Bounce It In!

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

Another Practice Activity?

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

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

Game Creation

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

Game Play

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

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

Game Set Up

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

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

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


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

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.

Fishing for Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation

It’s winter in Michigan (and a lot of other places), and normally that would mean our lakes would be dotted with ice fishing shelters. This year the weather’s been on the warm side and anglers have to go pretty far north to find safe enough ice to fish. Thankfully, there’s no ice (or sitting outside in the cold) required to play Fishing For Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation.

Fishing For… Games

Fishing For… is a toned down version of my original idea (which you can read about in Fishing for Contractions). It’s a very simple game to put together and play. To make my “fishing ponds,” I spray paint empty oatmeal or similarly-sized containers blue and then add in fish, sand, and other elements. I freely admit I my painting abilities are far from award-winning, but my students seem to enjoy the novelty of the containers and it does add a fun element to the game.

To make the skill-specific game components (I have five different versions thus far: contractions, irregular past tense verbs, plural nouns, short/long vowels, and regular past tense verb pronunciation), I print my target word(s) on cards with various fish on them. I originally printed the words on the fish themselves, but found they took far too long to cut out. I often also add in Shark Cards (available as a free download below the image), which cause the player to lose all of his/her fish when drawn. Sometimes, especially when I am running short on time or we are tired of using sort cards or task cards the traditional way, I’ll toss task or sort cards into the canisters instead (as described in Sort Cards: Alternative Uses).

To play Fishing For…, I divide my class into groups of two to six people (I find three or four works best). Each group gets a “fishing pond” with the cards already mixed up in it. The lid to the pond becomes the discard area, making it easy for students to know which cards are out of the game. Students take turns drawing a card and performing the required action. In the case of Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation, students have to state the correct pronunciation of the -ed ending (/t/, /d/, /Id/). If correct, the student adds the “fish” to his/her catch pile. If incorrect, the fish is discarded or said to “have gotten away” and returned to the pond. If the student draws a shark card, he/she places the shark card, and all of his/her catch, into the discard pile. Once all of the cards have been drawn, or time is up, the student with the most fish in his/her catch pile is the winner.

Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation

Unless I am teaching our pronunciation course I don’t often spend a lot of time on specific pronunciation skills. I prefer to focus on vocabulary acquisition and grammar, and allow students to work on pronunciation in a more natural manner. Throughout the years though, I have found that students appreciate it greatly when I spend at least part of a class or two on the pronunciation of the -ed ending. It’s a tricky one, and one that my students are conscious of their frequent mispronunciations. My first game for practicing this skill, Regular Past Tense Pronunciation Packing, was a huge success. My students love the game, and it made both the Top Free Blog Downloads and Top Free TPT Downloads lists for 2022. It was my students’ many requests for more games to practice this skill that lead to the creation of Fishing For Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation, and eventually Regular Past Tense -d/-ed Ending Pronunciation Spoons (if you’re not familiar with the game Spoons, check out this blog post for details).

I combine these games with a lot of discussion, a few videos, and other resources, but the games are always the big hit of our lessons. If I’m being totally honest, I rather enjoy the game as well and don’t always get the answers right when playing Fishing For Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation.


If you’re looking for a fun game, give Fishing For… a try. If you’re looking for some pronunciation practice, all of my regular past tense verb pronunciation games are free. You can download them from my TPT store via the various links in the post or the buttons below. For those who prefer a direct download, I’ll provide a download here as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

Phrasal Verb Jeopardy

Phrasal Verb Jeopardy PowerPoint

Among the many things that terrify my students is the topic of phrasal verbs. They always want more resources and practice activities related to them. Last year I shared a post with a free download of a phrasal verb reference chart my advanced students have come to absolutely love. Today, I’d like to tell you a little about one of their favorite practice games: Phrasal Verb Jeopardy.

What class doesn’t love a good game of Jeopardy? One I developed a good template, they became very easy to make. As a result, I have quite a few different versions to practice articles, context clues, commonly confused words, idioms, U.S.A. coins, integers, and more. Most of them include five-six categories and five-six questions or prompts per category. Some have a Double Jeopardy round, some do not. Only a few have a Final Jeopardy round.

