Activity Creation Hints

I love using supplementary resources! They improve any curriculum and increase engagement. Whether it be task cards, sort cards, board games, Jeopardy games, sorting activities, physical movement challenges, unusual writing projects, or something else, I love supplementary resources! They improve any curriculum and increase engagement.

However, some challenges exist with supplemental resources. Today, I’d like to discuss hints for printing those resources you’ve created, downloaded, or purchased from someone else. Here are my top three tips for printing those supplemental activities.

Colored Cardstock

Unless you are homeschooling or doing tutoring, you likely have more than three or four students in your class. My ESL classes typically range from twelve to twenty-four students, but I have had classes of up to thirty, and once, I had a class with fifty in it. Since most of my activities are designed for two to four students per group, this means I need multiple copies of each exercise. Another thing all teachers know to be true is no matter how conscientious and responsible your students may be, at some point, a card or other piece of an activity will fall on the floor or get stuck under a book and be missed during the cleanup process. Thus, you will have to figure out exactly which copy of an activity that particular card belongs with.

I’ve found an easy solution to this problem: colored cardstock. When printing my games, task cards, etc. I print each copy on a different color of cardstock. That way, when a card is found on the floor or under a book after the activity has been put away, I can quickly determine exactly which copy of the activity it belongs to. Green cards go with the green copy, blue cards go with the blue copy, and so on. This has saved me so much time that I’ve started to remake materials from early in my career that are all on white cardstock.

I use a few resources that do not work as well with this tip. These games or activities have images where color is an essential factor, and using colored cardstock inhibits student learning. However, I’ve found that I can still get several different sets by printing on white, cream, speckled, light gray, and light yellow cardstock. Five sets of an activity that can support four students per set gets me reasonably close to a typical class size of 25-30 students. And when I do have to make multiple sets on the same color of cardstock, it still takes much less time to figure out if a card goes with the first or second white set versus which of seven or eight white sets!


This is an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how many teachers don’t laminate their materials. I can understand why because lamination can be expensive but worth it. I have tried it out, and the materials I don’t laminate only last a few years, even with mature students who use them carefully. In contrast, the materials I laminate last almost forever. I have some games and activities that I have used multiple times a year for the last twenty-plus years, and they still look nice.

I have tried many lamination forms, from hot roller laminate to pouches to cold laminate; my preference is cold lamination. My experience with the large laminators at school is they tend to peel, especially after you cut through the paper. The large machines are also not practical to have at home, I’ve worked at several schools that didn’t have them at all, and other schools that limited how much laminating each teacher could do. With the small hot laminators, I have trouble getting my materials lined up in the pouches, and again, they tend to peel after being cut through. I was also never comfortable using the hot machines around small fingers (children) and wet noses (pets). I found the Xyron EZ Laminator, tried it, and have never regretted it. My first one lasted nearly a decade, and my second is still going strong after ten years. What I like most about it is it is very portable, does not require electricity, is safe around children and pets, and the finished product never peels–even after I cut through it. The major drawback is that you are limited to paper that is no more than nine inches wide (but up to sixty feet long).

Ziplock Storage

A few years ago, I wrote a post reviewing how I organize and store my supplemental materials. I’d like to reiterate a small part of that here, though. I keep my activities and games in plastic bins labeled by subject/topic (past tense verbs, compound words, integers, etc.). Each game/activity is kept in its own large Ziploc bag. Inside the large bag goes directions and the game boards. Smaller game pieces (such as playing cards, dice, and player pieces) go into smaller Ziploc bags, one bag for each group of students. This allows me to quickly grab a single bag and know I have everything I need (besides extra copies of recording sheets) to implement that game/activity with my students. It also means that when I pass materials out to students, I don’t have to count out pieces or separate sets of cards. I grab the large bag, walk to each group, hand them a game board and small bag, and walk to the next group.

Before someone gets upset with me and begins to lecture about how there’s too much plastic in the world, please hear me out on something. I have been using this system, with the same plastic totes and the same plastic bags, for well over a decade now. I only throw them out when they become ripped and unusable, which is a rare occurrence. Whenever possible, I recycle materials and storage items that are no longer usable. I do my best to care for our planet, but I also try to be practical about what it takes to do this job.


There’s nothing revolutionary about these tips, and I would be embarrassed to admit how long it took me to figure them out, but they have made my life a lot easier. My activity creation process is quick and relatively painless because I know exactly what I’m doing each time. My materials last a long time, and my time and sanity are saved through an organization system that allows me to quickly find what I need and get it into the hands of students. I hope some of you can be spared the trial-and-error process and enjoy the fruits of my experience. Happy teaching, everyone.


My sister-in-law once said to me, “I’ve never seen someone get so excited about getting other people’s trash.” I quickly corrected her by saying, “These (milk jug lids) aren’t trash; they are teaching treasures!” Inspired by the same Facebook video as

Sliding Sorts, Clash! is another game involving milk jug lids and other so-called trash. In the game’s original version, students race to be the first to match words to form compound words.

Making Compound Clash

This game requires some “trash” as well as two purchased items. To make the game, you’ll need:

First, I used Microsoft Publisher to create labels for the toilet paper tubes. I put a line down the middle so each label could be easily cut in half, one half for each side of the tube. On each half, I put the first word in the compound word and a picture of the completed compound word. Placing a label on each side of the tube doubled the number of students who could play with each set and reduced the number of toilet paper tubes I needed. I did have a little trouble getting the labels to stick to the tubes (possibly because the labels I was using were quite old), but the problem was quickly and cheaply remedied by putting a strip of clear packing tape around the tube. This had the added benefit of reinforcing the tube a bit as well.

