Teaching suggestions to help B2 level learners with adjectives

Teaching Suggestions

Here are some activities to use in the classroom to help upper intermediate learners with adjectives.

  1. Adjective auction

Aim: To make learners aware of the position and order of adjectives.

Procedure: Give each pair of students a list of 15 sentences taken from a recent writing assignment they have completed. Tell students they have 1,000 euros and have to gamble on whether the sentences are correct or not and risk money for each sentence. After the students decide, the teacher holds an auction. The pair with the most euros wins.

Commentary: I use this activity if my students are having trouble with the position and order of adjectives. I think this is a good way to deal with errors because it keeps the students actively engaged and provides multiple opportunities for learning. Learners negotiate meaning and share their knowledge with their partner. (Thornbury 1999:94) My students find this activity motivating because the errors are from their writing and it directly addresses their needs.

  1. Word formation scavenger hunt

Aim: To develop learners’ understanding of how adjectives can be formed

Procedure: Students are given a checklist of certain types of affixed words such as an adjective formed from a noun or a verb formed from an adjective. Learners look through a text they have read and find examples of each type.

Commentary: This activity can be used to help learners notice how adjectives are formed in various ways. The teacher can exploit the vocabulary items found in the text to draw “the learners’ attention to patterns and regularities” (Thornbury 2002:109). I think it is important for upper intermediate students to be aware of the processes they can use to form adjectives. These processes help them develop “bottom-up word comprehension strategies and assist in better lexical selection for productive tasks.” (Celce-Murcia, Olshtain 2000:81)

  1. Describing Americans

Aim: To help learners practice using adjectives

Procedure: Give students a list of 16 adjectives used by foreign students in the US to describe Americans. For homework students rank the adjectives in the order that best describes Americans. In class students in groups should reach a consensus on the rankings and share their ideas in open class. Students answer discussion questions and write an opinion essay for homework.

Commentary: This sequence of activities offers numerous benefits for learners. It requires them to rank and sequence vocabulary items and make decisions about words repeatedly. This helps students add the new items to their mental lexicon and aids in long-term retention and recall. (Thornbury 2002:93) It allows learners to negotiate meaning while they collaborate with their partners. The writing task offers a further opportunity for using the vocabulary items and consolidates the learning. I think these activities address “the two poles of receptive and productive language use” (Carter and McCarthy 1998:78)because they are meaningful and communicative.

  1. Dictogloss

Aim: To raise learners’ awareness of language of comparison

Procedure: The teacher tells learners about the city she is from by comparing it to the city where the students study. Learners listen again and write down four words they recognize. After comparing, learners first reconstruct the text orally then in writing. The teacher gives the learners the original text for students to compare with their own.

Commentary: Using the dictogloss technique to help upper intermediate students with language of comparison is effective because it requires learners to use both receptive and productive skills related to the target language. It helps them notice any gaps in their ability to understand and use language of comparison and allows the teacher to directly teach to the students’ needs. After this activity I have learners write a letter to my aunt comparing Barcelona and Madrid to help her decide which city to visit. This gives them the opportunity to use language of comparison and learn from “meaning-focused output.” (Nunan 2003:133)

  1. TV and the media

Aims: To help students use -ed/-ing adjectives more accurately

Procedure: This sequence of activities first exposes learners to -ed/-ing adjectives in context by having them listen to four people giving their opinion on what they read and see in the media. Students listen once for gist and then listen to determine if the speakers use the -ed or -ing adjective forms and in what context. Students work out the rules for when we use these adjectives before using the target language to express their own opinions.

Commentary: I think presenting learners with -ed and -ing adjectives in context is the best way to raise their awareness of the differences in meaning. The sequence of activities first starts with “meaning focused input” (Nunan 2003:133) and keeps learners focused on meaning by becoming aware of how it determines form. By working out the rules for themselves, I have found that my students tend to produce the adjectives more accurately while discussing their opinions in the last sequence.

  1. Hotel reviews

Aim: To raise awareness of how gradeable and ungreadable adjectives are used

Procedure: Students read extracts from reviews for different hotels that were found on the internet and decide what type of hotel each review describes. Students find words in the extracts that mean very good, very dirty, etc. Elicit the rules for how ungradeable adjectives are used with certain adverbs based on their extreme meanings. Students write their own reviews of hotels.

Commentary: This activity exposes learners to ungradeable adjectives in context and explicitly deals with the corresponding rules once the learners have worked them out for themselves. To practice using extreme adjectives, I have learners write their own reviews. This works best if the students can share their own experiences and use extreme adjectives to “express personally relevant meanings.” (Thornbury 2002:88)


My learners want to do two things in English: understand and be understood. The importance of knowing words in order to do that cannot be ignored. Schmitt mentions how “research has shown that lexical errors tend to impede comprehension more than grammatical errors” and native speakers judge “lexical errors as more serious than grammatical errors.” (2000:155) By helping upper intermediate learners with adjectives, teachers can help their students make greater progress in achieving their goals.

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