[Lesson Plan & Worksheet] How to Teach the -ED Endings

Pronunciation: How to Teach the -ED Endings

Hello teachers! The -ed endings are big pain point for many students, and that is made worse by the books simply listing meaningless rules. But there is a way to actually LEARN WHY we pronounce the regular past endings the way we do!!!

    The 2 Basic Rules are:
  1. The students have to learn to be as lazy… I mean err “economical” with their mouths and movement as possible, the correct sound is produced from a continuation of the sound of the end of the verb
  2. That when the sound doesn’t flow it is probably a /t/ or /d/ sound which then needs the /Id/ ending

What I will outline now is the typical way I teach this SKILL to students.

I use the following two worksheets, which you can feel free to print, photocopy or inspire your own version!

Here is what they look like:

[Here is a link to download them!]

Let’s start the class!

Step 1: Generate a list of verbs

(I have included a list of verbs - but I prefer to use that sheet later, either in pairs, or as homework or as a final big test.)

So to start with, I simply ask students to generate as many regular verbs as possible, and I put them on the board (or a sheet of paper for individuals or small groups, or whatever).

Now, you will want to make sure that you have a good selection of key verbs that really illustrate some of the points you will want to make later on in the lesson.

So for example, you will need the following types of regular verbs, all mixed up on the page ideally; (these are just examples or emergency fillers!)

    - T or D ending verbs

    -/t/ or /d/ sound ending words

    - Vowel sounds at end, especially if written with a consonant!
  • SKI // LIE // BURY // CARRY // SHOW // ANSWER (BrE) //

    - Some Voiced and Unvoiced ending sounds, try and get pairs to really show the differences – try and have some that end in vowel letters too. There are more pairs but I mainly use these 4 sets because other sounds can be difficult and may distract from the point of this lesson!
  • b / p = RUB // STUB // HOP // SHOP
  • g / k = HUG // BUG // KICK // BUCK
  • z / s = BUZZ // DAZE // KISS // DANCE
  • v / f = SHAVE // RAVE // LAUGH // LEAF

    - Some middle of the throat sounds

    - And other useful or testing sounds,
  • MANAGE // // WATCH // FISH // JUDGE //
  • BANG // BREATH // RUSH //

LITTLE TIP: I love telling students how ‘Google’ is now a verb, (and how ‘email’ became a verb before that even) and that in English we make verbs out of almost anything. If you want, ask them to name any object in the room and see if you can tell them the meaning of it as a verb! To chair, to bottle, to floor etc! Or even what the verb could mean if you invented it right then!… I wonder what “To window” something could mean…?!? Ha ha!

Step 2: Test Their Current Skill Level

I would now ask them to try and say all, or some, of the verbs in these regular verbs they have generated in the past (the -ed inflected form).

You may need to model, or show, what you mean first.

Depending on the nationality, or nationalities, in the class, the type of problem verbs will change – try and get all the students to say the ones that you would consider most difficult.

At this stage I would not correct or give feedback to any particular student.

Listen to all the students and then give a general mark, for example “Sorry you guys got a 4 out of 10, I think we can do much better! Today’s class is really going to help!” or “Hey you guys are really good at this already, a 9 out of 10 – there was just some things which were not quite right and so today we can really perfect your pronunciation of -ed endings!” - or whatever your personal teaching style is!

The reason I give a ‘mark’ is to help students understand if they are already generally OK, or if they really need to change almost everything they think at the moment. Or more probably, if it is somewhere in between!

Step 3: Brainstorm “When do we use the -ed endings?”

    The main answers are:
  • For past simple
  • As past participle for perfect aspects
  • As an adjective
  • In the passive

The reason for this step is for students to realise just how common the -ed endings are, and that they are not just for the past simple!

Extra Activity: Perhaps in pairs, get students to write 4 sentences (using the verbs already generated), one for each of the four main uses.

Step 4: Elicit the commonly taught -ed endings

Ask students what the typical three sounds are that textbooks teach. Elicit /t/, /d/ & /Id/.

If you need to prompt them to remember, use some of the verbs that students said correctly in Step 2.

