Sometimes the hardest part about teaching grammar is coming up with fun activities that don't involve endless pages of fill-in-the-blanks. If you're working on comparatives and superlatives, these activities can be very helpful. They are fun and certainly can give you ideas for even more activities.
You can teach comparative and superlative suffixes through rote memorization, and to some extent, you have to. There's just not much else to do with those pesky irregular ones. But there are a few activities you can use to make the learning process more fun, engaging and/or helpful for students of all different learning styles.
The first big hurdle ESL students have to jump when learning comparatives and superlatives is the spelling. As you know, there are different rules depending on the spelling of the original word.
- For words that end with either two consonants or one consonant preceded by two vowels, simply add the comparative (-er) or superlative (-est) suffix (unless the final consonant is Y).
- For words that end in a consonant + Y, change the Y to I, and then add the suffix.
- For words that end in a vowel + Y or W, simply add the suffix, BUT...
- For words that end in a vowel + a single consonant (not Y or W), double the consonant, and then add the suffix.
- For words that end in a silent E, remove the E, and then add the suffix.
Of course, these are all for one- or two-syllable words, and longer words have a completely different set of rules. So what do you do? You make a chart.
Charts are not exciting, and for some students, they are the incarnation of boredom, but for other students, they are the only thing that makes sense, so throw those students a bone, and make a chart with one column for each spelling rule. You can label the columns or let the students figure out what the words in each column have in common. Either way, organizing them is helpful.
Once your students know how to spell the words, they need to start using them. Bring in a tape measure, a yard stick and a ruler, and have your students compare their height, shoe size, hair length, arm length, thumb length, head circumference, and whatever else you want to measure. Then have them write comparative and superlative sentences to describe their findings.
- What is the largest city in the world?
- What is the fastest animal?
- What is the hottest place on earth?
- What is the driest?
- How many buildings are taller than the Empire State Building?
- What is the world record for the longest bike ride?
- Who was the youngest president of the United States?
- Who was the oldest president of the United States?
- Where are the world's tallest trees?
- Which country has the shortest population?
Use these questions, or come up with your own topic, find the answers, and get your students to guess. Put them into pairs or groups of three, and have them guess the answers to the questions, writing their guesses in complete sentences. They get one point for using correct grammar and two points for knowing (or guessing) the right answer. The winning team is dubbed "the smartest."
Once your students know how to make comparisons using as/as (as tall as, as strong as, etc.), they can convert from as/as to -er.
- Example: They can change "Daniel Craig is not as hairy as Sean Connery" to "Sean Connery is hairier than Daniel Craig."
This is a pretty advanced exercise, so save it for higher-level students.
It'll be just like senior year all over again, only this time Sandy Honeycutt won't beat you for "Wittiest." Bring in a yearbook, or just explain the tradition in American high schools of choosing senior superlatives. Then let the class award each other (and you). You can even make a yearbook by having each student bring in a picture and having them write stories about each other that illustrate their superlatives.
And of course, there's just good, old-fashioned talking. Here are a few questions to get the conversation going:
- What is the strangest food you've ever eaten?
- Tell us about the best vacation you ever took.
- What's the longest you've gone without bathing?
- Who has bought the best thing with the least amount of money?
- Where is the coldest place you've ever been?
Comparative and superlative suffix ESL activities don't have to be limited to sentences where students fill in the blanks with the comparative or superlative form of the adjective in parentheses (although there is value in that). There are all kinds of things you can do to make learning comparative and superlative suffixes fun and helpful for everyone.