The order of adjectives in English is important! You can't just put them haphazardly in any order that you like. There are guidelines governing these sorts of things. It just wouldn't be right to talk about your Italian, beautiful, new sports car, or your Alpine, green, sleeping, down bag. But you can certainly tell others about your beautiful, new, sports car and your green, down, Alpine, sleeping bag.
This is a grammar lesson plan to guide your students through the complexities of ordering adjectives, with some fun practice activities thrown in so that they don't forget what to say in the future. At the end of this page you will find a free download of this lesson to print off and use in your next class.
Here is a table with some basic adjectives and their rather more sophisticated synonyms.
|ugly (things)||drab, hideous, unsightly, frightful, plain, awful|
|beautiful (things)||lovely, magnificent, marvelous, stunning, exquisite|
|happy||cheerful, delighted, upbeat, chipper, jolly|
|unhappy||dejected, despondent, dismal, downcast, bleak|
|thin (nice)||petite, slender, slight, slim|
|thin (not nice)||scrawny, emaciated, haggard, skinny|
|fat (nice)||well-built, stocky, plump, chubby|
|fat (not nice)||flabby, obese|
|big||colossal, humongous, immense, mammoth, massive|
|small||puny, scrawny, minuscule, tiny, diminutive|
|few||sparse, meager, paltry, scarce|
|many||abundant, substantial, numerous, bountiful, ample|
Cut up the table, and get the students to match the adjectives on the left with their synonyms on the right. Once they have done this, explain to the students the slight differences in meaning, where necessary (e.g. flabby means to have lots of loose fat, whereas obese means to be very overweight).
After they have matched the synonyms, get the students to choose one word that is new for them from each row, and use it to describe something, explaining their reasoning e.g.:
My mother is so cheerful, because she always has a smile on her face, and a kind word to say.
My sister is very skinny because she doesn’t eat enough.
Tell the students that they are going to be learning about the order of adjectives and placing them in the correct sequence. Try to elicit the correct order from them (i.e. find out if any students have learnt this in the past and can remember it).
To help them along, give them the following sentence (or make up your own):
Yesterday I bought a beautiful, small, new, pink, French, plastic, hair brush.
There's a great, big, hairy, black spider in my bedroom!
beautiful/great – opinion
small/big/hairy – appearance
new – age
pink/black – colour
French – origin
plastic – material
hair – purpose
So the correct order of adjectives is:
Get the students to place the following descriptions in the correct order (the answers are in the downloadable lesson plan at the end of this page):
Get the students to compete the table, by adding more adjectives to each category:
Each student needs to choose one item/noun. They can choose anything they like, and then they need to choose 4 adjectives from different columns to describe their noun (or add some extra if they can't find any appropriate ones). On the board, each student needs to take a turn drawing their noun, and writing down the four adjectives in random order. The other students need to write down the adjectives in their correct order. Get feedback as you go along to make sure the students have the correct order.
From the previous exercise, the students should all have a sentence with a noun and 4 adjectves, with the adjectives being in an order agreed upon by the class. For homework they need to draw a lovely picture of their item, and memorize their sentence as a template for future reference for ordering adjectives. During the next class, go through their sentences (and get them to show their picture) again, and check that they have memorized them.
Cut out some pictures from magazines, so that the students each have 2 to 3 pictures (or more for smaller classes). The students are going to make up a story using their pictures. The first student starts with the story on the basis of one of their pictures. They need to include at least 3 consecutive adjectives in their section of the story. The second student continues the story using their picture and at least 3 consecutive adjectives. Continue until all the pictures have been used.
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