Conventional minimal pairs

Information on the conventional minimal pair procedure, supporting literature and available materials

The minimal pair approach uses minimal pair words that a child produces as homonyms – they usually have minimally opposing features or are near minimal pair words. For example if a child’s speech shows the phonological process of stopping of fricatives (e.g. says shoe /ʃu/ as [tu]), then rhyming word pairs that start with /ʃ/ and /t/ form the minimal pair words to be used in minimal pair intervention (e.g. shoe and two; shape and tape; shy and tie; shell and tell; ship and tip).
McLeod and Baker (2017, p. 437)

Suitable children

  • Consistent phonological impairment
  • Mild to moderate severity
  • Aged 3 → 6 years
  • Children with no co-morbid hearing, oro-motor or receptive/expressive language problems
  • Children who have a loss of contrast between minimal pair words

Baker (2010), McLeod and Baker (2017)

Perception-production minimal pair procedure

Adapted from McLeod and Baker 2017, p. 437-443.

  • Traditionally, two sounds are compared (i.e., pairing the child's error with the target sound).
  • More recently, it is recommended that ~2 different examples of phonemes affected within the single process are selected for therapy (e.g. for stopping: /f/ vs /p/ and /s/ vs /t/ in your minimal pair set)
  • Five target words are paired with a minimal pair giving 10 pictures in total (dose = 5 per pair set)
  • These 10 pictures are duplicated to make a set of 20 (consequently making up ten target words).
  1. Familiarisation and perception training:
    • The SLT will introduce the minimal pair pictures to the child (i.e., This is a tart. This is a dart).
    • The SLT will place the minimal pair pictures out on the desk. The SLT will then say the name of one picture (e.g. dart) and ask the child to pick-up this picture.
    • The child can progress to the next stage of therapy (Stage 2) once they pick-up the picture relating to each minimal pair word with 90% accuracy.
  2. Production - Imitation:
    • The child will be asked to imitate each target word. Cues may be provided.
    • Praise is given to the child for correct responses and instructional feedback is given for incorrect responses.
    • Once the child can imitate the five target words with 90% accuracy in at least 50 trials, they can progress to the next stage (Stage 3).
  3. Production - Independent naming:
    • For the five target words, the SLT will ask the child to name each picture. No model is provided. Praise and instructional feedback is provided as necessary.
    • Once the child produces the five target words with 50% accuracy in at least 50 trials, they can progress to Stage 4.
  4. Production of minimal pair words:
    • The child requests one of the 10 minimal pair pictures from the SLT.
    • The child is given positive feedback for a correct production. If the production was not successful the child is given a pragmatic cue (i.e., ‘Do you mean the tart or the dart?’). Further cues are given as necessary.
    • Intervention continues until the child's generalisation criteria (pre-set by the SLT) has been reached.

Note: Clinical judgement should be used alongside the child's assessment data when choosing and implementing this intervention protocol

Monitoring progress

If the child is not progressing to the accuracy levels expected (as identified in the protocol), then a review is necessary. If the child is making slow/minimal progress, ideas of how to modify intervention include:

  • Increasing the number of treatment words and trials per session (i.e., dose)
  • Increasing the dose frequency (i.e., number of weekly sessions)
  • Working at phrase/sentence level
  • Use a different intervention approach - assessment and analysis are key here

Williams et al. (2010)


Supporting literature

Together the majority of research suggests that the minimal pair approach is effective for children with consistent phonological speech errors

Williams et al. (2010, p.57)

Some of the supporting literature includes:

Intervention intensity

Find out more on the intervention intensity page about conventional minimal pairs therapy.