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How do I use minimal pairs to support my child's speech?

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Minimal pairs are a visual way to confront the child with their error. The words differ only by one sound. Have you heard something like this before?

Child: The teys will unloct the door!

Adult: The teys will unloct the door?

Child: That's not what I said! I said teeeeys!

This child is not aware of his / her error sound. By using pictures we can show the child what they are saying and how using a different sound actually changes the meaning of the word.

Minimal pairs can be used at 3 levels during speech therapy:


Adult: Here is 'tea' (point to picture) and here is 'key' (point to picture). I'm going to say one of the words again and I want you to point to it.

Adult: "key"

Child: *points to key*

Adult: Excellent! That is key! Good listening!


Adult: "say tea" (this will be easy for the child who is substituting T for K)

Child: "tea"

Adult: Excellent! I heard tea (point to the picture)!

Adult: Now say "key"

Child: "tea" (often they cannot override their error at first)

Adult: Oh, I heard 'tea' (point to tea). Remember to use your back sound (K is made at the back of the mouth and sometimes a child requires a reminder for WHAT to do different on the next try)

Child: "key"

Adult: Excellent job using the sound at the back of your mouth! I heard 'key' (point to the picture)


Further along in speech therapy, the child may easily get the minimal pairs with an adult model. Now, it's time to have them try it on their own!

Adult: What is this (points to tea?)

Child: tea

Adult: Yes! Good job! Now what is this (points to 'key')?

Child: tea

Adult: Oops! Did you forget to use the sound at the back of your mouth? I heard 'tea' (point to the picture of the tea). Try again!

Child: key!

Adult: Yes! I heard 'key' that time (point to the key)!

Always consult with your child's speech language pathologist for what level of cueing is best and what cues for giving feedback they are using (e.g., use the sound at the back of the mouth).

This is also a great activity for building phonological awareness skills!

Are you an SLP looking for minimal pair pages? Check out my free minimal pairs page for K and T on TpT: Other minimal pair sheet are available for purchase at my store!

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