After all these years, Paula Abdul had it right. Opposites do attract, but we are not talking about relationships here.
Antonyms are a fun and lively way to teach your students new vocabulary and improve their English language skills, so now there is no need to look high and low for vocabulary development strategies.
Fun ESL Activities with Antonyms
Start your antonym lesson by reviewing the words synonym and antonym, pointing out that they are antonyms. Make sure that your students understand that synonyms are similar and antonyms are opposites. Give your class a little warm up by encouraging them to brainstorm as many synonyms of “big” as they can. Then brainstorm a list of antonyms for that same word. Ask your students to share why they think it would be beneficial to add synonyms and antonyms to their vocabularies. What might they gain through a more extensive vocabulary?
To give your students an engaging method to practice using synonyms and antonyms, you can play the game of trees. You will need to do some preparation ahead of time, but the set up could be used many times throughout the year for reviewing and learning new vocabulary. Start by choosing one specific word you want your students to learn, and then make a list of eight synonyms and eight antonyms for that word. For example, you may choose intelligent as your main word. Your synonyms could includeclever, bright, smart, gifted, intellectual, sharp and able. Your antonym list could includestupid, dim, unintelligent, thick, slow, dull, brainless and dim-witted. You will need to write “intelligent” on a full sheet of paper and then write each of the synonyms and antonyms on a smaller piece of paper cut in the shape of a leaf. Post the intelligent paper in the middle of a bulletin board and then cut out the shapes for two large trees to fill the space on either side of the word. When it is time to play the game, divide your class into two groups and one student at a time will draw a leaf from the stack. His group must determine whether it is a synonym or an antonym of intelligent and then use it correctly in a sentence. If the group can do both, the person who drew the leaf should pin it to the correct tree. Then a person from the other team takes a turn. Once you have made your way through all the leaves, whichever team was able to put more leaves on the trees is the winner.
You can repeat this activity several times throughout the year using a new set of vocabulary. You may choose words that will enhance vocabulary you are teaching for another unit, or you may choose new vocabulary at random. Either way, the leaves will remain on the trees to remind your students of the new words they have learned. You should also make blank leaves available to your class to add words to each tree as they learn new synonyms and antonyms of the word you have chosen to post at that time.
Bingo is a useful way to review vocabulary with your students for just about any vocabulary unit you are teaching. To play antonym bingo, you will need a list of words and their antonyms with which your students are already familiar. Ideally, you should have twenty-five pairs to draw from. Print out blank bingo boards for your class, one per person, and give each person a list of the antonym pairs. Ask each student to fill their bingo board with random words from the list using some words from both sides of the paper. You should have already written each word on an index card and shuffled the deck. To play the game, you draw a card and read the word on it. Your students may then mark a box on their board if it contains the opposite of the word you have read. Remind your students as you play that they should not mark the word that they hear but they should mark its opposite. When someone calls bingo, review the words you called and the appropriate antonyms to make sure the win is true. This will also be another opportunity to review the antonym pairs with your students. Play as many rounds as you like. You can repeat this vocabulary review game as often as you like provided you have enough antonym pairs in your vocabulary bank.
In a similar manner, you can make word searches or crossword puzzles using antonyms as the clues for the words your students must either find in the puzzle or fit into the boxes.
If your students are at the age where they can appreciate Dr. Seuss, read to them his book One Fish, Two Fish which contains several antonym pairs. Read the book again and ask your students to listen for these antonyms as you read. Ask students to share any antonyms they heard as you read. Then give each student a copy of the book’s text so he or she can read the antonyms on his own. Using fish shaped die cuts that you make or purchase at a craft store, show your students how to write each word on one cut out to make a deck of cards. Encourage students to add their own antonym pairs to those Dr. Seuss offers so each person has a unique set of fifteen antonym pairs, thirty cards total. Then teach your class how to play “Go Fish” if they do not already know how. Let them use their own decks of cards to play the game in class and then take home to play with friends or family.
For another activity with the same cards, your students can use the antonym deck of cards in a Memory style matching game. On a large, flat space, have one student lay out all of his shuffled cards face down. He and his partner must then take turns flipping over two cards. If the two cards make an antonym pair, he may keep the cards and take an additional turn. If he does not find an antonym pair, his opponent gets a turn. Players continue until there are no cards left. The one with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.
When your students expand their vocabulary with synonyms and antonyms, they increase their comprehension of English and learn to express themselves with greater clarity.
Though these games may seem like more fun than learning, in fact your students will accomplish both while they advance their English language skills and develop their vocabularies!