Second, I printed the second half of the compound word on the round labels and affixed each to the top of a milk jug lid. You’ll need to create each on a single color of lid and want a different colored set for every other student. Again, I used 1.5-inch diameter labels for this (mostly because I still had some left from making Sliding Sorts), but in the future, I’ll likely use 1-inch diameter circles so they don’t fold over the edge at all.

I created a set of 15 compound words for my game. For every four students, I needed 15 toilet paper tubes and 60 lids (in at least two different colors). Storing the game took a bit of thought as it is too big to easily fit in my current compound word storage box. I ended up using a small shoebox to hold the tubes and placing the lids in sandwich bags inside the compound word storage box. It’s cheap, easy to transport to and from school, and sits nicely on my storage shelves while still protecting the tubes from being crushed.

Playing Compound Clash

To set up the game, line the toilet paper tubes down the center of the table with the labels facing each side. Have four students sit, two on each side of the table, and give each student a set of lids and a bottle. The goal of the game is to be the first to connect two words to form the compound word pictured on the tube. When the start is called, students dump their lids on the table and use the bottle to create an air current to slide the lid across the surface (theoretically, students could use their mouths to blow the lids, but that would spread a lot of germs and no one needs that in their classroom) and match the halves of the compound words pictured on each tube. Will students’ lids run into one another? Yes. (I do make the rule that once a lid is successfully slid against its corresponding tube, it can’t be moved.) Will they accidentally (and purposefully) blow one another’s lids off course? Yes. Will players’ actions on the other side of the table affect the tube placement? Yes. (If a tube is knocked over completely, the player who caused it to tumble must set it back upright.) That’s all part of the fun!

Once all of the compound words have been formed, the clash is over, and scoring begins. Players score one point for each compound word they were the first to correctly form. The player with the most points is the winner. Check out this short video to see a tiny piece of the action:

Alternative Play: Faceoff

The Faceoff version of play is perfect for smaller classes because, while still incredibly fun, it reduces the number of students using each set of tubes by half. Instead of having students race to be the first to get their lid to the matching tube, only play one student per side of the tube. The goal is then to be the first student to match all lids to tubes, thus forming all of the compound words. The first student to finish gets five points. Students then earn one point for each correctly formed compound word. The winner is the student with the most points.


I have made other versions of the game, specifically Clash of the Irregulars, both a verb and a noun version. I’ll include the downloads for those as well. I’m sure in time, I’ll come up with other versions (phrasal verbs are rumbling around in my head at the moment), but I need to build up my supply of lids and tubes first. 😉

As with Sliding Sorts, this game was a hit with my adult students, and I’m confident middle school students would love it just as much. I also believe it would be a success with elementary and high school students as well. Start saving toilet paper tubes and milk jug lids, and give it a try yourself. I bet your students like it as much as mine do! Happy teaching, everyone.

DIY Guess The Word PowerPoint Game

A few weeks ago I did a post about using animation triggers in PowerPoint to create games for your students. One of those games my students have fallen in love with is Guess The Word.

The gameplay is similar to the classic game Hangman but without the potentially triggering elements. Check out this video to see one version of it in action:

I have three different types of clue slides for the game: picture only (shown in the picture), picture and text (shown in the video), and text only (shown later in the post). I generally use this game to practice vocabulary, hence the name Guess the Word. I like that students who are still struggling with spelling certain vocabulary words are supported by the fact they can do their best to sound words out and guess at the correct letters, receiving instant feedback about whether or not they were correct. Students who are completely unsure of the vocabulary word are also not left out as they can guess random letters until they get enough correct to jog their memory as to the target term.

One reminder from my post about using animation triggers, they are not supported in Google Slides. Therefore, these games need to be created and played in PowerPoint. It is possible to

convert the files to Google Slides but the animation triggers will be lost and the games will not work correctly. Before I get to the directions, I will let you in on a secret. If you find the directions a bit overwhelming, don’t give up–at the end, there is a free template you can download that allows you to skip steps 1-11 and parts of step 19.

Steps for Creating a Guess the Word Game:

