Eggcellent Alphabet Practice

It’s spring time again (though once again the weather doesn’t seem to know it), and once again the stores are flooded with plastic eggs, chocolate bunnies, and lots of flowers. This time of year always gets me thinking about the various activities I do with plastic eggs, such as Coin Eggs, Scrambled Words, and

Contraction Eggs. But those activities are all for students who already know the basics. What about our early learners (both in age and linguistic proficiency)? If you’re looking for a new and fun way to practice the alphabet that involves plastic eggs and egg cartons (these all involve the larger size cartons—the ones that you get with 30+ eggs in them), read on because I have two of them for you!

Upper- and Lower-Case Eggs

Last April I saw a video on Twinkl ESL’s Facebook page about using paper eggs and a large egg carton to practice matching upper- and lower-case letters. The basic idea is to cut egg shapes out of colored paper and write a lower-case letter on each. In each cup of the egg carton, you write an upper-case letter. Students then match the two by placing the egg into the cup with the corresponding upper-case letter. It looked like a lot of fun!

The video got me thinking though. Rather than making paper eggs for the lower-case letters, what if you used plastic eggs? On the larger half, use a Sharpie marker to write an upper-case letter. On the smaller half, write the corresponding lower-case letter. Separate the halves and mix them all up together in a box or basket. Place the basket in the center and students can work together to match the egg halves. They can then place the eggs in alphabetical order in the carton. Now students are getting practice matching upper- and lower-case letters and putting the alphabet in the correct order.

Egg Carton Letter Formation

One of the countries I’ve had the privilege of traveling and doing teacher training in is China. While visiting Nanao Primary School in Guangdong, China, I saw this fun artwork displayed in a classroom. I loved how colorful it was and how the student had used painted cups cut from one egg carton, arranged in a

second egg carton, to make a cool picture. As I looked at it, my teacher-brain started whirling and I thought, “Why can’t we do something similar to practice letter formation?”

The basic idea is this: give students a large egg carton (or two, or three…) and some type of material to place in the cups. I used lids from various jugs and bottles for my example, but you could use marbles, small balls, erasers, just about anything. The student then places the object in the cups to form the target letter. You could do this as a center activity, an art activity, or

even hold races to see who can be the first to make the letter the teacher calls out. I’ll admit that some letters are easier than others to make (and I found upper-case easier than lower-case), but it was still a lot of fun to try. It’s also great motor skills practice for our younger learners!


It’s not too often I get to teach the alphabet anymore, most of my students (even the beginning level proficiency students from languages with a different grapheme system) already know it, but every once in awhile I need to review it with a student or two. These activities are good ways to practice that aren’t quite as “babyish” as others, but they are still simple enough for my colleagues who teach preschool and kindergarten to use. Give them a try and see how they go in your classroom. Happy teaching, everyone!

Sliding Sorts

Sometime early in 2022, I saw this video on Facebook of a child using a squeeze bottle to push numbered lids into matching numbered toilet paper rolls with slots cut out of them. The activity looked fun and perfect for young children. It not only allowed them to practice number recognition/matching, but an important fine motor skill as well. I do not teach small children, but the game looked so fun I saved the video and stuck the basic idea in the back of my head to contemplate how I might

use it. After some time rattling around in the back of my head, a general answer popped into the forefront: a sorting activity! Students could use empty dish detergent bottles to create air currents that would cause milk jug lids to slide across the table until they fell off the edge into a box waiting on a chair. In this way, they could sort words into various categories such as countable/uncountable noun, nouns that are proceeded by a/an, regular/irregular past verb, pronunciation of -ed or -s endings, etc. Now that I had a general idea of what the game would be, I just needed to make it a reality and test it out on my students.

Making Sliding Sorts

Since I was going to be teaching two level one classes in the next semester, I decided to make my first version of sliding sorts countable vs. uncountable nouns, a skill my students always want practice with and I’ve long wanted another practice game for. First, I needed to gather the materials. Milk jug lids have been on my list of Toys, Trash, or Teaching Treasures for quite awhile, but this game would take quite a few lids (15-20 of each

color, one color per student/team), so I asked all of my local friends to start saving them for me. Thankfully, my friends are used to such strange requests and my supply quickly increased. Next, it only took a few moments in my basement to come up with a couple of shoeboxes to place on chairs as lid catchers. The final “trash” item I needed was a bit harder to come by, empty dish detergent bottles. Thankfully, my family and friends came through for me again and I was able to obtain four of them, allowing me to avoid having to purchase condiment bottles.

My non-trash supplies were easy and cheap to obtain. First, I needed signs to attach to the back of the chairs so students would know which box to slide lids into. When I first started designing my own games, Microsoft Publisher was the easiest program to work with for designs involving a lot of shapes and layers. Since then, PowerPoint and other programs have changed and added features which allow such design work to be quite easy, but I still tend toward Publisher when making things for my classroom. It only took me a minute or two to make two half page signs and I simply printed them on cardstock and then laminated for durability. Second, I needed labels for my milk jug lids. I chose to use Avery round labels, 1.5 inch diameter. These were very slightly larger than the milk jug lids, which wasn’t a problem as they bent down nicely, but I think I’ll get 1 inch diameter labels in the future. Again, I used Publisher to create my labels, simply printing one word per circle and telling my printer to print multiple pages per sheet. It was the fact that the labels came 20 to a sheet that caused me to choose 20 as my number of nouns to be sorted. The labels were quick to print and easy to stick to the tops of the lids.

