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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:30 by NZTecAdmin
Clines (PDF, 30 KB)

The purpose of the activity

A cline is a graded sequence of words whose meanings go across a continuum of meaning. A cline is usually shown on a sloping line. (The word derives from the Greek word clino – to slope.) Examples include:

Image of a cline.

The purpose of the activity is to have learners find out about shades of meaning between similar words by arranging words in a continuum. This enables learners to reinforce their understanding of the meanings of words and also to add new words to their vocabularies.

The teaching points

  • Recalling known words and using new words.
  • Discussing the nuances and shades of meaning of words.


  • Sets of word cards that form clines.

The guided teaching and learning sequence

1. Select a topic or idea that can be expressed using fine nuances of meaning, for example, the weather, the state of an engine, hair colour, the consistency of a mixture (for cooking or concreting).

2. Choose one word for each end (or extreme) of meaning – these words become the boundaries of the cline.

3. Choose words the learners will be able to place in order between the end words.

4. Write these words on a set of cards and give an identical set to each pair or group of learners.

5. Ask the learners to work in pairs or small groups and to place the cards in order according to the degree or shade of meaning of each word.

6. Discuss the clines, comparing the order that each group made and asking the learners to justify their decisions. It may be necessary to use a dictionary to settle disagreements.

Follow-up activities

As a group, the learners can brainstorm words on a theme. They can draw a cline, using any of these words that could belong to a common cline. Discuss nuances in the meanings of the words in order to place each in the correct relationship to the others.

Numbers and symbols, as well as words and terms, can be used for clines.


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