  1. Open a new PowerPoint document.
  2. Set up your game slide template.
    a. Click on View.
    b. Click on Slide Master.
    c. Click on the blank slide and copy/paste it.
    d. Delete the date, footer, and # sections from the bottom.
    e. Draw a line to separate the alphabet bank from the rest of the slide.
    f. Label your alphabet bank by using a textbox or word art, whichever you prefer.
    g. In the playing area, insert a placeholder (under the slide master tab) for the text (definition or another clue) you will place on each slide; if you wish to include an image on each slide, you can also insert an image placeholder.
    i. On the Home tab, set the font size, color, and other attributes you want for your text box
    h. On the Slide Master tab, click close master view
  3. Design and make your intro slide(s) with the title, directions, and any other “extras” you’d like to have.
  4. From either the Home or Insert tab, click the down carrot (v) for New Slide.
  5. Choose the game slide template you just designed.
  6. In the Alphabet Bank area, draw a rectangle.
    a. Click insert
    b. Click shapes
    c. Click on the rectangle
    d. Click in the alphabet bank and drag your mouse to make the rectangle.
    i. Adjust the color and outline in the shape format tab
    e. Double click inside the rectangle and type a capital A
    f. Highlight the A and adjust the font, size, color, etc. from the Home tab
  7. Click on the A box and copy it by pushing ctrl + c
  8. Paste it by pushing ctrl + v
  9. Drag and drop the new rectangle to your desired location within the alphabet bank. Double-click on A and type B.
  10. Repeat steps 7-9 until you have a rectangle with every letter of the alphabet
  11. To cause letters in the bank to disappear, follow these steps:
    a. Click on the rectangle for a letter to select it
    b. On the Animations tab, click add animation
    c. Click disappear
    d. Click trigger
    e. Click On Click Of
    f. Click on the name of that particular rectangle
  12. At this point you have two choices: you can copy and paste the entire slide or you can copy and paste the letters.
    a. To copy and paste the entire slide & create new word slides:
    i. Click on the slide in the slide sorter area (the list of slides to the left of the screen)
    ii. Copy the slide by pushing ctrl + c
    iii. Paste the slide by pushing ctrl + v. Do this as many times as necessary to have a game slide for every word in your game.
    b. To copy and paste the letters onto each new word slide:
    i. Insert a new slide via either the home or insert tab
    ii. Click on New Slide
    iii. Click on the Layout you created
    iv. In the slide sorter area (left side of the screen) click on the slide you made with all of the letters
    v. Select all 26 letter rectangles
    vi. Copy by pushing ctrl+c
    vii. Click on the slide you just created
    viii. Click ctrl+v to paste—this should bring in all of the letters and keep the animation in place; you can check by opening the animation pane (under the Animations Tab) and seeing if the animations are listed or not
  13. Return to the first playing slide of your game and type your definition or clue into the box. If you are including images, insert your image into the placeholder.
  14. In the blank area above or below your clue, draw lines. You will need one line for each letter in the word.
    a. On the insert tab click shape
    b. Click on the line
    c. Draw a line on your slide
    d. Adjust the color and weight on the shape format tab
    e. Copy and paste the line so you have one for every letter in the word
    f. Generally align your lines in a single row
    g. Select all of your lines and then click on Shape Format
    h. Click on align
    i. Click on Align Middle
    j. Click on Align
    k. Click on Distribute Horizontally
  15. Over the first line, draw a rectangle.
    a. Click insert
    b. Click shapes
    c. Click on the rectangle
    d. Click above the first line and drag your mouse to make the rectangle.
    i. Adjust the color and outline in the shape format tab
    e. Double-click inside the rectangle and type the first letter of your word
    f. Highlight the letter and adjust the font, size, color, etc. from the Home tab
  16. Copy (ctrl+c) and paste (ctrl+v) the letter rectangle enough times to have one rectangle per letter in your word.
  17. Drag and drop the letter rectangles so they are above the appropriate lines for your word
  18. Double-click on the letter in each rectangle and change it so your word is spelled out above the lines
  19. To add the animation for each letter, repeat these steps for each letter. If it is the same letter, you may click on the first, hold down the shift, and click on the following instances.
    a. Click on the first letter in your word
    b. Click on the Animations Tab.
    c. If you haven’t yet, click on the Animation pane.
    d. Click on Add Animation.
    e. Choose Appear.
    f. Click Trigger
    g. Click On Click Of
    h. Click on the appropriate rectangle for the corresponding letter in the alphabet bank. I made a list to help me quickly reference it so I knew that “Rectangle 31” = T. (If you use the template, you’ll also want to download my list.)
    i. You will need to adjust the timing for all letters used in the word. On the Animations tab, click Animation Pane to show the window on the right of your screen.
    j. Find where there is more than one rectangle listed for a single trigger. (LOOK FOR #2+)
    k. For the second, third, and all following rectangles listed under each trigger, adjust the timing
    i. Click on the name of the shape
    ii. Click on the menu triangle at the end of the shape name (upside-down black triangle)
    iii. Click on Start With Previous
  20. Repeat steps 15-21 until you have made a slide for every word in your game.

Optional Steps:

If you are concerned that students will simply click through the slides without looking at anything, there is a way to prevent that.

  1. Draw a rectangle that covers the entire slide.
    a. Click insert
    b. Click shapes
    c. Click on the rectangle shape
    d. Click in the corner of your slide and drag so the new rectangle covers the entire slide
  2. Change the rectangle to make it clear
    a. With the rectangle selected (click on it) click on the Shape Format tab
    b. Change the shape fill to clear
    c. Change the shape outline to clear
  3. Hyperlink the rectangle to its current slide
    a. Right-click on the rectangle
    b. Click on Hyperlink
    c. Click Place in this document
    d. Click the slide you are working on (if you drew the rectangle on slide 4, choose slide 4)
    e. Click OK
  4. Send the rectangle to the back.
    a. Right-click on the rectangle
    b. Click Send to Back
  5. You will need to provide a button for students to be able to move to the next slide
    a. Click on insert
    b. Click shapes
    c. Choose a shape
    d. Draw your shape in the bottom right corner of the alphabet bank
    e. Label your shape “Next Word”
  6. After putting your image, words, and answer letters/lines in place, you will need to go back and place them behind your clear rectangle.
    a. Highlight everything in the clue/answer section of the slide—do NOT include the buttons in the Alphabet Bank.
    b. Right-click on one of the highlighted objects.
    c. Click Send To Back.
    d. Repeat for every slide.
    Alternatively, you could put a clear rectangle over the Alphabet Bank, hyperlink it to the same slide, and send it to the back. Then place a clear rectangle over the clue/answer section, hyperlink it to the same slide, and bring it to the front.
    It is possible to do these steps on the first slide you create (after step number 11 in the directions above), but you will need to update the hyperlink for each whole slide rectangle (step 3 of the optional directions) or all of the slides will be hyperlinked to the same slide. You may also want to confirm that the whole slide rectangle is still in the back of each slide (step #4 of the optional directions) on each subsequent slide, just to be sure all of the various buttons are working correctly.

