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ESL Lesson Plan - The Odd Couple - Gradable/Ungradable Adjectives - Intermediate and Up

  This lesson gets students speaking about a mocked past vacation using gradable and ungradable adjectives. It can be used with really most levels above pre-intermediate, but you'll probably have to teach some auxiliary vocabulary about holidays/vacations to help them with their activations.

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Introduction -(couple of minutes) Use any of these ideas

a. Have various pictures of different travel locations and things to do on vacation up on the board.
b. Come in with a suitcase and say you're gong somewhere.
c. Tell short story about a past vacation you went on. Make sure to use gradable and ungradable adjectives in your telling.

Lead in (7-10 min)

1. Where did you go on your last vacation/holiday
2. Who did you go with?
3. Name five things you can do whilst on vacation
4. What was the best thing about the vacation? Worst thing?
5. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Target Language (2-5 min)

Gradable Adjectives are both grammatically based but also lexically based. Students need to know what the adjective is and its strength to use it correctly. What I do is pick about 8 gradable adjectives and add their ungradable equivalent. For example, good - great, cold - freezing, pretty - gorgeous, small - tiny, angry - furious, large - enormous, ugly - hideous,  bad - horrible  

Tip: The adjectives you use will be determined by what your activation will be. So think of the context of what they will be speaking about at the end of the lesson and use this to determine what adjectives to use. Also remember that if you are working with lower levels a lot of these adjectives will be brand new, so you will need more time to teach and learn them if they are unknown. Likewise, if you have an advanced group, give them more ways to grade an adjective or other synonyms for ungradable adjectives like for angry teach them Furious, Livid, Enraged...etc.

Presenting this is pretty easy. Just put Good on the board and elicit out Great from the students. Ask them what the difference is. Put Very in front of Good and ask them if that's correct. Put Very in front of Great and ask them if that's correct. If they say no, ask them why. Real easy stuff.

Study 1 Strips (5 min)
Hand out strips of these words and students in pairs have to match up the gradable and ungradable adjective (pretty - gorgeous).

When they have finished, briefly go over the ways to grade a gradable adjective (very,really, somewhat, a little...etc) and what you can use with ungradable adjectives (really, just, absolutely...etc).

Study 2 ( around 10min)
Take 2 minutes to elicit things that deal with holidays/vacations. Elicit these words out. The...hotel, people, food, nightlife, pool, room, scenery..etc Try to get about 8 different categories.

You should have pictures that represent all of these categories and pass them out to the pairs. The students have to take opposite roles for them so one student will say that the food (they have a picture of food) looks good and the other student says 'no it looks great!' and so forth. Do this for about 5 minutes and make sure that all of the target language is being used. Also watch for the tone and volume. The students using ungradable adjectives should sound enthusiastic. Get them to say the word/sentence with some vigor.

Activation (Around 15 min depending on time)
Demo: Tell the class that you just got back from a trip. Have the students ask you as a class about your trip using the above categories presented (room, hotel, nightlife...etc) Alternate your answers between mild gradable adjectives and ungradable absolute adjectives.

Switch up pairs and tell the students that they have just got back from a vacation with their partner. Student A is a mild mannered person, student B is an extreme person. SA always uses gradable adjectives ('the room was somewhat big').  SB always uses extreme adjectives ('the room was enormous!'). They have to go through all of the categories listed and then they can switch sides.

Tip: As always, work on natural language. Just don't have them list through the categories. It should sound like a regular conversation as in 'Well, what a nice trip we had, do you remember the pool, it was pretty cold'.... 'Cold? are you kidding, it was absolutely Freezing!' ...etc. That's what you want. Make it sound natural and work on pronunciation, fluidity, question asking and tonal quality.

Feedback (around 3 min)
Get some basic feedback from the groups once they are finished. Board and error correct any mistakes you heard. End the lesson with a quick joke.


This is a fun setup because students can really talk about anything. If you have a good class that races through the holiday scenario, give them another scenario and they can do it again...e.g. class reunion, first day on the job, review of a movie...etc. Remember, you can't just say 'talk about a movie' that won't work. You need to task it out with them first e.g. talk about the...actors, score, director, set, plot, script, ...etc. This how you'll get the output that you want. It takes a couple of minutes to do this, but don't forget, or else the activity won't work nearly as well. Also remember that it's not just about them knowing the rules or what the adjectives mean. Work on getting them to sound as natural and fluid as possible. That's the point anyway of language learning.



  1. Hi Chris, thanks for the post, you have some great ideas. I have one question and I'm wondering if you can help me. I'm looking for a 20 minute speaking activity focused on gradable and ungradable adjectives, with "The Ocean" as my theme. Do you have any ideas or suggestions for a good direction to head in? It will be a small (about 4-5 students) upper-intermediate class of young adults.

  2. Hey Max,
    Sorry for the late reply here. Please let me know if you still need some ideas and I can help you.


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