Please find below some activities for practicising pronunciation and tones with your students. it is important, especially in the early stages of learning the language, to aim for correct pronunciation from your students, to avvoid fossilised errors (errors that become habit), which are very hard to remove when the learner becomes more proficient at the language.
Many of the ideas and inspiration owe a huge debt to both the work of Adrian Underhill and also to the wonderful book Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock. Both authors work in the field of English language, however many (clearly not all) ideas and activities can be adapted and transferred to the Chinese language classroom, if some careful thought is applied.
A word of warning! Be careful not to make these activities become vocabulary-learning activities, as this is very easy to do. Keep focused on the pronunciation/ tone area that you wish to practice on, as this is a rich area and one which will give your students confidence in speaking and listening from the beginning of their learning journey.
- Pronunciation Journey (from original idea by Mark Hancock)
- Use resource 1- Pronunciation Journey.
Good for working with sounds that students find difficult- z/zh c/ch, s/sh, n/ng etc
Procedure: Give each student a copy of the pronunciation journey chart. Write two sets of sounds that you want to focus on up on the board.
Practice saying the different columns with the students. Then ask them to look at the journey chart. Tell them you are going to say one of the words from the board; if they think it’s in the left column, they need to go left to the next number, if they think it’s in the right column, then they need to go right, and so on. They then have to tell you which city they are in. For example, saying chuan- jin-jing-chuang should take them to Guangzhou. Repeat this a few times, getting faster and less clear, the better they get. You can also ask them to practice in small groups or pairs, or set as a homework if you pre-prepare a recording.
2. Use resource 2- Building Words
This activity is aimed at stimulating student’s awareness of pinyin sounds and/ or tones. Many varieties can be used, but make sure to stick to pronunciation, not focusing on vocabulary building.
Students have to add finals to the initials to create new words (2 per box). They “win” the box with a) correct pronunciation and (harder) b) saying what the word means. For example- box A1 (ch) they can add ch-e, ch-a, ch-ang, ch-ao etc In boxes where initials are repeated, they cannot use words already used! Alternatively, if you are focusing on tones, students have to give an example of a word with the tone by number indicated. To make it more difficult they have to say what the word means. As students develop, you can start putting tones together and asking for compounds etc (or tone changes).
3. Pelmanism (matching pairs)
Simple, standard teaching game of matching flashcards. You can make it more dynamic by having cards around the room, or playing as a deck of cards, etc. However you play, it is a quick simple game which offers practice to match:
Character or pinyin to tone
Initial to final
character to pinyin/ sound
characters with the same pronunciation (different or same tone)
(non-pronunciation focused activities could also include Character to pinyin; Character or pinyin to English, Character or pinyin to image, Compounds, Measure word to noun)
4. Tone / Pronunciation Dice
Use resource 2- printable die. Teach students how to create the die using target language. (You can use this with a board if you like, or just count how many correct answers etc). On the sides of the die, you have a variety of options, depending on what you would like to focus on. For example:
Tones– you can write the numbers 1-4 (repeat 2 numbers, or put a “freecall” sign or whatever you like. Whatever number they roll, they have to give a word with that tone.
Pronunciation– difficult sounds can be written on the sides- this could focus on either initials or finals, or could mix them. Again, if they roll “ch” (for example), they have to give a word beginning with “ch”. Winning team could be the group with the most words after 5 minutes.
Suggested adaptation: Match character to correct tone/ sound from a list of new and revision vocabulary (you can also use the downloadable snakes and ladders board game in resource 4, and add your own vocabulary).
Extension– give a sentence with that word.