Using the Template:

Using the template allows you to avoid steps 1-11 of the main directions. The master slides (located under New Slide) are titled Text Clue (slide 4), Image Clue (slide 5), or Text and Image Clue (slide 6). Choose the appropriate master slide for your game.
Since I’ve already added the answer lines and letters for you on the existing slides (slides 4-6), I highly recommend that you simply copy and paste the appropriate slide for your game enough times to create all of the terms you need. All of the letters (X) already have the animation added (step 19 d-e) as well. You can check that you’ve completed the trigger for each letter (the rest of step 19) by looking at the animation box in the upper left of each answer letter. The box will have a lightning bolt in it, as opposed to a number. You can also check the top of the animations pane to be sure no green triangles remain without being under a trigger.
The optional steps have also been done for the three slides included (slides 4-6), but you’ll need to repeat them in their entirety if you add new slides. If you choose to copy and paste any of included slides (slides 4-6), you will still need to repeat optional step 3 and 4.


That was a lot! When I first started making Guess the Word games, it took me most of the day to make a single game with about 12 terms. Now that I’ve had some practice (and refined the template), I can do a regular-length game (12-15 terms) in an hour or so. Like with most things in life, it gets easier and faster with practice. Here’s another demonstration video to get your creative juices flowing:

If you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to do all of that! Can’t I just download premade games?” The answer is yes! I have several made and ready for you to use in my TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) store. I’ll add the links to them, as well as the template downloads, below. Happy teaching, everyone!

Teaching Philosophy Aphorism

A frequently asked question on teaching applications and in teacher interviews is, “What is your philosophy of education?” Well, I wrote a 50+ page paper on it in college, but let me see if I can sum it up for you in 300 words or less… Another place I often see a similar question is in social media posts, usually from education majors, who want to know, “What do I need to know as a new teacher?” Well, I have been doing this for over two decades now, and every year I learn more, but let me see if I can sum it up for you in a quick Facebook comment…

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines aphorism as: “a concise statement of a principle; a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment.” Since I am not naïve enough to believe these questions are going away or that people are ready to hear everything I think on the subject, I have tried to boil my thoughts down into a single sentence, my teaching philosophy aphorism.

Do what you can, for who you can,
when you can, and let the rest go.

Do What You Can

People seem to think schools and teachers are the answer to (and cause of) most, if not all, of society’s problems, but it’s just not true. Also, as much as we may wish we could, we can’t do everything. Teachers are human beings, and there are limits to our abilities to do and help. The important thing isn’t whether or not you solved every problem, completed every task, and taught every lesson. The important thing is, did you do the things you were able to do to the best of your abilities?

For Who You Can

Just as we can’t do it all, we can’t help them all. I would love to be able to help every student who comes through my door, but I can’t. Sometimes I can’t help because I don’t know how. Sometimes I can’t help because I don’t have the resources. Sometimes I can’t help simply because I’m not the one the student needs. I’d also love to help every other teacher who asks me, but I can’t. While I may not be able to help everyone, I can help some, or at least one. That’s where I need to focus, on those I can help.

When You Can

Saying yes to one thing or person means saying no to something or someone else. Sometimes there is something I theoretically could do for a person I theoretically could help, but I don’t have the time. I have to make choices and prioritize the use of my time. The good news is many things can wait. People and opportunities often seem to demand immediate attention and/or action, but when you take a step back and consider the whole picture, you often find they can actually wait for another day. And what about the things that truly can’t wait? Well, if you can, do them. If you can’t, then don’t, and remember the last part of the aphorism.

Let the Rest Go

I spent a decade and a half teaching in inner-city schools. The biggest lesson I learned? Learn to let things go. If you don’t, you’ll never survive. If you’ve indeed done all you can, for who you can, when you can, the rest will take care of itself. My heart broke for my student who was living in a car with her mother because they were afraid to go to a shelter due to past bad experiences. Could I give them a better place to live? No, but I could listen to her, hug her, and help her communicate with our school’s social worker (who was able to find them a place in a shelter for women and children only). It was beyond the scope of my abilities to provide three meals a day for my student, who had no food at home and regularly missed the breakfast provided at school due to having to get younger siblings ready for school each day. What I could do was make sure one drawer of my desk was stocked with healthy breakfast bars and not get upset when he quietly slipped in after my class had already started and helped himself.

What is important to remember is letting the rest go doesn’t mean you don’t care. It simply means you are choosing to use your emotional, mental, and physical energy to do what you can, for who you can, when you can, and not to worry about things you can’t do, people you can’t help, and times you aren’t available. The hard truth is the work of a teacher is never done. You could work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, and still not do all there is to do, for all the people who ask, at the time requested. At the end of the day, don’t ask yourself if you finished everything. Instead, ask yourself if you honestly did what you could, for who you could, when you could. If the answer is yes, let the rest go. Happy teaching, everyone.

