Which Sound Did You Hear, /r/ or /l/? Pronunciation Pyramid Game

Tetsuko Fukawa, Kanda University of International Studies

Quick Guide

  • Key words: Pronunciation, group work
  • Learner English level: Beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: University 
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 20 minutes
  • Material: Pronunciation pyramid handout, /r/ and /l/ signs, scotch tape 

Teaching /r/ and /l/ sounds is challenging for many English teachers in Japan. To help students become familiar with and acquire these sounds, I will introduce a pronunciation pyramid game that is used in my Language Lab class. This is a fun, reflective, student-centered, and practical activity.


Step 1: Prepare a pronunciation pyramid handout of /r/ and /l/ minimal pairs and five countries that have /r/ and /l/ in their names. Put pictures of each national flag below each word on the bottom of the pyramid. The handout sample is available in Appendix A.

Step 2: Using two hand-sized notecards write /r/ on one card and /l/ on another. 

Step 3: Make copies of the handout and notecards for each student.


Step 1: Instruct students to sit in groups of three and distribute the handout and /r/ and /l/ cards.

Step 2: Teach the pronunciation of all the words written on the handout, focusing on the differences between /r/ and /l/. Give feedback on students’ pronunciation if necessary.  

Step 3: Tell students to attach the /r/ cards on their right hands and the /l/ cards on their left using scotch tape.

Step 4: Instruct students to listen to the teacher’s pronunciation carefully. Tell students to raise their right hands when they hear a word with /r/ and left hands when they hear a word with /l/. Read one word in each line, including “start.” After reading five words ask students where their final destination is. 

Step 5: Repeat Step 4 until students become familiar with /r/ and /l/ differences as well as the rules of the game.

Step 6: Tell students to practice pronouncing the minimal pairs individually for two to three minutes.

Step 7: Assign each of the three group members a unique letter: A, B, or C.

Step 8: Instruct B and C to sit next to each other, while A sits behind B and C, all facing the same direction. 

Step 9: Have A read one word in each line on the handout while B and C respond to A’s pronunciation by raising their hands. After reading five words A asks B and C which country they arrive at. 

Step 10: Repeat Step 9 two more times with B and C taking turns as the speaker.


This activity can benefit students in two ways. First, students can produce challenging sounds in a game format. Second, the reflective aspect: students can observe how listeners perceive the speakers’ pronunciation by noting listeners’ responses. 

Due to poor listening skills, responders may give a false response even when the speaker pronounces /r/ and /l/ correctly. In this case the speaker can ask the teacher for assistance in order to make sure he or she produce the target sounds correctly.  

This game format can be adapted for teaching other phonemes by replacing the words with /r/ and /l/ with minimal pairs that contain your target sounds. The final destinations (i.e., countries) can also be replaced with countries which names have the target phonemes.


The appendix is available below.