Match Up Boards

Learning Wrap Ups

I loved my third grade teacher, Mrs. Sherkey. Maybe that’s why third grade is one of the elementary grades I remember the best. One thing I remember quite vividly is Learning Wrap Ups. I remember sitting in a corner of the classroom in 19… and carefully wrapping that string around the plastic stick to practice various multiplication fact families. Then I’d eagerly turn it over to see if I’d gotten them all correct or not. This week I went looking and was pleasantly surprised to find they still make them!

When I was a novice teacher, one thing I tried to do was remember all of the impactful learning experiences I had. What were the things I actually remember doing and learning from? I figured if they worked for me, they could work for my students. Learning Wrap Ups were one of the things that came to mind, but at that point I didn’t teach math. I also wanted something that could be easily changed, allowing students to practice multiple skills/vocabulary (and I didn’t want to have a gazillion plastic sticks I had to keep track of and store). So what did I do? What I’ve often done when faced with something I needed/wanted for my classroom: I gave a rambling description (complete with hand gestures and badly drawn pictures) to my father. Much like what happened with the CD spinners (see the Spin & Spell post for details), my dad went to his workshop and came back with a prototype Match Up Board. After giving it a trial run, he produced a complete set of them for me, a set that I’m still using years later.

The overall design of the boards is quite simple: three sections that I can slide cardstock strips into with columns of screws running down the interior dividing pieces. They are sized so the cards are printed on a single sheet of letter-sized cardstock and then cut apart (meaning I make two quick cuts with my guillotine and I’m done). I format my cards to print double-sided and on the back create an answer key. In other words, flip the center card and you can quickly check if the answers are correct or not.

To use the boards, students place the cards in the three sections and hook rubber bands around the screws to match the items on the left with those on the right. My boards all have ten screws in each column, meaning up to ten things can be matched. It makes for a great center activity because the boards, cards, and rubber bands can all be left on a table and students can check their own work.

So what do I use these boards to practice? In a word, everything. The most common thing is vocabulary. I put the words on the left and a picture or definition on the right. Most of my vocabulary units include a set of match up cards in them. I’ve also used them to practice question words, parts of speech, compound words, and USA coins. One of the things I appreciate the most about Match Up Boards is they are easy enough for a kindergartener to use but not too childish for my adult learners (one of my adult classes used them this week). Do I occasionally have to review classroom materials usage procedures? Yes, because kids will be kids and at times rubber bands do fly through the air (especially with my middle schoolers), but for the most part my students are quite responsible about it.

If I’ve convinced you to try Match Up Boards in your own classroom, you just need to find yourself someone with some basic tools and knowledge of woodworking (my dad assures me they aren’t difficult to make and a novice craftsman can do it). The plans are a free download from one of the many links in this post and include written instructions as well as a couple of diagrams. Go on, give them a try–I bet your students will like them. Happy teaching, everyone!

Did you make your own boards and want some premade cards to use with them? These card sets are ready to go, and if you print them double-sided they include the answer key on the back of the center card.

How to Make “Infinite” Piles

I’ve never been the most tech-savvy person around, but I’ve always been able to hold my own. I know how to do everything I need to do and can generally figure out how to do new things quickly. This past year and a half meant that I, along with so many others, had to learn new skills quickly. As a hands-on, activity-based teacher I found myself having to completely revamp my methods and find digital ways to play our favorite games. Infinite piles have become standard in my digital activities and games.

This blog is full of posts describing the paper-based games and activities and how I converted them to digital, including digital board games (a big part of the credit for those goes to my husband, who is the author of all those wonderful scripts I use to make them). The majority of the games and activities involve dragging and dropping items (at least place markers), and many of them require multiples of the same item. At first, when making games such as Cover Up and Connect Four, I created long rows and columns of X’s, or whatever I wanted dragged and dropped. Then I started hearing about infinite piles. My first thought was these were shapes that were somehow self-reproducing: drag one off the pile and a new one automatically appears. I quickly learned that this is not case, they are actually piles of the same shape on top of one another, what makes them “infinite” is the fact that the creator has included far more than the amount you’ll ever need for the activity in the pile. I immediately understood the appeal and, in future activities such as Jeopardy in Slides and new Cover Up games, I started using infinite piles.

Making an infinite pile is incredibly easy:

  1. Draw or insert the image or shape you want to reuse. (Most of time this is simply an X for me, but I have used other shapes, such as the apples in Picking Apples.)
  2. Make copies of the image or shape. I do this by simply copying and pasting it (ctrl+C once and ctrl+V as many times as needed). Make at least as many copies as will be required to complete the activity and then, just for good measure, make another 5-10 (or 15, or 20…) more.
  3. Select all of the shapes. It these are the only selectable items on the slide (i.e.: everything else is part of the background), simply click ctrl+A. If these are not the only selectable items on the slide, you can either click on each individual item or, as I prefer to do, click on an empty spot near the top corner of the first item and drag your mouse to form a box around all of the items you desire. This is a bit easier in Slides than PowerPoint because you do not need to get the entire shape inside the selection box in Slides, as you do in PowerPoint, but it’s a very fast process in either program. Finally, be sure you haven’t accidentally selected anything that you don’t want as part of your pile (if you did, hold down the ctrl key and click on it to unselect it).
  4. In the format menu click on “Align.”
  5. Under align, click “Middle.”
  6. Open the format menu again and choose “Align” and “Center.”
  7. Drag your pile of shapes to wherever you’d like it to be on the screen.

