Supporting ESL students, forming negatives and opposites

The students can recognise particular words and prefixes that signal negation and use negative forms in creating their own oral or written texts.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: using prefixes to form opposites to create negation

Oral activity

Introduce the use of prefixes to create opposites of adjectives.

Give students a list of adjectives and discuss how to make opposites. Some use totally different words (e.g. large/small) while others can use a prefix to create the opposite (e.g. the opposite of happy can be either sad or unhappy) make sets of cards.

Teacher may say that the use of some prefixes can change the verb to the opposite meaning.

Use a range of prefixes to build understanding that there are various forms that perform the same function and they may change according to the first letter of the base word.

“un” is the most common prefix indicating negation but other common variants are:

Table of prefixes (PDF 40.49KB)

Teacher explains that all these prefixes perform the same function - to create the negative attribute or action.

Teacher tip: display this table to help students become familiar with the use of different prefixes.

Activity 2: practising usage


Students can use quizzes on websites, play communicative sorting games to match prefixes to base words and complete sentences using the negative forms to practise usage. (Worksheets such as the one below should be with a partner orally.)

Practising usage worksheet (PDF 59.73KB)

Activity 3: practising using base words in groups


Students research different negative prefixes and make posters of lists for display in the classroom. (See below)

Practising using base words in groups   (PDF 528.91KB)

Practising using base words in groups (JPG 41.96KB)

Online resources


Australia curriculum reference

ACELA1526: Understand how to use banks of known words, word origins, base words, suffixes and prefixes, morphemes, spelling patterns and generalisations to learn and spell new words, for example technical words and words adopted from other languages.

NSW syllabus reference

EN3-4A: Draws on appropriate strategies to accurately spell familiar and unfamiliar words when composing texts.

NSW literacy continuum reference

VOCC11M3: Vocabulary knowledge, Cluster 11, Marker 3: Applies knowledge of prefixes and suffixes to understand the meanings of new words and to create new words.

Return to top of page