Building Character Vocabulary

Describing People
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English students need to learn how to describe character and personality in English to be successful communicators, but this is no simple task for learners. Plan activities that are engaging and relevant to your students to make the content of these lessons more meaningful. Start with these fun vocabulary-building exercises.

Introducing the Activity

These intermediate-level exercises allow ESL students to practice conversational skills while focusing on broadening their character adjective vocabulary. Students will use questionnaires to develop their personal description vocabulary in addition to completing matching and fill-in-the-blank exercises that test their understanding.

To begin your lesson, pair students up and ask them to give each other the questionnaire in Exercise 1. Have students check for the correctness of questionnaire answers together afterward. Then, either together or independently, have students complete Exercises 2 and 3.

Personality Description Practice

Exercise 1

Ask your partners the following "yes" or "no" questions about a friend or family member. Listen carefully to what they have to say and record their answers with any additional details or examples they provide.

  1. Are they usually in a good mood?
  2. Is it important to them that they always be successful?
  3. Do they notice your feelings?
  4. Do they often give presents or pay for things for you?
  5. Do they work hard?
  6. Do they become angry or annoyed if they have to wait for something or someone?
  7. Can you trust them with a secret?
  8. Are they a good listener?
  9. Do they keep their feelings to themself?
  10. Do they find it easy not to worry about things?
  11. Do they seem to think that everything will always turn out okay?
  12. Do they often change their opinion about things?
  13. Do they postpone things or procrastinate?
  14. Are they happy one moment and then sad the next?
  15. Do they generally like to be with and around people?

Exercise 2

Match these adjectives to the qualities described in the questionnaire.

Note for teachers: For an extension activity, have students write the opposite of each adjective as well.

  • generous
  • easygoing
  • ambitious
  • cheerful
  • hardworking
  • trustworthy
  • impatient
  • optimistic
  • sensitive
  • moody
  • sociable
  • indecisive
  • reserved
  • lazy
  • attentive

Exercise 3

Use a character adjective to fill in the blanks. Search the context of each sentence for clues about which adjectives would make sense.

  1. He's the type of person who's always whistling at work. He rarely gets angry or depressed, so I'd say he's a rather ______________ person.
  2. She's a bit difficult to keep up with. One day she's happy, the next she's depressed. You could say she's a ______________ person.
  3. Peter sees the good in everybody and everything. He's a very ______________ coworker.
  4. He's always in a rush and worried he's going to miss something. It's hard to work with him because he's really ______________.
  5. Jennifer always makes sure that everybody is taken care of. She's very ______________ to the needs of others.
  6. You can believe anything she says and rely on her to do anything. In fact, she's probably the most ______________ person I know.
  7. Don't count on any work getting done with him around. He doesn't usually work very hard and can be pretty ______________.
  8. I'd say she can't be disturbed by anything and she's happy to do whatever you'd like. She's very ______________.
  9. Be careful about what you say to Jack. He's so ______________ that he might start to cry if you made a joke about his strange-looking shirt. 
  10. I swear she'd give the deed to her house to anyone that needed it. To say she is ______________ is an understatement!

Exercise 3 Answers

It is up to you what adjectives you want your students to use to answer Exercise 3, but here are some sample answers that would work.

  1. cheerful/easygoing
  2. moody/sensitive
  3. optimistic
  4. impatient/ambitious
  5. attentive
  6. trustworthy
  7. lazy
  8. easygoing/cheerful
  9. sensitive/moody
  10. generous

Sample Personality Adjectives

Follow up this vocabulary-building activity by teaching your students more adjectives to describe personality traits. Help them understand that there are countless words that can be used to describe the same quality.

The following five personality traits are considered by psychologists to be the main qualities of character. This table gives adjectives to describe a person based on whether they do (positive adjectives) or do not (negative adjectives) possess a given quality. For example, a person who displays agreeableness is cooperative.

Familiarize your students with these adjectives and provide them with authentic opportunities for practice using them.

Sample Personality Adjectives
Personality Trait Positive Adjectives Negative Adjectives
Extroversion outgoing, talkative, social, friendly, lively, active, fun shy, reserved, quiet, timid, antisocial, withdrawn
Openness open-minded, receptive, nonjudgmental, flexible, curious narrow-minded, rigid, stubborn, judgmental, discriminating
Conscientiousness hardworking, punctual, thoughtful, organized, careful, cautious, obedient, responsible lazy, flaky, careless, reckless, irresponsible, negligent, rash
Neuroticism patient, optimistic, easygoing, calm, self-assured, stable, reasonable impatient, pessimistic, brooding, anxious, sensitive, moody, insecure
Agreeableness good-natured, forgiving, amenable, genial, consenting, generous, cheerful, cooperative disagreeable, ill-tempered, irritable, rude, spiteful, bitter, uncooperative
More adjectives that can be used to describe aspects of someone's personality based on big five traits