I prefer to play the game in PowerPoint because the links can be set to change color after being clicked, but I have found some tricks for playing in Google Slides that don’t take too much extra work. The template that you can download from this post is for PowerPoint and already has the links set up for Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy, and Final Jeopardy. The game board table is there and each point value is linked to a slide with a text box for the prompt and a second text box for the answer. Each prompt slide has a button to return to the game board and each round’s game board has a button to go to the next round. All you need to do is add your prompts and answers.

Phrasal Verb Jeopardy
Google Slides

Phrasal Verb Jeopardy has two rounds. The Jeopardy round categories are verbs (break, go, get, look, put). After teams choose a point value, the prompt gives them a particle to add to the verb. Students’ task is to define the phrasal verb. If the phrasal verb has multiple definitions, I tried to include several of them. If students give a definition that is not listed, I judge if it is a valid one or not.

In the Double Jeopardy round, students again choose a point value and a verb (come, be, make, have, do). The prompt gives a definition for the phrasal verb and lists the verb and a blank for the particle. The team must then give the complete phrasal verb (verb + particle) in order to gain their points.

Students are often very nervous when I first explain the game. Often they’ll tell me they’re only willing to try because it’s a game and doesn’t count for their grade. They quickly realize just how much they already know about phrasal verbs and their confidence soars as we play. Since there are two rounds to the game, with a total of 60 prompts, it can take an entire two hour class period to play if we do every prompt. Often I will figure out how much time we have to dedicate to the game and divide it in half, moving to Double Jeopardy when necessary.

Whether you choose to use my free template (download it above) and make your own game, or purchase one of my premade versions, I hope you’ll give Phrasal Verb Jeopardy a try with your high intermediate and/or advanced students. Happy teaching, everyone!

One reference tool and game is NOT enough for phrasal verbs. Here are some others my students enjoy:

Speaking Practice With a Side of Reading Comprehension

A consistent desire of my students is more speaking practice, and it is a desire I want and try to fulfill. The problem is that so many of the speaking activities I find, or are included in our book, are so scripted and stilted they leave my students bored and unmotivated. These activities are necessary, students need to practice specific grammatical formations and structures, but they do tend to be monotonous. Today I’d like to share with you seven games my students and I enjoy that allow for less scripted speaking practice.

I’ll give you a brief description of each game and link to a former post with more information. Hopefully, you’ll have enough information to make your own versions of the games. If not, you can always purchase mine by clicking the pictures (or buttons if you want the digital versions).

Compounding Conjunctions

Compounding Conjunctions

Beginning with one of the more scripted options, Compounding Conjunctions is a great game for practicing the formation of compound sentences. In the version I play, there are six simple sentences in the center of the game board. Each space has a different coordinating conjunction on it. Students roll the number cube, move their piece, and then use the conjunction to expand the given simple sentence into a compound sentence. While the original independent clause is given to students, the only creative restraints placed on the second independent clause are the conjunction to be used and that it has to make sense. It’s a great way for students to practice vocabulary and the creation of independent clauses. It also wouldn’t be difficult to change out the six simple sentences students start with so you could customize the game to fit whatever topic or theme you are currently studying. Or, if you want to make it very unscripted, simply remove the starting sentences all together and allow students to create two independent clauses of their own.

Connected Conditionals

Connected Conditionals

Slightly less scripted than Compounding Conjunctions, Connected Conditionals is a great way to have fun practicing any single type of conditional or mixed conditional sentences. The first step is to decide what conditional(s) you would like to practice and pull out the directions card for that specific game version. The directions card will explain to students what conditional to use for each sentence. The first student then states a sentence in the target conditional, rolls, and moves his/her piece. The second student then uses the first student’s main clause (then…statement) as their conditional clause (if…statement), rolls, and moves his/her piece. The third student

uses the second student’s main clause as their conditional clause, rolls, and moves his/her piece. This continues, with each subsequent student using the previous student’s main clause as the new conditional clause, until someone reaches finish and wins. For example, my advanced class played the third conditional version last week. One of the connected conditionals I overheard was:

  • If the weather had been nice, I would have ridden my bike.
  • If I had ridden my bike, I would have worn a helmet.
  • If I had worn a helmet, I might have messed up my hair.
  • If I had messed up my hair, I could have gone to a salon.
  • If I had gone to a salon, I…

This game is still slightly scripted because the conditional clause is determined by the previous student, but students still have the opportunity to be quite creative with the main clause.

