7 Word Formation Games
Fun classroom activities for prefixes and suffixes, especially useful for FCE, CAE and other exam classes.
Word formation is the addition of affixes like -ly and semi- to make longer words and different kinds of speech. Although it is often included in EFL exams and higher-level textbooks, it still probably gets just a few percent of the attention of lists of similar vocabulary, let alone tenses. Perhaps one reason for that is the lack of fun things you can do with it, something that this article seeks to start redressing.
Word formation brainstorming races
Give students a couple of minutes to brainstorm words with a single affix, e.g. il- or –ity. If it isn’t a prefix, you could also give them an additional two minutes with a (paper) dictionary to try to add to their answers. Then give them a big list of such words to compare their answers to (something which you can easily make by searching the internet for lists of words “beginning with…” or “ending with…” then editing the lists down). If there are patterns in those words (e.g. im- usually being with words beginning in P or M), see if they can work them out for themselves, perhaps with some good examples highlighted to help them.
There are also ways of making this more competitive, e.g. as Board Race or with different groups brainstorming different things and correcting each other (losing points if their corrections didn’t turn out to be correct).
Word formation list dictation
This is kind of the opposite of the game above. Read out a list of words which have something in common, e.g. words which take –en to make verbs (broad, wide, length, etc). Students listen to the list until they work out the missing affix, with five points for a correct guess, minus one point for a guess which isn’t true about those words, and no points for a guess which is also true but isn’t what the teacher is thinking of. They can then do the same thing with a version of the worksheet that the teacher is reading from with the answers taken out, check their answers, and test each other in groups. They could also use dictionaries or the internet to make similar lists to test other groups with.
A variation is to read a list of words that already have affixes on them in which all the affixes have the same meaning, e.g. –ship for relationships, asking students to guess the meaning of the affix for that list of words.
Word formation snap/pelmanism
This is a livelier game for practising several similar ways of forming words, e.g. un-, il-, ir- and im- for opposites or –ment, -ness and –ity for nouns. Prepare a pack of cards without those affixes. With the usual rules of Snap or Pelmanism, students have to try to get cards by finding pairs which match by the affix that could be added to them.
Word formation sentence halves matching pairwork
Find or create some sentences that include the affixes that you are practising. Split the sentences at the affix, e.g. “A sense of wonder” “ment is essential in a great artist”. As in this example, the sentence halves should be matchable by both the affix and the meaning. Give the sentences halves to different students and ask them to match them without showing them to each other (i.e. just speaking and listening). They should try to do so just with the split words first, then use the whole sentence to check their answers. There are several ways of organising this. The easiest is to give pairs of students Student A and Student B worksheets with the sentence halves in mixed up order, asking them to match sentence starter 1 with sentence ending J etc. It can also be organised as a mingling activity with single cut up sentence halves, with students coming up to the teacher for more when they think they have found matches.
Word formation jigsaw text
This is like an extended version of the task above. Cut up a whole text before suffixes and after prefixes, e.g. “The plan was completely il” “conceived and badly planned but somehow the original” “ity of how it was carried out made some kind of crazy sense and…” Students work together to put the text back together from logical and word formation clues. It might also be possible to design this as an oral task.
Word formation Call My Bluff
Students find examples of real word formation in a dictionary and make up two or three wrong alternatives, e.g. “punishment”, “punishness” and “punishation”. They read them out to another group, seeing if they can fool them about which one is the real one.
Something similar can also be done with written exercises such as FCE Use of English word formation ones. Students fill the gaps with a mix of the real and wrong answers and other groups see if they can spot which is which.
Word formation sentence transformations
The key word sentence transformation exercises in FCE Use of English can also be used for word formation, e.g. by giving them “I was happily playing in the sandpit when the snake appeared – happy” for them to make “Playing in the sandpit was making me happy when the snake appeared”. Games with this include memory games like Grammar Reversi and challenging them to use as many different forms of the underlined word as they can to express exactly the same meaning as the original sentence.
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.