Tongue Twisters for ESL Students

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

Practice with pronunciation is a key component in the ESL classroom. This lesson will provide tongue twisters that will not only help ESL students improve their English pronunciation, but also assist with language development.

Why Tongue Twisters?

Tongue twisters are a great way to help ESL students learn new vocabulary, practice pronunciation and enunciation, and can provide a well-needed break from rote repetition. Many ESL students struggle with the pronunciation of particular English sounds for a few reasons:

  • Tongue position - Where we place our tongue when speaking (the roof of our mouth, behind the front of our top front teeth, etc.).
  • Mouth shape - The way we position our mouth/lips when speaking (widening our mouth, puckering our lips, smiling etc.).
  • Teeth/Lips - How we bite on our lips, or press the lips firmly together when making certain sounds (f, v, m).
  • Aspiration - How we push out air with the enunciation of particular sounds (k, g, p, b).

By using tongue twisters, we are able to place singular focus on these areas, in a fun way. For example, if showing a student how to focus on the tongue position when making the L sound, rather than just continuing to have students practice the same activity over and over again, you could practice the following tongue twister:

  • Little Lola Lopp licked a large lime lollipop

It never hurts to make mistakes and let the students see you flip flop over words; if anything, it often helps by adding some comic relief!

Using Tongue Twisters

How you introduce tongue twisters into the classroom is very important. The key is to start slowly. Do not zoom through a speedy version of 'She sells sea shells by the sea shore' and expect your students to pick it up with the snap of a finger. Introduce tongue twisters according to the letter, sound, pronunciation concept, pairing, etc. that is being taught. Increase speed and difficulty level according to the language and skill level of the students.

Tongue twisters offer a lot of opportunity to work on language development with ESL students. From vocabulary to pronunciation, there are many ways to bring learning into these very fun lessons. Speaking a language with sounds and pronunciations that are very unfamiliar is extremely frustrating; lessons with less pressure attached to them can make the experience more enjoyable.

  • Provide a copy for each student; read it aloud to the students 2-3 times slowly
  • Go over new words to promote vocabulary and language development.
  • Explain pronunciation of new words; place emphasis on mouth shape, tongue position, teeth/lip position, etc.
  • Place students in pairs to practice reading the tongue twisters
  • Back in whole group, go over the tongue twister line by line
  • Discuss new words, other ways to use new words
  • Discuss sounds being used, other words with similar sounds
  • Have students create a tongue twister using the new words and similar sounds

Tongue Twisters

Here is a list of tongue twisters you can use in the classroom with your ESL students. They are broken up according to a few different categories, that may make introduction into the classroom a little easier.

Tongue Position

  1. I thought I thought of thinking of thanking you
  2. Those toes aren't these toes. These teas aren't those teas.
  3. This tike ties threads together twice. That tike ties together three threads.
  4. Thirty tee-shirts are tan, and thirteen tee-shirts are tie-dyed teal green. The teal tee-shirts total thirteen, the tan tee-shirts total thirty.
  5. Thin sticks, thick bricks. Thin sticks, thick bricks. Thin sticks, thick bricks.

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