What’s the opposite of hot?



A couple of weeks ago I was registering on a website (that shall remain nameless) and alongside captcha it had a question to check I was a person and not a machine.  The question was

‘What is the opposite of hot?’

And I thought, hmm, that’s interesting.  I took this idea into class and this is what I did with it.

1. I told my students (intermediate level) the same story and wrote the question on the board.  I then told them that I had put in a correct answer but that the website told me I was wrong. 

2.  I asked the students to talk together and see if they could say what I had written and why the website rejected it.

3. They gave me some answers, all of which revolved around the idea that I had put in words like cool, freezing, chilly and that the website had wanted the word cold.  I told them that they were right about the website’s expected response but that I had written the word ugly in the box.  I asked the students why.

4. After some discussion they got the idea that hot can describe someone as being very attractive (usually sexually) and that in this case ugly was a possible opposite.

5. Then we explored some other meanings of hot and this is our list;

                        temperature, attractiveness, spice, trendy, dangerous, very skilled

6. After that we looked at some collocations and phrases and put them into categories;

                         hot-tap, hot food, hot plate, hot seat, hot spot/zone, scalding hot, boiling hot, hot property, hot stuff, hot topic, hot up, etc.

7. Then we took the meanings and looked at some synonyms

                      warm, boiling, roasting, melting, attractive, beautiful, brilliant, burning, eye-watering, difficult

8. and some contextual opposites

                     cool, cold, fresh, freezing, mild, boring, safe, quiet

9. We then had a look at the phrase to blow hot and cold because someone suggested run hot and cold so we had a googlefight to see which was more common (not very scientific I know, but kinda fun).

10. Students then selected the words they wanted to record and wrote them down and some linked images from google images (actually this was kind of hard as when you googled hot, the first few pages of results are nearly all images of women, shows you need to be a bit careful when using internet resources and tells you a lot about what subjects can dominate the web!) and with some example sentences which we then all had a look at and corrected or improved.

11. Students finally had a go at constructing their own questions to get an exact opposite and the challenge for the others was to give a plausible alternative opposite. This was a lot of fun.

So what does all this tell me?  One, that I can be annoyingly pedantic and two, that you get teaching ideas from the weirdest places.  I am not sure if this lesson falls into the unplugged/dogme category but it was a lot of fun to do and I think I’ll try similar approaches more often.


About andrewpickles

Teacher of English in Germany
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25 Responses to What’s the opposite of hot?

  1. Luke Meddings says:

    Sounds like dogme/unplugged to me!An excellent account of how much can be teased out from a single word and scenario.Your description of your web experience as a ‘story’ is perfect-it’s little real-life incidents like this that make lessons come to life.Also suggests to me the value of working with language away from ‘topic’-you’d have to cover a lot of conventional topics (weather.. relationships.. food..) to generate the words and phrases above.Now,is there a question to answer when I submit this?!

    • Thanks Luke, good to know that I’ve understood the ideas behind dogme and I agree about topics being a flexible idea – I think I much prefer ideas to evolve in the classroom rather than be anchored to a particular coursebook theme!

  2. Olaf says:

    Clever! It reminds me of the time just after I had started working in a school in Germany. I was impressed by a girl in Yr 8 who was performing a couple of years over her class level. In the teachers room I described her as being “really sharp” only to discover that the German word for sharp can’t be applied to intelligence and has more to do with your interpretation of “hot”.

    • Thanks Olaf, German is full of pitfalls like that I find. I came to Germany in the summer and remember telling people that ich bin heiss, and now presumably have a reputation for being rather fond of myself! 😉

  3. jeremyharmer says:


    nice lesson. Good use of vocabulary and students’ imagination.

    Course I don’t want to rile Luke and Scott (again!!) , but is it Dogme, really? If people were doing this kind of thing before the Swedish film makers published their manifesto, can you still give it that name?

    But it does show what can be done successfully with very little.


    • Thanks very much for the kind comment Jeremy. I enjoyed the lesson very much and perhaps you’re right about their being nothing very revolutionary about the dogme approach but sometimes for a method to take hold then someone like Scott or Luke needs to define and articulate it. But a rose by any other name etc. 😉

  4. dalecoulter says:

    Sounds pretty dogme to me. I’d be interested to know how much of the vocabulary students remember, since you explored the meanings and collocations together and the content was very student-generated.

    • Thanks Dale, and it’s a good point you make, any lesson’s value only really lies in what the students can take away and remember – I think the more involved the students are in generating the language then the better chance they have but with this lesson, like most I guess, only time will tell!

