Perfect Practice Makes Perfect (Tenses)

I don’t know about your students, but mine do fairly well with the simple and progressive/continuous tenses. It isn’t until we start working on the perfect tense that the troubles really begin (though they are excited to finally understand what the words in the past participle column on their irregular verb charts are for). It is for this reason that I like to use a lot of different practice activities and games. I’ve tried quite a few over the years, but three have consistently been ones my students have enjoyed playing and have been able to get good practice with the perfect tense. You can get any of these games for yourself by clicking the pictures (or buttons, if you want the digital versions), or you can make your own versions!

Present Perfect Cover Up

Present Perfect Cover Up

Cover up games are very popular with my students! They are also very easy and cheap for me to create. They generally consist of twelve squares in a grid format. In this particular version, each square has a possible life event, such as winning a prize or telling a lie. The events are written with the verb in the simple present tense and all capital letters, to help students quickly identify it. To play, students roll a twelve-sided die and check if that square is uncovered on their board. If it is available, the student must form a present perfect sentence either denying ever having had the given life experience or telling about one such time. The square is then covered in some manner (X with a dry erase marker, use bingo chips, counters, or the ever popular milk jug lids). If the square is already covered, the student’s turn is over. The first student to completely cover his/her board is the winner. Each board has different life events, so students can switch boards and play again if there is time.

Past Perfect Travel Adventure Game

Past Perfect Travel Adventure

While we don’t use the past perfect tense quite as often as the present perfect, it still needs to be practiced. I was teaching a travel themed unit when I developed this board game, so I kept the theme for the game. The game uses a standard playing board that I enhanced with some travel clipart just for fun. To play, the student draws an experience card, which has a picture, location, and an activity one can do in that location. The student then states a past perfect sentence such as, “I had never seen a shark before I went to Australia.” If the student’s sentence is grammatically correct, he/she rolls the number cube and moves his/her piece. The first person to finish is the winner.

Progressive / Perfect Pronoun Pursuits Game

Progressive/Perfect Pronoun Pursuits

The newest game in our perfect tense practice repertoire was actually originally developed to practice the present progressive tense. Then I needed another practice game for one of my more advanced classes and I decided to give this one a try. It worked and I’ve since used it to practice the present perfect progressive tense as well (talk about a tense that really makes my students’ heads hurt!).

This game uses a different standard game board. To play, the student rolls a number cube to determine which pronoun he/she will use and then draws a card that lists a community place. The student must then use the pronoun and community place to form a present perfect sentence such as, “He has checked a book out of the library.” If the sentence is grammatically correct, the student moves his/her piece the number indicated on the number cube from the original roll. The first person to finish is the winner.

Of course I accompany these games with explanations of the perfect tense and its uses, exercises in our book, and other student resources (such as the Review Menu and There’s A Video About That resources I have made to accompany the Pathways Listening & Speaking texts we use), but the games do make things more fun. I’ve yet to teach a text that delves into the future perfect tense, and for that I (and I’m sure my students) am thankful! Maybe someday I’ll need to teach it, but I suspect I could use either Past Perfect Travel Adventure or Progressive/Perfect Pronoun Pursuits to practice that tense as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

Task Cards: Five Alternative Uses

I’m not sure when I first learned about task cards, it was sometime after college, but I am a big fan. They are a great way to save paper, add variety, and even assess student learning without it feeling like a test or a quiz. There are a variety of ways to use task cards and I’ve tried many of them. Sometimes I’ll

hang/place task cards around the room, give students recording sheets and clipboards, and have them wander the room and complete the tasks as they find them (also known as student scoot). Sometimes I’ll give each student a card, have them complete the card, and pass it to the next student (also known as card scoot). I’ve also placed task cards and recording sheets in centers and allowed students to complete them there. Since my students typically sit in groups, I’ll often give each group a set of cards and allow them to chat as they grab cards, complete them, toss them back in the pile, and grab another card. All of these methods are great, but sometimes you just want to do something a little different. Back in July I shared with you alternative uses for sort cards. Today, I’d like to share with you five alternative uses for task cards. In no particular order, here are some of the more unique ways my students and I have used task cards.

Bounce It In

To play this game, you’ll need a set of task cards, ten plastic drinking cups, and a ping pong ball for each group. On the inside lip of each cup write a number 1-10 with a marker. Each group should set their cups up like bowling pins, with the number 1 cup in front and a line of numbers 7-10 in back. Set the task cards face down in a pile on the opposite end of the table from the cups. Students take turns turning over a task card and completing the task. Correctly completing the task is worth five points and the chance to bounce the ball into the cups. If the ball lands in a cup, the number on the cup becomes bonus points for that student. The student with the most points at the end is the winner.

