What's a minimal Pair?
Updated: Jun 9
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 could also 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’ and saying "tar" instead of "car" may work with the T and C/K sounds at the beginning of words.
You'll likely have been sent a bunch of pictures by the Speech Therapist.
We’ve got the pictures, now what?
Use the pictures, one pair at a time e.g. cap/tap.
The first step is to encourage 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. We want the child to be able to indicate that they can hear the words are different.
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. My favourites include pop-up-pirate, fishing, splatting aliens, and feeding the gorilla who burps and then poops on the table.
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. We don't want them to say anything just yet because these sounds are tricky.
If they get it right they can put the sword in the barrel. Carry 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 Intervention Record Sheet (>>click here<< to get one emailed to you).
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. You will likely have to do this activity a few times per week to help to secure this skill.
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 Intervention 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. Make sure to refer to the report (if you have one) and information from the Speech Therapist who prescribed this activity.
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 and other children may need to work on different sounds
Is there any more information on speech sounds?
Absolutely! I have a whole course on supporting children with speech sound difficulties. Minimal pairs forms part of the first steps to success of a child's speech sound journey.
You can also work out which speech sounds are tricky and which errors are age-appropriate using the Speech Sounds Screener.
Help yourself to the FREE Speech Sounds ages & stages infosheet.
Have fun and let me know how you get on!