Using opposites

This is a lesson designed to help learners understand and remember opposite adjectives. Many of the techniques used here could be used for teaching other words or adjectives too.

Angela Ferrare


  • To introduce simple adjectives for describing people and things.
  • To match the written and spoken form of simple adjectives.
  • To help the learners remember the words taught using mime and drawing.


  • Flash cards or simple outline drawings to illustrate the adjectives you have chosen to teach.
  • Word cards for these adjectives.
  • Blutak or magnets to fix the cards to the board.
  • Drawing paper for the pupils or whiteboards and board pens.

The following sequence teaches:

big small
long short
fat thin
hot cold
fast slow
happy sad
clean dirty
tall short

    Stage 1: Teaching opposites

    • Show the class the flash card illustrating 'tall' or draw two stick figures on the board - one tall, one short - and say 'Look! He's tall. He's very tall.' You can use gesture to reinforce the meaning of the word. You can write the height in figures on the board as another way of reinforcing the meaning. 'He's one metre forty-five tall'.
    • Ask one of the taller pupils to stand up and ask 'How tall are you?' Elicit 'I'm one metre forty tall' (or whatever their height is.) Respond with 'Oh, you're very tall!'. Repeat this with other tall pupils.
    • Point to the second drawing on the board and ask 'Is he tall?' The class will reply 'No', which you reinforce saying 'No, he's not very tall. He's small.'
    • Introduce a second contrasting pair of adjectives, for example 'happy' and 'sad', in the same way, using mime to reinforce meaning.
    • Continue until there are eight or ten flashcards on the board.

    Stage 2: Reinforcing meaning through mime

    • Show the class a word card for one of the flash cards on the board and invite one of the pupils to come and stick the word card next to the appropriate flash card.
    • Mime one of the adjectives, encouraging the class to guess which word is being mimed and to respond with the word if possible, or to indicate the appropriate flashcard.
    • Hand the miming activity over to the pupils, who are usually very keen to have the opportunity of moving around the class and demonstrating their theatrical talents. If you have shy pupils, you can suggest they do the mime in pairs. The class guesses the word being mimed. At this stage, you can accept choral replies.
    • This activity can be continued for five minutes or more, depending on the level of interest generated. It should help the students to memorize the words and allow even the quietest pupils to participate.
    • To make the game more challenging you can either remove all the word cards, or invite the pupils to remove the word cards one at a time.

    Stage 3: The drawing game

    • Tell the pupils to take out their whiteboards and board pens, or hand out drawing paper.
    • Draw a hot rabbit on the board, i.e. a rabbit wearing sunglasses, next to a palm tree with the sun shining in a corner of the picture.
    • Mime being hot as you say, 'Look, this rabbit is hot. Can you draw a hot rabbit?' In the same way, you can ask them to draw a fat rabbit, a thin rabbit, a happy rabbit, a sad rabbit, using all the words represented on the board.
    • Encourage the pupils to show each other their drawings and say 'My rabbit is cold.' 'My rabbit is sad.'
    • This activity can lead to a guessing game which can be played as a game involving the whole class trying to guess one pupil's word or as a pairwork guessing game.

    Stage 4: Review
    Explain to the class that you are going to play a game called 'Mime or Draw'.

    • Divide the class into two teams and shuffle the word cards matching the adjectives you have been teaching.
    • A player from team 1 draws a card and can choose whether to mime or draw the word for his or her team members to guess. Each correct guess scores one point
    • If you prefer this to be a non-competitive activity, you can involve the whole class at the same time, asking all the pupils to write down the word they think is being mimed or drawn. In this case, you need to leave a list of the words on the board.

    Follow up

    • Each student can illustrate one of the adjectives with a personal drawing which can then be displayed in the class.
    • You can teach the students the following song which is sung to the tune of 'We three kings of Orient are'. The song allows the pupils to practise recalling the words quickly and remember the words in pairs. The song is called 'Let's all play the opposites game'. This idea comes from a book called Bingo Lingo - Supporting language development with songs and rhymes by Helen MacGregor, published by A&C Black.
      Let's all play the opposites game.
      Opposites are never the same.
      I say 'fat'
      You say 'thin'
      Let's play the game again.
    • The class can be divided into two groups with one group challenging the other to find the correct word.
    • I have also used a Peek-a-Book by Eric Hill called Opposites¬†published by Puffin Books.
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