Perfect Practice Makes Perfect (Tenses)

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

Present Perfect Cover Up

Present Perfect Cover Up

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

Past Perfect Travel Adventure Game

Past Perfect Travel Adventure

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

Progressive / Perfect Pronoun Pursuits Game

Progressive/Perfect Pronoun Pursuits

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

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

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

Picture Prompts Sentence Challenge Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grid Conquest

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

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

The Game Components

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

The Game Play

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

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

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


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

Need some of those links again? Here you are:

Where Do I Need To Go?

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

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

Directions Around My Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatchamacallit Context Clues

I think we can all agree that teaching students how to use context clues is important. I spend a lot of time on context clues with all of my classes, especially my lower proficiency level classes, but I have long had two recurring frustrations. The majority of context clues practice activities are made for young learners, and they almost always use nonsense words. Those two things are show stoppers for me and my older language learners, particularly my beginning level students.

Over the years, I’ve developed several different activities for my older students (middle school and up) that practice context clues that use actual English words:

These games are all wonderful in their own right, and we play them quite often, but I wanted something even more fun. Inspired by a game of Balderdash, I decided to make a context clues board game in which players would define real words that even native speakers weren’t likely to know.

I started by searching for names of objects that few, if any people, knew had names at all. Once I had compiled a list of them, I checked each word by looking it up in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Not surprisingly, a few of the words had to be eliminated from my list because they have either been removed from our modern dictionary or were never recognized in the first place. You can download a free copy of my final list via the Whatchamacallit Glossary below.

The hardest part of the game creation process was the same as it always is: writing an example sentence for each of the 32 words remaining on my list. This time it wasn’t that I had to use the same word(s) over and over again, but that I needed sentences that would give enough clues about the meaning of the words so students could guess it without actually giving the definition. I wanted the sentences to be challenging enough to keep the game interesting, but not so challenging that my students became discouraged. Consequently, the sentences ended up being a bit longer than I would normally write for this type of activity.

After creating my playing cards with the sentences, I made sure to number them. This allows me to use the cards, along with the recording sheet I created, as a scoot activity and not just a board game. Game/activity versatility is important to me because the composition of my classes changes so frequently. I don’t want to be locked into a specific format or type of activity if it won’t be the most effective for a particular group of students.

I added in a copy of my standard zig zag game board, some place markers, and six sided dice, and we were ready to play. I tested the game with several different groups of students and found it worked with all of them, though my lowest proficiency students really struggled with it. The sentences were a little too linguistically complex for them and a few became frustrated. I wasn’t surprised when my intermediate students gave their approval to the game, but I was a bit concerned about my advanced students. I was afraid it would be too easy and they would be bored. I was wrong. The game was easier for them, but they still had to think about many of the words and thought it was fun to learn vocabulary their native English speaking friends wouldn’t know.

My students’ final assessment of the game was it is fun and something they’d like to play again. My advanced students asked if I’d make them copies of the glossary and came back the next week with stories of impressing friends with their extensive vocabulary knowledge. Hopefully your students will like the game just as much. Happy teaching, everyone!

Here’s the glossary download I mentioned:

If you don’t have time to make your own context clues game, try out one of mine:

Need digital versions of the games? I have those, too:

Or get a bundle with all of the games at a 20% discount:

Back to School Activities — Ice Breaker Alternatives

It’s the end of July, and that means teachers in the USA (and other parts of the world) are starting to plan their first day/week activities for the school year. If you, like me, hear the words, “Let’s do an ice breaker.” or “Let’s do a get-to-know-you activity.” and want to run for the hills, then this post is for you.

If you, unlike me, love ice breakers and get-to-know-you activities, may I suggest that you consider mixing some of these alternatives into your routine as well? While I agree that getting to know our students is important, relationship building is the key to a successful classroom environment, I’m not convinced that ice breakers and get-to-know-you activities are the way to go. Some students, especially older newly arrived students (be they newly arrived from another country, state, city, or even school across town), want nothing more than to blend in and be accepted as one of the group. Many students, newly arrived and not-so-newly-arrived, need time to become comfortable with new people/groups before being able to open up, even about seemingly inconsequential things. Thus the dilemma: how do we get to know our students, build a positive classroom environment, and have a smooth/fun transition back to school? I have a few suggestions.

