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Adjectives for ESL students

Adjectives are super, great, and exciting modes of speech used in a variety of ways to enhance the learning experiences of ESL students. Popular in English for their ability to add flavor to speech and writing, adjectives are also essential in adding word variety to ESL students’ growing vocabulary. What’s more, is that adjectives activities can be made even more useful in the online classroom. Using technology and digital media to add to the overall learning experience, playing adjective games help students “attain a certain level of fluency and mobility within the English language. It’s important for ESL students to become familiar with the different types of adjectives. Students will need to have a firm grasp on adjectives in order to communicate successfully in English.”1 English is typically considered one of the toughest languages to learn, especially considering the vast amount of words in the lexicon. But, have no fear! There are numerous ways to implement adjectives activities not only into pre-existing lesson plans but through descriptive games, as well. 

Adjectives for kids are fun, and games revolving around them can also prove to be wonderful for student engagement and retention. Remember, each game can be adjusted to correspond to the students’ ages and skill levels. For more advanced students, don’t be afraid to use larger, more complex words to provide more of a challenge, whereas, for younger students, smaller, more generalized words will help expand both their vocabulary and the word’s usage. 

Show and Tell Teach Adjectives
Show and Tell is an excellent activity to use to teach adjectives.

Adjective Activities & Games For the Online Classroom

  1. Introduce Yourself: The easiest and most approachable way to practice adjectives is to inspire the students to introduce themselves in a descriptive manner. When directing the words to themselves, personally, they are more attuned to remember and associate with the descriptiveness. A great way to initiate this activity is to start it off yourself. When introducing yourself, provide 1-5 (depending on the age and skill level) adjectives that describe you.

    For example, when working with a class of three 10-year-olds, I would start by saying, “Hello! My name is Teacher Jim. I am short, athletic, funny, and nice. What are you like?…” Then, by feeding off of the examples, the students would go on to introduce themselves in that manner. They may or may not know what adjectives are, but with this exercise, they are making use out of the concept, all the more enhancing their speaking and comprehension skills. 
  2. Show and Tell: I have found that this is very popular with younger students. The opportunity to bring any sort of prop or toy on screen can instantly engage students and direct their attention more clearly. Grab a stuffed animal, action figure, doll, or any other sort of plaything and ask the students to describe it. My go-to example is “Wolfie.” I have a life-sized stuffed wolf animal that I love to bring on-screen for my students. I will often ask them, “What does Wolfie look like?” and, based on their responses; I will challenge them to craft full, complete sentences, or continue listing adjectives that describe the stuffed animal. An example of engagement with a young, novice student would proceed like this:

    Teacher Jim: This is Wolfie! What is Wolfie like? 
    Student: Big! 
    Teacher Jim: Great! Wolfie is big! (student repeats). 

    By inspiring the young student to link the descriptive word to the toy, it teaches simple sentence structure and how to formulate a full sentence. Depending on the time left in the lesson, feel free to ask your student to grab a toy they love, and have them describe it to you.

    An older, teenage student conversation would normally proceed as such:
    Teacher Jim: I have a question. Can you give me five words that describe my wolf? 
    Student: Your wolf is big, hairy, cute, strong, and nice. 

    By using this practice on older, more advanced students, it encourages them to tap into their vault of words they have accumulated throughout their studies and pinpoint specific ones that relate to this particular scenario and this specific object: the more words, the better. Of course, you can challenge students to use more complex adjectives than the example provided, but this goes to show the simplistic nature of interweaving adjectives activities into the lesson. 
  3. Adjective Match:: Another interesting take on implementing adjectives into the lesson is to play simple matching word games. A go-to I often use is the adjective match game! Make two parallel lists, one of nouns and one of adjectives. The number of words will depend on the number of students that are in class. I usually aim for about three nouns and three adjectives for each student. Ultimately, make sure there is a surplus of words, so the students have an ample amount from which to choose. Ask a student to pick one word from each category and make a sentence out of it. Cross out, or draw a connecting line to the words the student chooses. The more elaborate the sentence, the better! 
  4. Adjective Train: This activity is, in my opinion, the most engaging and perhaps challenging exercise out of the ones listed. This game works well with older students in 50-minute lessons, usually four to five students. Depending on the amount of time left in class, use the text tool in the courseware to vertically type out the alphabet, letters A-Z. Then, have the students select a noun or have a preselected item (picture, actual prop…) that is broad enough to have a ton of adjectives applied to it (I usually use an iPhone or an iPad, or use a topic that the students would be familiar with, like a sport). Starting with letter A, go student by student and inspire them to think of an adjective that can be associated with the item or talking point corresponding to the next letter. Be sure to type the students’ adjectives in the listed alphabet as you go. 
  5. Create Your Own Mad Libs!: For those familiar with the classic fill in the blank game, this seems a no brainer! Take a few minutes in your free time to whip up a paragraph story, about ten sentences, but leave the spaces where you would include adjectives blank. Type it out as a separate document, and use it to your advantage as an opening or closing activity. I find that this exercise gets a ton of laughs and really elevates the students’ energy levels. Depending on the number of students, have each one provide the silliest, most creative adjective they can think of, before revealing the story. Make a list of their adjectives and go into the story inspiring each student to read the sentence with the adjective they selected beforehand. Prepare for laughs! 

What may seem like a simple game of fill in the blank is an advantageous technique in having the students recognize the need and placement for adjectives in speech and writing. There are a ton of example mad libs and adjective worksheets online, but also feel free to get creative and write your own based on your students’ likes and interests! And, if you are an ALO7 tutor, make sure to create your own activity as ALO7 doesn’t allow tutors to use third-party software or activities.

Depending on your students and the amount of time you have, you can simply use that day’s lesson to pinpoint adjectives. From describing title screen pictures to having your students identify all of the adjectives located within a story, making grand use out of adjectives activities are wonderful ways to foster a learning environment that is engaging, productive, memorable, and fun!

For more ideas on how to teach adjectives to ESL students, read “How to Teach Different Types of Adjectives to ESL Students.”

Citations for Adjective Activities & Games for ESL Students
1 Rogers, Montana. “Show, Don’t Tell: How to Teach Adjectives to ESL Students.” FluentU English Educator Blog.

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