Note: Later I will talk about why these 3 sounds are a gross over-simplification, and so for stronger students you can mention here that the books are not quite correct – students always love hearing ‘insider secrets’ and why books (and teachers, of course) are not (quite) right – or better actually wrong! Ha ha

If you are using the worksheet, the top should look something like this:

Step 5: Answer Question 1 on the sheet, is it a /t/ or /d/ sound ending?

On the worksheet the first question is “Does the INFINITIVE end with a /t/ or /d/ sound?”.

Model the question on a verb or two from the list – be aware that many students will presume you are talking about the -ed ending itself, so be prepared to highlight that they need to look at the infinitive.

And in particular the final sound of the infinitive.

Get students to find verbs that have a final /t/ or /d/ sound.

When a student identifies (possibly after prompting) a /t/ or /d/ sound that has a final letter that is different (eg "to decide"), really draw everyone’s attention to this.

Note: I would avoid any initial modelling using verbs that have an ending that is visually different from the sound. So model with ‘kick’ not ‘like’, ‘paint’ not ‘hate’. This is just to separate what students need to appreciate in separate steps.

It is vital that students stop thinking about the spelling of the word and only concentrate on the sounds.

Once such a verb like ‘decide’ has been found, ask students to see if there are any more like this. This should mean they start filtering the verbs orally and not visually. This is key.

Step 6: The ‘easy’ ending, /Id/

Now on the board, or paper, write down 4 of these /t/ or /d/ verbs and confirm with students how the -ed ending is created. Or better, simply confirm that for words that end in -e just a -d is added, else add -ed.

Ask students how this -ed ending is pronounced. Elicit /Id/.

On the worksheet, or whatever you are using, get students to complete Question 1 similar to this:

Step 7: Mention the Wall

Start by asking what a ‘wall’ is.

Random Extra Activity: If you have time and are inclined to, teach them “a brick in the wall” and a bit of the Pink Floyd song – some students will even know the word ‘wall’ from the song, if they are music fans or a bit older! Others though, might just stare at you and ask you “What is a pink floyd?”. Ah well… showing my age again!

Explain that the big difference in -ed pronunciation is here, and not in the next question on the worksheet. No need to dwell here, just mention it so you can come back to this idea later.

Step 8: Teach the Idea of Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds
    Write on the board, paper etc the following pairs
  • /t/ ... /d/

  • /p/ ... /b/

  • /f/ ... /v/

  • /c/ ... /z/

  • /k/ ... /g/

You can write more if you like, but these should suffice. If you happen to have a pronunciation chart handy, you could show them the sounds there too – and any other pairs if the sheet is designed well.

    Ask students to find the difference between the sounds.
  • What is different?
  • What is happening in their mouths?
  • Does the mouth change what it does?
  • What is happening in the throat?
  • Does the throat change what it does?
  • What happens if you gently place two fingers on your throat?

Basically, elicit the idea that the sounds are identical in the mouth but different in the throat.

Tell them that the technical terms for these sounds are ‘voiced’ and ‘unvoiced’.

Step 9: Ask Them If Other Sounds Are Voiced or Unvoiced

    Now write the following sounds on the board/paper:
  • /a/ /e/ /i/ /o/ /u/ (or other phonetic vowel symbols if the students know them)
  • em
  • ush
  • er
  • edg
  • el

Ask them to decide if these sounds are voiced or unvoiced

Extra Activity: Depending on the level, and time, and course objectives etc, now could be a nice time to do some quick fire playing around with the phonetic chart – either as a revision exercise or as a precursor to more serious work later in the course.

The key aim here is to get students to notice how all vowel sounds are voiced.

Vocab spot: We call this the ‘voice-box’ or the anatomical term is larynx, (plural: larynges – never said that in my life before) and we have the medical condition laryngitis, which is the posh word for a sore throat!

Step 10: Finally Back to the Verbs!

Now ask students to divide the infinitives of the verbs that do not end in /t/ or /d/ into voiced or unvoiced final sounds.