Egg Drop Speaking

Last fall, I was at a kick-off event that included an egg drop competition. As I stood watching the drop and chatting with friends, it occurred to me that not only was the activity fun, a great way to learn some science, and relatively cheap (at least before the price of eggs sky-rocketed), but it also could provide some excellent speaking practice.

Many schools have egg drop competitions for various reasons, and many science teachers do a unit on force, motion, air resistance, and all of the other wonderful science topics associated with the design of these contraptions. I am not a science teacher, so I would not even try to explain the science behind designing a successful egg drop contraption; instead, I would take this as a cross-curricular collaboration opportunity and work with our science teacher(s). I am proposing that speaking practice be added into two different phases of the competition: the building and the presentation/testing.

My Mr. Potato Head descriptive writing project and Lego Preposition Build activity inspired the beginning speaking practice. After students have designed their egg drop contraption on paper, they will need a partner. Since this activity requires a fair amount of trust, I would allow students to choose their own partners. I don’t want students accusing one another of purposefully sabotaging projects, and allowing them to work with a friend reduces this likelihood. Student A then orally explains to Student B how to design the contraption Student A designed. Student A is not allowed to touch anything but his/her own plans. Student B may ask questions but may not do anything Student A doesn’t say to do. Once Student A’s contraption is built to his/her satisfaction, partners switch roles to build Student B’s contraption.

The presentation/testing speaking practice is a bit more intimidating as it is in front of the entire class. Before dropping their egg and protection contraption, students explain to the class how they designed/made it and why they believe it will successfully protect the egg. After dropping it, the success of the contraption is evaluated, and students engage in discussion once again. The final discussion is around the reasons for the success or failure of the device and how it might be improved in the future.

Sadly, the program I am currently working in does not provide me with the opportunity to try this particular idea out. So, if you try it, please let me know how it goes! Happy teaching, everyone.

Using Triggers in PowerPoint

As you know by now, my students and I love playing games in class. They’re a great way to practice different skills, and engaging in a game helps to take some of the pressure off, meaning students tend to speak more naturally and fluently. Sometimes I get tired of dragging various games back and forth to school, so when I can utilize a digital game, that’s even better.

I saw a PowerPoint template for a Family Feud-style game almost a year ago that intrigued me. I know all about animations and how to make things appear and disappear, but I thought you had to know the order you wanted something to happen to make it work. This particular template was different, though; it didn’t matter which order you clicked on the various answer covers; they disappeared in your chosen order. I decided to investigate and learned about animation triggers, causing something to move, appear, or disappear based on the clicking (most commonly) of something else on the screen. One thing I must warn you about up front: this feature does not exist in Google Slides, and anything built with this feature that is converted to Google Slides will not work correctly. I appreciate Google Slides as much as the next person, but there are some areas in which it cannot match PowerPoint, and this is one of them.

The Microsoft Support website has several helpful tutorials on the subject, including a video. The short version of how to use triggers is as follows:

  1. Open the Animations Pane by clicking on Animations, Animation Pane.
  2. Click on the object that you want to animate.
  3. Click Add Animation and choose your desired action.
  4. With the animated object selected in the Animation Pane, click Trigger on the Animation Ribbon.
  5. Click “On Click Of”
  6. Click on the name of the shape or object you want to be the trigger (the thing you click to start the animation).
  7. If you like, you can use the drop-down menu (upside-down black triangle) at the end of the object’s name in the Animation Pane to adjust your options (it allows you to choose the timing, animate multiple things with one trigger click, etc.).

That’s basically it; a few quick clicks and you’ve animated your object. I’ll post step-by-step how-tos for making three different games using triggered animations in the coming months. On May 10th, I’ll give the step-by-step for Guess the Word games (check out this video of one example); on June 14th, I’ll provide the step-by-step directions for Class Feud, a Family Feud style game; and on July 12th, I’ll give the step-by-step directions for creating Fortune Hunting games (here’s a video of one version). These future tutorials will provide very detailed instructions for making each game and free templates that already have at least some of the steps completed for you. Today, to let you see a less complicated way triggered animations can be used for learning, I have What Nationality Am I? This game allows students to practice deciding if a picture and definition are for the British or American English word.

Each slide has a word with different meanings, depending on whether the speaker uses British or American English. Also included is a picture and definition. To play, students read the word and definition while looking at the picture. They then click the flag of the country they believe uses the word in the given way. If they are correct, the word correct appears. If they are incorrect, an explanation of what that type of English speaker would mean appears.

For example, in the picture of the example slide, the word is “jumper,” and the definition is “sleeveless dress worn over a blouse or shirt.” This is the American English usage of this term. In British English, a jumper is what Americans would call a sweater. Therefore, if the student clicks on the USA flag, “Correct!” appears. If the student clicks on the British flag, “A sweater” appears. The game includes fifteen different terms and a directions slide so students know how to keep score. It is not a long activity, but it is fun, especially for students curious about the different vocabulary between British and American English. Download it for free below the picture and try it with your students. Oh, and don’t forget to come back on the second Wednesday of each of the next three months for more detailed instructions and free game templates using triggered animations! Happy teaching, everyone.