Didn’t I tell you it was easy? The whole process takes only a minute or two and I now use this method constantly. Besides games and activities, I also use infinite piles to track student progress in real time. I assign my students an individual drag and drop activity (such as French Fry Synonyms), assigning individual slides to each student (before assigning the activity I make a copy of the activity slide for each student and put their names on them). I then add an infinite pile of smiley faces to the side of each student’s activity slide(s). As students work, I move from slide to slide, checking their answers. When an answer is correct, I drag and drop a smiley face next to it (incorrect answers are dragged back to where they came from). This makes it easy to quickly let students know what is correct, and for me to keep track of which answers I’ve checked.

I’m sure there are many more uses for infinite piles, I just haven’t thought of or had a need for them yet. Hopefully infinite piles will improve your digital activities as they have mine. Happy teaching, everyone!

Spin & Spell

My family is full of good sports, at one time or another all of them have been pulled into helping with my teaching ideas in some way. My father is quite possibly the most patient of all, and has definitely been pulled in more often than most (he even pulled empty paint cans out of the garbage in another state for my Paint Can Question Words activity). He’s always been quick to jump in and help bring my imaginings and plans to life, and without his help the game I’d like to share with you today wouldn’t work nearly as well.

One afternoon one of the other ESL teachers and I were talking about a game we wanted to play with students. The problem was the game required a spinner, and we were trying to figure out the best way to go about creating one. We finally hit upon the idea of using Avery CD Labels to print the face, and sticking the labels on old CDs to form the spinner itself. The problem was how to actually use the spinners. We tried spinning them around pencils and stopping them with a finger. We could get it to work, but the students struggled to hold the pencil, spin the CD, and stop it without something going flying off in a direction it wasn’t meant to. Then we tried spinning them around a single finger. A couple of band-aids later we realized the flaw in that plan. We finally gave up for the afternoon and went our separate ways to think about the problem.

At a later time I was describing the problem to my father and expressing my desire for some type of stand to act as our spinner frame. My father asked a few questions, lead me down to his workshop, dug out some scrap wood, and soon presented me with a spinner stand (pictured), asking if it would do. Not only did it “do,” but it was exactly what we needed!

Fast forward a few years and I now have a collection of CD spinner stands (handcrafted by my father, of course), as well as a large collection of scratched, outdated, or otherwise useless CDs and DVDs awaiting labels. I make labels to use in place of dice for games, labels specifically for games, labels for vocabulary practice, and for a host of other uses. One of my students’ favorite games to play with CD spinners though is Spin ‘N Spell.

Spin ‘N Spell is a very simple game that I started playing with my students to help them practice vocabulary and spelling. I create a spinner by printing pictures or definitions of their spelling or vocabulary words in the various sections. The students then take turns spinning the CD, naming the vocabulary word represented, spelling the word, and using it in a sentence. They get one point for identifying the word, one for spelling it correctly, and one for creating a unique sentence (no fair repeating someone else’s sentence) with the word. Each turn has the potential of earning between one and three points, and it is rare that a student will earn zero points. The spinner and stand are then passed to the next student who spins, identifies, spells, and creates a sentence. Play continues until a designated point value is reached, or we run out of time.

Spin ‘N Spell is great because it is quick to set up (the CDs and spinner stands live in my classroom year round), simple to understand, and can be played for any length of time. It makes for a perfect brain break, or five-minutes-left-in-the-period activity. The students enjoy it and like trying to come up with the funniest or most unique sentences possible. The best part is that it really does improve their vocabulary and spelling skills.

If you’re thinking, “That’s great for you, but what am I supposed to do?” fear not. You too can have your own set of cd spinners. The building plans are available for free via the button or links above. A very basic level of woodworking skill is required to assemble them, but even I (who was very nearly and eighth grade shop drop out) can put one together, so you can too, or you can find someone who’ll do it for you. (Time to make friends with the shop teacher?) If you can’t get spinner stands made, you can always try spinning the CDs around pencils or some other object…just learn from our mistake and avoid using your finger as the object. Happy teaching, everyone!

Paint Can Questions

Question Words Digital Mystery Picture: Sheets
Question Land: Paper
Question and Answers Speaking Activity

Monday I shared with you the various activities I use at the beginning of my unit on question words: ​postersnotes (including the new digital version), match up cards (also in digital), and the free games Beach Ball Questions, and Escape! The Question Grid (the digital version includes a bridges variation). Today I’d like to share with you the games and activities we play in the second half of our unit.

