Proverbs and tongue twisters in teaching phonetics

Proverbs and tongue twisters in teaching phonetics

While there are still arguments on how to teach phonetics more effectively, we suggest you to look at an interesting way to present and drill phonetic patterns and to expand the children ’s vocabulary: proverbs, sayings, and tongue twisters. They will definitely make monotonous drills fun! Let’s learn more about them.

Proverbs and Sayings

A proverb is a short, well-known expression from the folklore, which has some educational or moral value. National proverbs and sayings help our young students to get to know a new culture and to make their speech more figurative.  These speech patterns are usually short, so they are easily memorized. Students’ parents and grandparents probably use some proverbs and sayings in the every-day communication so children may know some in their native language. Thus, to enrich children’s vocabulary and to practice pronunciation in a catching way, use proverbs and sayings in classes.

Some well-known proverbs are:

  • A cat may look at a king
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans
  • No man is an island
  • A friend in need is a friend indeed
  • People who live in glass houses should not throw stones
  • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
  • There’s no place like home
  • All that glitters is not gold

Some proverbs’ meaning is clear; some of them should be explained or discussed at the lesson. Make sure that the proverb you use in class is related to the topic you teach.

A tongue twister

A tongue twister is a funny tiny poem or expression that does not only make students laugh but also helps to improve the pronunciation. Usually, a tongue twister contains a repeating sound, for example, this one:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

Where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

contains sound [p]. Some other tongue twisters assist in distinguishing sounds that do not exist in English learners’ language. For example, a tongue twister

We went to Wally’s volleyball event under the village’s wilted willow, with victory in mind. Wally would win the volley versus Vinny.

gives students a possibility to practice sounds [v] and [w].

Some tongue twisters for children are:

  • I scream you scream, let’s all scream, for ice cream!
  • I saw Susie sitting in a shoe shine shop

Where she shines, she sits, and where she sits, she shines

  • I thought a thought,

But the thought I thought wasn’t the thought I thought I thought.

If the thought I thought I thought had been the thought I thought,

I wouldn’t have thought so much.

  • She sells sea shells by the seashore

And the shells she sells by the seashore are sea shells for sure.

  • Brave, bleeding boys battle bald, biting babies

Biting babies ride battle toys while bumbling boys brave bald biting babies.

  • Denise sees the fleece,

Denise sees the fleas.

At least Denise could sneeze

And feed and freeze the fleas.

Children say some tongue twisters.

Tongue-twisters lessen tension during the lesson caused by the fear to make a mistake. Even adults sometimes do mistakes in tongue twisters. If you make a tiny slip while demonstrating the tongue-twister, young students will laugh at it and won’t be afraid to make mistakes.

When and how to use proverbs and tongue twisters in the class?

  • Teach sayings or proverbs and drill their pronunciation when you come across ones during listening or reading activity. Ask students what they think they mean and suggest them to search for analogues in their language.
  • When presenting a new lexical set, e.g. animals, introduce some sayings about the animals, for example, ‘A dog is a man’s best friend’.
  • Use visuals. Children perceive visual information better.
  • Do the matching tasks. Let students match two parts of saying or proverbs so that they make sense.
  • Role-play a saying or a proverb. Below, there is an example of the activity with idioms.

5th-grade students give examples of idioms and their meanings.

  • Use tongue twisters as a phonetic warm-up. Let a student read a tongue twister first time on his own. Then demonstrate the correct pronunciation. Let the students repeat line after line. Then two lines together. Then students can read it aloud altogether, and after that, they can do it individually.
  • Don’t overuse proverbs and tongue twisters in class. They should be fun not a burden.

An idea to teach proverbs

If you doubt on how to teach phonetics in an engaging way and want your young students to remember the pronunciation of words, phrases and repeating sounds, try sayings and tongue twisters. Make children have good memories of exciting English lessons.

Good luck!



Наталия Мушкарева

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