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Describe Him/Her to Me: ESL Activities

By Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

Everyone has someone he or she admires. Using this as a focus, students can practice English language skills with exercises that describe people they admire as well as their peers.

Adjectives

Descriptive adjectives describe a person, place or thing. Placement of these words in a sentence confuses many ESL students. Learning how to use individual words to give more detail to a subject enriches the language skills of students.

Word Lists

Numerous words provide details for nouns. Have students brainstorm words they know that connect to the five senses. These are all words that describe nouns.

Sight - colors (red, yellow, purple, etc.), textures (soft, rough, wrinkled), shapes (round, square, triangular), designs (spots, stripes, check)

Hearing - musical, melodic, loud, soft, whistling, squeaky

Smell - sweet, pungent, stinky, fragrant, putrid

Taste - sweet, salty, bitter, bland, mild, sharp

Feel - soft, hard, rough, wet, dry, damp, coarse

Ask students, when they write details about a subject, to keep in mind their five senses, as this will aid them in writing their descriptions.

Brainstorm

Often English language students know more words than they use. Brainstorm with them all the words they can think of in the following categories: appearance, personality traits, colors, sizes, shapes, sounds, quantity and feelings. Assist them in the brainstorming by prompting them with questions such as -

  • Appearance -How does the person, place or thing look?
  • Personal traits - What kind of a person is he/she? How does he/she act/behave?
  • Feelings - How does he/she feel?
  • Quantity - How many are there?

For high-intermediate and advanced English language students, teach them how to use a thesaurus. Ask them to pick a word to look up. Have them list all the synonyms for that word.

Name that Person

This activity gets students speaking in English as they describe famous people.

  • First, break your students into groups of twos or threes.
  • Ask each group to think of three famous people that everyone knows. These can range from athletes to entertainers to politicians.
  • After they have chosen three people, have them write as a group at least five sentences to describe each person, without providing the name. (i.e., Her hair is long and red. His wears a white uniform with green stripes.) Each sentence must contain at least two descriptors.
  • The descriptions are going to be read to the rest of the class, so the groups must work together to make sure that what they write makes sense.
  • Now tell each group to pick a reader. This person will pick one of the groups' characters and read the five sentences describing that person without saying who it is.
  • The rest of the class guesses who is being described.
  • When the identity is revealed, move on to the next group.
  • Eventually you will get around the entire room and it will be time for the first group to go again.
  • Make sure a different student is the reader while the second character is being described.

Peers

Once the students feel comfortable describing famous people, assign them one of their classmates to describe by handing out cards with another student's name on it. Tell them not to say or show whom they are describing. In order for everyone to "see" each other, have the students, one at a time, come to the front of the class to "model" for everyone. This allows the person with that students name to find information on how that person looks, acts, or behaves without everyone knowing.

After, not during, the modeling is done, have them write at least five sentences without the person's name mentioned that detail this person's looks, traits and/or feelings.

When everyone is finished with their sentences, have students number a paper from one to however many students are in the class. Then, have students count off so that everyone has a number. Now, have students take turns reading their sentences as the others record who they think the person is beside the corresponding number on their paper. After everyone has read their descriptions, have the students in number order tell whom they described. See how many correct answers everyone had.

Details, Details

The additional benefit to these activities is that students learn to pay close attention to people and situations. The more details they see, the easier it is to describe a person.

These interactive activities on descriptive adjectives will allow students to enjoy playing with language as well as challenge them to use words they know but do not often use. Awarding a small prize to the student(s) with the most answers adds to the fun of these activities. Additionally, these activities work with other adjectival forms as well as adverbs and verbs. Adult learners also find these activities beneficial to improving their language skills.

References and Resources

Some content is from author's experience.

Buzzle: List of Descriptive Adjectives, 2011 - http://www.buzzle.com/articles/list-of-descriptive-adjectives.html