In this activity, students compare the properties of different but similar words.

Paul Bress

It can take up to 90 minutes or be done quite quickly using fewer words and is designed for lower intermediate students, though again this depends on the number and complexity of the words used.


Prepare a collection of words which have a similar meaning or semantic field or which your students often confuse.


  • Elicit the words 'similarity' and 'difference'. Write these two words next to each other at the top of the board and draw a vertical line between them right down to the bottom of the board.
  • Elicit the similarities and differences between a 'pen' and a 'pencil' as an example and put the key words on the board in the relevant sections. You can also elicit grammatically correct sentences with these words, e.g. You can write with both a pen and a pencil.
  • Write your pairs of words on the board, e.g.
    • café – restaurant
    • newspaper – magazine
    • kettle – teapot
    • clock – watch
    • house – flat
  • Tell your students to copy them down and ask them to leave spaces on the right under the headings 'similarities' and 'differences'.
  • Divide your class into groups of three and tell each group to work with one pair of words (allocate them so that all the pairs of words are being worked on at the same time, but by different groups).
  • Ask the students to write down as many similarities and differences as possible in note form.
  • After two minutes say 'Change!' Instruct each group to work on the next pair of words.
  • After each group has finished each pair of words, ask the students to regroup, so that each new group is composed of students from different groups.
  • Ask the new group to compare and edit their information, adding, deleting and modifying points.
  • Get the whole class's attention and elicit the key similarity and difference for each pair of words. Put these key words on the board.
  • Create an example sentence using the keywords which includes a similarity and a difference, e.g. A kettle is similar to a teapot because you put water in both, but a kettle is different from a teapot because you put cold water in a kettle and boiling water in a teapot.
  • Split your class into pairs and ask each pair to write a similar sentence, using their own examples.
  • Get the students to read out some of their sentences.

Why it works

Students use a variety of different faculties, for example brainstorming, short-term memory and an analysis of their perception of everyday things.


Ask your students to find out the difference between more pairs of words, e.g. 'university' and 'college'. Give each student different pairs of words to research. These pairs of words will depend on their ability.

Language Level

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