One of my students’ favorite games is Paint Can Questions. This is a game I created in 2015, and it is a physical race game (yes, my students actually run back and forth). To make the game I gathered 6 used paint cans, 90 paint stir sticks (Ask for them at any store that sells paint. In my experience they are always happy to donate however many you need.), three colors of spray paint, and boat letters.  The total cost of the project was about $25, a little high, but not too bad for a reusable activity (especially one I’m still using five years later!).  Gathering the paint cans was the greatest challenge (they are considered toxic, so stores can’t give them away), but my amazing family and friends helped me (and were happy to clean out their basements/garages; I just left the lids off to let any remaining paint drain/dry).  I then removed the labels on the cans and spray painted them black.  The sticker letters were easy to apply to the sides of the cans, and much faster than trying to neatly paint the question words, making them well worth the money.  Spray paint made preparing the stir sticks easy and quick.  The final step was using a marker to write the questions (minus the question word) on the sticks. I actually made three different sets of sticks (each a different color), so multiple teams can play at a time.

Before playing, I line up the paint cans at one end of the room (I try to take students to the cafeteria or other larger room to play. When I’m unable to use one of the larger areas, or go outside, the students help me shove all of the desks to the sides to make a safe running area.), with the question words facing towards the start line. Students are divided into teams (usually three or four students to a team), and given a set of sticks. Once I tell them to begin, the first student on each team reads the question on one of the stir sticks, consults with his/her teammates about the correct answer, then runs and places it in the correct paint can. Once the first person has returned to the team, player two takes a stick and repeats the process. Play continues until all of the sticks have been placed in ​cans. ​I then quickly check the sticks in each can, giving teams one point for each correct placement (thus the different color sets of sticks). The winning team is the team who finished the fastest (I give three points to first place, two points to second, and one point to third) and most accurate (it happens fairly often that the slowest team actually wins the game due to increased accuracy). 

Students love paint can questions, and usually beg to play again, and I almost always give in to them. This semester, and it’s looking more and more like next as well, we are fully virtual. I enjoy the game as much as the students, so I really wanted to find some way to use it digitally. I considered a lot of options, including digital task cardsself-grading digital task cards, and even another cover up or board game, but really wanted something special for this activity. I finally settled on creating another mystery pixel art activity. I used the same questions as the paint can game, and themed the picture around color and painting (see image above). You can get either the Google Sheets or ​Microsoft Excel version of the mystery picture by clicking the picture and button above, or the links earlier in this sentence.

Once we have worn ourselves out running back and forth, I like to play one more board game to practice asking and answering questions. Question Land is a game that is very loosely based on Candy Land. In the paper version students roll a number cube to see what question word they will use (the numbers and words are on the game board for easy reference). In the ​digital version, they use a specially scripted “Dice” menu to “roll” a question word. After discovering which question word a player will use, game play is the same for both versions. The student first answers the question asked by the previous player with a complete sentence. Then he/she asks a question of his/her own, using the word indicated. If the question is grammatically correct, the player moves his/her piece to the next square containing the question word he/she used. If the question was not grammatically correct, he/she stays in place. The first player to reach finish is the winner.

The finally activity we use in our unit is another free download from my Teacher Pay Teachers store.  Questions and Answers is a writing and speaking activity for up to six students (if you have more students simply make more copies of each page). Each page has three different questions with the words mixed up. In a separate square are the answers to the questions. Students must unscramble the questions and write them correctly in the provided space. Once students have all had a chance to unscramble and write their questions, they walk around the room, talking to one another. After finding a partner, they take turns asking and answering questions. At the bottom of each page is a place to mark if they were able to answer their partners’ questions correctly or not. After students have asked their questions of five others, and answered the remaining 15 questions in the activity, they return to their seats. They count up how many questions they were able to answer correctly (all of the questions relate to USA history), and the student with the most correct answers is declared a winner. As stated before, you can download this activity for free by clicking the picture above, or the Questions and Answers links in this paragraph.

By the time we finish all of these games and activities students have a good grasp on question words and how to use them. If you’re looking for a quick way to grab most of these activities (you’ll have to make your own beach ball and paint can set), you can find discounted bundles in my store. Three different discounted bundles are available: paper activities only, digital activities only, and paper + digital activities. Happy teaching, everyone!

How to Use a PDF Game Digitally

Today I’ve been working on figuring out how to use some of my existing paper-based resources with my fully digital classes. Most of the resources I use in a typical semester are things I’ve created myself, but I do have a decent number of resources that I’ve gotten from other sources and really like. It’s how to use those resources that ​were created by other people that’s been giving me fits lately. My own things were easy, I have all the original files and was able to edit and convert as needed. Not so much with those that came from other sources. For some of the activities I ended up creating something brand new (like my Context Clue Connect Four Digital Game, blog post coming soon), but I don’t have time to create something to replace all of my existing games and activities (and I really like some of them). Today I figured out how to use all of those great PDF games I have!