Idiom Practice

My students have a love-hate relationship with idioms. They appreciate how descriptive idioms are but hate how difficult they can be to learn. Consequently, idioms are something we practice quite often, and hence have quite a few games we like to play as we do. Here are the current top four picks in my high-intermediate and advanced classes:

Idiom Grid Conquest

Grid Conquest is one of my general-purpose go-to games. I originally introduced it back in November in the post, Grid Conquest, which included a download of the game board (which is included under the picture here as well). For the idiom-specific version, Idiom Grid Conquest, I have cards with 96 English idioms on them. I mix the cards up in a container of some type

(old tissue boxes work well), and students take turns drawing them out on their turns. The student then attempts to explain the idiom in his/her own words. If successful, he/she colors a square on the game board. If not, the turn is forfeited, and the next student gets to go.

Idiom Jeopardy

Jeopardy is another favorite general-purpose game in my classroom. A PowerPoint template for creating your own Jeopardy games was first offered with the Phrasal Verb Jeopardy post last month and is provided again below the picture here. My Idiom Jeopardy is only one round with five

categories (body parts, weather, love, baseball, around the house). Each category has six idioms for a total of 30 idioms. Each “clue” is an idiom that students must explain the meaning of to get their points. I prefer playing Jeopardy in PowerPoint because it’s possible to set hyperlinks to automatically change color when clicked. I have found a few tricks for playing in Google Slides, though, and I have a Google Slide Idiom Jeopardy game that practices the same 30 idioms.

Idiom Feud

Feud is one of my newer game obsessions. It makes use of triggered animations so things disappear after being selected, and you can click on elements of the slide without having

to follow a pre-set order. A how-to post is coming soon with step-by-step directions for making your own feud games, but for now, let me tell you about this specific version. The play is loosely based on the game show Family Feud. It is essential to first print out the round answer keys before playing so you, the moderator, will know where to click.

In the first version, Idiom Feud, students are divided into two teams. One player from each team is called to the front and stands facing one another. You will need to decide how students will indicate they have the answer. Some possibilities include having them slap a bell, hit a buzzer, raise a hand, or use a fly swatter to swat a sign on the board (Slap! style). Once students understand how to indicate they have an answer, read the category. The first student to indicate he/she can state an idiom in the category gets to answer. If the answer is on the board (the reason you printed off the round answer keys), reveal it by clicking the cover. That student’s team gets to decide whether they want to play the round. If the answer is not on the board, the second student gets the chance to steal the right to choose who plays by attempting to name an idiom on the board. The team designated to play the round then gives answers, one at a time. If the answers are on the board, the teacher reveals them by clicking on the cover. Each answer is worth the number of points indicated on the slide; the order in which they appear does not matter. A student who names an idiom on the board can earn 20 bonus points for his/her team by stating what the idiom means. For each answer given that is not on the board, the teacher clicks the strike buttons, causing an X to appear. If all of the answers are revealed before a team gets three strikes, that team earns all of the points for that round. If a team reaches three strikes before revealing all of the answers, the opposing team gets the chance to steal. They work together to choose one answer. If the answer is on the board, that team steals all of the points earned thus far in that round, and the remaining answers are revealed. If the opposing team cannot name an idiom on the board, the original team keeps the points.

In the second version, Idiom Category Choice Feud (included in the same game purchase/download). The start of play is a bit different. Students are still divided into two teams, but instead of a face-off, the first team chooses a category from the board. That team then gives answers, as in Idiom Feud, until all of the answers are revealed, or three strikes are earned. Scoring, and the opposing team’s possible chance to steal, are the same as in Idiom Feud.

Idiom Fortune Hunting

Another new obsession of mine is Fortune Hunting (a how-to post for creating coming soon). This is also a PowerPoint game that uses action triggers to cause things to appear and disappear

based on what you click. While the Class Feud games have similarities to Family Feud, Idiom Fortune Hunting (and other Fortune Hunting games) have similarities to Wheel of Fortune in their play.

In the picture, you see the Fortune Zone, a black box, the Alphabet Bank, an idiom, an answer button, and a next puzzle button. When you play the game, the idiom will not be visible, only the lines indicating the number of letters in each word. On a player or team’s turn, he/she will choose a fortune by clicking one of the yellow boxes in the Fortune Zone. This will reveal the number of points earned if a correct consonant is chosen. It will also reveal one piece of the picture clue. Students should beware, though, as there are five negative fortunes. While an adverse fortune still reveals part of the picture clue, it will immediately end one’s turn. Assuming the player has chosen a favorable fortune, the player then selects a consonant from the Alphabet Bank. Once clicked on, the consonant will disappear, and if it appears in the target idiom, it will automatically do so in all of the correct places. If the consonant appears in the idiom, the player/team earns the number of points revealed in the fortune zone, multiplied by the number of times the consonant occurs in the word and the right to continue his/her turn. If the consonant is not in the idiom, nothing will happen, and the turn is over.

If the player/team’s turn continues, he/she has a choice in how to proceed:

  • A vowel may be purchased. If the vowel is in the idiom, the turn continues. If the vowel is not in the idiom, the turn ends.
  • Another fortune may be chosen from the Fortune Zone. If the fortune is positive, a consonant may be selected. If the fortune is negative, the turn ends.
  • An attempt can be made to solve the clue. If the idiom is correctly stated, the player/team earns 1,000 points. If the idiom is not correctly stated, the player/team loses 1,000 points. Once the idiom has been revealed, the player/team can earn a bonus of 1,000 points by explaining the idiom’s meaning. If the player/team cannot explain the idiom’s meaning, the opposing player/team can steal the bonus points by explaining the meaning.
  • The turn may be voluntarily passed to the next player/team.

