Word Associations PDF Print E-mail
May 25, 2011 at 01:10 PM

Word Associations

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 ...?

  • The word "Friday" (I got: Fun, Night-life, Friends, Partying)
  • The word "Africa" (I got: Tarzan, Poverty, Animals, Heat, Dryness, Safari, Pyramids, Colours, Huts, Tribal dancing, Views, Sunset)
  • The word "Hippie" (I got: Peace, Songs, Long hair, Dirty, Hash, Flowers, Daisies, Herbs, Necklaces, Low-productivity, Love)
  • The word "Beauty" (I got: Scenery, Flowers, Women)
  • The word "Hero" (I got: Superman, Rambo, Ronaldo (a footballer), Lady Di, Elvis)
  • The word "Catastrophe" (I got: Plane, Hurricane, Floods, Earthquake, Hiroshima)
  • The word "rain" (I got: Ireland, Umbrella, Floods, Sadness, Wet, Trains)
  • The word "Intelligent" (I got: Books, Stephen Hopkins, Success, To be open, To be able to assimilate, To listen, Able to retrieve information from your memory and use it when you need it)
  • The word "California" (I got: Surf, Weather, Sand, Skating, Beverley Hills, Drugs, Big cars)
  • Money
  • Politicians
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • An ambulance siren
  • Holidays

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:

  • Vegetarians ...
  • Christmas ...
  • My best friend ...
  • Going abroad for a holiday ...
  • I once dreamt that ...
  • Etc.

We looked at the first word, and I basically asked them to "finish the sentence". With "vegetarians" we got:

  • ... are strange.
  • ... don't look healthy.
  • ... are more imaginative because they have less at their disposal
  • ... are a little fanatical.
  • ... are usually thin people who have no problems with weight.

Note: Here, as the success of the class was unexpected, I jumped on the occasion and asked them the following questions:

  • Why do people become vegetarians?
  • Are vegetarians healthier?
  • Is meat bad for you?
  • Are there any other types of names involving restricted diet?

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.