An addition to the ‘board’ meeting – Brainstorming adjectives

AKA 'Pregnant Adjective Balloons'

This post is another response to Jason Renshaw’s recent call for ‘A meeting of the board(s)’ in which we TEFLers display snapshots of our the whiteboards in our classrooms. Although I’ve already contributed to the Wandrous Whiteboard challenge, I’ve also decided to contribute the following as it’s a more ‘regular’ representation of how I use the board (I will, however, be doing more Wandrous Whiteboard style activities in the future).

We had arrived at a unit in our coursebook about adjectives and I decided to turn one of the book’s activities on its head. On the page, the students were asked to complete phrase like ‘a fast ______’ and ‘a tall _______’ but this struck me as being more useful for brainstorming nouns than adjectives so I flipped it round and gave the students nouns to brainstorm adjectives for. As we had done the weather last week, I started with ‘a ______ day’ (with a large circle in place of the blank space here) and invited students to the board to write their ideas like this:

I’m a big believer in getting the students to write on the board because a) it involves them more in the lesson preventing board work becoming just me in front of the class, and b) kids always seem to love being handed the board markers! I thenDSC09016 elicited some more nouns to describe. They came up with ‘boy’, ‘girl’, ‘hair’, ‘teacher’ (well, actually they didn’t – that’s part of my jokey response to them shouting out ‘TEACHER! TEACHER!’ when they want to say something) and ‘car’. I then put them into groups and gave them a minute for each noun to brainstorm words. When the minute was up, we set up a chain of kids coming up to the board to write an adjective in the circle and then passing the marker onto another kid. You can see the results (taken as separate photos for easy viewing) around the rest of this post.

We then reviewed their answers, clearing up spelling errors anDSC09013d incorrect answers. Some interesting vocabulary came up such as ‘romantic’, ‘charismatic’ and ‘artistic’, words which the boys came up to describe themselves. “But none of the boys in our class are like that!” was the comment from one girl. I added ‘handsome’ as they weren’t sure what the equivalent of ‘beautiful’ should be for describing a boy. I used my insertion of ‘teacher’ as a springboard for discussion on what, in their eyes, makes a ‘good’ teacher. ‘Funny’ and ‘happy’ were their answers! One other interesting point was that for ‘car’, most of the groups first came up with ‘clean’ when I was expecting words like ‘fast’ and ‘new’ to come up. Still, clean was one of the target words in the book so that was useful!

Alas, time was against us. They students updated their notebooks to include the extra words now on the board and our 40 minutes DSC09014was up. If we had had more time, the next stage would have been to find opposites and see which words could be applied to the other categories. Still, we covered a lot in the lesson, not only brainstorming adjectives but also looking at related language such as “What’s he/she like?”, which was new question for them, and “What qualities should a good teacher have?” Also, despite it being a lesson mainly focused on the board, it had been student-centred for the most part. Plus, they got to come up to the front of the class and write on the board, which made their day. Smile


  1. Oh, this is great - really great! I love these adjective balloons blown up like this. I'm going to give this a shot myself in classes next week.

    I know it's simple, but the simple formats and ideas are often the most ingenious. Looking at your balloons from afar, they make the initial sentences look "pregnant" with potential, and there is certainly a lot more emphasis on the adjective side of things.

    Great stuff, Dave, and thanks very much again for sharing.

    - J

  2. Ron (Englodysiac)30 October 2010 at 10:56

    Dave, if a may suggest something from personal experience - for recycling adj, you may get stds to write a whole bunch of adj on the board. Next, you can put them in teams (I always get them to name their teams e.g. classroom pirates was my favorite). The teams (pars / groups) then have to come up with nouns that can take as many adj as possible from the list on the board. Of course T being the judge in case of 'beautiful boy'

  3. Cheers for the comments guys!

    Jason - Glad that you liked it and that I gave you an idea for the change (it's been the other way round so many times)! I've always enjoyed brainstorming for vocab work and this is a nice variation. Instead of branching out, we fill in!

    Ron - thanks for the idea. I find kids love anything that involves teams and points. I even made error correction 'exciting' that way. The best team name they've ever come up with for me was 'Dark Blue Dogs', just for the specific qualification of 'dark'!

  4. Great lesson. I read on Jeremy Harmer's blog, the one about Dogme, that the Lexical Approach slipped away. But I do think the idea of looking at collocations like this is great in theory and in practice. To me, this is a Lexical Approach activity and something very similar is in the books on it. WHat do you think?

  5. Hi David,

    I tend not to classify the things I do in class as part of any particular approach - I generally just label them as good ideas, poor ideas and ideas that need some work. ;)

    For building vocabulary, I love brainstorming especially in small groups before pooling the knowledge with the entire class. I've done this for adj-noun collocations, verb-participle collocations, hyponyms - basically any words that can be grouped or connected! I wouldn't say it's a lexical approach. Perhaps I would say a lexical approach activity but I believe nearly every approach has good activities which can be 'borrowed', mixed and matched for use in many contexts.


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