My first thought was to copy and paste the part of the PDF document that I wanted. Nope, didn’t work, couldn’t select anything. Second, I tried opening the PDF in Adobe Photoshop Elements, but that didn’t work either. Finally, I remembered seeing a video about how to create editable text from a non-editable PDF. In the video the presenter talked about using the Snipping Tool to take a screenshot of part of the PDF. I decided to try it, and it worked! I just searched for Snipping Tool on my computer and it came right up. I clicked on New, drew a box around the part of the PDF I wanted, and saved the image to my computer. 

Now that I had the game board the rest was easy. I opened a new PowerPoint file, resized the slide to be 17×11 (click on Design, Slide Size, Custom), and started designing. First, I built my title slide. Having a title slide isn’t necessary, but I like to put one there so I can quickly know what game I’m looking at in my Google Drive. Second, I added a second blank slide and inserted the image of the game board I snipped earlier (Insert, Pictures, This Device). Third, I inserted a text box and typed out step-by-step directions for students to follow when they played the game. Finally, I put in the Teach This logo (I am very strict with my students about plagiarism and wanted to be sure to give proper credit to the creator of the game board.) and my own Gaming Grammarian logo. 

Why did I do all of this work in PowerPoint when the game is going to be played as a Google Slide? Simple, protection from accidental or accidentally-on-purpose edits by students. I design all unmovable parts of my digital activities in PowerPoint or Publisher and save them as images. To save these slides as images I clicked File, Save As, my destination folder, and chose .jpeg as my file type. PowerPoint will then ask if you want just the one slide, or all of them. If you choose all slides PowerPoint will create a new folder and place all of your slide images inside it.

It was now time to put everything into Google Slides. I opened a new Slides presentation in my Google Drive and named it. Since I only have two slides in this game I didn’t bother with the Slides Toolbox add-on, but I highly recommend it for when you have a large number of slides to upload as backgrounds. With only two slides it was just as easy to right click on the white background, choose Change Background, Choose Image, and navigate to where PowerPoint had stored my backgrounds. After adding my title slide I added a blank slide (click the + button) and repeated the process to add the game board. Now there were only three things left to do:

  1. I drew a circle, copied and pasted three more times, and changed the colors so I’d have four different playing pieces for the students.
  2. I drew boxes over the two logos, made the boxes transparent with transparent borders and linked (use the button that looks like a chain) each logo to the appropriate website.
  3. Add the dice.

There are a lot of options out there for dice, but most of them involve going off to another site, and many of my students struggle with moving between tabs on the computer. To avoid these problems, as well as the distractions that inevitably arise from students moving around the web, I use a special script that my husband wrote for me. The Dice Script adds a menu item to Google Slides that says “Dice.” The script doesn’t actually add pictures of dice, and nothing moves on the screen, but it does produce a random number between one and six. My students don’t mind not having actual dice at all and find using the menu to be quite easy. If you are interested in how I add the script I’ve made a video showing the step-by-step process:

Once I hit the reload button (to activate the script, you only have to do this after installing the script the first time), I was ready to play. To allow my students to play the game I make a copy for each group of four students (so they won’t all be playing on the same file and because I never let my students have access to my original files). Each copy is then shared, with editing rights, with the four students who will play it, and we are ready to go. The students open the file using the share link and are automatically in the same file. Remember, the file must remain in editing mode during the game! If the file is put in present mode the game pieces will become unmovable and students will lose access to the dice menu. Students can talk to one another via our virtual meeting platform (we’re using Blackboard Collaborate) or through the built in chat feature found in all Google Apps. In class I wander from group to group, listening in and helping as needed. Digitally I jump in and out of breakout rooms. If I wanted to be able to check all the sentences my students use I could use the comment feature. Tell students that on each turn they need to right click on the square where their piece is, click Comment, and type out their sentence before clicking Comment again. That will create a record of all sentences that can be viewed later.

I have to say, this is a game-changer for me! The list of resources that needed to be either converted to digital or replaced with something new was starting to depress me. Now I feel re-energized and excited about the rest of the semester.

Want this game for yourself? Click on the picture above or the button below. The link is a template link, you’ll be able to see a preview of the game and choose whether or not to click the “Use Template” button. Please note, the dice script needs a little longer to load, it may be as long as 30-60 seconds before it appears. The exact length of loading time depends on your connection.

