Clines in Language Teaching

What is a cline?
The British Council Teaching English website defines a cline as ‘a scale of language items that goes from one extreme to another, for example, from positive to negative, or from weak to strong’.

Why are clines useful in language teaching?
Clines can be very effective in conveying and clarifying language, giving a very visual representation of meaning. They highlight shades of meaning, they are efficient and can cut down on teacher talking time. They also provide students with a good record of language to take home.

What language points lend themselves well to use of clines?
Clines are very versatile and can be used for vocabulary or grammar.
Some examples I have used follow:




Expressing likes and dislikes


E.g. Degrees of hunger

This could work equally well with other feelings such as anger, happiness, tiredness, or even drunkenness!


Modals of deduction


Adverbs of frequency


It can be a nice idea to write the sentences or expressions onto cards and get the students to come up to the board and stick them where they think they go on the cline. If you are technologically minded and have access to an IWB, you could also get them to drag the expressions to the appropriate position. This exercise promotes peer collaboration and usually some interesting discussion.

Any other ideas for using clines in class?

I recently spoke about this topic at the IH Online Teachers Conference.  You can see the talk here:


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79 Responses to Clines in Language Teaching

  1. kruti Naik says:

    This is amazing. Thank you for such a detailed illustrations.


  2. Casse-bonbec says:

    I love it, and I really can see the use in my classes. Thanks a lot !


  3. maha alshaar says:

    Very usefull thank you


  4. Mark says:

    Love it!


  5. danial says:

    what’s skuffed? and what about really WAS the mailman?


    • jonnyingham says:

      It’s stuffed, not skuffed! (when you are really full and have eaten too much). ‘It was the postman’ is on the cline, at the top, next to 100% certainty.


  6. Janne says:

    Thanks! I liked.


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  8. Ankit Gautam says:

    OMG thts my goodness to like ur page
    this post is amazing


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  10. Ratgaj says:

    Really nice board work and expressions. Googlefight or BNC ‘I always go to the dentist’ and ‘I never go to the dentist’ to see which expression is more popular.


  11. Mitu says:

    This is amazing. Thank you for such good ideas.


  12. hamdy says:

    thanks very much


  13. intisar alrawi says:

    thanks I love it


  14. Aris says:

    This is super! Very useful. Thanks Jon


  15. Enas akra says:

    It’s realy amazing, and great effort. Thank you


  16. mo says:

    And where is the verb “to dislike”??? You mention “to hate”, “not to like”… but the easy alternative, where is it?


    • Mirian says:

      You can add it. I think so. Thanks for your idea, though I think it is a wonderful work.


    • jonnyingham says:

      Thanks for the comment Mo. I agree, you could add many more verbs such as ‘dislike’, ‘detest’, ‘loathe’, ‘am crazy about’ etc. This would of course depend on level, board space, and how complex you want it to become. I’m not so sure about ‘dislike’ though; it feels like rather unnatural usage in this context, in my mind anyway.


  17. Paula Navarro says:

    this is simply amazing! thank you VERY much 😀


  18. billhollaway says:

    Where I live in the US, our local paint stores have paint color samples printed on rectangular strips of heavy paper. Visualizing the clines by writing the words in order, each word on a separate color sample, already printed in light to dark order on the sample sheet, works perfectly. And the stores don’t mind you taking a batch of these color samples for free!


  19. Ven Kuonika says:

    Where is the ‘would have been’ situated on the cline of certainty?


    • jonnyingham says:

      Hi Ven,
      I haven’t added ‘would have been’ to the cline as it doesn’t express a degree of certainty.
      Whilst ‘would have been’ has the same form as these past modals of deduction, the meaning is very different; it expresses a hypothetical sitaution in the past, not certainty.


  20. That’s great! Thank you for sharing. =D
    I’d suggest changing the certainty cline, however. When I say “It wasn’t the postman”, I’m not 0% certain. Just the opposite, I’m 100%. When it comes to the difference between “It was”, “It must have been” and “It might have been, ok, it’s the certainty that varies, exactly like you put it. But when I say “It was” or “It wasn’t”, I’m just as certain.


    • jonnyingham says:

      Thanks for your comment Natália. I agree.
      ‘It wasn’t the postman’ isn’t 0% certainty but 100% certainty as you say.
      I’ve never known how to visualise this on the cline however, and usually just explain this to the students. Any ideas anyone?


      • =) You can keep the cline exactly like it is and only show affirmative sentences. Then you can add the negative versions on another parallel cline or on the same cline to the left/right.


        It was the postman – 100% – It wasn’t the postman
        It must have been the postman – 90% – It can’t have been the postman.
        It may have been the postman – 60% – It may not have been the postman.
        It might have been the postman – 50% – It might not have been the postman.

        [Of course the percentages are just a rough guide. I can’t draw a cline here. 😉 ]

        That has the added advantage of making it crystal clear that the negative of “must” is not “mustn’t” in such cases.


      • jonnyingham says:

        That could work, a double cline… maybe that’s a future blog post! Thanks Natália!


      • jonnyingham says:

        I was thinking about this and it might work by simply changing the label on the cline. The cline could go from ‘impossible’ at the bottom, to ‘certain’ at the top. What do you think?


      • jonnyingham says:

        Cline updated!


    • dr suryakant dhoke says:

      Nice to read and incorporate


  21. lena says:

    Simple, and brilliant!


  22. leela says:

    very useful….thank u very much.


  23. Ali says:

    It was really useful
    It was quite useful
    It was pretty useful
    It was useful
    It was cool


  24. Suhani says:

    Could you explain me the difference between, really don’t like and don’t really like.Thank you!!


  25. Perfect work:)) Thank You:))


  26. Anna says:

    Thanks, it’s great!


  27. Miss Aponte says:

    Reblogged this on A 2 and commented:
    Amazing Post!


  28. Jenny says:

    I like it, I like it a lot, I love it!


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  31. vtduoc says:

    Thanks for your post, it helped me a lot. Because I’m just a student who always follows to what method suitable to me. And I wonder if you could give me some hint of how to gather the words in group (describe the same meaning with difference of certainty or shades).


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  33. Wani says:

    It is very helpful especially to teach english as second language here in Malaysia. Tqvm.


  34. annfore says:

    Hi Jonny,
    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be making a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.



  35. Carissa Peck says:

    Great! I like using clines for degrees as you say, though I tend to tell my students it is specific and more general. If something is small I could be talking about the size of my car, the size of city, or the size of a cat. If I say something is microscopic…I have a much more specific idea of what I am talking about!


  36. Luay says:

    Shouldn’t ‘I like’ be there between ‘I don’t mind’ and ‘I quite like’?


  37. JD Gold says:

    I’m going to add this to the English Teacher’s workshop program used here in S. Korea. (properly attributed, of course). You truly have created a lovely visual to help my Korean teachers of English expand both their ability to use English conversationally and convey meaning to their students. Many thanks!


  38. Heemal says:

    thank you ! the egs were very valuable, practical and constructive!! wow!! so easy for anyone to use. my students enjoyed using them…. very practical!


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  40. Bal Krishan says:

    Thank you,very useful


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  43. Sabrina says:

    Thanks for posting these! Sharing on my Facebook page !


  44. Gus says:

    Very nice, I will definately use this in class. One question, though… “I’m a bit peckish”. Is there a replacement for this? I try not to teach expressions that are exclusively brittish to my intermediate students.

    Thanks for sharing this.


  45. Mafe Mendoza says:

    Thank you so much. This explanation was summarized and could understand what I wanted.


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