When I first started teaching, I couldn’t imagine “wasting” an entire day, week, or even longer teaching routines and procedures. I quickly learned this time is far from wasted and I couldn’t afford NOT to invest it in these activities. Thus, on the first day of ever class, the first thing I do is start teaching routines and procedures. I then like to start trying to get a sense of where my students are at academically. While reviewing previous grades and administering pre-tests have their value, I don’t think it gives me the best reading of students’ actual abilities. Too many students are nervous when they know they’re being assessed and this leads to inaccurate data. Instead, I prefer to get students engaged in a game or other fun activity that allows me to observe and get a sense of their speaking skills, as well as their reading and possibly even writing abilities. In no particular order, here are five of my go-to first week of school activities that allow me to practice routines/procedures with students, have some you-don’t-have-to-reveal-anything-about-yourself fun, and start to get a sense of where they are at academically.

Silly Shorts

I wrote a complete blog post about this game in April of 2021, and it is always a hit with my students. I love it as a first week of school activity because it can be used with any age or proficiency level (remember, I teach ESL) student. It doesn’t take more than one or two turns for students to start to relax, and before they know it everyone is laughing and having fun. There is no reading or writing required, but it an excellent way to get a feel for students’ speaking abilities, sentence level grammar, story formation skills, and general vocabulary.

Mr. Potato Head

This descriptive writing activity is so much fun (students frequently request to do it again) and it gives me the opportunity to assess students’ writing skills, vocabulary, and get them practicing several different classroom routines/procedures (individual work time, materials passing out and returning, handing in work…). This is also a great first week of school activity because it can take as little as one block class period, or as many as three to four classes to complete. Get the full details in this blog post from January of 2021.

Proverbs from Around the World Game

This board game is especially popular with my intermediate to advanced immigrant students, and would be great for a world history, geography, or other social studies class. The goal of Proverbs from Around the World is to be the first player to reach finish. Players advance by reading a proverb and explaining, in their own words, what the proverb means/teaches. The game includes 40 different proverbs cards, so there is no fear of students having to repeat a previous student’s answer. My students always get excited when they find a proverb from their home country/language. They also enjoy discussing similar proverbs they know to those on the cards.

Paraprosdokian Board Game

Paraprosdokians are figures of speech in which the second part of the sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected, causing the reader/listener to reevaluate their understanding of the first part. They are often quite humorous as well. In this game, students read a paraprosdokian and then have to, in their own words, explain why it is surprising or unexpected. It’s a great way to give students lengthier, unscripted speaking practice and the linguistic complexity of these figures of speech provides enough challenge for advanced English language learners and native speakers alike. The surprising nature of the sentences never fails to get students laughing and talking amongst themselves.

Oreo Science & Math Madness

This is the most academically focused of the five activities, but it is so much fun my students never notice they are reviewing a lot of important skills. Many of my students struggle with creating their own graphs, as well as communicating in written form the data presented in a graph. The activity is cross-curricular and involves students in the full writing process, as well as speaking, data collection, graphing, and drawing conclusions. When we do the full activity, it takes us two weeks and they get a review of the scientific method as well as fraction, decimal, percent equivalents and conversions. If you don’t want to spend two weeks on this activity, it’s a lot of fun to simply brainstorm different ways to eat an Oreo (my students and I highly recommend actually trying each out) and then having students conduct a survey of their friends and family. You can create the graph as a class and easily complete the activity in two days.

Whatever activities you choose to use for the start of the school year, I hope you have a good one! Happy teaching, everyone.

Sort Cards: Alternative Uses

I love using sort cards! In fact, I use them in all of my vocabulary activity sets, including my phonics based vocabulary activity sets (and I have plans to add them to my academic vocabulary units). Sort cards are great for practicing vocabulary, but when I first started using them I kept thinking, “There has to be more I can do with these cards than have students match words to pictures/definitions.” It turns out there are A LOT more things you can do with sort cards, and today I’d like to share with you some of my (and my students’) favorites.


Do you remember the children’s game Memory? You place all of the cards upside down and take turns turning over two at a time. If the two cards you turn over match, you keep them and get an extra turn. Sort cards can be used in the same way. I suggest using two different colors of cards, one for the term and one for the picture/definition. This helps the game go faster because students aren’t turning over two terms or two pictures/definitions. Students turn over one of each color and, if they match, keep them and go again. The person with the most matches at the end of the game is the winner. This is a great way for students who aren’t as comfortable with verbal expression to practice vocabulary.