Jenga–Two Ways

About a year ago, I shared with you an out-of-the-box idea for using Jenga to practice building sentences. In response to that post, another teacher told me how she uses Jenga with task cards in her class. She numbers the Jenga blocks 1-24 (or however many task cards you usually have in a given set).

Students then play Jenga as normal, but when they push/pull out a block, they attempt to complete the corresponding task before placing the block on the top of the stack. If successful, the student earns two points. Students continue to remove and replace pieces, completing tasks and earning points. If the tower falls before the time is up, that student receives negative five points, and the game is restarted. The student with the most points at the end of the playing time is the winner.

The second creative use of Jenga is a game I like to call Tower Building. Divide students into teams (2-4 per team) and issue each team a set of Jenga or other building blocks. Team members take turns choosing a task card and attempting to complete it. If successful, the student gains two points for his/her team and the opportunity to add a block to the team’s tower. If a tower falls over, the team must restart their build. At the end of the game, the team with the highest tower earns ten additional points. The team with the most blocks in their tower earns ten additional points. The team with the most points (correct tasks plus any bonuses) wins the competition.

Grid Conquest

Two weeks ago I shared with you about Grid Conquest, a fun game inspired by Blokus. This is a great way to use task cards! The game board and some dry erase markers are the only supplies you need in addition to your task cards. The game board is a free download from below the picture in this post and I’m willing to bet you have more than a couple dry erase markers

in your classroom already. You can get all the details in the original post, but the short version is this: student takes and completes a task card, successful students color in a square on the board that is adjacent to a square he/she has already claimed. When all the task cards have been completed, or no students can claim any more squares, students add up the numbers in their claimed squares to determine their final scores. The student with the highest score wins.

Four In A Row

It’s been nearly two years since I first introduced my Context Clues Four In a Row game, and it’s a concept I’ve used to practice quite a few skills since. Four in a Row is also an excellent alternative use for task cards because once again all you need is your task cards, the game board (free download below the picture), and some dry erase markers. Played like

Connect Four, students must successfully complete a task card before making a mark on the game board. The first student to make four marks in a row is the winner.

Baseball Review

This particular idea takes a bit of work on the teacher’s part, but it’s a great way to review a lot of material. Take all of the sort/task cards from the time period you want to review (preparation for summative semester/year exams is a great time for this) and divide them by difficulty into four piles. The

easiest pile becomes your single questions, the most difficult pile your homerun questions, and the two in between are double and triple questions. Designate “bases” in your classroom (place to stand or desk to sit in) and divide your class into two teams. Team one sends a player up to bat who then tells you what type of question he/she would like to answer. If correct, the student moves to the appropriate base. If incorrect, the team receives a strike and the next player comes up to bat. Once a player is on base, he/she advances the appropriate number of bases as each subsequent player gets questions correct. Play continues until the team receives three strikes and then the other team is up to bat. If a particular type of question (single, double, triple, homerun) runs out, you can choose to either shuffle and restart them or state that no more questions of that type may be attempted (forcing students to try more difficult questions). This could also be an excellent icebreaker alternative for the first day/week of school. You could make your own questions with the previous grade’s standards, or ask the previous grade’s teacher for copies of their task cards and/or homework activities.

Now you know some of the more creative uses for task cards I’ve tried out in my classroom. I can assure you there have been other uses attempted that weren’t quite as successful, but it’s only by trying things that we can discover new favorite activities. What are some out-of-the-box uses for task cards you’ve found? Happy teaching, everyone!

Picture Prompts Sentence Challenge Game

One of my favorite teacher podcasts is Spark Creativity by Betsy Potash. A few months ago I was catching up on some of her episodes and I listened to episode 159, 3 Creative Ways to Teach Sentence Structure. Since I’m teaching our advanced grammar and writing course again this semester, I was very interested in this episode. I already have a game to practice compound sentences, Compounding Conjunctions, but I have long wanted a game to practice complex sentences, and one that would allow mixed practice would be even better. One of the ideas she described was a sentence challenge game in which you displayed a picture and challenged students to give a particular type of sentence (simple, compound, complex) about the picture. My mind immediately went to my Picture Prompts Game and I instantly knew that it would take next to no work to utilize this existing game for the purpose of practicing simple, compound, and complex sentences.

