In my experience, two common learner difficulties with adjectives are:
- An over reliance on one adjective: nice seems to be a particular favourite!
- A lack of awareness of appropriate adjective + noun collocations, e.g.: strong headache, angry argument etc.
I decided to use Jane Richard's simple yet highly effective lesson idea to help me out here:
This lesson uses two short stories "A Nice Story" and "A Bad Day" to illustrate how an over reliance on high frequency adjectives such as nice, bad and good can make writing bland and uninteresting. I typed up "A Nice Story" on the white board, and we read it together.
A nice story
It was a nice day so Mary decided to go for a nice walk in the nice park near her house. She thought it was a nice idea to phone her friend Jenny so that after their nice walk they could go for a nice coffee in one of the nice cafés which were near the edge of the town.
The learners found the story dull, and were able to tell me why! I went on to distribute A3 sheets of paper, each bearing a single word in the centre: walk, park, idea, coffee and cafe. The learners worked in pairs to brainstorm alternative adjectives, using a marker pen to note their suggestions. After a minute, the pairs had to move around to next piece of paper and add further suggestions. After a few minutes we had plenty of suggestions to work with, and it was now our task to eliminate the adjectives which didn't quite work, e.g. crooked walk (we settled on meandering in the end!)
After this, we followed a similar procedure to write the story "A Bad Day". We came up with some excellent collocations, such as violent argument, pounding headache and lousy day to replace bad.
Adjective noun collocation is equally important for spoken production: I will be thinking of ways to orally review and recycle these new lexical items in tomorrow's lesson.