Game Smash

Use the sort cards and any gameboard and pieces (Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry are some of our favorites) to create a new game. At the start of each turn, the student will draw a card and either name and spell the term represented by the picture/definition, or will define the term on the card. If correct, the student proceeds with his/her turn per the game rules. If not correct, the student’s turn is over.


This game requires a few extra cards that simply say “Kaboom!” and an empty container of some kind. I have a set of Kaboom! cards (free download at the bottom) and several old oatmeal containers that I spray painted black and painted the word “Kaboom” on in red. To play, take one set of sort cards, mix in three to five Kaboom! cards, and place everything in your container. Students take turns drawing out cards. If the student draws a picture card, he/she names the term and spells and/or defines it. If the student draws a definition card, he/she names the term and spells it. If the student draws a term card, he/she defines it or uses it in a sentence. If the student is successful, he/she keeps the card. If the student is not successful, he/she discards the card. If the student draws a Kaboom! card, all of his/her cards, including the Kaboom! card, go into the discard pile. The student with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.


I have several different Fishing For… games, but any set of sort cards can be used as a fishing game. Similarly to Kaboom!, you will need a few extra materials in addition to the sort cards. You’ll need some Shark! cards (free download at the bottom) and some fishing ponds. My ponds are simply old oatmeal containers I spray painted blue and then dressed up with some badly painted fish and seaweed. To play, again mix one set of sort cards and three to five shark cards in the container. Directions for what to do with each card are the same as for Kaboom!, with the Shark! card replacing the Kaboom! card.

Collection Race

I was watching a YouTube video, Grammar Games with Flashcards, and the creator, Jenny White, suggested a fun game for irregular verbs. She said to scatter base verb cards around the room, have students race to find a card, bring it to the teacher, and state all three forms (present, past, past participle) of the verb in order to keep the card as a point. I was thinking, why couldn’t this work with any set of sort cards? Students could be given a specific length of time to search the classroom for cards. They could bring the cards, one at a time, to the teacher (or other designated person) and state the term, spelling, and/or definition that corresponds to what is on the card. If successful, the student keeps the card as a point. If not successful, the teacher keeps the card as a point. The student (or teacher) with the most points at the end is the winner.

Around the World

Do you remember the math game Around the World? The teacher shows a math flashcard and the first of two students to call out the answer proceeds in the game while the second student goes to the end of the line. Again I ask, why can’t we play this with any set of sort cards? The teacher shows a sort card with a picture and/or definition. The first student to call out the correct term proceeds while the slower student goes to the end of the line. Theoretically, you could show the term card and have students give the definition, but I think that’s too many words to call out. Maybe the students could call out a synonym instead?


This game also requires one extra piece of equipment: tiddlywinks, or some other flat disk students can flip. Lay your sort cards out on the floor or a large table in a grid pattern. Students gather around the sort card mat and take turns flipping their tiddlywink onto the mat. The student must then either name, define, or spell the term that corresponds with the card that his/her disk lands on in order to earn a point. You can increase the difficulty of this game by giving each student multiple discs of the same color (a different color for each student in the group). Rather than retrieving their discs after each turn, students leave them on the cards. In order to earn a point, students must land a disc on a previously unoccupied card and provide the correct term/definition/spelling.


If you’re looking for a game that might be a little less movement and noise inducing, you can always try Taboo or Pictionary. Follow the rules for either of these classic games, using your sort cards as the prompt cards. (If you need to review the rules, you can read them here: Taboo, Pictionary.) When I play Taboo, I’ll underline words in the definitions students can’t use with a dry erase marker. Pictionary makes a great game for students who aren’t comfortable with verbally answering questions.


Are there more ways to use sort cards? Oh, yes! (Check out the YouTube video Charlie’s Lessons 10 Flashcard Games for some fun and simple ways to use picture cards.) These eight ideas just happen to be some of the most popular ones I’ve tried in my class. Many of them also work with task cards–just substitute answering the question or solving the problem on the task card for providing the term/spelling/definition. If you have other fun uses for sort cards, let us know in the comments! Happy teaching, everyone.