Students may indicate infinitives that end with a /t/ or /d/ endings (eg paint, decide) - so tell them, while they are right about voiced/unvoiced, those verbs were actually used in Question 1 (on the other side of the wall).

Students should be doing this orally, where they make mistakes ask them to gently place two fingers on the voice-box and feel the activity there.

    The two main problems they could find
  • 1 They interpret the difference as Mouth OR Throat
    • The mouth is always used, the question is Voice-box OR Not Voice-box

  • 2 Students speak too softly to notice anything and they don’t want to go to the trouble of lifting two fingers to their own throat….
  • So you can either convince them to ‘lift a finger to help themselves’ or to speak louder, so they can feel it.

It can be a good idea to actually tell students that they won’t need to do this when they are actually speaking!!! That it is just an exercise, not a way of speaking English!

In fact, you should tell students that at the end of this worksheet they can throw the worksheet away. They won’t need to look at it ever again after this lesson!

Step 11 Tell Them To Be Lazy

At the bottom of the page I have written

THE GOLDEN RULE IS::::::::::::::

And the answer is this

Now is a good time to talk about how English speakers are generally very efficient in pronunciation; that there are few sounds we really use that involve a lot of effort on our behalf.

That unlike many other languages we are basically LAZY! You may need to elicit the meaning of lazy for some levels.

"And if you want to get the -ed endings right… well it is time to be lazy!!"

Extra Activity: If you wanted to expand on this idea, you could talk about the /ə/ schwa sound – how it is the most common sound in English and if you listen to native speakers just talking the repeated er er er er makes us sound like monkeys – and that we love the schwa because it is in the middle of our mouths and it allows us to move quickly between words – compare the ‘dead end’ of a stressed indefinite article ‘/eɪ/ pen’ with the efficient unstressed ‘/ə/ pen’. The schwa is everywhere and allows us to be very lazy… I mean efficient!

Step 12: Time to Match Laziness with -ED Endings

So, ask your students this:

“So there are three -ed endings according to the book. And we have used the /Id/ ending and that leaves the…… (not elicited? The /t/ and /d/) … endings...

“Ok, and which of /t/ and /d/ are voiced or unvoiced?

“Ok, and if we like to be lazy, if a verb ends in the throat which do we use /t/ or /d/? And if it ends only in the mouth, which do we use?”

So here we elicit the idea that we use /t/ for unvoiced endings, and /d/ for voiced endings.

Here, the key idea is – and in fact for the whole exercise – is that the -ed endings are (except for /t/ and /d/) a simple continuation of the verb, a pull back, a nod up, of the head.

In the exercises that follow, stress to students that if they are not being lazy, if they are having to do mouth gymnastics then they are probably doing it wrong!

Step 13: 13 is Unlucky, so we will skip it!

Nothing here.

Step 14: Let’s Apply The Logic!

Here students should fill in Question 2.

The sheet should look something like this for the /d/ endings:

...and the /t/ endings like this:

Get students to find voiced and unvoiced verbs, and then as a group practice adding the right sound for the -ed ending.

You may need to remind them about verbs that were on the other side of the wall (Question 1).

You may also need to write down the sound (not letters) that you add to the verbs, as per my completed sheet.

Write down a few of the verbs, but also go through the whole of the original sheet together – listening out for students who don’t say any of the words correctly.

There are a couple more things I would like to add BEFORE you really drill them towards perfection. So here make sure that they understand the choice between /t/ , /d/ and /Id/ conceptually.

Step 15: A Taste of Reality: /t/ and /d/ Don’t Actually Exist Like This

Before aiming to get students to be ‘flawless’ with the -ed endings I feel they should appreciate what is really happening here.


Firstly, that there is no-one-single /t/ or /d/ sound.

If you are able, start at the base of your throat and make hard /d/ sound (like “explored” perhaps , then gradually go up your throat (while continually making the /d/ sound) then reaches your tonsils (mix of /d/ and /t/) and then go on to your mouth (/t/ now) and then right to the edge of lips (like a /t/ from a whispered “hoped”) and then if you want roll all the way back to the deep dark /d/ you started with.

