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ESL Worksheets: Describing Smells

Level: ESL High-Intermediate
Objectives: learn vocabulary describing common smells; talk about smells that conjure up past experiences
Teacher Notes:
1. Ask students to think which smells they associate with living in an apartment building (cooking, renovations, pest control, pets, laundry, garbage chutes). Which smells are pleasant? Which are unpleasant?
2. Explain that in addition to the noun ‘smell’, we can talk about aroma, scent, fragrance and odor.
Aroma, scent and fragrance usually describe pleasant smells.
aroma - a strong pleasant smell, usually from food or drink (aroma of roasting meat or coffee)

scent - a characteristic smell of something (scent of jasmine, scented candles)

fragrance - a pleasing, usually delicate or subtle smell (fragrance of flowers or perfume)
Odor in American English usually has a negative connotation (tobacco odor, odor of cooking cabbage).
Stink, stench and reek are used to describe unpleasant/foul odors.
3. Mention that in English there’s a relative lack of direct language to describe smells. We describe smells:
- by using flavors (sweet, sour, spicy)

- in terms of other things (nutty, fruity, minty)

- in terms of how they make us feel (comforting,  intoxicating, revolting)

- by comparing them to something else: ‘it smells like...’ (hospital smells like disinfectant; a new car smells like leather, glue and lubricants)
Distribute the handout. Students circle two words that best describe each of the smells (or lack of smell) in How Does It Smell?
In pairs, ask students to come up with a list of things that share a certain smell. Ask what smells musty? (e.g.: old books, clothes that have been put away for a long time, etc.), acrid (vinegar, chlorine, etc.) and so on. Have students match the words to their respective smells in Putting a Name to a Smell.

Extension: talk about the effect smells have on people - which smell is soothing, appetizing, sensual, uplifting, cooling, attention-seeking etc.?
Discuss if smells can be evocative. For example, what does the smell of sea remind them of? (soft sand between toes, screams of seagulls, summer vacations) Have students complete the sentences in Do Memories Smell?
Wrap up with Conversation Questions.
Student Handout

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ESL Worksheet - Describing Smells.pdf

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