Here are the links to download the Kaboom! and Shark! cards:

Open Compound Nouns

We teachers, especially we ESL teachers, spend a lot of time talking about compound nouns. In fact, I have quite a few activities that I use to practice them with my students (check this blog post for details). This is important, but I’ve noticed there is one particular type of compound noun that seems to trip up my students more than any other, the open compound noun. My students tend to think of them as two separate nouns, or as an adjective and a noun, rather than a single noun, and I can understand why they do! Open compound nouns are tricky because they look like two words, when in fact they are functioning as one. Now there is some discussion about open compound nouns: should they actually be closed or hyphenated? I am not here to settle these arguments, for my purposes I’ve let Merriam Webster’s Dictionary be the determining voice. If Merriam Webster’s Dictionary lists the noun as a single entry, and does not close or hyphenate it, I consider it an open compound noun. Here are some of the fun activities my students and I use to build our open compound noun vocabulary.

Dominoes: Digital


Played similarly to traditional dominoes, each student takes five dominoes and the rest are placed in a draw pile. The top card from the pile is turned over and placed in the center of the playing area. The first person tries to match one of his/her cards to the card in the middle of the playing area, lining up the ends to form an open compound noun. If he/she has a matching card, he/she plays it, and the second person then takes a turn. If he/she doesn’t have a match, he/she draws a domino, plays it if he/she can, or adds it to his/her hand if not. The first person to get rid of all of his/her dominoes is the winner.

An alternative, less competitive, way to use dominoes is to give a complete set to each pair or group of students. The students then work together to create a huge rectangle by matching all of the words to form open compound nouns.

The digital version of the game is played in a similar fashion, but students drag and drop their dominoes to make plays. You can watch how to play the digital version in this short video:



Played exactly like the popular children’s game, this open compound noun version is perfect for vocabulary practice. Students turn over two cards, trying to match the term to the picture. It’s a great way to introduce less proficient students to the concept of open compound nouns. The included 24 nouns are all relatively common ones and so students have the opportunity to expand their vocabularies while playing a very low stress game.



This game uses the same 24 nouns as the others, but is more challenging linguistically. As in the popular card game, students have to describe the open compound noun without saying any of the words on the card. It’s a great speaking activity and one that my intermediate and advanced students really get into. When choosing the forbidden words, I tried to create a reasonable level of difficulty without making the game so challenging students wouldn’t want to play. It seems to have worked and my students have been known to ask to play the game again.



Hands down the most popular and competitive game in my open compounds game repertoire is Spoons. If you are unfamiliar with the game, you can get all of the details in this blog post. The goal of the game is to collect an open compound noun triplicate (word one, word two, compound noun) and grab a spoon from the center of the table. That starts a spoon grab frenzy with the final person being left spoonless and gaining a letter. Once a person collects all of the letters in SPOONS, he/she is out of the game. The winner is the last person in the game. There is an alternate play version included that doesn’t involve grabbing and wrestling for spoons, but I rarely have students that want to play it. Those that do opt for the more sedate version usually end up quickly abandoning it once they see how much fun other groups are having.

While these activities don’t get quite as much use as my general compound word activities, I do use them much more frequently than I expected when I first made them. In fact, just this week, we were talking about word stress in my pronunciation class. All of the students are advanced English speakers, holding advanced degrees, and most work full time in professional jobs here in the USA. Yet, the minute they saw the open compound noun examples in the book, several hands shot up and they all wanted to know why there were two word examples in the single word stress section. Fully expecting this to happen, I simply smiled, explained what an open compound noun is, and pulled out Open Compound Noun Taboo. As I did the first word as an example, I was reminded once again of how deceptively difficult that game is! One thing I can absolutely say, the game, as is always the case with these games, was a success with my students. Happy teaching, everyone!

Here are those links again, in case you missed some:

Or get a bundle that has all four of the games (paper version of dominoes) at a 20% discount!

This bundle has all four of the open compound noun activities and six “regular” compound word activities.

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.

Connected Conditionals

Connected Conditionals Board Game: Paper

Despite my efforts, game smashing is still not a popular term, but it continues to be a real thing in my classroom. Awhile ago I saw a video from Twinkl ESL about The Chain Game. This is an easy, no prep game for practicing conditionals. It seemed like fun and I decided to try it. My students loved it! They only had two comments: they wanted to practice more conditions at a time (but needed a reference sheet), and they wanted it to be more game-like. After thinking about it for awhile, I put together a board game version (complete with reference chart in the middle of the game board) and tried it out on them. They declared it even better than the original speaking version and asked to play again sometime. Today, I’d like to share all the details with you so you can try out your own version of Connected Conditionals with your students.

