• Beth Morrant

Minimal Pairs

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Have you ever been sent some pictures and told to work on minimal pairs and thought “????” "What is that where do I start?" "Why do we have to work on this?"

It’s to help with speech sounds

Some children who have difficulty with speech sounds need to work on listening to the difference between sounds. This can help them to listen to the way they produce their sounds and self-correct.

What is a minimal pair?

A minimal pair refers to two words which sound the same but have one different sound. This could be at the beginning of words like cap/tap, sun/done, four/poor. At the ends of words the sound may be different I.e. win/wing, dog/dot, map/mat. This can be with vowels like men/man, bed/bad, knee/know.

Where do we start?

Your Speech and Language Therapist will have suggested which sounds to work on and in which word position (at the beginning, in the middle or at the ends of words). For example, a child who is producing a ‘t’ instead of a ‘c/k’ may work with these sounds at the beginning of words.

We’ve got the pictures, now what?

Use the pictures, one pair at a time e.g. cap/tap. The first step is encouraging the child to listen to the way you say the words. This is known as auditory discrimination. This forms the foundations their ability to self-correct, even though they will not be able to do this yet.

Put the pictures next to each other and choose a game to play. I like to let the child chose a game out of a choice of 3 or 4 games, this helps them to be motivated and have a little ownership over their speech and language sessions.

I’ve used pop-up-pirate for this example. Place one sword on each picture and ask the child to pick up the sword on the picture that YOU say. If they get it right they can put the sword in the barrel. Arty on with this until the pirate pops up. Keep a tally of the ones they get right and try to catch them out. You can log all of the sessions and activities on the Speech and Language progress sheet.

The child I’m working with is struggling with telling the difference when I say it

That’s ok, it can be tricky. You can help them by pointing to the pictures as you say each one, being careful to speak loudly and clearly. You could also use signing such as cued articulation or phonics actions.

They’ve got it now and need to move on

Great! Now let’s see if they can tell you which sword to pick up, keep a tally of this to see how well they get on and to show the progress over the sessions. You can use the Speech and Language Record sheet to track your therapy and intervention sessions.

How many times do we have to do this?

As many as it takes for the child to be able to hear the difference between the sounds. You can vary the activity by changing the pairs of pictures or playing a different game.

Can I link this to the curriculum?

Absolutely! You can use the CVC words which feature in the early phonics stages, or use colour knowledge for the swords. Try playing the game with building blocks and do counting.

Could I do this with a group of children?

I’ve done this activity with a pair of children who had difficulty with the same sound and needed to work on the same stage (auditory discrimination). I’d recommend no more than a pair as the listening and attention skills may be a little diluted with a larger group.

Is there any more information on speech sounds?

Absolutely! I have a whole course on supporting children with speech sound difficulties. Click on the image below for more information.

Have fun!

Beth xx

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