Self-Grading Digital Task Cards

Much or Many: Sheets Version
Relative Clauses: Sheets Version
The Tie That Binds: Conjunctions: Sheets Version
Syllables: Sheets Version

Task cards are great, aren’t they? Students like them, teachers like them, administrators like them, there’s really no reason to not like them! Figuring out how best to create digital task cards has been a journey for me; but I persevered and was rather content with the digital task cards I had come up with, except one thing–I had no way of know what my students had answered, or I had to click through multiple slides for each student and check everything by hand. I missed the recording sheets and the relatively easy grading methods I had for paper-based task cards. Until last week that is! It took some thinking and experimenting, but I knew that if I could use conditional formatting to create games and mystery pictures, I should be able to use conditional formatting to create self-grading task cards. I was correct, it is possible, and I’m going to tell you exactly how I did it. But first, here’s a look at these cards in action so you can see why I’m so excited about them!

Cool, right? And they were extremely easy to make. This is possible in both Excel and Sheets, but I find it a little easier to complete in Sheets because there are fewer options. The good news is that Sheets can be downloaded as Excel (click File, Download, Microsoft Excel) and all of the formatting stays in place. These directions will be for Sheets.

The first thing I did was rename the first tab as “Directions.” To rename a tab:

  1. go to the bottom of the screen
  2. right click where it says Sheet1
  3. click Rename
  4. type the new name for the sheet

I then clicked in the first cell and started typing my directions. I chose to type one sentence per line in hopes the students will read the directions more carefully if they weren’t in paragraph format. To insert the arrow directing them to the tabs for the questions I did the following:

  1. Click Insert
  2. Click Drawing
  3. I chose the arrow I wanted from the shapes menu and drew it on the screen.
  4. Click “Save and Close” in the upper right corner.
  5. Reposition and resize the arrow to fit your needs.

After the directions are finished it’s time to add the question, answer, and grade tabs. I recommend that you add the answer tab first and you update it as you go. To add a tab click the + sign in the bottom left corner. Change the name to “Answers” using the above steps. I chose to label column A as “Question,” so I could easily see which question the answer corresponded to, and I went ahead and numbered down column A (type 1 into cell A2, grab the bottom right corner of the blue outline around the cell and pull down, the numbering will be done automatically). Column B I labeled “Answer.” Going back to my directions tab, I again clicked the + button and renamed this newest tab “1” for question one.

On the question tabs you are going to include whatever you would normally place on a task card. I chose to include a picture (click Insert, Image, Over Cells) and the sentence that I wanted them to complete. One thing you do need to be sure and include though is an easily identifiable place for them to type their answer. You need to know exactly where the answer will be typed in order for the conditional formatting to work. I took care of this problem by choosing a cell, resizing it (not necessary but I wanted it to be large and not easily missed), and coloring it tan. Now that your first task card is set up, it’s time to make the magic happen on the answer sheet. 

  1. Click on the answer tab.
  2. Click in the cell for the answer to question/task 1 (cell B2 on my sheet).
  3. type =
  4. Click on the answer cell from task card 1 (click on tab 1, click on the answer cell).
  5. Click on the Answers tab.
  6. Hit enter.

Now anything typed into the answer cell on task card 1 (tab 1) will automatically appear in the corresponding answer cell on the Answers tab. Next I need to do the conditional formatting for the self-checking part of the task cards. (This step is not necessary if you are not planning to allow students access to the answer tab but it only takes a moment and I think it’s worth it.)

  1. On the Answers tab click on the cell for the answer to question 1 (cell B2 on my sheet).
  2. Click Format
  3. Click Conditional Formatting
  4. Under Format rules, Format cells if… choose “text is exactly”
  5. Type the correct answer in the box labeled “Value or formula”
  6. Choose the color you want the cell to turn (I leave mine green).
  7. Click Done.

To test this out, click on tab 1, type the correct answer in the answer box, hit enter. Now click on the answer tab and next to number 1 should be your answer and the cell should be green. This in itself is cool, but now to make it self-grading!

  1. On the Answers tab click the cell next to the answer for question 1 (cell C2 on my sheet).
  2. type =IF (that’s equals sign IF)
  3. click the cell with the answer (Answers tab cell B2 on my sheet)
  4. type the correct answer in quotation marks (i.e.: “much”)
  5. type ,1,0 (that’s comma one comma zero)
  6. hit enter

The cell next to your answer for question one should now have a number 1 in it. You have now completed the set up for task card 1. 

To create the next task card you could start from scratch, but I recommend copying and pasting to save yourself a little setup work. 

  1. Right click on tab 1 at the bottom of your screen.
  2. Click Duplicate
  3. Rename the new tab 2 (or whatever number you are on).

Now you just need to change elements such as the picture (if you choose) and the question. The answer box is already formatted for you, as well as any static elements you may have included (i.e. a border). Once the card is designed to your satisfaction, follow the steps above to update the Answers tab. Continue repeating these steps for each of your task cards.

Only a few things remain to be done. The first step is to finish the auto-grading feature. 

  1. On the Answers tab click the cell below the points for the last question (the cell immediately bellow the last 1/0 cell, on mine it was cell C27).
  2. type =SUM(     (that’s equals sign SUM and open parenthesis) 
  3. click on the 1/0 cell for question 1 (cell C2 on my sheet) and drag down to highlight all of the 1/0 cells
  4. release your mouse button
  5. hit enter

You now have a total number of questions correct. To convert this to a percentage, be sure you are in the cell below your total score (cell C28 on my sheet).

