even you will be amazed at the difference.

As you can see, one word tree has been completed, while the other has been left empty for you to copy and fill in as you wish. You could use alternative word pairs, or you might like to use 'teens' and their corresponding 10 multiple (e.g., 1330, 1880 etc.. See the 'Teaching Tip' on page 109).

Teaching Tip

After reaching a certain age (most scientists say around 10), it becomes almost impossible for an individual to distinguish between very similar sounds not contained in their mother tongue. In English, 'r' and 'l' (among others) are letters which, although there is a world of difference between them to native speakers, actually sound the same to the Japanese (among others)! After practicing the difference between light and right etc. a few times, tell the students NOT to listen, but rather to watch your mouth. If you combine this activity with a game of rows and columns, where there was (maybe) a few tentatively raised hands, there will now be a forest. It will be difficult deciding who was first. Judging by the looks on the students' faces, they never believed there was a difference before encountering this technique.

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