The topic of comparatives like “bigger”, “further” and “more fun” is covered in the majority of lower level textbooks. However, as it is one of the grammar topics that students have most difficulty converting from textbook knowledge into fluent and accurate speech, more controlled spoken practice is always welcome – and by simply introducing connected adverbs like “far…” and “a bit…” it can also be useful in higher level classes.
Describing with comparatives guessing games
One of the simplest games for this grammar point is for one person to describe an object using comparatives until someone guesses what it is, e.g. “It is the biggest thing here, but it is shorter than a giraffe. It isn’t as heavy as a whale” for “elephant”. Wrong guesses should be replied to with another clue comparing the real object with that wrong guess, e.g. “No, this thing isn’t a snake. It isn't as scary as a snake.”
The objects described can be ones in the room, on a worksheet or on the board – or students can think of their own ideas. Instead of shouting out the name of the thing to guess, students could slap the relevant flashcard, run and touch the relevant classroom object, etc.
Some personalisation can be added to this game by students choosing a card or a word that says “Your (nose/ bicycle/ brother/…)” and describing that thing with comparisons until someone guesses.
Comparatives random pelmanism
Students pick two cards from a pack that is spread across the table or two words from a list (with the cards face down or by pointing with their eyes closed if you want to add more challenge). They must then think of a way of comparing those two things, e.g. that “A map is more beautiful than a stapler”. As well as the difficulty of choosing suitable words with the cards face down/ eyes closed variations, the challenge comes from the rule that each adjective can only be used once per game and that the last few cards will usually be things that are very difficult to compare.
Guess the comparison
This game is in New English File 1 photocopiable materials. A student reads out a comparison with the adjective missing and the other students must try to guess the missing bit, e.g. “more informal” from “(Mobile phone) texts are usually __________ than emails”. You could allow one point for other adjectives that are true, but to win or get the maximum number of points students must guess exactly the adjective that is in the original sentence. As with this example, this game can be used as a way of showing the differences between easily confused words. It can also be used to present cultural differences. After the examples on the worksheets, students can make their own gapped sentences to test other groups.
This game is from one of the Communication Games books. One student places down a card or chooses a word and says something positive about it such as “My spider is really cool”. The next student must then say why another thing is even better, e.g. “That’s true, but my rabbit is cuddlier than your spider”. This continues until all the words have gone or one person gives up. No adjective can be used more than once.
Higher level classes can play a variation in which they take turns making many sentences saying how one of their cards is better than one of their partner’s (rather than moving on to new cards after one sentence as described above). If one person runs out of comparisons or says something that is clearly not possible (e.g. “My dog is quieter than your book”), the other person wins those two cards and gets two points. The game then continues with the next two things.
Guess the comparison hint by hint
This is a slight variation on the game above. Students give more and more example sentences with the same missing comparative until someone who is listening works out what the missing word is. Each hint should be linked to the last one. For example, they could start with “The projector is probably the most lalala thing in this room”, then “A car is even more hmmmhmmmm than the projector” etc until their partner guesses that the missing words are “expensive”. The game then continues with different adjectives.
This is based on a children’s card game that was popular in the 1980s and is somewhat similar to Pokémon. Each student has a pack of cards which they can only look at the front card of and can’t rearrange in their hands. Without knowing what is at the front of their partner’s pack they must make a comparison like “I think my thing is faster than your thing” or “I’m sure mine is larger than yours”. They then reveal their cards and check, with the person who really has the card that is stronger in that aspect winning the other person’s card and putting both at the back of their pack. The person with most cards at the end of the game is the winner.
This game can be played with cards with the data on (like the original Top Trumps game) but this limits the number of adjectives they are likely to use, so cards with just pictures are probably better. If there is any dispute about the comparison, the teacher can decide or both players can keep their cards and put them at the back of their packs. You can play it with just one group of things such as animals Top Trumps or transport Top Trumps, or it can be more amusing to compare random things like “a sink” and “a cloud”.
