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Opposites – A Fun Way to Learn New Vocabulary

by | April 24, 2018

Tanya opposites banner

Pairing "opposite" words is a great way to learn new vocabulary. English language learners have an easier time attaching meaning to a word when they are also presented with a word's antonym. For example, the meaning of the word "big" is a lot easier to grasp when presented as "big/small."

Visuals are also very helpful with opposites. Words such as "tall/short," when accompanied by images of tall and short people, are instantly understood. You can find plenty of images of common opposites in our Descriptive Adjective Flashcards!

Opposites can also be reinforced through various practice activities such as word tasks or card games. After presenting the lists of opposites in the charts below to your students, try some of the activities suggested at the end of this post.

Lists of Opposites

We've divided these lists into different parts of speech so that students can better understand their role in a sentence. For more practice with nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions, see our Parts of Speech lesson for teens and adults or our Fun Grammar Lesson for kids.

Adjectives

  • tall → short
  • big → small
  • hot → cold
  • soft → hard
  • loud → quiet
  • easy → difficult
  • happy → sad
  • low → high
  • shy → outgoing
  • clean → dirty
  • new → old
  • light → heavy
  • safe → dangerous
  • strong → weak
  • fast → slow
  • early → late

Adverbs

  • quickly → slowly
  • loudly → quietly
  • politely → rudely
  • internally → externally
  • always → never

Prepositions

  • in → out
  • into → out of
  • on → off
  • in front of → behind
  • next to → far from
  • above → below
  • over → under

Nouns

  • sun → moon
  • day → night
  • land → sea
  • beginning → ending
  • everybody → nobody
  • love → hate
  • past → future

Verbs

  • ask → answer
  • arrive → leave
  • give → take
  • sit → stand
  • find → lose

Activities

1. Brainstorming

There are millions of opposites out there! Brainstorm in groups (students can record their opposites on a piece of paper) or as a class (you can record their opposites on the board). Make it more challenging by brainstorming for a particular part of speech. Make it more interesting by dividing students into teams for a class brainstorming session—whichever team comes up with 10 opposites first (or the most opposites in a given timeframe) wins!

2. Matching

Matchup tasks are perfect for practicing opposites. Write opposite terms onto small pieces of paper, mix them up, and give them to pairs to groups to sort into matching opposites. (For premade blank cards, use page 7 from Verb Cards in our Resources section.)

You could also write one set of opposite pairs in a list on the left side and the other on the right of a piece of paper (for pairs or groups) or on the board (for a class activity) and have students draw lines between the opposites. Be sure to mix up the order on the right side so that the opposites aren't directly across from one another.

3. Complete the List

Put students into pairs (or have them work individually) and have them write one-half of an opposite word pair in a column on the left side of a piece of paper (e.g., big, tall, etc.). Challenge them to come up with 10 words (and ask for them all to be a particular part of speech if you want to practice that too). Then have them pass the paper to another pair (or individual) who will try to complete the list by writing down the opposite words (e.g., small, short, etc.).

4. Memory Game

There are a lot of card games you can use for practice with opposites, such as Go Fish or Memory.

For the Memory game, cut up a set of same‑sized cards (for premade blank cards, use page 7 from this Verb Cards resource) before class and write one word on each. Make sure each word card has another card with the opposite word on it. Have one set of cards for each group.

In class, shuffle the cards and place individual cards face‑down in a grid on a table for each group. Students will take turns in their group. For a turn, a student will flip over any two cards. If the words are matching opposites, the student can keep the pair of cards. If they're not opposites, the students must flip them back over. At the end of the game, when all the opposite pairs are found, the student with the most pairs wins!

What are some other ways you would practice opposites in class? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

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