Opposite adjectives quickly double your adult ESL students’ vocabulary and make learning (and teaching) definitions a snap. Years ago, one of my Korean students had this quirky habit of assigning friendship and enemy status to various words to convey the meaning he wanted. When he couldn’t think of the word for mustard, he mentioned ketchup’s yellow friend. Sweet was sour’s enemy.
Condiment friendship aside, word enemies became his classmates’ favorite way to explain words to each other when they were trying to stay in their target language. Whether you call them opposite adjectives, word enemies, or antonyms, they’re pretty much a hack for doubling vocabulary understanding and teaching a definition within seconds. But what if the opposite adjectives themselves are the lesson?
Here are 7 fun activities for teaching opposite adjectives.
1. Opposite Adjective Category Brainstorm
Use recently taught themes, current events, or your students’ likes and dislikes to come up with a list of categories. Have students work in pairs to brainstorm opposite adjective pairs that could be used to describe anything that would be in that category. For example, if your topic is weather, they could list hot/cold, sunny/rainy/ windy/calm, wet/dry, and so on.
2. Synonym/Antonym Adjective Foot Poll
Create a list of synonym and antonym pairs. You can use themes or just have random pairs. On one side of the room have a one-page poster that says “synonyms” and on the other side “antonyms” (or, “opposites”). Call out a pair and have students physically move to the side of the room that they think matches that pair. No space to move around? Have students make their own mini-posters with “antonyms” on one side and “synonyms” on the other. After you call out a word pair, they hold up their sign with the correct label facing you. Pssst…you can get a file with word pairs when you subscribe to my newsletter. Keep reading!
3. Dramatic Opposite Adjectives
Write a bunch of opposite adjective pairs on slips of paper and mix them in a box or bag. Have students take turns to draw a word-pair and then act it out until their classmates can guess what it is. This can be a whole-class activity or a team activity. If you have many shy students, have them do this with a partner to ease up on any stage fright issues.
4. Flip It
Make decks of opposite adjective cards with the opposites on either side of each card. Be sure to use cardstock or dark-colored paper so that they cannot easily see the word through the paper. Students then work in pairs or groups of three with the cards spread out on their table and take turns trying to guess what is on the other side of the cards. Each student’s turn continues until they make a mistake. They can keep score with tally marks.
Be sure to tell them not to take any cards out of play. Cards guessed incorrectly remain as they were. Cards guessed correctly stay flipped over so that the next player can do a reverse transformation. For example, if Student A guesses the opposite of interested is bored, the card remains on the table with bored facing up. The next player could then change bored to interested.
5. The Classic Ball Toss
You’ll need a soft ball or another soft object for this. The first player has the ball and calls out another student’s name, says an adjective, and then tosses the ball to that student. Student B catches the ball, says the opposite of the given adjective, and then continues the game by calling out another student’s name, saying an adjective, and tossing the ball. The catch? Oh, how punny! They cannot repeat an adjective.
You can write them on the board as the game is played, but if that distracts them or makes them focus too much on what has already been said, just keep track on a piece of paper that they cannot see. Why have them call out names? It’s not necessary, but I’ve found that it cuts down on over-eager students monopolizing the catch or a student getting caught unaware and getting smacked in the face with a ball.
6. Opposite Adjectives Photo Challenge
You’ll need to collect some photos to do this one. Show students a picture of two things (or two photos placed next to each other) and have them work in pairs or small groups to brainstorm every opposite adjective pair that could describe what they see in the picture(s). Make sure that you choose pictures that are not too busy. They earn one point per opposite adjective pair that no one else wrote.
7. T-Chart Opposites
This one requires less preparation than the photo challenge. Have students draw a T-chart in their notebooks and then give them an opposite pair to write at the top of the T. Next, they work in pairs (but each writes answers in their own notebooks) to list things that could be described by the opposite adjective pairs, using the vertical line of the T chart to divide the things. For example:
It’s not opposite day, but…
Using these fun opposite adjective activities is sure to liven up your lesson and put smiles on your students’ faces. Plus, they’ll be practicing a reading comprehension strategy that could serve them well on an English proficiency exam as well as help them learn new vocabulary by pairing it with what they already know.
Read more for teaching adult ESL!
- 3 Fun Comparative Adjective Speaking Activities
- Conditionals Worksheets: 6 Quick Ways to Make Them FUN!
- 2 Fun Activities for Reviewing Prepositions of Time
- How Using Adjective Clauses Helps Power Up Their Writing
- Tag Questions: 2 Fun Activities They’ll LOVE!
Want some free pre-made opposite adjective cards that you can use when doing Activity 2 or Activity 3 as mentioned above? Subscribe, and they’re yours!
Digital Opposite Adjectives Resource
What about some opposite adjective BOOM cards? Click the image below to check it out.