  1. type =
  2. click the cell with your total score (cell C27 on my sheet)
  3. type /   (that’s a forward slash or divide sign)
  4. type the total number of questions
  5. hit enter
  6. click again on the cell with your percent (cell C28 on my sheet)
  7. click Format
  8. click Number
  9. click Percent
  10. hit enter

You now have a percentage grade for the activity. 

This next part is totally optional but I wanted it because I sometimes use task cards as an assessment. The Answers tab will now clearly show which questions are correct and which are incorrect. This is great if I want students to be able to go back and correct their work, but what if I don’t want to make it obvious which questions are right or wrong, and I still want them to know their final score? My solution was a grade tab.

From the Answers tab create a new tab by clicking the + sign in the bottom left corner. Rename the new tab “Grade.” I then inserted a picture (just for fun) and an encouraging message. I then chose a cell and typed “Number Correct” (cell H4 in my example). In the next cell over (cell I4 on my sheet) I told it to automatically populate from the Answers sheet.

  1. On the Grade tab click where you want the number correct to appear (cell I4 on mine).
  2. Type =
  3. Click on the Answers tab.
  4. Click on the box with the total correct (cell C27 on my sheet)
  5. Click on the Grade tab.
  6. Hit enter.

I then repeated this process a row or two lower for the total percentage, this time pulling in the percentage from the Answers tab (cell C28 on my sheet). I now have a sheet that will show my students their grade, but not which questions are correct or incorrect. On this tab they are still able to see that they answered N questions incorrectly, but they don’t know which ones.

The final step is to hide the Answers tab so they don’t have access to which specific questions are correct or incorrect (this step is optional but good if you want to use the cards as an assessment).  To hide a tab:

  1. Right click on the tab you wish to hide.
  2. Click Hide sheet.

To make the tab visible again (if you want to look at specific answers without having to click on every tab):

  1. Click View.
  2. Click Hidden Sheets
  3. Click Answers

Can students do this too? Yes. Are they likely to think about it and do it? Probably not. Unless they know the tab is there they have no reason to go looking for it. Add to that the fact that they’d have to be able to read the conditional formatting formulas we inputted to get the correct answers, and cheating is highly unlikely.

That’s it, you now have a complete set of self-grading digital task cards. To use them you will need to make a copy of the document for each student and give them editing rights (be sure you’ve deleted any answers you typed on the question tabs as you tested things out). The best way of doing this will depend on your learning management system. To do this on Blackboard I create a Force a Copy link and post the link in my assignment. In Google Classroom you can just put the link into classroom and choose “make a copy for each student.” The important thing is that each student have his or her own copy of the cards.

This truly is my new favorite way to do task cards. I like it so much that I’m planning to go back and recreate some of my other task cards (the ones where students move circles to indicate their choice and I have to check each slide individually) using this method. I hope you find it helpful as well, happy teaching!

Digital Task Cards

Can or May? Slides Version
Its or It’s? A Vacation Slides Version
See these task cards in action!
Pirate Homophones: Are, Our, Hour: Slides Version
See these task cards in action!

How many times have you given your students a Google Slides or PowerPoint presentation and they just clicked through it rather than using the buttons provided? Frustrating isn’t it? The point of the activity is for them to click in the places we want them to click and yet, either by accident or on purpose, they always seem to miss things by randomly clicking elsewhere on the slide. Today I’m going to show you how to fix this problem. I’ll warn you now: this can be time consuming! But, it is worth it in the end. This post gives step-by-step instructions, but if you prefer a video, skip to the end. 

First, as always, design your slides elsewhere, I usually use PowerPoint, even if I’m going to be giving my students a PowerPoint in the end. Doing the design work this way prevents any accidental (or accidentally-on-purpose) deletion or editing of the slide contents. When designing your slides be sure to create words or “buttons” that students will click on to “answer” the questions. Each feedback slide (tells students if they were correct or not) needs to include a “button” that links to the next question. Once you have all of the parts designed, save your PowerPoint slides as images.

  1. Click on “Save As”
  2. Change the file type to either .jpg or .png, either will work.
  3. Tell it to save all slides and wait a moment. A new folder will be created with images of each slide. 

You are now ready to create your file that will ultimately be shared with students. You want to import all of those images you just created and set them as the background.

  • In PowerPoint the easy way to do this is, in a new PowerPoint file, choose Insert, Photo Album, New Photo Album. You can then use the Insert From File/Disk option to navigate to your stored pictures, select them all, and insert them. 
  • In Google Slides there is an add-on that makes this easier. Click on Add-ons, Get Add-ons, and search for Slides Toolbox.
    • Once it’s been installed click on Add-ons
    • Slides Toolbox
    • Open
    • Import Tools
    • Create slides from images
    • Check the Set as Page background box
    • Next
    • Upload
    • Select files from your device, then navigate to where you stored the files and select them all.