Play Your Cards Right
This is based on the old television game show in which the contestant must guess if the next card is higher or lower than the previous one and get to the end of the line of cards without making a mistake. Each card is turned over to check before the next one is guessed in the same way. In the simplest TEFL version of this game, you do the same thing with just one adjective (or pair of opposites) from one end of the row of flashcards to the other, e.g. guessing if the next animal is heavier or lighter than the last one across a line of seven animal flashcards. In the more complex version, students have to make a sentence about the next card using an adjective that hasn’t been used yet.
Perfect picture dictation
A Picture Dictation is a task in which one student describes something that the other student can’t see (e.g. something on their worksheet) for the person listening to draw. In one variation, the person speaking is allowed to see what the other student is drawing or has drawn and to tell them what changes are needed with language like “The nose should be longer” and “The glasses should be more rounded”.
The students are given one or two objects to describe and must do so for as long as possible, using different comparative adjectives in each sentence. For example, they could be told to compare the whiteboard to other objects in the room or compare Rome to Paris. If anyone makes a wrong statement or gives up, the last person to come up with a correct sentence gets a point and the game continues with another object (and all adjectives become available again because it is a new round).
With lower level classes, rather than sticking with one object you could give them one adjective to use again and again with different objects until someone makes a mistake or gives up in the same way, e.g. students making statements about things which are “more expensive” than others from the list on the board or their own ideas.
This game can also be personalised by the teacher or a student saying things like “My bicycle”, or by all statements including “taller” having to include “you” and “your” and be about the person who chose that adjective.
Warmer/ cooler numbers
Students are asked to guess a number, e.g. the population of a country or the height of something in the classroom, and are given hints like “No, it’s much shorter” and “Nearly, but it’s a little heavier” until they get exactly the right number. As the comparatives are in the hints rather than the guesses, students should then ask similar questions (from their own knowledge, their research or a worksheet) to test each other in the same way.
Discuss and agree
Students are given a speaking task which doesn’t have one clear correct answer and must try to agree on “Fast food that is healthier than hamburgers”, “The most important ways in which this city should be improved, (e.g. made cleaner, less crowded, and richer)” and “Ten comparisons between the capital and second city of this country”.
Students work in teams to come up with best descriptions of things from their country that compare them to other more famous things in the world, e.g. for the Turkish food “pide” they could write “It’s like a pizza but easier to make and smaller” and for “kimono” they could say “It’s like a dress but much more difficult to put on”.
One student or team says or writes a mixture of true and untrue comparisons and other students try to guess which ones are not true. The comparisons could be personal things, based on students’ knowledge or got from online research. There are many ways of organising this, for example:
- One student chooses a card that has a noun or adjective on it and makes three comparisons with it, one of which must be false
- One student secretly takes a card that says “True” or “False” on it and must make a statement that matches that
Rank any which way
Students are given a list and must use a range of adjectives to compare those things on it in exactly that order, i.e. using one adjective to compare the first and second thing on the list, then a different adjective to compare the second and third item, etc all the way down the list. They can’t use the same adjective more than once.
Comparatives discussion questions
It is fairly easy to produce discussion questions with comparatives in them, e.g. “How is this town better than 20 years ago?” and “How would you feel if this town became much larger?” After they finish discussing those questions, give them another version of the worksheet with the comparative forms taken out, e.g. “How is this town (good) than 20 years ago?” to fill in. Alternatively, it is possible to design questions that don’t have comparatives in them but should produce those forms in their answers, e.g. “How would you change this town if you could?”
Comparative picture differences
It is possible (if quite difficult) to design picture difference tasks in which students use comparatives to describe what is there, e.g. “The bus is longer than the lorry” in Student A’s picture but “The bus is shorter than the lorry” in the Student B’s. As with any picture difference, they have to find the differences by describing or asking questions, without looking at their partner’s picture.
If your students are technical types, you could give them pictures with the same objects but some with different sizes and ask them to estimate and compare the sizes to find differences. They would then need comparatives to explain to the teacher or class what the differences are, or you could ask them to write differences using comparatives (“Student A’s bolt is long than Student B’s”) as they discover them. This could be extended to them asking each other “How happy is the man?”, “How wet is the dog?” etc to find differences which aren’t dimensions, but these would be very difficult things to draw or find.
A simpler picture difference activity is to give them groups of between 12 and 20 pictures on each worksheet, with the pictures paired between the Student A and Student B version so that they show the same kind of thing but with different degrees of a typical adjective to describe that thing. For example, they could describe and decide together which is the most beautiful (e.g. with pictures of two different towns), most comfortable (with two sofas), or most impressive (with modern buildings).
Comparatives clap clap clap
The Clap Clap Clap game is a popular one in which students sit in a circle and clap three times then pause, with the next person having to say something relevant (e.g. a word which starts with the last letter of the previous word) on exactly that fourth beat. With comparatives you can get them to make a sentence with a new adjective comparing something to the last object that was said. For example, the first person says “Banana” and the second person says “An apple is crunchier than a banana”. The next person must then say something like “A bus is heavier than an apple”. If anyone misses their cue or uses a noun or adjective that has been used before, the game starts again with a new series. You can limit the nouns to one kind of word or allow anything at all.
Comparatives beachball drilling
The simplest of all comparatives games is testing each other in pairs on what the comparative forms are, and the simplest way of doing that is throwing something such as a beachball to and fro testing each other with “Bad”/ “Worse”, “Far”/ “Further” etc. You can set this up as a game of tennis, volleyball etc to ensure that the person “serving” the original adjective changes and that there is a clear winner, or just tell them to swap who “serves” every time someone is caught out.
Comparative forms race
The teacher or a student shouts out one adjective and students race to shout out the correct comparative form, getting one point for a correct answer but minus five for a wrong guess. This works best with regular comparative adjectives they haven’t seen the comparative forms of before, plus maybe a few ones that don’t match the most common rules such as “more fun”. You could also let them use their dictionaries (racing to be first to find the correct answer) if none of them are confident enough to use their own knowledge or guess.
Make these comparisons
Pairs of students are given a list of comparison expressions like “much better” and “quite a lot more efficient” and ask each other questions to write as many true sentences as they can (one for each expression if they can) comparing themselves. When most teams have filled at least half of the sentences, stop them. Give points for sentences that only one group managed to fill in successfully, asking them to share their sentences with the class for a vote on whether it sounds like a correct use of the phrase. This game works best if comparative adjectives are combined with other comparing and contrasting expressions like “very similar”, “completely different” and “in contrast”.
Adjectives compare your weeks
Give students a list of comparatives that could be used to talk about work and leisure (e.g. “more stressful”, “more unusual” and “harder”) and get them to compare their last seven days to find out which person each one is true for. You can then give them another page with just the plain adjective on to see if they can remember the comparatives that they just used. Similar things could also be done with other topics, e.g. Adjectives Compare Your Work Histories and Adjectives Compare your English Language Learning.
Easily confused words comparatives
Give students a list of pairs of words which are easily confused, e.g. homophones, two words in English which only have one translation in L1, or a false friend and its real English equivalent. All of the pairs of words should be carefully chosen so that the difference between them can be partially or fully described with comparatives. For example, one difference between “estate (car)” and “SUV” is that “An SUV is further off the ground than an estate”. Perhaps with the help of dictionaries or an online images search, students must write comparative sentences to describe the differences between the pairs of words. The best description for each pair gets a point.
After all students present their ideas for something (e.g. a new advertising campaign) to the class, they should explain why their idea is better than anyone else’s in some kind of debate. Students can then vote on any idea except for their own, explaining why they chose that one with sentences like “It is the most realistic” and “It is cheaper than Group B’s but better quality than Group C’s”.
Drawing comparatives challenge
Students take turns drawing. The last person to draw challenges the next person to draw an object that is “more____/ ______ er” than the last drawing in some way, only using each adjective once per game. The object can be the same as the last one, e.g. “Draw a penguin which is fatter than that penguin” or a different object, e.g. “Draw a whale which is happier than that koala”.
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