Bigger, brighter, better, best…comparative and superlative adjectives are all around us in English.
We use these adjectives to compare items, express preferences and give value judgments. Once your students have a strong grasp on adjectives, and this should happen in beginning level ESL classes, you can move their knowledge to the next level by tackling the harder world of comparatives and superlatives.
The structure of comparative and superlative adjectives in English is quite simple. When comparing two items, also known as comparative adjectives, add –er to the adjective to express superiority. This holds true for any adjectives that are one or two syllables. For three syllable adjectives, use “more” to express the comparison.
- She is smarter (than him).
- She is more beautiful (than him).
To show that one item is the superlative, that is the greatest within a set group, add –est
to an adjective of one or two syllables and use “most
” for adjectives of three or more syllables. Also, use “the
” in the comparison since the item’s superiority makes it a specific noun.
- It is the longest book (that we have read).
- It is the most complicated formula (that we will learn).
Be aware that many languages do not have the equivalent of the English superlative, so do not be surprised if your students show some confusion with the concept. Simply explain the idea in a way that makes sense to you and answer any questions that your students may have on the subject. Be patient and use teachable moments as they come along.
Try These Activities for Using Comparatives and Superlatives
Look Around You Race
Start with a simple activity right where you are by having students compare the people in your classroom. Put students in groups of four and then set a time limit of about five minutes. On your signal, each group should write as many comparative and superlative statements about the people in the room as they can. At the end of the time period, have one group share their sentences. If another group has the same sentence as the first group, both groups should cross that statement off their list. Continue until all groups have read all of their statements and any duplicates are eliminated. The group with the most statements remaining wins.
These Are the People in Your Family
Give your students 10 adjectives that can be used to describe people. You may want to include adjectives like old, young, tall, fat, happy, funny, etc. Then challenge them to write a sentence using the superlative form of each adjective. The sentence should be about a person in their family. Once the sentences are completed, each person should write a list of the family members who appeared in their sentences. Pairs of students should then exchange lists of people but keep their sentences to themselves. Each person should ask questions about their partner’s family and try to match each person to their superlative adjective. For example, a person might ask, “Is Su-Jan the oldest person in your family?” The other person should answer with a yes or an explanation. “No, Su-Jan is only four years old.” Give your groups ten to fifteen minutes to ask each other questions, and then see who in your class figured out the most family member qualities!
Home Style Interview
If your ESL class consists of students who have travelled overseas to study English, they probably have a strong opinion on how life in the U.S., U.K or Australia is different from that of their home country. Have students interview one another, you can do this in front of the class if you like, and ask about how life is different here than it was at home. Encourage students to use the comparative and superlative as much as possible during their interview. For example, a student might say “People here are busier, but life at home is slower.” If you like, have each person follow the activity by writing a paragraph about his own experience living overseas or that of his partner.
The "Most" Students
Do you remember your high school year book and the list of the “most” students in the back?
If you do have one of these from your school years, bring it in for your students to see. Then hold your own classroom vote for the “most” students in your class. Give your students a list of “most” statements about their classmates. You could use any of the standard mosts as well as some ESL specific qualities like the following.
- The best smile
- The most artistic
- The smartest
- The most likely to succeed
Then have your students cast a secret ballot for the “most” students in your classroom and collect their responses! After you tally the answers, make sure each person in your class wins a “most” award. You may need to give the same title to more than one student to do so. In class, present the awards in a humorous ceremony. If you like, give students ribbons, pins or gag gifts which coordinate with their category. You can even post the winners on a bulletin board for your class to enjoy.
- The person with the least accent
- The person who is the most adventurous eater
- The person who uses the dictionary most
Comparatives and superlatives are simple English structures that give students and teachers lots of room for creativity and humor in the ESL classroom.
When you teach or review comparatives and superlatives, make it fun for your students.
What comparative and superlative activities do you use to bring fun into the classroom?
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