The phonemic chart (‘pron chart’) is to pronunciation what the whiteboard is to vocabulary and grammar: it is the essential workbench on which you work things out, experiment, analyse, clarify, check, test, gain insight, understand and create. However, the pron chart needs some introduction. It needs ‘putting into circulation’.

You can do this two ways: Through the front door by directly teaching the sounds on the chart, and making up words and phases, or through the back door, by making use of sounds and words occurring naturally in the lesson and showing them on the chart (“….by the way this is what you just said….”). Once the student (and you) know their way round the chart you can get on with using it to integrate pronunciation anytime in any lesson.

Here is a mix of front door and back door ways of introducing the chart: use all of them in any order and make more of your own.

1..Teach some of the sounds separately by saying them yourself, or by listening to them on a recording, or even my miming them. Have the students say the sound in isolation reasonably well, then indicate the sound on the chart

2.. Use a more opportunistic approach

When a student makes a sound, perhaps while trying to pronounce a new word, and you realise it is a sound on the chart,

– simply indicate that sound on the chart

– tell them “What you just said is this…”,

– revise that new sound a bit later

3.. When teaching new vocabulary

either write the word on the board in normal spelling,

then help the students to say it

– then ask them “How many sounds are there in that word?”

– they probably give slightly different estimates (eg 4, or 6 or 5. The point is they don’t have to be ‘right’ because the aim is for them to separate and identify the sounds in their ‘inner voice.’

– then get the class to call out the sounds separately and in order (At this pint don’t say the sounds yourself, but count them on your fingers for all the class to see)

– finally ask a student to come to the chart and point out the sounds on the chart

Or say the word (or listen to a recording or in a dialogue)

– then have the students say and practise it,

– then you point out the word on the chart

– then get one or two students to come to the chart and do the same.

When pointing out the sounds on the chart note these two rules:

– The person who is pointing on the chart is silent

– The rest of the class should call out whatever sound is pointed at, right or wrong, allowing the student to correct him/herself

4.. Working with vocabulary and dictionaries,

Give students some new words you want them to learn

– get them to find them in a dictionary

– and notice the pronunciation

– and say the words

– then one student leaves the dictionary behind and goes to the chart to point out the word in phonemes.

– if s/he makes a mistake

– call another student

-if she makes a mistake, give the pointer back to the first student,

– and so on til the word is correctly spelt.

5.. Finding example words for the vowels

– ask the students to draw an empty grid in their books, 4 squares wide and 3 squares deep. This represents the vowel grid containing the 12 vowels in the top left quadrant of the chart.

– they write the phoneme symbol in the top corner of each box.

– ask them to find one English word as an example for each vowel sound and write it in the correct box. They can do this for homework, or in pairs in class. – draw a big grid on the board and get everyone to come up and put their example words in the correct box in normal alphabetic spelling. Then you and the class can spend a few minutes checking them, seeing which words are in the right box, and which need to be moved to another.

6.. Simple sound game

– invite students in turn to say any sound in English (!)

– if in your opinion it is close enough, point to that sound on the phonemic chart

– if not close enough, point outside the chart and say (as a tease) “Sorry that’s not English….” And let them try it a little differently.

7.. Students’ names

– instead of using vocabulary items, ask students to say their own names, with an English pronunciation (as an English speaker might say it). You can help them.

– ask each to count the sounds in their name

– and then come to the chart and point out their name on the chart.

– this time of course everyone knows what sound the student is looking for, but still the same rules apply: the class say whatever is pointed at, wrong or right, while the person pointing does so silently, enabling them to hear what the class are saying and to correct if necessary

8.. Your familiar pronunciation exercises

– do your usual pronunciation activities (for example minimal pairs)

– identify the sounds you are practising on the chart

– require students to come to the chart and point out the sounds or words you are practising.

9.. Give class instructions on the chart

Sometimes give class your usual class instructions silently by pointing on the chart:

“Good morning!

“Please turn to page 45.

“OK here’s the homework etc.

“How do you spell this word…?


10.. Have a pron crib when you are starting out!

– if you are not sure of the sounds, copy the pronunciation key from the front of your learner dictionary

– keep it by you in class and consult it whenever you are uncertain

– after a while you’ll find you don’t need it

What ways have you found to introduce the pron chart to your students?