The Materials

To play the board game version, you’ll need a few things, including a game board, playing pieces, and reference chart (free download above). You have some choices here: you can make your own, you can game smash, or you can purchase my premade version using the links above.

The first time we tried the game board version of the game, I game smashed to see how it would go. I used a game board and set of playing pieces from popular board games (Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, etc.) for each group. This worked well, but when we tried to play again many of the students didn’t have their paper reference charts with them (don’t forget, it’s a free download above). They also had a little bit of trouble keeping track of which conditional to use when practicing multiple conditionals.

That was when I created Connected Conditionals specific game boards. The basic board is one I’ve used many times, with squares around the outside of the page and a blank center (the easiest way to do this is to put a huge table over the entire page and merge all of the inner cells). Normally I put game directions in the center, but this time I put a slightly smaller version of the reference chart. This meant that no matter how many times we played, or how far apart those times were, every student would have access to the reference chart every turn.

I also took the opportunity to create specific direction cards for the various conditional combinations (saving me from having to write them on the board every time we wanted to play):

  • Zero Conditional Only
  • First Conditional Only
  • Second Conditional Only
  • Third Conditional Only
  • Zero & First Conditionals
  • Zero & Second Conditionals
  • Zero & Third Conditionals
  • First & Second Conditionals
  • First & Third Conditionals
  • Second & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, First, & Second Conditionals
  • Zero, First, & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, Second, & Third Conditionals
  • First, Second, & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, First, Second, & Third Conditionals

Of course this meant I needed to gather playing pieces and dice, but that was easy to do. We often use plastic counters for playing pieces, but other popular options include milk jug lids and mini erasers.

Game Play

The general directions for playing are as follows:

  1. The first player rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence using the target conditional (assigned based on the die roll on the specific direction cards). Example: If it is cloudy, I will take my umbrella.
  2. If the sentence is grammatically correct, player one moves his/her piece the indicated number of spaces. If it is not grammatically correct, he/she stays on his/her current square.
  3. Player two rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence. Besides using the target conditional (which may or may not be the same as player one’s, depending on the directions set and die roll), he/she must also use the end of player one’s sentence as the beginning of his/her own. Example: If you had taken your umbrella, I would have worn my coat with a hood.
  4. If player two’s sentence is grammatically correct, he/she moves his/her piece,
  5. Play continues with each consecutive player rolling and making sentences using the target conditional and the end of the previous player’s sentence.
  6. The first player to reach finish is the winner.

The cards giving directions for the fifteen different conditional combinations include which die rolls go with which conditional, as well as example sentences. To give you an idea of what I mean, here are the directions for the zero, first, and second conditional version:

  1. The first player rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence using the target conditional. Roll 1 or 4 = 0 conditional, Roll 2 or 5 = 1st conditional, Roll 3 or 6 = 2nd conditional: Ex: (rolls a 2) If it is cloudy, I will take my umbrella.
  2. If the sentence is grammatically correct, player one moves his/her piece the indicated number of spaces. If it is not grammatically correct, he/she stays on his/her current square.
  3. Player two rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence. Besides using the target conditional, he/she must also use the end of player one’s sentence. If player two’s sentence is grammatically correct, he/she moves his/her piece. Ex: (rolls a 6) If you were to take an umbrella, I would wear a jacket.
  4. Play continues with each consecutive player rolling and making sentences using the target conditional and the end of the previous player’s sentence.
  5. The first player to reach Finish is the winner.

Possible Scaffold

My advanced students do quite well with this game, but sometimes my lower proficiency students need help thinking of things to stay. One thing that helps is to allow them to roll story dice or use the spinners from our Silly Shorts game. Of course students are always allowed to make the sentences as ridiculous as they choose (and they do!), so the picture dice/spinners really help.

The fewer conditionals you are practicing at any given time, the easier the game. We almost always practice only one or two conditionals at a time, but sometimes my advanced students like to challenge themselves with one of the more challenging levels. Whichever version of the game we play, we always end up with some very entertaining sentences! I’m honestly not sure which game produces more laughter, this one or Silly Shorts. Give it a try and see what your students think. Happy teaching, everyone!