Top Five Fun with English


Dealing with the English language every day as part of your job can mean that you start seeing it in negative terms: stubborn sentences that won’t allow you to rearrange them, recurring structures you dislike and so on. For English teachers and students it often becomes about mistakes, difficulties and failure.

We could give students the opportunity to talk about what they really have problems with by putting together their personal Top Five difficult things in English. Here is my personal Top Five of difficult English:

1. separately (spelling)
2. definitely (spelling)
3. three (pronunciation)
4. sociopath (Being a huge fan of US crime drama, I talk about them quite a lot.)
5. hierarchical (I feel like using the word surprisingly often but then avoid it because I’m not sure I can say it right.)

I know I’m not alone! It might help students too if they realize that they struggle with similar words as their classmates. It also provides them with spelling and pronunciation practice and makes them more aware of which words to be careful with.

But, we should look past the daily struggle and realize that English is amazing and there are so many expressions, sounds and structures that are just beautiful! The other day, I was looking though some of the Grammar Reference Units on MEC and I was suddenly overwhelmed by a love for the third conditional. These moments should be celebrated! I think it’s important to stop once in a while to think about why it’s fun to work with the English language, what makes it special and what makes us laugh.

Just think of how amazingly rich English is in synonyms and onomatopoeia as demonstrated by my Top Five ‘laughing words’:

1. cackle
2. chuckle
3. laugh your head off
4. snigger
5. giggle

My absolute favourite words in the English language – admittedly mainly because they sound funny – are:

1. flabbergasted (unfortunately not used widely)
2. gobsmacked
3. shenanigans
4. conundrum
5. precarious

You could get students to make lists of their favourite words and present them to their group, trying to ‘sell’ them to the others. They could also go through dictionaries and try to find obscure words, long words or words that seem impossible to pronounce while another group of students has to come up with definitions and pronunciation rules for these words. It’s all about bringing a sense of discovery and adventure to language learning. I just recently learnt the word ‘piglet rustler’, which I think is one of the most amazing words ever! It’s such a shame there aren’t many opportunities to use it but I try to sneak it into conversations whenever I can.

Another place to find funny words are maps. Students could look for towns with interesting names or draw up lists of the strangest place names from their country and ask the other students what they think these words mean and give a little pronunciation lesson. This could be a fun activity for students to introduce themselves and their language, which provides speaking practice and creates awareness for the different use of sounds in different languages.

Here are my Top Five German place names:

1. Castrop-Rauxel
2. Villingen-Schwenningen
3. Raa-Besenbek
4. Bacharach
5. Treuenbrietzen

There are so many ways to integrate lists into the classroom. You could hand out newspapers, for example, and ask the students to make a Top Five list of puns they found in the headlines. Song lyrics or titles of books or films are often beautiful examples of a creative use of the English language, although whether you want to use music depends on who your students are and what kind of music they’re into. After all, when I started to list my favourite song lyrics, I decided that while they show the creativity of the English language in all its glory, you might not want to find yourself discussing the meaning of ‘She blew my nose and then she blew my mind’ (The Rolling Stones: Honky Tonk Women) with a classroom full of teenagers.



  • I really like the word ‘bewildered’ . Even saying it makes me feel confused.

    Posted by Sarah Milligan on June 24th 2011

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