You’re probably already familiar with Australia’s national animal, but have you ever heard of “kangaroo words”? The word game by writer Ben O’Dell gained popularity in the 1950s when it was first published in The American Magazine, then later reprinted in Reader’s Digest.
In this post, we'll explore different types of kangaroo words and how they can be useful in the ESL Classroom. Scroll to the end for a fun activity idea!
Students learn all about kangaroos through reading, speaking, listening, and vocabulary tasks in this Discovery lesson for young learners.
In logology, or recreational linguistics, a kangaroo word is an English word that contains the letters of a synonymous word that appear in the correct order within it.
The synonymous word is known as a “joey word,” in reference to how kangaroos carry their offspring in their pouches.
Take the word “chicken,” for example. Can you spot the synonym hiding in this kangaroo word?
That’s right! The joey word is "hen."
Here are some more examples of kangaroo words:
- astound (stun)
- capsule (case)
- catacomb (tomb)
- charisma (charm)
- destruction (ruin)
- fragile (frail)
- encourage (urge)
- instructor (tutor)
- observe (see)
- precipitation (rain)
Twin Kangaroo Words
Some kangaroo words contain more than one joey word. These are known as "twin kangaroo" words.
For example, the word "community" contains both the synonyms "county" and "city."
Here are some more examples of twin kangaroo words:
- complaisant (compliant; pliant)
- container (tin; can)
- chariot (car; cart)
- deteriorate (die; rot)
- diminutive (minute; mini)
- feasted (fed; ate)
- frangible (fragile; frail)
- loneliness (loss; oneness)
- perambulate (ramble; amble)
Grand Kangaroo Words
When a kangaroo word contains a joey word that has another joey word inside it, it is known as a "grand kangaroo" word.
For example, in the kangaroo word "alone," the joey word is "lone." Within "alone," there is the synonymous word "one".
Here are some more examples of grand kangaroo words:
- amicability (amiability→amity)
- complaisant (compliant→pliant)
- expurgate (purge→pure)
- frangible (fragile→frail)
Some kangaroo words contain an antonym instead of a synonym. These are known as "anti-kangaroo" words.
The word "friend," for example, contains its opposite, "fiend."
Here are some more examples of anti-kangaroo words:
- courteous (curt)
- covert (overt)
- fabrication (fact)
- feast (fast)
- she (he)
- threaten (treat)
- there (here)
- veto (vet)
- wonderful (woeful)
Using kangaroo words in the ESL classroom is a great way to introduce new vocabulary to students and/or revise synonyms and antonyms.
It can also make for a fun, supplemental activity to a lesson on Australia or Australian Animals.
Here is a fun activity to try that's based on a popular Japanese card game.
Prepare some cards with kangaroo words written on them and divide students into pairs or groups. Each pair or group should be given their own set of cards.
For each round, read out a joey word and set a timer. The goal is for students to correctly identify which kangaroo word the joey belongs to and grab that card.
The first student to grab the correct card within the given time frame wins the round and gets to keep the card. At the end of the game, the student with the most cards wins.
This game can be easily adapted to include twin, grand, and anti-kangaroo words too. Try it out and let us know how it goes!