The Internet TESL Journal

Word Associations

Gerard Counihan
profesorSs [at]

Level: Intermediate to advanced
Age: Adult

This activity needs only a few words to start the ball rolling, just make sure the words you choose lend themselves to some sort of comment.

There are many words in the English language which mean the same thing for everybody or mean something different for everybody. It depends on the actual word, the experiences people have been through and their imagination. But everybody has something to say about the following words,and the mental images that they evoke when heard.

Activity A

What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear ...?

Activity B

Get more words and images from the students. If, of course, any of the above leads on to a digression, seize upon it and enjoy the chat.

Activity C

In a slight variation on this, I gave the students several words which aimed to generate full-blown conversations rather than just focusing on spontaneous thoughts and images (and some of the words above will lend themselves to this too). I gave them the following list of words, each one followed by suspension points: We looked at the first word, and I basically asked them to "finish the sentence". With "vegetarians" we got: Note: Here, as the success of the class was unexpected, I jumped on the occasion and asked them the following questions:

As in many cases, you simply have to be on your guard and seize the moment, when somebody says something interesting or when a good idea occurs to you during a conversation. If you are a divergent-type teacher, who loves speaking topically and letting the topic drift, then this type of activity is for you.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 12, December 1998