  5. Oooh, I’d go for the dogme 2.0 (plugged in) description. Nice one!


  6. Love the Google Fight. Thanks

  7. cathywint says:

    what a gr8 lesson, also loving the googlefight. Just used it to send a question to my brand brand new CELTA trainees to look up teach vs learn and teacher vrs learner. A discussion in class today really seperated out the techno-phobes from the techno-adapters and I want them to think about thier own attitudes to teaching and learners.

    • Hi Cathy, thanks for your comment, would love to know what your celta students make of it! I think for me tech is hopefully not an either or situation but a question of using it appropriately and not over-using it, and of course it can be great for some more light-hearted moments!

  8. Hi Andrew!

    I loved reading about how you took something that caught your attention in your daily life, pitched the idea to your students and just took it from there, making it into a great (and fun) lesson. Students seem to learn so much more smoothly and effectively when we find a way to really interest and engage them, don’t they? Congrats on a great dogme lesson! And thanks for the Google fight link – had a lot of fun giving it a test drive. Will think of a way for using it with my students. 🙂

    • Thanks for your great comment! Googlefight is always fun and throws up some interesting results sometimes, for example Scott Thornbury beats Jeremy Harmer! 😉 Hope your students have fun with it,

      all the best


  9. Stavroula says:

    Dogme or not, I call it inspiring and this makes it successful! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Came over here on Karenne’s link. Fun lesson.

    I often like to claim dogme is as much an attitude towards teaching or spirit in the classroom as anything else. In this regard, the lesson certainly fits that spirit. It also worked with real and emergent language. However, dogme is primarily conversation based and, except for the bit at the end, this seems to be much more of a gigantic brainstorm. So, as a self-proclaimed dogmeist but non-expert, I’ll give it 50/50 🙂

    Regardless of what you call it, by the sounds of it, it was a successful lesson. Looking forward to more!

    • Hi Nick, thanks for dropping by and for commenting. I think I probably agree with you about this being a giant brain storming lesson (should that be ‘giant brain’ storming or giant ‘brain storming’? ;-)). Dogme, I find is often a little hard to define exactly, is it simply teaching unscripted or is it more than that? Does it matter? As a personal preference I like working more without coursebooks and plans but that may be mostly because I’m quite lazy. Anyway, thanks again, I enjoyed reading your blog, especially your post on teaching Turkish, I’ve never tried teaching anything but English (my L1) so it was interesting to read about your experiences,

      all the best


  11. Great post (and evidently a really great lesson!).

    Going with the flow, from an initial kernel of an idea or experience or exchange, and letting the language unfold organically in this way, is really one of the things that helps me *tick* as a teacher.

    I am not vehemently against coursebooks in ELT (should bloody hope not – wrote 20 of them myself!), but one important thing I do have against them is that (1) they rarely, if ever, facilitate the sort of vocabulary and language exploration you outline here, and (2) they — perhaps on account of their robustness and the institutional regard for their syllabi in combination with pre-set schedules — very often restrict the actual amount of classroom time to engage in this sort of exploration.

    Anyway, thanks for the great lesson example. It sounds like your class is reasonably high level, but you have given me some good ideas on how I might do something similar with my (lower level) classes, so cheers!

    – Jason

    • Thanks Jason,

      I agree with your comments here and think that coursebooks have a place but a perhaps less dominant place than previously. The class were an intermediate to upper-intermediate group but hopefully the basic idea works in most levels!

      all the best


  12. Pingback: One word lessons | close up

  13. Jane Murphy says:

    If we were as techno-phobic, as you think, we wouldn’t be able to read this, would we?

    • Thanks for the comment Jane, I’m not sure why you think I’m particularly techno-phobic, I hope I’m not but I do think that technology is too often offered as a panacea for our educational ills with too little assessment of its real value. The issue of technology in the classroom is not a neutral one, schools and universities are asked to spend large sums of money in buying equipment and software as well as training staff, money that could go towards improving buildings and classrooms and towards teacher salaries and school-trips. This is not to say that we shouldn’t spend the money but that it needs to be properly evaluated.

      Anyway, thanks again for the comment,

      all the best


  14. Hi Andrew
    Fantastic lesson. I think more than anything this shows that an understanding of language improves our lessons and vastly reduces planning time, which for an idle teacher, must be a priority. (I’m with you on this one all the way). I’ve done the very same thing, and use it in teacher training I do, but with the word “rough”. “What’s the opposite?” I ask, and am greeted by a chorus of “smooth”. I get them to rub their chins thoughfully and say “well, it depends”. The language plant here helps them appreciate the concept of collocation.


    Click on the dots. Blue dots are nouns, green dots are adjectives. You can see how “rough” touches both “surface” and “sea”, whereas “smooth” only touches “surface” and “calm” only touches “sea”.

    If you try it in class, you could get your learners to try making one with “hot”. The concept is very similar to English Raven’s


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