It was a little over a year ago that I wrote about Picture Prompts, a game I originally developed to practice question words and/or cause and effect. Since creating it, I’ve used this game countless times to practice forming and asking questions in every tense, cause and effect, and other skills. My students

enjoy playing it and I like how it allows for some less scripted speaking practice. The game includes 24 different picture cards and a game board. The basic idea is that on a student’s turn, he/she will choose a picture card and ask a question or state a sentence about the picture that practices the target skill. Students tend to get very creative and it’s always a lot of fun to hear what they say about the various pictures.

The only adjustments needed to use the game to practice simple, compound, and complex sentences were the addition of a couple items: something to tell students what type of sentence to make and a “cheat” card to help them remember the three types of sentences. To create the “cheat” card, I used the picture card template, replacing the image with a short definition for each type of sentence and a list of the conjunctions for compound and complex sentence formation. In order for students to know what type of sentence to create, I decided to make two different options: a roll key card for when we played with dice, and spinners for when we used CD spinners. Using dice is the easier option for me, especially when I’m traveling from school to school or don’t have storage in my classroom(s). However, my students of all ages love using the CD spinner stands my dad made for me and, since I have a lot of old unused CDs and DVDs at home, they end up being cheaper than purchasing dice for me. It didn’t really take me any extra time to create both options, so I did and now we can use whichever is most convenient for that particular classroom situation.

A few weeks ago my first group of students tried out Picture Prompts Sentence Challenge and loved it. They enjoyed playing the same basic game as before (we’d previously used it to practice making passive sentences) but with a new twist/challenge. I think next time we play (we have a review of this skill coming up), we’re going to try an alternative version of the game. I’m going to give each student a small whiteboard and dry erase marker. Rather than taking turns drawing picture cards and stating sentences, students will have a sentence show down of sorts. One image card will be turned over for the entire group to see and then the spinner will be spun. Students will have a predetermined length of time to write an appropriate type sentence for the image. After the time expires (I’m thinking 30-45 seconds), students will show their sentences to the rest of the group. Any student who successfully writes a unique (not written by anyone else in the group) sentence that is of the type spun (simple, compound, complex) will get to roll and move his/her piece. I’m thinking this will challenge the students to think beyond the obvious and create more inventive sentences for each picture. It also means no student is passively sitting and waiting for his/her turn, every student is creating a sentence for every image.

As I explained in my original post about Picture Prompts, it wasn’t a difficult game to create, so you can easily make your own version and use the files included with this post to play the Sentence Challenge version of the game. If you don’t want to make your own version, you can purchase mine using the links in this post. The download will include the dice roll card, spinner label, and “cheat” card for Sentence Challenge, as well as everything needed to practice question words and cause/effect.


Afraid you missed some of the links scattered throughout this post? No worries, here they are again:

Grid Conquest

Inspiration for games and activities often comes to me in strange ways and locations. One day, as I was walking the dog, I was thinking about the game Blokus. I have no idea why, I just was. Blokus is a fun game and it occurred to me that it might make a good game for the classroom. On it’s own, it gives great practice in spatial relationships and noticing patterns, but I

thought maybe it could be used to practice other skills as well if I employed a little Game Smashing (still not a real term, I know, but I’m trying). The problem was how to go about doing this. Blokus is not horribly expensive, but it is more expensive than I’d want to spend to get a class set, and it is not exactly the tiniest game in my closet. I briefly considered making my own sets but almost immediately rejected this idea for two reasons: first, it would violate copyright and trademark laws; second, cutting out all of those pieces was not something I was willing to do! By the end of the walk, this idea had been pushed to the back of my head to rattle around until I could come up with the answer. It took awhile, but eventually I created Grid Conquest, a game that has been gaining in popularity amongst my students for the last year or two.

The Game Components

One of the things I love about this game is it requires very few pieces and is easy to put together. The required components are a laminated game board (free download via the link below the picture, I recommend cold lamination as it is thicker and doesn’t peel when cut through), a dry erase marker for each student (a different color for each student sharing a single board), and task cards or directions for whatever skill you want to practice.

The Game Play

The objective of the game is to earn the largest amount of points. Students earn points by claiming squares (color them in) on the game board after answering a question or completing a task related to the target skill. The game can be played with two, three, or four students per board, but is best with either two or four. Before beginning, students each choose a starting square and mark it with their color. Some of my students just make an X, others prefer to color it in all the way. Each turn is played as follows:

  1. The student draws a card from the pile and/or completes the assigned task to practice the target skill.
  2. If the student successfully completes the task, he/she claims a score on the game board by coloring it in. The claimed square MUST share at least one side with a square he/she has already claimed (for the first turn that would be the start square). The card is then discarded and play continues. If the student was not able to successfully complete the task, the card is discarded and no squares are marked.
  3. Play continues in this manner, with students taking turns attempting tasks and claiming squares, until a student is no longer able to claim a square (there are no unclaimed squares adjoining his/her current collection). If a student is no longer able to claim any more squares, he/she is out of the game. Once no one else can claim any more squares, or all of the tasks have been completed, the game is over. Students add up their points and the winner is the person with the highest total score.

