Games with Pencil and Paper (2): Word Endings

Finally got around to the second in the series from ‘Games With Pencil and Paper’…

This is an activity I think would work well for looking at related meanings of prefixes and suffixes, as a kind of revision/extension for students who have already encountered many words containing these parts, but may not yet appreciate the common senses/uses they share. For example, with this activity, a student who knows ‘information’ and ‘confirmation’ could begin to deconstruct these into the pattern ‘verb + -ation = noun’ and then try building new, similar nouns (e.g. ‘appreciation’). This might also make it useful for FCE/CAE students who need to appreciate word formation rules, or at least be able to make educated guesses, for the Use of English paper (example here).

Step 1. Choose an affix. Give learners one minute (or other suitable time limit) to brainstorm all the words they can think of containing this affix.

Step 2. Check learners’ lists (or get them to check each other’s) and rule out any misspellings, so only focusing on accurate use of the affix (at least so far as can be determined at this stage – you’ll look at whether they truly share the same sense in a moment).

Note: The book stops at this point and allocates scores to teams based on how many of their words were (or weren’t) on other players’ lists, too. But for the classroom, I’d skip the scoring and take the word lists a bit further…

Step 3. Get learners to mine the lists they’ve created for commonality – of form, meaning, pronunciation, spelling, etc. Get them to identify patterns. For example, such-and-such words all create nouns from verbs (as in the examples above), or all have a sense of ‘doing something again’ (e.g. ‘repeat’, ‘revisit’, ‘renew’), or whatever.

Step 4. Get feedback from all the pairs/groups and look at some of the patterns together on the board. Draw learners’ attention to similarities of pronunciation, where possible/relevant/appropriate. For example, some suffixes attract stress like a magnet attracts metal (a great metaphor I first came across in a book by Francis Katamba), like -ation or -ology.

Step 5. Where you go from this point is up to you! I think you could repeat the activity again with other prefixes/suffixes, either of your choosing or the learners’. You could also use dictionaries here or earlier in stage 3/4 to draw learners’ attention to similarity of meaning and/or form. Or you could work outwards from your original point, getting learners to choose three of the words from the brainstorm on the whiteboard and develop the notes in their vocabulary notebooks with other related words in the word family or common collocations including these words, which might help reinforce their meaning and use (e.g. ‘informative’, ‘to inform’, ‘lots of information’).

The original game procedure notes for ‘Word Endings’ from the book can be seen here.

Of course, as noted above, the same game principles could work for prefixes, too, e.g. un-, re-, anti-, etc.  The original book that inspired this series of posts actually initially suggests the game ‘Word Beginnings‘.


About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. Both of those games look great – thanks very much for sharing them! Love the subtitle of the book as well: "including 'Battleships'" (just when you thought it couldn't get better…).Hope you don't mind, but I've linked to both of these posts on the "ELT News Feed" section of my blog, here: Think you're the third one from the top at the moment. Let me know if you're happy to stay on my list :-)Simon

  2. Hi Simon,No problem! Glad you enjoyed them. 🙂 Let me know how they go if you try them out!Laura

  3. I love this, as I think that if a learner comes across the word "beautifully", there is so much to get out of it, just as your book says. As you say, you could spend a whole lesson stemming from this one word!

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