Snapshot: An activity for practicing adjectives to describe emotions

Robert Lowe, Rikkyo University

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Adjectives, creative, drama, role-play
  • Learner English level: Elementary to intermediate
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-45 minutes
  • Materials: One short piece of reading, one worksheet

When teaching lexical items such as adjectives, it can often be difficult to provide students with opportunities to use this newly-encountered vocabulary. Activities for practicing vocabulary to describe emotions and feelings are often limited to gap-fill exercises or activities, such as sentence writing, in which students contrive situations in which to use the language. The activity described here gives students the opportunity to use the language in a creative way, taking on the character of a person in a particular situation and expressing that character’s thoughts and feelings. The situation described in this article is that of a wedding party and its participants, but other examples could easily be used.


Step 1: Pre-teach or present some adjectives to describe emotions and feelings. These should, ideally, be a mix of positive and negative adjectives, for example: jealous, happy, cheerful, guilty, worried, and bored.

Step 2: Create a worksheet containing an example of a character expressing contrasting emotions in a thought bubble, using the structure I look ________, but actually I’m _________ because _________ or something similar (See Appendix A).

Step 3: Create a short text for students to read describing a situation and the relationships between the characters in that situation, for example, a wedding in which everyone has secret doubts and concerns (See Appendix B).


Step 1: Show students the example of the character expressing contrasting emotions. Ask them to underline, on the handout, the previously taught vocabulary and then in pairs engage in a substitution exercise where they read the thought bubble several times, changing the adjectives each time for other previously taught adjectives.

Step 2: Pass out the short reading and ask students in pairs to think of some adjectives that could describe the feelings of each character from the passage. This could be done in a table below the passage.

Step 3: Depending on the size of your class, split the students into groups of five or six (or however many characters are mentioned in the reading passage). Assign each student a character and tell them they are going to pose for a photograph as their character. In the example given here, students pose for a wedding party photograph.

Step 4: Have students freeze, as if they were in a photograph. Have each student then come forward in turn and express three pieces of information: how they look, how they really feel, and the reason for this. Require them to use the previously taught structure. For example: I look very happy, but actually, I’m worried because I don’t think my daughter should marry this man! 

Step 5: Students then swap roles and practice again, trying to use as many different adjectives as possible. 


This activity could be adapted for teaching a number of different sets of adjectives or for practicing linking words to provide contrasting ideas, such as however, although, even though, and though. For example: Although I look happy, I’m actually sad because…


This activity gives students an opportunity to practice using adjectives to describe feelings in a meaningful context and also allows them to be creative, taking on the roles of a number of different characters and inferring their emotional states from the given context and information. This provides more meaningful engagement with the language than a simple gap-fill exercise or asking the students to describe their own feelings: It pushes them to use adjectives they normally would not use in order to describe the characters in the photograph. This is a fun activity that can be set up quickly. It will engage students and help stimulate their memorization of new vocabulary.


The appendices are available in the online version of this article available below.