Teaching Problematic Sounds: the /g/ sound

When you have a student physically in front of you, it can be much easier to demonstrate the correct mouth, lips, and tongue movement needed to produce a sound. Teaching online adds difficulty to the process, especially combined with the fact that we are working with young children who are oftentimes beginner English speakers.

I always make sure to ask mom or dad, if they are available, to keep the child in front of the camera so that I can see their mouth at all times. I also like to tell mom and dad, through the feedback, that English sounds are dependent on the correct movement and shape of the mouth so that they understand why this is important.

When tricky sounds come up, the first method is to get close to the camera, point to your mouth and exaggerate the sound so the student can see what is happening when the sound is produced. This works well with the /l/, /w/, and /v/ sounds, because the student can easily see what the tongue, lips, and top teeth are doing when you make the sound.

It gets trickier when the student can see what is happening in your mouth when you produce the sound, and it can be almost impossible to explain it to a young, beginner student. You need to be able to illustrate what they need to do with their mouth using only demonstration.


One particularly difficult sound is the /g/ sound. Some students will confuse the /d/ and /g/ sounds, producing them both like the /g/ sound. In general, the student is not confused by how the sound is supposed to sound. They can distinguish the sounds when listening, but they are not able to produce the correct /g/ sound. This is because they are moving their tongue up and tapping the roof of their mouth, like they should do with the /d/ sound, when the are trying to produce the /g/ sound. They are also probably not producing the sound far enough in the back of their throat.


For a young student, you can’t simply explain that they need to keep their tongue down. You can try that first, and maybe if mom or dad is sitting by the student helping, you might have some luck. It is best to have a demonstration handy that you can use to show the student that they need to keep their tongue pressed down.

You can use any stick-like item for this, but I prefer to use a straw because, since it is intended to go into the mouth, it seems a little more sanitary. First hold the straw up to the student so they can see what you are doing. Then, place the straw in your mouth and press down on your tongue. Then, use your other hand to point to the back of your throat to show the student where the sound should come from. Generally, I have found that if the student can get the tongue down, the sound comes naturally from the back of the throat, so that is not as big an issue. The main objective here is to get the tongue to stay put.

Then, repeat the /g/ /g/ /g/ sound, with the mouth slightly open and the tongue pressed down with the straw. Now, the student can see that your tongue stays down for the entire sound. After producing the sound a few times, you can say a word that does not require the tongue to tap.

For example: Go go go.


When the student has mom or dad nearby, every time I have done this demonstration, the parent left to get a straw or a spoon for the child to mimic the activity. For regular students who struggle with the sound, their parents now have a straw handy for class so we can use it when we practice the phonics words.

Overall, when teaching phonetic sounds. The teacher needs to have a good idea of what is happening in his or her mouth. Oftentimes, we are so used to our own language that we don’t even think about what goes into producing the sound. If you spend a few minutes producing the different sounds in front of a mirror, it can help you pay better attention to what is happening in there so that you are more ready to help your students do the same.

One final thought: however you want to teach the sounds, chances are you will need to get up close and personal with your camera. It might feel weird at first, but the student needs to see your mouth. Don’t be afraid to lean in so that the student can see what your lips, teeth, and tongue are doing. I’m not a big make-up person myself, but I do find a bit of lip gloss or lip stain goes a long way in helping the student see the movement of your lips. Good luck teaching!


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Mother. Teacher. Reader. Trying to make ends meet without losing pieces of my soul in the process. This is a place for my thoughts on teaching English and on life in general.

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