This is to illustrate that there is more than one single precise sound for /t/ or /d/.

And if we are being lazy – well each /t/ or /d/ ending will be ever so slightly different.

For example, ‘smoked’ and ‘kissed’, they are different /t/ sounds really.

Or ‘emailed’ and ‘feared’. /d/ sounds but different.

15.2 That the /t/ and /d/ sounds can change between people

Now say the same /t/ words (smoked, kissed) if you had a deep voice or a soft voice. The sounds are different.

And again, say the /d/ words (emailed, feared) if you had a deep voice or a soft voice. Again different people will make different sounds!

15.3 Now tell them that the SAME PERSON can use different endings for the SAME VERB!

Now whisper normally the /d/ words (emailed, feared), they become /t/ sounds.

Now be angry and say the /t/ words (“I only smoked one cigarette I tell you!” “I never kissed them!”) - the sounds are becoming more /d/ like.

15.4 Explain what these variants mean

So the importance here is for students to realise that there is no single correct sound. On a personal speaking note this is interesting – but perhaps more importantly, other speakers will not always pronounce these words in an identical manner. This is good information to bear in mind.

16 So that is why the Wall is after Question 1

So really, if the /t/ and /d/ words are on a spectrum and are made by such a natural ‘click back’ of the mouth then the only really hard rule is between verbs that end in /t/ or /d/ and all other verbs.

In fact, it is these verbs which are the irregular verbs in today’s language*NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND as students often think. (* I explain this below in the urban myth activity, centuries ago things were not the same...)

Do this experiment, ask students to say the Question 1 verbs (those infinitives that end in /t/ or /d/) as if they were regular {with just a click/pull back} – it requires a lot of effort and in no way are you being lazy! So in this case it is easier to introduce the sound /ɪ/.

Extra Bit There is the following bit of urban myth (as far as I can tell)… Students often ask why spelling in English is so crazy, and here they may ask why all the other verbs need to be written with an 'e'! The urban myth is that when the English Language started to be written for common usage with the printing presses , people used to pay the presses by letter… and of course who printed the first dictionaries.. the printing presses – so they added unnecessary letters! So the language of world business even has spelling based on profit!! (Disclaimer, this is probably an urban myth based on half-truths, but I tell the story to make English come more alive and get a cheap ‘oooooh’ - the urban myth idea could be extended in class too! - one reason to think that it is definitely an urban myth is that it seems ALL VERBS HAD A /Id/ sound originally, that is why I say the ‘wall’ is for more modern pronunciation, because the /t/ and /d/ were too difficult to change to this new-fangled fast way - unlike the others.)

17 Some interesting spellings!

Finally before you do a final sweep around the class to practice the new techniques, I point out the following information to drive the point home…

Have a look at the following 2 verbs:

To Learn and To Burn

What are their past forms? Yes, learnt/learned & burnt/burned! And both are written in dictionaries (and other verbs) as having either a /d/ or /t/ sound.

Why? Because they finish right in the middle between voiced and unvoiced and some people will say one way, and some the other way – and both are so common it has impacted the written form!

18 Test and Drill the Class

Use the initial list of regular verbs, and also my example list of regular verbs if you wish too! Choose how ‘perfect’ you expect them to be, depending on their level and previous competency.

19 Factor in Some Future Activity

I would definitely review this in the very next lesson, and then for the foreseeable future keep an eye (ear?) on the students production.

One way could be to write down during the lesson (to not draw attention away from the activity in that moment) any mispronounced -ed endings, and do a group activity at the end of the class – or better still, at the beginning to remind them for the lesson that’s just about to start!

Extra Information There are number of words that do not follow the -ed rules (they are often adjectives, for example wicked, dogged, rugged, naked, beloved, crooked, learned, blessed, sacred ) but also other words like the scooter, moped.

I hope you guys have found this lesson useful and ultimately your students have less problems with the -ED endings!

All the best, Adam

Here are some links that could be of interest!

Check out: How Native Speakers Really Use The Tenses

Check out: Criteria for Cambridge Proficiency (CPE) Speaking Exam