In the spirit of making my intermediate teenagers independent learners,we use online English-English dictionaries in class. I’d like to encourage them to use features with information on pronunciation,especially the soundbites.Do you have any suggestions?


We have an activity titled ‘What did you say?’ exchanges which accommodates a dictionary investigation to check that the homophones introduced in pairs, indeed, share the same pronunciation despite their different spellings.  

In this pairwork writing and speaking activity, learners create short exchanges to perform for the other pairs in class.  Each pair is given five ambiguous sentences from which to choose one.  They are required to use an expression ‘asking for clarification’ in their exchanges as well.  Also, they are encouraged to create humorous exchanges, if possible.

Before class:

Prepare to distribute the 20 ambiguous sentences (given below) to 4 groups of learners, by dividing the sentences 1-5,  6-10, 11-15 and 16-20.  The pairs of homophones and the ambiguous words (with two distinct meanings) in each sentence, have been underlined to guide the learners in their dictionary searches.

 [Note:  Homophones are words that sound the same but are different in meaning or spelling.  Homographs are spelled the same, but differ in meaning or pronunciation.  Homonyms can be either or even both.]


1.I like stimulating discussions.
2.The sales/sails are moving slowly.
3.The boy/ buoy was moving up and down as the waves broke one after another.
4.The black night /knight was frightening.
5.The teacher insisted, “Write/right now.”
 6.I’ll take a pair/pear. No. I changed my mind.  Three T-shirts in four apples, please.
 7.The cue was quite short.
 8.Flying planes can be dangerous.
 9.Did you say he’s engaged
10. Visiting relatives can be boring.
11. Angela likes music more than her brother.
12. This is the last straw.
13. That woman has arrived. The mail /male usually arrives at 10 o’clock.
14. The landlord is really tight.
15..He was looking at the girl with the binoculars.
16. He gave her a ring last night.
17. He fed him with bare/ bear claws.
18. Last summer I saw a man eating / man-eating fish.
19. He’s an English teacher.
20.  I saw the dough /doe through the kitchen window.

The expressions below can be on the board or in a handout:


1.  You mean...

2.  Are you saying (that)...?

3.  Correct me if I’m wrong but . . .

4.  Have I got this right?

5.  I’m sorry.  Could you go over that again?

6.  What’s that you said?

7.  I’m terribly sorry but I’m not sure I understand.

8.  I’m not quite with you there.

9.  I don’t get it.

10. What do you mean?   this    or    that    ?


In-class instructions:


  1. Assign one group of 5 sentences to each of the pairs/groups of learners. 
  2. Have them check the pronunciation of the homonyms, by looking up each word in online dictionaries and clicking the sound bites.
  3. Present the task.

INSTRUCTIONS: In pairs, work out short exchanges (to perform for us).  Include in your exchanges one ambiguous sentence, and one ‘asking for clarification’ formula.  If you can, make some humorous ones.

  1. Show an example:

A:  His letter made my heart  sore/soar. [PRONUNCIATION:  /so: r/ ]

B:  Sorry?  What did you feel when you read the news?  Pain or exhilaration?



Why homophones and ambiguities?  Pairs of homonyms that fits into the same sentence frames can create for ambiguous remarks.  When spoken, these remarks can give reason for a listener to ask for clarification.  This activity of short exchange writing, following an investigation of pairs of homonyms, provide the learners with practice at creating spoken exchanges and using conversational formulas to ask politely for clarification.  Language awareness coupled with light fun and exposure to new vocabulary add welcome variety to any lesson activities.


Suzanne and Lilika

February 2023