Activity – Telephone Keypad

So last weekend, I attended the annual Cambridge teacher trainers’ meeting held in Madrid. It was perhaps one of the most informative and valuable weekends that I’ve had within my career as an English teacher/trainer. I won’t go into all the details in this post, but what I will talk about is one of the activities that one of the other trainers, Jessica Anderson, presented in our speed teaching workshop. It’s called the ‘Telephone Keypad’.

Basically, as the name suggests, a telephone keypad is drawn on the board and each of the numbers represents a word. The teacher reads out the words and then learners need to write down the numbers that correspond. Sounds fairly straightforward right? Well the great thing about this is that you can choose to focus on a whole range of language. Let’s take a look at a few.

Minimal pairs

The obvious choice with this activity is minimal pairs; that is, words that differ by only one phoneme (e.g. Ship and Sheep). I haven’t actually focused on minimal pairs yet, but an example keypad that Jessica presented is the one below, which focuses on minimal pairs with /i/ an /i:/.

Focus on specific phonemes (but not necessarily minimal pairs)

Currently, I have two YL classes – they are both awesome, and we have some much fun. They are preparing for the Cambridge Starters exam and within one of the units we are studying, there are quite a few words that include /əʊ/ (like yellow) or /ɒ/ (like box). So, to revise the vocabulary, we used the telephone keypad and it worked great – they loved it.

Basically, we drilled the words and then I read out short phone numbers, which they then wrote down. We had to go fairly slow and with quite a bit of repetition, but I could see they were getting it and really enjoying it. Following this phase, I then had my little monsters write their own numbers, which they later read out to one of their classmates, who wrote them down. I used the following table to help guide them:


Now, to the opposite end of the spectrum – C2. In my Proficiency class, we are focusing on the intricacies of nouns, word building, etc. (the stuff that I get really, really excited about!). So, I decided to focus on the phonological aspects of nouns and how some nouns may be written the same as some verbs (e.g. PREsent vs. PresENT). These words are called homographs. The keypad I used was similar to the one below (I didn’t take a photo unfortunately).

First off, we did some drilling and focused on the meaning of each. We then followed pretty much the same process as with my YL class, i.e. I read out a number, they wrote it down, and then they created their own numbers and read them out. We included a bit of technology in this phase, however. We all recorded the voice of the person speaking on our phones, so we could listen to what they said many times – this helped a lot!

To finish up, I then had the class read out the words in context from example sentences. For example: He attributed his success to his long list of positive attributes.

Loads of ways to adapt

As you can see, this activity can be adapted to focus on a whole range of phonological aspects, and can be made as easy (perhaps revision-focused) or as difficult (e.g. homographs) as the teacher wishes. It’s also a lot of fun! Why don’t you try it out and let me know how it goes? I would love to hear about how you adapt it to your learners’ needs and learning objectives.


  1. Abraiz says:

    Nice one. Will try it out in my classes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let us know how it goes, Abraiz!


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