If the puzzle has not been solved after all 20 fortunes have been revealed, the current player must try to solve it. Correct answers are now worth 500 points, and incorrect answers negative 250 points. Once a puzzle has been solved, whether correctly or incorrectly, play continues by clicking “Next Puzzle.”


While these are the current four favorite games in my high-intermediate and advanced classes, they are not the only ways we practice idioms. In reality, it doesn’t matter what we do to practice; my students always find idioms interesting and frustrating. One thing I know they’ll do, though, is ask for more practice opportunities in the future! Happy teaching, everyone.

Here are those links again, as well as a couple other options:

Get all of the idiom activities in one download at a 20% discount:

What to Buy for a New Teacher

It’s almost graduation season! I’d like to congratulate all of the soon-to-be graduates, especially the education majors! It will be wonderful to have you join our ranks full-time this fall. Previously, I’ve written posts to answer a couple FAQ’s from new graduates, such as:

But today, I’d like to answer another FAQ. This is generally posted by the parents and grandparents of soon-to-be education graduates:

My son/daughter is graduating with his/her degree in elementary/secondary education this May. I’d like to buy him/her something to help get him/her started in his/her new career. What is the best thing to buy a new teacher?

My Advice

First, let me say congrats to you as well. It’s no small feat to raise a child and support him/her through his/her educational journey. You are obviously very proud and I’m happy for you. Second, thank you for taking the time to seek advice as to what might be most helpful for your graduate in the coming months. While it is tempting to go straight for the fun games, colorful books, and cute decorations you’ll see advertised and added to wish lists, I’m going to encourage you to do something different. There is nothing wrong with those gifts, but there are three things I think will be even more practical and useful for your new graduate in the coming months.


As I describe in my Advice for Future Educators post, the wardrobe requirements for a college student and a teacher are very different. Even if your graduate ends up teaching in a more relaxed environment, he/she will still need to look professional. Hopefully, he/she was able to get at least a few “teacher outfits” for student teaching, but it’s always good to have more. It’s unbelievable how quickly clothes get dirty in a school environment, and it’s nice to not have to do laundry all the time. Having 7-10 good regular teaching outfits, as well as 2-3 nicer outfits (for parent-teacher conferences, special school events, etc.), is helpful.

Since it is very possible your graduate does not yet know what the dress code of his/her school will be, and it is not unusual for teachers to change schools/districts a few times early in their career, I would encourage you to purchase business casual clothing. I’ve never been in a school that required more than this level of formality for teacher dress, and schools with a less formal requirement never had a problem with teachers who wore business casual. The clothing does not need to be expensive, but it is best to buy quality. I’d also advise you to look for clothes in classic or traditional styles and with colors/patterns that can be mixed and matched to create different looks. Finally, layers are your friend. You never know what the classroom temperature will be like, and it sometimes changes depending on the time of day. It’s nice to be able to add or remove layers as needed.


Clothes can be expensive, but it’s the cost of shoes that gets me. Teachers are on their feet all day long and quality shoes are a must. Just as I recommend business casual clothes, I recommend you go conservative with shoes as well. Find shoes that are comfortable but not made for playing sports (unless your graduate is going to be teaching gym). I would also try to get shoes that are close-toed and close-heeled. Not every school requires this, but some do, and it’s better safe than sorry. Side note specifically for women: flats are your friend. I love a good pair of heels as much as the next person, but I rarely wear them to teach. The exception being a pair of very low (an inch or less) chunky heels that have a lot of padding.

One last thing to think about with shoes, especially for elementary teachers, is whether or not he/she will have recess duty. This varies from school to school, and it’s often unknown until the interview or even after hiring. While it is possible to take multiple pairs of shoes to school and change, it’s not always practical. At the very least, your graduate will want shoes that slip on and off quickly and easily to make the transition between classroom and playground easier.


The last thing I’d suggest investing in is a quality backpack. I’ve used all different types of bags over the decades: shoulder bags, cloth grocery bags, briefcases, totes…but I keep coming back to the standard backpack as my teacher bag of choice. When you think about it, it makes sense. Backpacks were designed to carry books, papers, pencils, pens, etc. What do teachers carry? Books, papers, pencils, pens, etc. A few things I look for in a teacher backpack: padded shoulder straps, multiple pockets, side pockets for a water bottle, and good padding on the back. A high-quality backpack will cost $50 and up, but it is worth it. I’ve bought cheaper bags in the past and always regretted it when they fell apart or hurt my back and shoulders when carrying them. Conversely, when I have purchased higher quality bags, they usually last me two or three years before needing to be replaced.


I know these types of gifts aren’t as fun to buy and receive as others, but they are practical. I can also guarantee that while your graduate may not overflow with excitement when opening these types of gifts, he/she will appreciate them later. Having personally asked for, received, and purchased the “fun” items, I can tell you they aren’t absolutely necessary to be a teacher. I can also tell you from personal experience that these “boring” items are necessary and I wish I’d had the foresight to request them myself. Happy teaching, everyone!

Play Ball!

It’s baseball season again! The Detroit Tigers have their opening day next week (April 6) and soon many Americans will be heading out the ballfield, eating peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and not ever wanting to come back (to paraphrase a great old tune). In honor of all this, I thought I’d go over some of my students’ favorite baseball-themed activities.

Baseball Vocabulary

First featured in my post about our summer school baseball vs. cricket unit, this vocabulary set is one that gets pulled out and dusted off more springs than not. While my focus is generally more on academic vocabulary, understanding the vocabulary of baseball is a big part of culture learning. I’ve also had several students, especially from Central America, who are quite good at the sport and want to join the school’s team, but are too scared because they don’t know the English vocabulary. Either way, this sort activity is always a great place to start.