Proverbs from Around the World

Proverbs from Around the World

Proverbs from Around the World Game is one that brings in a bit of reading comprehension. My version includes forty different proverbs from all over the world. To play, a student takes a card, reads the proverb, and then explains it in his or her own words. There are no required grammatical forms or structures to be followed and students are free to choose whatever vocabulary they think is best. My intermediate and advanced students particularly enjoy the game and it is not unusual for them to read a particular proverb and not only restate it in their own words, but share a similar proverb from their first language as well. That will often spark other students to share similar proverbs in their first languages and I often hear very rich discussions taking place while the game pieces lie forgotten on the table. I haven’t written a specific post about this game, but a sample of it is included in the reading section of English Skillology, Level 2.


Paraprosdokians: A Figurative Language Game

Another game that brings in a bit of reading comprehension is Paraprosdokians. As I explain in my Back to School Activities post, 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. Winston Churchill was known for using them, often in a humorous or insulting manner. My game includes 42 different paraprosdokians and, as in Proverbs Around the World,

students read them and then restate them in their own words and explain why the comment is surprising or funny. It is another good way to give students lengthier, unscripted speaking practice. This game is particularly good to use with intermediate and advanced students due to the linguistic complexity of these figures of speech.

CER: The Board Game

Claim, Evidence, Reasoning: The CER Board Game

Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) is a great way to get students thinking and practicing supporting their ideas rather than just making random statements. This game is almost completely unscripted spontaneous speaking practice. Each card has a claim on it that students must provide evidence and reasoning in support of (each claim has a positive and negative option so students can choose which they want to support). I base my speaking requirements on the proficiency of my students. When using the game with intermediate students, I ask them to simply state a couple of sentences. Advanced students are required to speak for as much as 30-60 seconds each. There are over 50 prompts included in the current version of the game (I have plans to add a second set of prompts for younger students), so if a student draws one he/she either does not understand, or has no opinion about, they simply draw another card. This game also produces a lot of good discussions and the conversations are generally much more serious and use richer vocabulary than some of the other options.

Picture Prompts

Picture Prompts

Picture Prompts is a game I originally developed to practice question words. Then I used it to practice cause and effect. Then I used it to practice types of sentences. Then I used it to practice…well, I’ve used it to practice just about everything! It is a favorite of my students and they always smile when I pull it out. While it can be used to practice very specific grammar constructions, it can also be very open ended. The game simply presents students with a picture that they then must talk about in some way (however you direct them). If you want to truly make this undirected speaking practice, you can simply tell students they must tell a story about the picture. How long the story must be can be adjusted based on the proficiency of the students.

Silly Shorts

Silly Shorts

Last on my list of games for today is Silly Shorts. This game is my students’ absolute favorite unscripted speaking game. The best part is that if you have a set of story dice and any game board/pieces, you can play this game tomorrow. To play, students roll the story dice, make up a story using the images on the dice, and then roll the regular number cube and move their piece on the game board. I adjust how long students have to speak, and how complete their story needs to be, based on their proficiency levels. For beginners, I ask them to simply name the things on the dice or say a simple sentence about one of the items on the dice. I gradually increase requirements until reaching my advanced students who are asked to tell a complete story (beginning, middle, end) that utilizes all of the

items shown on the dice and lasts at least 60 seconds. I love that the game can be used by all of my students, regardless of proficiency (even in mixed proficiency classes!) and my students love how fun it is. I will also freely admit that I look forward to playing this game with them because it is highly entertaining to hear what they dream up!

There you have it, seven games that encourage students to go beyond formulaic, scripted speaking and be more creative. All of the games encourage rich vocabulary and allow students to stretch their speaking muscles. The best part for me is seeing the looks on their faces go from boredom to excitement as they engage with one another and the various topics. Give one (or more) a try and see how your students react. Happy teaching, everyone!

If you don’t have the time or desire to make your own games, you can buy mine by clicking on the pictures and buttons above. If you’re looking for a bit of a discount, all of these games (and more!) are included in my Speaking Practice Games & Activities Bundle at a 20% discount. This is a bundle I still add to occasionally, so if you purchase it now you’ll receive all future additions for free.

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: