How to teach the language of likes and dislikes
Summary: Stimulating presentation and practice of language for expressing preferences, with useful phrases and common student difficulties.
As can be seen from numerous online forum posts, chat page conversations and reviews, people love talking about their loves and hates. Talking about likes and dislikes is also a great way of bonding, something that is just as important for classroom dynamics as it is for dating.
Talking about likes and dislikes is something you can usefully start very early in language learning because the word “like” is easily translatable and even very young and very low level students can get a lot out of really communicating by asking and answering “What’s your favourite animal/ colour/ food?”. For higher level students there is a whole range of language such as “absolutely detest”, and students explaining why they feel that way adds freer speaking to any topic you decide to tackle with this language point.
Because you can talk about likes and dislikes of almost any kind (food, art, music, etc), this language point can be tied to almost any topic – and that’s a good thing because students usually pick the key phrases up extremely quickly and so need some vocabulary to make time spent on this point worthwhile. You should also think about quickly expanding the phrases you present and practise beyond “I like” and “I don’t like”.
Phrases I would present, in approximate order, include:
- I like…
- I don’t like…
- Do you like…? Yes, I do/ No, I don’t
- My favourite… is…
- What’s your favourite…?
- What kind of… do you like?
- I really like…
- I quite like…
- I love…
- I hate…
- … is okay.
- How do you feel about…?
- I really don’t like…/ I don’t really like…
- I’d like… (contrasted with “I like”)
- … is one of my favourite…
- I like… which…
- like to + verb (the British meaning of “think that I should”)
- I detest…/ I adore…
- I absolutely detest/ adore…
- My least favourite… is…
- What I (most) like about… is…
- I don’t mind…
- I can’t get enough…
- I used to like… but…
- I loathe…
- I’m fond of…
- I’ve always hated…
- I have mixed feelings about…
- I don’t have any strong feelings about…
I tend to go up to “… is okay” even with false beginner classes, if only because real communication is difficult without having that range of language to choose from.
Problems students have with this language include:
- Using the short answer “Yes, I like” rather than “Yes, I do” (for some reason much more so than with similar wrong forms like “Yes, I make” and “Yes, I take”)
- Confusing “My favourite… is…” and “I like… a lot”
- Using “dislike” where “don’t like” would be more suitable
- Collocations such as “I absolutely like…”
- Confusing “I really don’t like…” and “I don’t really like…”
- “My most favourite…” (also a common native speaker mistake)
- “It likes me” for Spanish speakers
- “I don’t quite like…” for “I don’t really like…” or “… is okay”
- Putting the wrong form after the verb, e.g. “I like cat” and “I like a cat”
Presenting the language of likes and dislikes
Using smiley faces to represent liking and downturned mouths to represent disliking is an almost universal way of presenting this point, which is strange because it simply doesn’t work. A disgusted face (tongue sticking out of wiggly mouth) works slightly better with the topic of food, but it is easily confused with a tongue licking your lips for “yummy”. More seriously, there is no way for students to tell from a face if it means “I like”, “I really like” or “I love”, and one or two students may imagine it just means “… makes me happy”. It is also almost impossible to come up with situations where none of that other language is a possible interpretation from the context.
Given how simple this language is and how common it is in other languages, by far the best solution is simply to translate “I like…” (or confirm students’ correct translations) and get on with the rest of the lesson. I say this as someone who almost never uses translation, but who has seen other teachers tie themselves in knots over something that can be dealt with in seconds.
Once the key meaning of “like” is out of the way, you can easily present expressions like “quite like” and “really like” that have milder or more extreme meanings by putting them on a scale, using faces with larger and larger smiles etc at this stage if you really want to. Having the phrases in context can help students do this for themselves, e.g.
“I like ice cream”
“Only like it? I love it! But I don’t like vanilla ice cream”
“Me neither. In fact, I hate it!”
An even bigger clue for students is shown by the exclamation marks above, with the teacher saying the phrases with suitable intonation and stress usually being enough for students to rank the phrases by how strong or weak they are – especially if that is reinforced with body language such as facial expressions. The class can then move onto practice of suitable pronunciation such as asking students to just make noises to represent their feelings and their partners guessing what phrase would be most match that.
I was once very proud of my ability to explain the difference between “I like + verb + ing” and “I like to + verb” in British English to even false beginner students (first forced on me by a low level textbook that included it), but I now look back on that as perhaps the biggest waste of classroom time ever. If you do want to do so, perhaps with higher level classes, the classic way is to ask students whether “I like to go to the dentist twice a year” can possibly mean I enjoy doing so. The +ing form also being used after the verb “enjoy” is another clue to the difference between the two forms.
You’ll also need to decide whether you want to present “like + countable + s/ uncountable”, just correct mistakes with nouns, or entirely leave that grammar point until later.
Classroom practice of the language of likes and dislikes
Make me say Yes, I do
This is my favourite game for all these kinds of low level question structures, with both adults and children. Students ask Yes/ No questions and get one point for each “Yes” answer they get, e.g. by asking “Do you like ice cream?” Negative answers get no points, meaning they have to guess things about their partner(s) as they are making the questions. To make the game more challenging, you can give them more specific questions that they must use, e.g. “Do you really like…?” or “Do you hate…?” (although these questions aren’t used very much in real life).
Hit my answer
This is a more varied and physical version of the game above. Students ask each other questions and then try to hit the response they expect on the board. For example, one student asks “How do you feel about cheese?”, throws a sticky ball (= sucker ball) at “It’s okay” on the board and waits to hear if that is their partner’s real feeling about it or not.
“I like” answer me
This is like a less physical but more challenging version of the game above. Students are given cards like “It’s okay” and “Yes, I do. I love it”. They must ask questions to get exactly those answers from their partner(s) in order to discard those cards. The person with least or no cards in their hand at the end of the game wins.
Things I (don’t) like definitions game
The language of likes and dislikes can be tied in with freer speaking and vocabulary revision by doing a typical game where students have to explain the object on the flashcard that they are holding until people guess what it is, in this case starting with sentences about likes and dislikes such as “I think everybody here likes it”, “I didn’t use to like it but now I do” and “Monkeys love them”. The objects you give them to describe should be chosen carefully to get a range of language from them in their descriptions.
Likes and dislikes pelmanism
Word or picture cards are spread over the table face down and students take turns trying to find pairs of things that their partner likes, e.g. “Do you like peanut butter and jam sandwiches?” for the cards “peanut” and “jam”. Alternatively, they can pick the two cards and make a sentence with what they guess about their partner’s taste, e.g. “I think you don’t really like peanut butter and jam sandwiches”.
Classes who are still learning how to read can also play the game with the cards face up, including perhaps allowing combinations of more than two things.
The same games can be played with realia such as plastic fruit, with students reaching into a bag without being able to see inside to select two things that should go together in a game that I call 3D Pelmanism.
A simpler variation is for students to get one point for each person in their group or the class who likes the combination that they choose.
Likes and dislikes sentence completion
Students are given a worksheet with at least ten of the expressions in the list above as sentence starters, e.g. “I used to like _____________________”. Students fill in at least half of the sentences then read out just the part that they have written (i.e. not the sentence stem) for their partner to guess where they wrote that thing, e.g. “Abba” “You used to like Abba” “No” “You’ve always hated Abba” “That’s right. I’m not sure why”.
Likes and dislikes bluff
Students say a mix of their real likes and dislikes and some made up ones. Perhaps after asking questions like “What do you like about it?” and “Do you feel the same way about…?”, the other students try to guess which are true sentences and which are lies. This game can also be played with the kinds of sentence stems that are explained in Likes and Dislikes Sentence Completion above.
Guessing likes and dislikes chains
One student makes a list of statements about the probable likes and dislikes of their partners, perhaps taking cards or ticking off things from a list as they do so, stopping whenever they aren’t confident about their next statement. They get one point for each correct statement so far when they stop, but they lose all the points from that round if they make an inaccurate statement before stopping.
The game can also be played similar to the cards face up variation of Likes and Dislikes Pelmanism above, with students making longer and longer statements about combinations of things, e.g. “I think you like pizza” “That’s right” “I think you like pizza with meat” “You’re right” “I think you like pizza with meat and sweetcorn” “Yes, I like that too” “I’ll stop there” “Okay, three points. I also like pineapple on a meat and sweetcorn pizza.”
More and more specific likes
This is a making chains of statements activity similar to that above, but getting more and more precise in their statements rather than extending them. Students choose one of the very general categories on the board and make a statement about their partner that they think could be true, e.g. “I guess you like fruit” or “I imagine you like ice cream”. If they are correct, they can if they like try to make a more specific statement, e.g. “I think you like bananas” or “I reckon you prefer bowls of ice cream to cones”. They get one point for every correct statement when they decide to stop, or lose all their points from that round if they make a false statement.
Likes and dislikes logic puzzles
There is a famous logic puzzle in which the person running the game and anyone who thinks they have spotted the pattern make statements like “I like glasses but not contact lenses” and “I like feet but not hands” until everyone works out that the pattern is “like + words with double letters” and “don’t like + words without double letters”. The same thing can be played with many other patterns, e.g. square/ circle, beginning with vowel/ beginning with consonant, one syllable/ more than one syllable, usually hot/ usually cold, soft/ hard, fruit/ vegetable, big/ little and metal/ wood.
Comparing and contrasting your likes and dislikes
Ask students working in pairs to find as many things as possible which they feel (exactly) the same way about, e.g. “I like cheddar” “I love it” “Really? I love blue cheese” “Me too. One point”. The same game can also be played with students trying to find things that have different feelings about, or have feelings which are next to each on a ranking of liking and disliking phrases that you’ve given, e.g. one of them really likes and the other loves.
Like or dislike stations
Students run and touch one of two opposite walls depending on whether what they hear or see is connected to liking or disliking. For example, if they think “I loathe” means “dislike”, they compete to be first to touch that wall (perhaps using the teacher’s tone of voice to help them guess). The same can be done with guessing people’s taste in things, or understanding written or spoken descriptions of obviously popular or disgusting things (e.g. “spider sandwich”). If you don’t want students running around the classroom, they can point at the two walls, throw screwed up paper at two boxes, slap “like” and “dislike” cards on their table, hold up one of their two hands, etc.
You bet I like it
Students bet on other people’s feelings about particular things, e.g. “I bet ten dollars that Mary hates spiders”, gaining or losing that much (pretend) money when they hear that person’s real feelings.
Like more/ Like less
This is a good game to get students to use more precise expressions of liking and disliking, and they need a ranking of at least 7-10 such phrases to play this game. Students try to answer the question “How do I feel about…?”, with that person giving the hints “I like it more” and “I like it less” until they get to exactly the right level, e.g. “How do I feel about cheese?” “You love it” “I like it even more” “You absolutely adore it” “I certainly do”.
Likes and dislikes surveys for points
Students get one point for each person in the class or their group who feels the way that they say about the thing that they choose, e.g. one point for each person who puts up their hand when they hear “Most people think cheese is okay”.
A more challenging task is for students to try and come up with statements which are true for as many different numbers of people as they can, e.g. in a five person class trying to find something that just one person likes, two people really like, three people hate, four people dislike and everyone thinks is okay. As with those examples, you could also ask them to use a different liking and disliking expression for each statement.
Books and songs for the language of likes and dislikes
There are many examples of these, for example the books Green Eggs and Ham, Ketchup on your Cornflakes and Yummy Yucky, and the song Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream from SuperSimpleLearning.