Bird, Bird, Worm: Pronunciation Game

Are your YLs learning to distinguish between closely related sounds? In the Spotlight this week, we’re featuring our Phonics lesson on ir, er, ur, and or. Words with these letters can be difficult for learners to pronounce and write because they look different but sound the same.

One fun way to practice commonly confused sounds and spellings is to play an adaptation of Duck, Duck, Goose. We’ll call it Bird, Bird, Worm to start, but you can change the name of the game to whatever word pair you’re working on.

How to Play Bird, Bird, Worm

1. Choose two words that you want your students to practice. These might be words that have the same vowel sound but are spelled differently (e.g., bird/worm) or they may be some other form of minimal pair (e.g.,worm/warm).

Write the word pair on the board and have your students repeat the words after you. Ask your students to identify the similarities and differences between the two words.

2. Have the students sit in a circle just as they would for Duck, Duck, Goose.

3. Choose one student to stand up. This student will walk around the outside of the circle saying the first word in the pair as he taps the head of each child. Eventually, he will choose another student to race with by saying the second word as he taps the head.

Bird, Bird, Bird, Bird…Worm!

Now, just as in Duck, Duck, Goose, the two students race opposite ways around the circle. Whoever reaches the empty spot in the circle first gets to sit down and the game continues (with the same word pair or a different one). If you have a slow child who can’t win a race, choose another student to have a turn.

Adding Actions

For the Bird, Bird, Worm combination, you can have students pretend that they are birds as they fly around the circle. Or, switch the words around (Worm, Worm, Bird) and have students worm around the circle on their stomachs pretending that they are squirming away from a bird. You could even add a third word: Worm, Squirm, Worm, Squirm, Worm, Squirm…Bird!

Other /əɾ/ Pairs

If you’re only working on the /əɾ/ sound, try one of the following pairs:

Bird, Bird…Worm OR Worm, Worm…Bird
Worse, Worse…Nurse (students can sit and pretend they are sick at a doctor’s office—the person who is it can tap the sickest-looking patient)
Purple, Purple…Circle (students can sit and clench their fists)
Girl, Sir, Girl, Sir…Swirl (the person who is tapping can say girl to females and sir to males—saying the similar sounding word swirl when it’s time to pick someone )
Learn, Learn…Turn (students can sit and pretend they are reading)
Worry, Worry…Hurry (students can sit with worried looks on their faces)

Other Minimal Pairs

If you’re working on distinguishing other sounds, here are some fun ones to try:

Think, Think…Sink
Fun, Fun…Run (students can sit and make silly faces)
Lace, Lace…Race (bring in a piece of lace for the student who is it to wave over the other heads)
Free, Free…Flee
Lies, Lies…Rise (have students lie down instead of sit for this one)
Pirate, Pirate…Pilot (sit with one eye open)
Lamb, Lamb…Ram (sit quietly, run loudly)
Freeze, Freeze…Fleas (sit without moving, choose the student who moves)
Cold, Cold…Gold

An Outdoor Adaptation: Drip, Drip, Drop

If it’s warm outside, take the game outdoors with a bucket and sponge. The student who is walking around the circle soaks the sponge in the water. She says Drip, Drip, Drip and holds the sponge over the other students’ heads. When she wants to pick someone, she says Drop and squeezes the sponge so that a lot of water comes out. To use this game with /əɾ/ try Shirt, Shirt, Squirt.


Find the irerur, and or lesson in the Phonics Cafe – Book 4.

For over 50 printing, writing, spelling, and pronunciation lessons and worksheets, visit our Phonics Cafe! Flashcards and student certificates are also included in this section.


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Tara Benwell

Tara Benwell is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry. She is the media director and head writer for ESL-Library, and a contributor to its sister site Sprout English. Tara is the author of an iPad storybook series for kids called Happy Campers Books. Her debut novel, The Proper Order of Things is available on Amazon and in the iBookstore.

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