by Kevin Stuckey, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Why Teach Opposites?
Opposites are pairs of words that have different meanings (e.g., big/little, fast/slow, happy/sad). These words are part of Basic Concepts. Basic concepts are building
blocks that children need in order to follow directions, engage in classroom routines,
and provide descriptions. Understanding
these concepts is important so that children
can be successful with listening, speaking,
reading, writing, and math. Basic concept
words occur every day in classroom instruction
and communication with others. A good
knowledge of these concepts is directly related
to academic achievement.
Learning and comprehending basic
concepts word pairs of opposites allows
children to gain new vocabulary as well. For
example, when a child comprehends the
opposite word pair of hot/cold, he/she can
then expand his/her vocabulary with words
such as warm/cool. Therefore, when a student
understands and uses opposites, he/she is
better prepared to function in educational and social settings.
Ways to Teach Opposites
Teach the concept pairs. Present the opposites in related pairs. Do this by using
pictures, magnets, or real objects that represent the concepts. Teach the meaning of each
word and how the two opposite words are related by concept—for example,
in/out (space), early/late (time), wet/dry (condition), happy/sad (emotion). With success,
increase the difficulty by having the child name the opposite of a presented word with
no visual(s)... open/______ (closed).
Teach the concepts with a foil. To increase the difficulty level, give students an
opposite pair of words with a third picture/word (a foil). The foil is a word that has a
meaning in between the opposite words. Have students identify the opposite pairs and
related foil. For example, practice the concepts of top/bottom with the foil word middle.
They can also provide definitions for each of the words for further clarification and
understanding. For an additional activity, give students a foil and have them name the
opposite words that go with it.
Activities with Opposites
Use the following activities with your students to help them learn opposites in
- Cut out pictures from magazines or other books that show opposites (e.g., big
window/small window, big dog/small dog).
- Provide students with a concept word and have them go around the room and
identify the opposite word (e.g., heavy/light, on/off).
- Have students tell/write a silly story using as many opposites as possible.
- Use “Opposites” cards with games such as Go Fish and Memory Match to find
the opposite word pairs. The “Opposites” cards can be words, pictures, or a
combination of words and pictures.
- Play I Spy with students. Say, “I spy something that is old.” Students respond
by naming the opposite… “I spy something new.” To increase difficulty, have
students name as many items as possible.
- Give students a box/basket and have them collect objects that are opposites. Have
them name the pairs of opposites and describe their differences.