Am/Is/Are Triple Play

This oldie but goodie is one of the first task card sets I ever created and it practices the use of present tense to be. When I named this activity, I did intentionally make a play on words with

“triple play,” because it originally had three ways to use the task cards: task cards, response cards, and slap. Since then, by student request, I’ve added a game board so students can play that way as well. Thanks to Covid, there’s now a digital version of the task cards, too.

Who’s On First Listening Practice

This free activity was first mentioned in my post about authentic listening activities. It is a relatively challenging free listening activity in which students watch Abbott and Costello perform Who’s On First and complete a graphic organizer, labeling each position with the player’s name. A digital version of this free activity also exists.

Play Ball Amelia Bedelia Idioms

This activity also had a brief mention in my baseball vs. cricket post. It is very possible that my older (middle school and adults) students’ favorite books to read are Amelia Bedelia, and Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia is perfect for this time of year. Since there are so many idioms related to sports, and baseball specifically, after we read the book and discuss it, I like to take the opportunity to practice idioms. This is a simple matching activity that allows students to practice matching the figurative/idiomatic phrase with the intended meaning.


Our spring baseball unit was always fun and provided a nice way to take a break, but still keep learning, after and in between testing sessions. Even my less athletically inclined students enjoyed different aspects of the unit! If you want to go all out with baseball vocabulary, and just have to have all of these activities, you can get my Baseball Fun Bundle at a 20% discount. Happy teaching, everyone!

Bounce It In!

Do you have some extra plastic cups? How about a few ping pong balls? A permanent marker? Some vocabulary sort cards or other task cards? Then you have everything you need to play my students’ latest favorite vocabulary practice game–Bounce It In!

Another Practice Activity?

Yes, I have a lot of sort card and task card sets that I use in various ways. Yes, we have a lot of different vocabulary practice games and activities. You can read about the many different vocabulary games and activities in these posts:

But is it really possible to have too many activities for practicing multiple skills? I don’t think so. What I particularly love about this game is it can be used with literally any set of sort or task cards you have. You can even combine sets for a larger review session covering multiple skills/units.

Game Creation

Another advantage of this game? It is extremally easy to create. All you need to do is gather plastic cups (at least 10 for each team), some ping pong balls (1 for each team, different colors are advisable so everyone knows which ball is theirs as they bounce and roll around on the floor), and a permanent marker. You are going to number your cups from 1-10, creating a set for each group. There are various ways to set up the game, which we’ll discuss below. Grab your sort or task cards (1 set for each team), and you’re ready to go.

Game Play

The goal of the game is simple: earn as many points as possible by correctly completing the task (5 points) and earning bonus points by bouncing your ping pong ball into a cup (number on cup determines bonus points).

When practicing vocabulary, I use my sort cards. I mix the picture/definition and word cards together and place the stack face down near the where the students are sitting or lined up. The first student takes a card and either states the term that matches the picture/definition or gives the definition for the term shown. When practicing other skills, I put the task cards upside down near the students. The first student takes the top card, completes the task (completes the sentence with the target word, solves the math problem, etc.). If correct, he/she earns 5 points and tries to bounce the ping pong ball into a cup. The first student then retrieves the ball (this is important–if students don’t know who’s supposed to get the ball chaos can sometimes ensue) and the next student then takes a turn. Play continues in this manner until time is called. The student (or team) with the most points at the end is the winner. I highly suggest giving students a piece of scrap paper, or a white board, to keep track of their team’s score.

Game Set Up

There are a variety of ways to set up your cups, depending on how you want to play the game. The most basic version is to set them up in a triangle, with cup 1 being closest to the players and cups 7-10 making the base of the triangle. Normally students sit at the wide side of a table but, for this game, have them sit or stand on one of the narrow sides and line up the cups with numbers 7-10 on the opposite end. This is a great way to set up the game if you want students to play in pairs or groups of three to four.

Another basic set up, if you want to have two pairs or teams compete head-to-head, is to create two triangles that share the number 10 cup. In this set up, the number 10 cup is placed in the center of the table and a triangle fans out on each side, with the numbers 1-4 being closest to the players for each team. This version is best played in teams. Team members try to go as quickly as possible in order to get in as many bounces as possible. The added challenge (and fun) is sometimes your ball will hit the other team’s and one, or both of you, could be knocked off course.

This last version is great if you have a larger class, a couple of larger round tables, and want to have four teams playing at the same time. To create the circle, I placed a single 10 cup in the middle of the table. The first ring has six cups, three 9’s and three 8’s. The second ring has twelve cups, three each of numbers 5-7. The outer ring has eighteen cups, four each of numbers 1 and 4 and five each of numbers 2 and 3. To play, position teams at four approximately equidistant locations around the circle. Students still take task cards and complete them, but now there as many as four balls bouncing at any given moment, meaning an even greater chance of a collision.


My adult students especially enjoy this game. They like all of the games we play, but sometimes they get tired of board games and need something different. I’m honestly not sure which game is more popular with the students, this one or Sliding Sorts, but this one took a lot less set up on my part. One last recommendation for you: have extra ping pong balls on hand. They don’t often break or get dented, but it does happen. They also sometimes roll to a location that’s too time consuming to fish them out of during the game and it’s easier just to hand the team a new ball. Happy teaching, everyone!