Every semester I spend a lot of time teaching context clues. Knowing how to recognize and use context clues is an important skill for any student, but it is especially crucial for English language learners. I have several different games and activities that I have collected over the years and like to use, but they are all paper-based, and my class is 100% virtual this semester. Since I still needed to teach context clues I was originally intending to convert these paper-based activities to digital games, as I had several others. When it came time to actually do the conversion though, I realized it was going to be much more difficult to convert these particular activities than I had expected. I really wasn’t looking forward to doing the work and was also thinking that it was high time I created my own context clues activity. About that time I was also involved in a Facebook conversation about teaching academic vocabulary and it hit me: why not kill two birds with one stone? I could teach context clues and review academic vocabulary all at the same time.
I still didn’t have a lot of time (my semester was starting in less than a week), but I no longer need it. I had previously created 30 weeks of academic vocabulary units, so all of the research and content was finished. All I needed to do was take the existing list of 150 vocabulary words, and example sentences, and create a game that allowed students to practice context clues with them. Thus, Context Clues Academic Vocabulary Connect Four was born. Before I describe for you my creation process (very easy, don’t worry), let me give you a quick demo of how the game is played.
To create the game I started, as I almost always do, in PowerPoint. As I’ve stated before, in order to prevent things from being accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose) edited or deleted by students as they play, I put as much as possible into the background. Thus, I start creating my games in PowerPoint and design all of the elements that I don’t want students to change or move on the slide. I then save my slides as images (File-Save As-choose .jpg or .png-all slides). In this case, the slide creation was quite simple. I needed a title slide, a game board slide with directions, question slides, and answer slides. My questions were sentences using the academic vocabulary words, the answer slides were definitions for the words. Since I didn’t have time to create 150 new example sentences I decided to use the sentences I’d already written for my 30 weeks of academic vocabulary posters. Transferring the sentences was easy. I set up the text box on my first question slide (changed the font, size, and made it bold), opened my original file, copied the sentence, right clicked on my question slide in PowerPoint, and under paste chose the A symbol (text only). This pasted the text into my slide but kept the formatting I’d just set up. I added a rectangle shape that said “Answer,” and my first question slide was finished. In order to keep everything the same, I then created a duplicate slide to be my answer slide. I changed the text in the rectangle shape to “Game Board,” and changed the question text to be the definition (also copied from the original file) instead of an example sentence. For each subsequent word I created a duplicate of the question or answer slide preceding it and changed only the question or answer text.
The one thing I had to be sure to do while creating the question and answer slides was keep my question slides together. In other words, I couldn’t have my first question on slide three and the answer for that question on slide four. If slide three was question one, then slide four needed to be question two, and so on. This is for two reasons: 1. the game has to remain in edit mode when students play it and I don’t want them to be able to see the answer in the slide sorter on the left, and 2. I knew I’d be using the “draw” a card function in the game play script my husband wrote me and it requires all of the question cards to be sequentially numbered. This meant I had to do some scrolling as I set up the slides, but it wasn’t difficult.
Once my slides were all designed and saved as images, it was time to insert them into Google Slides. The easiest way to do this is to use Slides Toolbox. The toolbox add-on has an insert tool that allows you to make slides from images and set the image as the background. After opening the toolbox and selecting the images I wanted it took about 2 minutes for everything to be uploaded and set up. Two minutes may seem like a long time, but it is much faster than trying to set over 150 slides’ backgrounds individually!
The next step was to set up hyperlinks to make my “Answer” and “Game Board” buttons functional. To do this I used the shape tool to draw a box over the “Answer” button on my first question slide. I then changed that box’s border and color to transparent. Then I copied the box and pasted onto all of the following question slides. Then, noting the number of the first answer slide, I went back to my first question slide and hyperlinked the “Answer” button to the first answer slide. To do this I clicked on my transparent box, clicked the link button in the toolbar, chose slides in this presentation, and chose the slide number for the first answer. I then repeated these steps for each of the subsequent questions, simply adding one to the slide number I was linking to (question one linked to slide 79, question two linked to slide 80…). Making my “Game Board” button functional was much easier. I simply added a clear box to the top of my “Game Board” button on the first answer slide and linked it to slide three (my game board). I then copied this linked rectangle and pasted it onto each subsequent answer slide.
I was now ready to install the game play script. This script adds a menu item to Google Slides that says “Game Play.” The sub-menus are “Draw a Card” and “Roll the dice.” This game does not require dice, so I had my husband take out that part of the script. Both written and video instructions for installing and using the script are included with the download. You can get your own copy of the script by using the button below.
Finally, I needed markers for the game board. I first inserted an X shape (I use the one found under the equation section of the shapes too.). I then copied and pasted it 41 times, so I had 42 X’s in total. To get it the size I wanted, I selected all of the shapes, clicked arrange, align, and center. This put all of my X’s on top of one another and I was able to easily drag the corners to get them to be the correct size. I then changed the color and distributed them across the bottom of the screen. Finally, I selected half of the X’s and changed the color again so each player would have his/her own set.
This is the first digital game I’ve created that does not have a paper-version as well. While there were other activities that changed format or type when they were converted to digital, this one is the first that is completely new. I did end up creating a paper version, and it is played in a very similar way, but includes cards to draw and a glossary to check answers. You can get either Context Clues Connect Four game by clicking the pictures above, or a discounted bundle of both (digital or paper). You can also get the paper-based 15 week academic vocabulary units by using the pictures above, or a bundle of all 30 weeks. Also available is a bundle that combines both paper Connect Four games and all 30 weeks of academic vocabulary.