Playing Sliding Sorts

Setting up the game is easy. Simply assign one table per two students/teams. Place two chairs, each with a shoebox on the seat, on one side of the table and affix a sign to the top of each chair. The chairs in my current classroom weren’t cooperating so I used magnets to hold the signs to sheet pans (the same ones I use for Magnetic Spelling) that I stood up in the shoe boxes. This had the added advantage of covering up the hold in the back of the chair and helping direct the lids into the box. Students are each given a set of lids and a bottle to create an air current with (theoretically students could use their mouths to blow the lids, but that would simply spread germs around the classroom and no one needs that). Once start is called, students dump their lids onto the table and begin sliding them across the surface and into the correct boxes. Lids will run into one another and sometimes be blown off course but that’s all part of the fun. The first student to finish is awarded five points. Students are then awarded one point for each lid that was correctly sorted. The student with the most points is the winner. Here’s a brief video of one lid being blown into a box:

The game can be played as a relay by dividing students into teams (I suggest 3-4 students per team) and setting the table up a short distance away from the teams. The students then run to the table, slide a single lid into a box, and run back to pass the bottle off to the next student. This has the advantage of not needing as many sets of lids and tables for larger classes but can get a little crazy if you have several teams all playing at the same time.


I’ll be honest, the entire time I was thinking about the game and creating it, I was worried about how my adult students would react. They generally love the games we play, but this one is a bit more out there than most. I worried right up until we started playing (relay style). As soon as I saw the looks on their faces, and how engaged they were, my worries melted away. My adult students loved this game! My decades of middle school teaching experience tells me that age group would as well (especially the team version), and I suspect it would be a success with elementary and high school students, too. I’m slowly creating all of the versions of the game mentioned in the introduction, it’s just taking time to build up my lid collection after making each new version. Start collecting lids and try the game out on your students, then let me know how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!

Here is a download of the game pieces I created, as well as links to some other countable/uncountable noun practice games:

Have some extra milk jug lids and want another version of the game? This one practices distinguishing between when to use a vs. an with nouns. Each lid has a picture of a food item on it, so students also get practice with food vocabulary! I included some links for more a/an practice, as well as some other food vocabulary practice activities.

And, just in case you really have a lot of milk jug lids, here are the game pieces for another Sliding Sort: pronunciation of the -s/-es ending of plural nouns, along with some other pronunciation and plural noun games.

Alphabet Pizza Pan

I am a middle school teacher turned adjunct professor, but when I returned to the USA after teaching overseas for multiple years, the only job I could find was teaching K-2 ESL. It was, to say the least, a long year. Now don’t get me wrong, I think little people are cute and I love playing with them–in small numbers. But they are scary in larger groups! Thankfully, the next year I was made head of program and the my first official act was to move myself to middle school and hire a phenomenal lower elementary teacher for the K-2 position.

While no one was mourning my leaving the lower elementary world, the year was not a complete disaster. I did get to know some great teachers, interact with some amazing students, and have some unforgettable experiences (ask me about the men’s bathroom at the Detroit Zoo sometime!). I also had the opportunity to learn some different teaching techniques (some of which I used when developing materials, such as Phonics Based Vocabulary Acquisition, for my older learners) and develop some fun materials and activities. Today I’d like to share with you Alphabet Pizza Pan, an activity for practicing upper and lower case letter recognition/matching.


You won’t need much for this activity, I was able to purchase everything at my local Dollar Tree, and the total cost to make 10 sets was under $20. You will need:

The color of the stickers and pins doesn’t matter. I chose to make all of the consonant upper case letters one color and vowels a second color to help students begin to remember which letters were which.


To create the Alphabet Pizza Pans, I first stuck the capital letter stickers around the inside edge of the pans. Then I placed a lower case sticker on the closed (pincher) end of the clothes pins. I put the clothes pins into sandwich Ziploc bags, one alphabet set per bag, and I was finished. The entire process took me less than an hour, with placing the capital letter stickers taking up the bulk of the time.


At school, I gave each student a pizza pan and a bag of letters. They then worked to clip each pin to the edge of the pan next to its corresponding capital letter. The kids had a blast! It was a great opportunity for them to practice matching upper and lower case letters, and there was the added benefit of some fine motor skills practice (something many of my students needed).

Since the students could be quite independent with this particular activity, it gave me the chance to do some individual tests for progress monitoring purposes. It was also a great activity to pull out when we had some extra time to fill, a student finished his/her work early, or a para/substitute needed something to do with some students.


I usually store my materials in gallon Ziploc bags and plastic containers, but Alphabet Pizza Pans is too large. I experimented with different options but the one that ended up working the best was an old magazine storage box I found in the back of my closet. It was the perfect size to hold both the pans and the bags of clips, and it was easy to carry back and forth to school.

When I left my lower elementary teaching role behind I quite happily donated my Alphabet Pizza Pans to another teacher, but it still remains one of the most fun activities to come out of my time in K-2. If your students are working on the alphabet, particularly if they are still struggling to reconcile the upper and lower cases of each letter, give this activity a try. Happy teaching, everyone, and I’ll see you in the new year!

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!