Another thing that I love about this game is how versatile it is. I’ve created versions of the game to practice the simple present tense, family relationship vocabulary, idioms, and abbreviations and acronyms. If I don’t wish to create a special set, I can assign students to complete task cards, use it with sort card sets for vocabulary/spelling practice, or even ask them to simply give sentences utilizing a particular grammar function.

Conclusion

Not all of my ideas turn out perfectly, and some end up in the “this was better in my head” pile, even after months or years of rattling around in the back of my head, but Grid Conquest is one of the successes. It’s easy to create, versatile, engaging to play, and doesn’t take up a lot of storage space. In short, it checks all of my boxes for a great practice game. Give it a try with one of your classes and let me know how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!


Need some of those links again? Here you are:

Where Do I Need To Go?

I can be a bit directionally challenged at times. It’s not that I can’t read a map–I am actually fairly proficient at that. It’s also not that I can’t get to where I need to be–I’ve circumnavigated the globe multiple times without a problem. It’s just that when I’m not paying attention to where I’m going, which is fairly often, I have a particular talent for getting lost. For example, how many people do you know who can get lost driving home from work? When they’ve been driving the same route five days a week for over a year? And it involves a total of three turns–counting out of the school driveway and into your own driveway? Yeah, that may or may not have happened to me.

The positive side of this dubious talent of mine is I am very aware of the need to teach students how to give and understand directions. We spend a lot of time on vocabulary for community places (I have an entire vocabulary practice pack, a Guess the Word PowerPoint Game, and a task card assessment) and prepositions (see these blog posts for more: Picture Perfect Prepositions, Mousy Prepositions, More Preposition Fun), but eventually we need to put this vocabulary into use. That is when I pull out Directions Around My Town.

Directions Around My Town

This is a board game I made up to help students practice giving and following directions. You’ll need a few basic supplies to play: a general game board and pieces (Cutes & Ladders, Pay Day, and Candy Land are some of our favorites, it’s not necessary for every group to use the same board), a single marker of some type (this can be anything, we often use a milk jug lid), maps of your community (check with the tourism board or local business bureau, they’re usually free), and business cards from local businesses.

When first starting the game, give each group of 2-4 students a set of the supplies mentioned above. Students should choose their playing pieces and place them on the starting space of the game board. They should also choose a business card at random and place the single marker on that particular business on the map. The other business cards should be placed in a pile near the map or mixed in some type of container (empty tissue boxes work well for this).

The first student begins his/her turn by drawing a business card and locating that business on the map. He/she then gives directions to another player, who moves the single marker on the map from its current location to the new one based on what the current player says. Once the current player has successfully guided the traveler to the new location, he/she rolls the die and moves his/her piece on the game board. The second player then takes his/her turn in the same manner. Play continues until one player reaches finish on the game board.

This game can be extended by having students practice conversations at each location. The player whose turn it is pretends to be a person out running errands and another player pretends to be the business owner. The current player holds a conversation with the business owner and either makes a purchase or arranges for a service to be performed. (For a game 100% focused on the conversation aspect, see What Are You Doing At…?) I adjust this part of the game based on my students’ proficiency level. For lower proficiency students, I ask them to simply state a sentence or phrase to describe what they will do at the location (i.e. at the drycleaner: I need my dress cleaned.). I increase what I ask them to do, up to my advanced students having full conversations that last at least 60 seconds.

An alternative play option, particularly if you live in a small town, would be to obtain tourist maps and brochures for a popular destination (New York City, Chicago, London, Sydney…) and have students use those to play the game. A third option, to focus on a wider geographical area, would be to use state/province maps and card with city names on them.

Directions Around My Town is one of those games that I didn’t know how it would go when I first came up with it. Its original conception was, quite honestly, out of desperation–I had to teach a lesson on giving directions, had no resources, little time, and no money. Since I was living in Sydney at the time, I just went to the closest tourism office, explained what I needed, and was able to walk out with multiple sets of maps and brochures. The next day in class I tried the game, my students enjoyed it, and I’ve tweaked it based on their comments a few times since. It’s been more than ten years since I first played it with a group of adult students and it’s been a success with every group, including my middle schoolers, since. I hope your students enjoy it as well. Happy teaching, everyone!


Here are links to get those vocabulary activities I mentioned. All of the preposition games are free!!

Square Root Clock

I’ve shared in the past how I prefer to decorate my classroom with things that support what we are studying. Most of those decorations are intentionally chosen, but every once in awhile something finds a permanent home in my classroom by pure happenstance. My square root clock is one of those items.

The Inspiration

For four years, I had the privilege of working with a very energetic, creative, new math teacher. She came up with some of the craziest ideas, but they often ended up being some of the best. I’ll never forget how she solved the problem of students tipping back in their chairs. After about the third time one fell, once again minorly injuring himself in the process, she told all of the students to stack their chairs along the side wall of the classroom. When I went to pick up my students for intervention time, she explained to me why everyone was either standing or sitting on the floor and asked for my support by denying the students chairs in my room as well. After school I asked her if she wanted help putting the chairs back out around the tables. She informed me she didn’t need help because the chairs were going to stay stacked. When questioned her as to how long they’d stay stacked, her answer was, “Until they prove to me they can use them properly.” A week later, she decided it was time, we put the chairs back out, and not a single student ever tipped back in one again. But it wasn’t just interesting classroom management techniques I observed in her classroom, she had some excellent teaching ideas as well. It was preparing my students for a math lab in her class involving cookies and candy that inspired my Pi Day Circles activity, as well as the Nutrition and Percentages unit I designed. However, the one thing that became a permanent part of my classroom did not join my decorations until nearly a year after I moved to a new district.

The Implementation

As any experienced teacher will tell you, being smarter than the students is a major part of teaching. This is very likely more true for middle school teachers than any others. One year I was working with my eighth grade English language learners on exponents and roots. I told my students they needed to memorize their square roots, at least through the square root of 144 (12). My students just looked at me and, in the way only middle schoolers can, said, “Whatever, you can’t make us.” I, being a veteran of middle school teaching, simply smiled and sent them on to their next class, never saying a word.

That night, remembering the square root clock from my previous colleague’s classroom, I made a few labels for our classroom clock (you can download your own copy for free, the link is below the picture). When the students came in the next morning I still didn’t say a word, I simply waited. It didn’t take long for one, convinced he’d been in class for at least an hour (rather than the two minutes that had actually passed), to glance up at the clock. His immediate reaction was priceless. He literally jumped out of his seat, pointed at the clock, and started yelling in Mandarin. I didn’t need a translator to help me understand what he was upset about! This got all of the other students’ attention and soon my classroom was in a multilingual uproar.

After giving them a few moments to get it out of their system, I retook control and began to restore order (and the use of the English language) to my room. Once everyone was back in their seats and listening to me again, I simply repeated the exact words I’d spoken the day before, “You really need to memorize the first twelve squares and their roots.” I then continued the lesson as if nothing had happened.

The Result

The next week we had a quiz over exponents and roots (I covered up the clock). Every single student passed, most received 100% on the first twelve. I decided to leave the labels up as reinforcement for their learning (and because the clock was quite high on the wall and I didn’t feel like climbing on a chair on a table to take them down). The next year when I was putting up decorations, I put the labels back up simply because they were in the box with everything else. Later that year, the new-to-the-building math teacher came to see me. It seemed my students were outperforming all others on exponents and roots and she wanted to know what I’d done. I simply showed her the clock.

Happy teaching, everyone!

Inferring Dialogue

Two of the things my students often struggle with are making inferences and using quotation marks. Students regularly confuse inferences with observations, telling me what they can see, rather than what they can guess. Then there is the issue of quotation mark use, which begins with a tendency to call them “double top commas” and goes on all the way to placing them after every word or not using them at all. In an effort to help students practice these skills a bit more, I came up with this fun activity, and today I’d like to share it with you (it’s a free download at the bottom). There are two versions, so hang in there with me as I explain the differences between them.

The Basic Idea

In both versions, students practice making inferences by looking at pictures of people talking. Designed in PowerPoint, each slide has a photo of two or more people conversing. The students look at the people and their surroundings before inferring what they people might be saying. Since it’s a photograph, it is impossible to observe what the people are saying, forcing students to move past telling me what they see to making a true inference. There are twenty pictures in all, fourteen have two speech bubbles each and the last six each have three bubbles.

Version One: Speech Bubbles

In the first version, each picture is as full screen as I could make it without distortion. I then added a speech bubble for each person. Students type the inferred dialogue into each speech bubble, creating a one frame cartoon, of sorts. There’s also a PDF version in which students can write the dialogue by hand, if computers are not available for their use. As I’ve said in the past, I prefer, whenever possible, to have students type their dialogues so they get practice typing, and build their typing stamina/speed, in preparation for standardized testing. Since speech bubbles do not require the use of quotation marks, this particular version practices only making inferences. It is version two that brings in the second skill.

Version Two: Writing Dialogue

This is the version I use with students who are ready to move beyond writing and punctuating simple sentences to using more advanced punctuation. In this version, the images are contained to the left two-thirds of the slide and a text box is provided on the last third. Students again type (or write, depending on which version you use) their inferred dialogue, but this time they must do so using quotation marks and phrases to identify who said what. This is also great practice of synonyms and other verbs to replace “said” in writing and speaking.

How I Use This Activity

No matter which version I decide to use, I typically follow the same pattern. We will do one or two pictures together as a class as an example. I’ll project it on the board, solicit suggestions, and then type the class’ chosen dialogue into the slide. Then, depending on the class, I’ll either have them complete the other pictures alone or, more often, with a partner. Students then present their dialogues to the class either via a glary walk (set the slides to advance automatically and put each presentation into present mode for digital projects) or by choosing the slide they think is their best and sharing it with the class (good speaking practice).

Use the Activity Yourself

You can create your own version of the activity (I found the pictures on Pixabay), but there’s no need. You can download my version for free from this post or, for a convenient one click download of all the PowerPoint and PDF files of both versions, from Teachers Pay Teachers. If you are thinking the digital version is the way to go but prefer Google, never fear! The file uploads well to Google Slides, so it’s an easy conversion for you. Without further commentary, here are the links for the files. Happy teaching, everyone!

Want to get all four versions of the activity in one convenient download? It’s free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


If you are looking for more practice with the skills of making inferences or using quotation marks, check out these resources:

Wheel of Quotations

A free game! Simply click the picture.

Ambivalent Inferences

A free activity! Simply click the picture.

Inferences? For Sure!–post with more information

It Might Be!

A fun board game!

Inferring: It Might Be!–post with more information & another free activity download

Inference Picture Challenge

A whole class PowerPoint game!

A new whole class game made especially for students just getting started with making inferences.

Adjective Hunt

Adjectives are not something that can be taught in a single lesson or even unit. They require constant review and expansion of knowledge. Thankfully, the study and practice of adjectives is something that can make a good basis for a lesson when you have mixed proficiency classes. I have a lot of different activities I that I do with my students involving adjectives, and all of them can be adjusted based on student proficiency. Some of the activities that I’ve shared about in the past are:

Picture Prompts–paper
Picture Prompts–digital

Picture Prompts Game

Picture Prompts is a game I originally developed to practice cause and effect or questions words, but I’ve used it for about a hundred other things since. One of those things is practicing adjectives. I vary the requirements based on students’ proficiency level. Beginning students simply state a single adjective and noun (white dog). Lower intermediate students will form a sentence describing a noun with the be verb (The dog is white.). Upper intermediate students will form a sentence describing a noun without a be verb, or possibly with multiple adjectives (The strong white dog jumps in the water.). Advanced students will use multiple adjectives and form sentences with multiple clauses (The strong white dog, which belongs to my brother, is trying to catch the hard brown stick.).

Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag–paper
Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag–digital

Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag Game

This was one of the first games I ever developed for practicing adjectives. Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag is more challenging than Picture Prompts because students are required to think of their own noun, as well as an adjective to describe it. It can be very difficult for lower proficiency level students to think of nouns that begin with a particular letter, so I often allow them to roll the letter cube more than once if necessary. In general though, I adapt the game for various proficiency levels in the same manner as Picture Prompts, but will sometimes add in an extra challenge for my intermediate to advanced students. I’ll ask them to alliterate their answer by using an adjective and noun that begin with the letter rolled, not just one or the other.

Appetizing Adjectives

Often our cumulative project after a full unit about adjectives, Appetizing Adjectives is still one of my students’ favorite projects of the year. Recently, we’ve taken to playing a board game version of Appetizing Adjectives before working on the various versions of our final project. It’s a fun way to get warmed up before diving into our summative assessment.

All of these activities are great, but today I’d like to share with you about an intermediate project/assessment that I sometimes use before Appetizing Adjectives, or when I don’t have the time or need for a full unit on adjectives: Adjective Hunt.

Adjective Hunt

Similar to Picture Perfect Prepositions, Adjective Hunt is a scavenger hunt type activity that requires little to no preparation and few materials. The only preparation is creating a list of 5-10 adjectives students already know and gathering some common materials. In fact, I suspect most, if not all of you, have all of the materials you need in your classrooms already. The materials you’ll need are white copy paper, glue sticks, scissors, markers, and magazines or catalogs students can cut up.

In class, give each student a list of adjectives and access to the required materials. If you want all students to work off the same list, you can save time and paper by displaying it on the board. You can also provide each student with a different list in order to provide variety to answers or different levels of challenge for differing proficiency levels. Another option is to provide a longer list (20-30 adjectives) and give students a particular number of required adjectives to use.

Students then look through the magazines and catalogs, hunting for pictures of things they can describe with one or more of the target adjectives. When students find such an image, they cut it out, glue it to a piece of copy paper, and start writing. What I require students to write depends again on their proficiency level. Typically, I follow the same requirements as with the games, beginning with two-three word labels and advancing to simple and then more complex sentences.

How long this activity takes depends mostly on how many adjectives students are required to use. When I have the time, I prefer to take a full two to three class periods and do approximately ten adjectives per student. When I’m short on time, I’ll shorten the list to five, or even three, adjectives and complete the activity/assessment in a single class period.

As with the Picture Perfect Prepositions activity, I like Adjective Hunt because it allows me to see how well students understand the meaning of various adjectives. Students enjoy the freedom of being able to choose their own images and compose their own sentences. They also enjoy seeing their work displayed in the classroom. Then the fact that it can be adapted and used for multiple proficiency levels simultaneously is a wonderful thing as well! While I don’t expect anyone to give me a creative teaching award for this particular lesson, it is one I’ve used successfully many times and highly recommend. Give it a try with your students and let me know how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!

Solutions for Early Finishers

“I’m done!”

How many times have you already heard those words this year? And how many times were they quickly followed by, “What can I do now?”

Students finishing work and not knowing what to do next (even though you’ve given them about 100 options 1,000 times) is always a problem. I’ve always had routines and procedures that I taught and practiced over and over again. One year I even made this sign that I would just point to whenever my middle schoolers said anything similar. However, it never seems to be quite enough to fully end the problem of students calling out and then wondering what to do next. While I have yet to find the magic solution to preventing the question from being asked, I do have several activities that my students enjoyed participating in when they had a few free minutes.

Lego Area

As I mention in my post, Out of the Blue Classroom Favorites, the Lego table is one of the more popular areas in my classroom. It’s a small table with a couple of chairs, a pail of Legos and some baseboards. Sometimes I include a book with the picture directions for building various things (free download from More Preposition Fun post), but students generally ignore this. If students have free time, they may sit at the table (no more than two students at any given time) and build whatever they wish. It’s not unusual for them to simply cover the baseplates with Legos, building nothing in particular, but it seems to be relaxing for them.

Puzzle Area

Also mentioned in Out of the Blue Classroom Favorites, the puzzle table is similar to the Lego area. It is a small table with a couple of chairs and a jig saw puzzle spread out on it. Students sit at the table (again, no more than two at a time) and work on the puzzle as they have time and desire. Once a puzzle has been completed, we take a picture of it to hang on the wall behind the table, and begin a new one. Not only is it a fun activity for students to participate in during down time, it helps build our classroom community as well. Since all students are working on the puzzle together, it belongs to the entire class and everyone feels a sense of accomplishment when it’s finished.

Free Reading Area

Again, not a fancy area, but a popular one. As I describe in my Alternative Seating post, my reading corner consisted of an area rug,  a body pillow with a fun colored cover, and some arm pillows. The only rule about the reading area was one has to be either reading or working quietly on schoolwork. The number of students allowed to use it at any given time depended on how much space I had available to dedicate to it that year.

Card/Board Games

In our digital world, many students don’t have as much time to play traditional card/board games. Some of my students have never played a card or board game in their lives. I kept a shelf of classic games that ranged from two to four players and students were allowed to take them to their desks or a quiet corner of the classroom (our short table with chair cushions was always a popular spot) to play when they finished early or we had special days such as Fun Friday. Some of the most popular options from my collection were Uno, Go Fish, Sorry!, Connect Four, and Battleship.

Skillology Choice Boards

Featured in Top Free Teachers Pay Teachers Downloads of 2021, English Skillology Choice Boards were a way for my students to earn extra credit during their free time. I have four levels (beginner, low intermediate, high intermediate, advanced) and students could use class Chromebooks to access their boards from their desks. All of my boards are free, use the links above to get all of the details and your own copies.