If you have a lot of slides this will take a couple of minutes, but it is still much faster than doing them one-by-one.

Now that you have all of your slides set up as images/backgrounds, it is time to start making the magic happen. The first thing we want to do is make it so students cannot advance slides by clicking anywhere. To do this we are going to link each slide to itself.​

  1. On the first slide use the shape tools to draw a rectangle that covers the entire slide.
  2. Copy that rectangle and move down through the slides, pasting the rectangle on each remaining slide.
  3. Go back to your first slide and click on the rectangle. Change the rectangle so it is transparent in color and has a transparent border. Then click the hyperlink button (looks like a linked chain) and choose the same slide (so if you are on slide 2, link to slide 2).
  4. Go down through the slides, clicking on each rectangle, making the rectangle clear with a clear border, and linking each slide to itself (slide 3 gets linked to slide 3, slide 4 links to slide 4…).

Now, if you put the presentation into present mode, you can click anywhere on the slides but they will not advance.

Making the slides advance is the next step:

  1. Back in edit mode, go to your first slide.
  2. Using the shape tool again, draw a shape (I always use rectangles, but any shape will do) over where you want students to click to “answer” the question. Be sure to make a separate shape for each answer possibility. 
  3. Make your shape clear with a clear border.
  4. Click on the hyperlink button again. This time you are going to hyperlink to the slide that tells students if they are correct or not. You can choose to have separate correct/incorrect slides, or have one slide that shows the correct answer and gives an explanation. Just be sure to link to the slide that has the feedback you want to give for that particular answer.
  5. You will need to repeat this process for each answer on each slide.
  6. Once you finish the question slides you will need to repeat the process to add a box to each feedback slide linking students to the next question.

A lot of work, I know, but it really is worth it. The good news is that once you finish creating all of your answer and next question buttons, you are done. Put your slides in present mode and try them out…pretty cool, huh? If you prefer video tutorials, here is a short one:

Happy task card creating, everyone! Next week I’ll show you how to create self-grading task cards in Sheets/Excel that can be used as an assessment, it’s my new favorite digital task card delivery method!

Integer Fishing

As an ESL teacher I end up teaching all subjects. During my middle school days (ah, the good ol’ days) I had a self-contained classroom of newly arrived 7-9th graders. Those were some fun times, but also some tough times for this grammar guru. Don’t get me wrong, I love math, social studies, science…all of the subjects. Grammar is just the one that comes easiest to me. In the end I approached all of the subjects, especially math, the same way I approach grammar: with games! Integer fishing is one that I originally created using plastic eggs, dice, and white boards. With the arrival of Corona Virus, I knew that a digital version was needed. Enter Google Sheets with scripts and conditional formatting. Then I kept hearing about teachers at Microsoft schools who couldn’t use Google Apps, and I could relate (my college has Google for students and Microsoft for professors–try to figure out that combination!). Enter macro-enabled Excel. Today I’d like to share with you one of the games that I’ve made using these methods and give you a template with a macro-enabled button for “rolling” a number cube.

Before I get to the digital version of the game, let me tell you about the physical game. To make the game you’ll need several items: an egg carton (I used an 18 count), plastic eggs in two colors (one for positive and one for negative), a six-sided die, a positive/negative die, and a twenty-sided die. Write an integer between +20 and -20 on the bottom of each egg (put positive numbers on one color and negative numbers on another) and place in the container. When you’re ready to play, pass out one container, the dice, and a whiteboard & marker to each set of students (I usually have students play in pairs, but you could do up to four in a group). The first player rolls all three dice. The +/- and D20 dice tell the student the goal answer, this is the number he/she wants to be at when his/her turn is over. The D6 die tells the student how many eggs he/she must turn over. The student turns over eggs one at a time, adding the integers together as he/she goes (the whiteboard is very helpful for this purpose). The object is to have the final total be the same as the goal number the student started the turn with. After turning over the required number of eggs, the student’s score is the distance between the goal and the final total (so if the goal was -4 and the student’s eggs added up to +1, his/her score would be 5). The game starts out difficult, because other than knowing if an egg is positive or negative, the student does not know the values of each egg. As the rounds progress, students start to remember the value of different eggs and the students are able to use their knowledge of integers to help them.

Now I’d like to share with you how I created the digital version of the game, but first a look at how it is played:

For most of the creation process, the steps are the same in both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. When creating the activity I started by typing out the directions for students. I wanted it to be very clear how to play the game. I then created color-coded recording spaces for students to keep track of the game rounds (we used to use a white board for this). This was nothing more complicated than selecting the cells I wanted them to use for each purpose, filling the cells with a particular color, and then labeling the group. The real fun came when I started creating the fishing hole and the catch basket. The fishing hole was simple, I simply selected a group of cells, colored them blue, and set the text to be white and centered. The magic started with the catch basket.

