Practicing the interdental /th/ sound

Jack Ryan, Aichi University, Toyohashi Campus


Quick guide

  • Key words:pronunciation, birthdays
  • Learner English level:Beginner to intermediate
  • Learner maturity:First-year university, high school
  • Preparation time:5-10 minutes
  • Activity time:60-90 minutes
  • Materials:Blackboard or whiteboard, handouts


This is a pronunciation activity designed to include a communicative element to practice the interdental /th/ sound which is notoriously difficult for Japanese learners of English. The activity has the dual objectives of practicing the target sound while allowing students to get to know each other better.


Step 1:The teacher writes two columns of words on the board to set up a minimal pairs exercise (see Appendix samples). The teacher reads a word chosen at random while students listen, then the students raise their hands and guess which column the word came from.
Step 2: The teacher should pass out a handout with the words from the blackboard (Appendix 1). As the teacher says a word, students should check column 1 or 2 depending on which column they think the word came from. The teacher may choose a student with good pronunciation to model the activity with.

Step 3:The teacher elicits the months of the year from students and writes them in columns on the blackboard. The teacher then chooses a date (for example, ‘June 4th’) and writes the date under June near the top of the column. Next, the teacher should write a name (for example, Ai Ueda) next to the date June 4th.      

Step 4:The teacher should give students a copy of a handout with the months listed in columns (Appendix 2) and a dialogue handout (Appendix 3). The teacher should choose a student to demonstrate the dialogue with, and both the teacher and student should write down each other’s birthday on the month chart written on the blackboard. Once the students understand the point of the activity the teacher should stress the rules:

            1) Do not show your chart to anyone!

            2) Absolutely no Japanese at all!

Before beginning Step 5 it is important that the teacher confirm the number of students in class that day and let the students know by writing the number on the board. This information will become necessary later.

Step 5:The students circulate around class asking four classmates when their birthdays are using the dialogue on the handout and writing the answers down on their charts. They should be sure to alternate playing role A and B so they have extensive practice with both roles. After they have four names and birthdays on their handout they return to their seats.

Step 6:Each student should take turns reporting the information they’ve gathered to the person sitting next to them verbally (for example, “Takeshi Yoshida’s birthday is November 17th). Students should record new information on their own handout. Teachers will need to stress that handouts cannot simply be exchanged for each other to copy. At the end, both students should have up to eight names and birthdays on their handout.

Step 7:At this point students will stand up, find new partners and continue taking turns exchanging information using the target dialogue. Students should exchange information with as many partners as is necessary to complete their chart. When they have completed their chart (by confirming the number of names on their chart with the number of students in class that day), they can return to their desks and sit down.

Step 8:The teacher should have all the students line up in order of their birthdays from January 1st to December 31st. The teacher will be able to confirm if the students are in correct order by referring to a student’s chart. Finally, the teacher may choose to ask the whole class or individual students questions such as “Who has a birthday this month?,” “When is _______’s birthday?” and “Who will have the next birthday?” etc.


This activity allows for communicative practice of a challenging English sound and is a good way to allow students to get to know each other and build rapport at the beginning of a new course.


Available below