Note Folding / Origami

When I was in high school, back in the dark ages, no one had cell phones. The passing of notes was our main form of communication. It wasn’t enough to simply write a note, fold it in half or quarters, and give it to someone, though. No, it had to be folded in an elaborate fashion. After we did a notetaking activity where students created what I always knew as a cootie-catcher (apparently some called them fortune tellers), my students were amazed at my paper folding skills. Later, when we had some free time, I showed them a few other ways of folding paper I remembered, and they loved it. The whole thing became another free time “center” in our classroom. I printed out instructions for various ways of folding notes, and students would write to one another and then attempt to follow them. They had a blast, and the best part was they were getting a lot of good writing and reading practice in the process. Eventually, I bought a few origami instructional books for students who wanted to try some more elaborate paper folding creations.

Fun Sheets / Art Center

The final option that became fairly standard in my classrooms was a fun sheets / art center. It was simply a shelf with copies of various activity sheets and some basic art supplies. I copied sudoku puzzles, crosswords, wordsearches, and a variety of coloring pages that I downloaded for free from the internet. I organized them in manilla folders (with an example stapled to the front) and mail organizers. Next to the papers I had bins with crayons, colored pencils, markers, scissors, white copy paper, colored copy paper, and wallpaper (see Out of the Blue Favorite Classroom “Supplies”). Students could take what they wanted and complete the pages or create original art projects.

Conclusion

Some of these options, such as the reading corner, were always available in my classroom. Others, such as the origami area, came and went throughout the year(s). A lot of it was determined by how much space I had and access to supplies. I would love to tell you that having these various options/centers solved the “I’m done! Now what?” problem in my classroom, but that would be a lie. It did reduce it, though, and most of the time that was good enough for me. Happy teaching, everyone!

Help! I’m Being Observed!

Some of us have been in school for awhile, for others its only been a couple of weeks, but whenever you started, it’s almost that time of year again: observation time. I’ll admit that this time used to strike fear into my normally confident teacher heart. I’ll even admit to still having twinges after more than two decades of teaching, but I don’t worry nearly as much as in the past.

My Advice

Don’t put on a dog and pony show. Don’t try to come up with an over-the-top, can’t-be-beat lesson. Simply teach whatever you would have taught, in the way you would have taught it, if there were no observation. In a nutshell, pretend the administrator/evaluator isn’t even in the room.

My Rational

First, it’ll make your life easier. Teachers have far too much to do already. I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time or energy to come up with an elaborate lesson for no reason other than someone’s going to be watching. Do I sometimes teach what might be classified as elaborate lessons? Yes, but I plan them well in advance, prepare the students ahead of time, and schedule them when they’ll make the greatest impact in student learning.

Second, I barely have time to teach as it is and don’t need one more thing disrupting our learning schedule. Between state testing, fire drills, assemblies, field trips, snow days, and the myriad of other interruptions to our learning schedule, the last thing I need is one more thing delaying or changing our lessons.

Third, students of all ages are highly routine dependent. If you haven’t already figured this out, you haven’t been teaching long. Change one thing in the routine and it’s quite possible your students will react as though the world has suddenly started orbiting in the opposite direction. This is more of an issue for younger students than older, but even in the upper grades you’ll have students that do not deal well with change (and those that will suddenly call out, “Why aren’t we doing it how we normally do?” or something similar). A change in routine or procedure, or the introduction of a new activity, can also result in confusion. Students may not be reacting badly to the change, and may not want to make your life more difficult, but doing anything for the first time makes it more likely for things to go less than smoothly. Sticking to the familiar greatly lowers your chances of disaster.

Fourth, your administrator is likely already familiar with how you teach. Few administrators shut themselves up in the office all day. Most administrators can be found all over the school dealing with problems, talking to students, helping a teacher, and just generally being present. As they move about the building they observe what is going on in each room they pass. Long before an administrator enters a classroom for an observation, he/she already has a sense of whether or not the teacher is a good teacher. He/she also already has a sense of what type of classroom environment he/she will be entering. So even if you put together that perfect lesson, nothing goes wrong, and no students call you out, it’s highly probable your administrator will know things weren’t “normal.”

Conclusion

Bottom line: trust yourself and your abilities as a teacher. When it’s your turn to be observed, just do what you do best–educate! Things are much more likely to go well for everyone if you simply stick to your normal plans and routines. If they don’t go as perfectly as you’d hoped, it’ll be OK, your administrator will understand (he/she has taught a bad lesson or two in the past, too).