I used a random number generator (Google) to get 12 numbers between -20 and +20. I typed one number into each cell, selected the cells, made the text a dark brown, and then colored the cells a dark brown. This essentially made the numbers invisible. My next step was to enter the conditional formatting. I described how to do this in detail in my blog post about mystery picture activities (there’s even a video). Just as a quick reminder, here are the steps to conditionally format cells based on the contents of another cell:

  1. select the cell you want to change
  2. click Format
  3. click Conditional Formatting
  4. under Format rules, Format cells if… choose “Custom formula is…”
  5. add the custom formula: =$[column of the cell you are referencing]$[row of the cell you are referencing]=””  (ie: =$A$3=”X”)
  6. choose the color you want the cell to turn (I chose white so as to reveal the brown letters)
  7. click done

Unfortunately, you have to format each cell individually, but it didn’t take me too long and the end result is worth it. When I finished, each blue cell in the fishing pond corresponded to each brown cell in the catch basket. When students make an X in a blue cell, the corresponding brown cell turns white, revealing the catch value.

The magic continued with the addition of the Catch Goal and Number of Casts buttons, but this is where I needed my husband (a software engineer) to help me. I do not program and to create the activities two different programming languages were required. Sheets required JavaScript and Excel required VBA. All I did in this process was to insert an image and label it, from there the expert took over. He inserted a script for Sheets and a macro for Excel. I’ll spare you the long explanation of how he made it all work (because I don’t understand it). The good news is that he did and says it wasn’t difficult (so if you do know how to program you could do it yourself).

The final result was the game that you saw demonstrated above. The demonstration video was made with the Google Sheets version, but the play is the same with the Excel version. The Google Sheets version is for sale in my Teachers pay Teachers store, but the frustration of being a Microsoft school continues for all. It turns out that macro-enabled files are not supported on the TpT platform and I was unable to upload the Excel version. But the GOOD news is that since the game was already made, I decided to use my blog to disseminate it–for free! And, because I feel the pain of not always being able to use Google Apps, I included a template as well. The template includes the macro-enabled dice roll button. To use it simply open the file, do a “save as” so you don’t mess up your template, and design your game. The Roll button will randomly generate numbers between one and six, just like a number cube. I hope you and your students enjoy the game as much as I and mine have. Happy gaming, everyone!

Digital Mystery Picture Activity

Who’s / Whose Mystery Picture: Sheets
Question Words Mystery Picture: Sheets
Syllables Mystery Picture: Sheets

My students love mystery pictures and I love them because they are so easy to grade. Ever since I started digitizing my games and activities I’ve wanted to create a digital mystery picture activity, but couldn’t figure out the best way to go about it. This past week I learned how and I want to share it with you. The secret is conditional formatting. I’ll give you the step-by-step process here, but if you prefer a video version there’s one below.

1. Create your picture in Google Sheets (or Excel if you prefer). Get it exactly how you want it to look once the students have correctly completed the activity.
2. Go over several rows from your picture and start typing your questions. In this case I had sentences that I wanted students to complete, but it could be anything from a math problem to a factual questions. You just need to have a defined answer that everyone will type the same. Place one question per row.
3. In front of your questions color the box where you want students to type their answer. Students must type the correct answer, in the correct box, for the picture to “magically” appear.
4. Now you’re ready to start conditionally formatting your picture. Go over to the picture and randomly select however many cells you want to tie to the first answer. Be sure all of the cells are the same color!
5. In order to help myself remember which cells I’d already done I first changed the selected cells to white.
6. Click on Format, Conditional Formatting.
7. Click “Add Another Rule”
8. In the Format rules box click the down triangle and choose “Custom formula is.”

9. In the box enter the formula: =$Y$3=”Who’s”  The Y is the letter of the column where the answer will be typed. The 3 is the number of the row where the answer will be typed. Inside the quotation marks is the text for the correct answer. If your answer is numerical it does not require quotation marks.
10. Choose the color you want the cells to turn.
11. Click done.
12. Repeat steps 4-11 for each of the questions you’ve created, being sure to conditionally format all of the cells in your picture.

You can test your work by going through and typing the answers in the boxes and watching the picture appear. When incorrect answers or typed, or correct answers are typed incorrectly, nothing will happen and the boxes will stay white (or whatever color you set them to be).

The first time I created a mystery picture I fell into the trap of recreating digitally what I had on paper. I made every cell correspond to an answer (80 questions for an 80 cell picture) and every answer correspond to a color (all of the “am” answers were blue). The great thing about digital is that you are freed from these restrictions. You can make every answer correspond to as many or as few cells as you choose (just remember they all have to be the same color). You can also make any answer be any color, even if it wasn’t that color previously (hence my activity has two possible answers but three different colors). The digital format opens up a lot of possibilities!

My students already enjoy mystery color pictures and I can’t wait to see their response to the digital version! Want my mystery picture activities? Use the picture links and buttons above!