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!

Slap!

One of my students’ favorite all class games to play is Slap! I love how it is easy to prepare, set up, and play. They love how it is fun and competitive but doesn’t put a huge amount of pressure on any one student. This game is very versatile and can be used to practice just about anything with 2-4 set “answers.”

The Game

To play slap you need a few very basic materials: large signs with one answer printed on each (I use letter sized paper), a strong magnet (or other attachment device) for each answer sign, and a fly swatter for each team (get extra, they break–especially if you have a highly competitive group of older students). The last thing you need is a list of questions or sentences for students to answer/complete, all of which should be able to be answered with one of the words/numbers on the answer signs. These can be written on regular paper or printed onto task cards, whichever you prefer.

Once you’ve gathered your materials, and written your questions/sentences, you are ready to play. Place your answer signs on the board or wall in a central location. Divide your class into two teams. Each team sends one representative to the board. The two opponents each take a fly swatter and face the answer signs. You read the question/sentence and the students race to be the first to slap the correct answer with their fly swatters. The winning student earns a point for his/her team and the students return to their seats as new representatives are sent forward.

Some situations that often occur & my solutions:

  • The “I was first!” protest: Inevitably discussion erupts as to who was first, so I tell my students before we begin that I will be the final judge and whoever’s swatter is on the bottom (but still on top of the sign) will be considered the winner.
  • Teammates calling out the answer: As with any whole class game, there are always a few students who like to call out the answer, hoping to “help” their teammate, whether he/she needs it or not. In this game, I don’t even try to stop it. Whole class participation is a good thing! Besides, it never lasts long. The students quickly realize that it isn’t possible to yell out the answer and not have the opposing player hear it as well, so they usually quit doing it.
  • Answer signs falling: I prefer to use laminated cardstock to print my answer signs, which is of course heavier and requires a stronger magnet. I have invested in stronger magnets, but another option is simply to place a magnet in all four corners of each sign. This also has the advantage of preventing fly swatters from ending up under, rather than on top of, answer signs.
  • Some students want to participate more than others: From the beginning I tell students that no one may take a second (or third) turn before every person on the team has had at least one turn. I also make sure to have at least 24 questions/sentences for every game–enough so every person on the team will go at least once (assuming a class of 48 or fewer), often most will go at least twice.
  • No answer signs: There have been times when I didn’t make answer signs, forgot the signs at home, or I forget magnets or other means of holding them on the wall. In those instances it is possible to play the game by simply writing the answers on the board with dry erase marker or chalk. Be prepared to have to write them over and over again though because the fly swatters will wipe them off.
  • No fly swatters: There have also been times when the fly swatters have broken, or I’ve left them at home. This is also an obstacle with a solution. Anything with a decent reach can be used–even a rolled up newspaper or paper towel tube. I do not suggest using hand though, sometimes things get too exciting and students “accidentally” slap one another’s hands with a bit more force than is absolutely necessary.

Specific Examples

Was/Were Slap! (free–see link below)

Was/Were Slap!

Having only 18 sentences, this mini-game is perfect for practicing using was vs. were in past tense sentences. Download it for free using the link on the left.

Noun Category Slap!

This game is actually two separate games. In the first, students practice categorizing nouns as either common or proper. In the second, they decide if the noun is count or non-count. I always allow student to have their noun quick reference sheets (download for free via the link on the left) out on their desk while playing, but they rarely have to reference them. The count/non-count version is an especially fun way to practice as a whole class after they’ve done individual/small group practice with It’ll All Come Out In The Wash (see blog post from April, 2021).

Rather than having entire sentences, as in Was/Were Slap, in these games all I read out is a single noun. It makes the game go even faster and students have the opportunity for multiple turns as the “swatter.”

Integer Slap/Scoot

Integer Slap/Scoot

One of the hardest things about integers for my students to master was whether the answer would be positive or negative. Playing Integer Fishing helped, but it only gave them practice with adding integers. Integer Slap allows practice with all four operations, and takes the focus off the computational part of the mathematics. In the game, students are read a rule or problem and asked to decide if the answer will be positive or

negative. The numerical part of the answer isn’t an issue (though it does have to be considered, at least when adding/subtracting), only whether it is positive or negative. I always allow students to keep their foldable notes (free download from Teachers Pay Teachers) on their desks, but there’s no time to check them when it’s your turn at the board. This particular game has the prompts written on task cards so when I want them to focus on the computational aspects as well I can use them in a different manner.

Conclusion

This is not a new game, my students and I have been playing it for over 20 years now (and I’m certain it predates us), but it is a fun one. I’ve used it with all ages, from kindergarten to adults (in fact, my adults played the count/non-count version of it this week and had a blast). One of the other things I like about it is it is highly portable and does not rely on technology or expensive equipment. I’ve used it in technologically tricked-out classrooms in the USA, Australia, and Europe. I’ve also used it in mud brick buildings with grass thatched roofs in Africa. No matter the age or location of the students, it’s always been a success for me. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you give it a try sometime. I am sure your students will enjoy it as well! Happy teaching, everyone!

Contranym Context Clues

Knowing how to use context clues is an important thing for everyone, but it is especially important for language learners. After the present tense of the verb to be, what a context clue is, and how to use one to help understand unfamiliar vocabulary, is one of the first skills I begin working on with students. Fortunately, the use of context clues is a skill that transfers between languages, and since most of my students are literate in at least one language, the skill itself is something they already possess. They need only apply the skill to English, which is where my frustration usually begins—especially for my lower proficiency students.

There is a myriad of resources available to teach and practice context clues, but those designed for beginning level students tend to have one very frustrating thing in common: they use nonsense words as the word you need to “guess” via context clues. While I can appreciate this method for native speakers, it is extremely frustrating for language learners. The other struggle I have with beginning level context clue activities is one I face quite often, the resources are designed for young children and not at all relatable to my older students. Over the years I’ve designed several different context clue activities (you can read about a couple of them in these blog posts: National Talk Like a Pirate Day, Context Clues Connect Four), but they’ve primarily been for intermediate and advanced students. Last year I was practicing context clues with high beginners again and decided enough was enough, it was past time to make a game my older beginners would actually enjoy playing. The result: Contranym Context Clues.

Contranyms

A contranym, if you don’t already know, is a word with contradictory definitions (i.e.: the verb seed can mean to add seeds, as in plant them, or remove them, as one might do when cooking). The only way to know which definition is correct is from the context. As these are real words and definitions, they provide perfect context clue practice.

The Game

The game board is a standard board I’ve used frequently in the past for games such as Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag. It consists of five rows of six squares, a blank row lies between them and they are connected by a single square at alternating ends. The easiest way to create this is to make a table that is nine rows by six columns and then merge all but the end cell on every other row. Add in your borders and you are ready to go. I like to place the game title in the empty areas between rows and often include directions or other information in these areas as well. For this game, I put the title in the first three empty sections and a definition for contranym, as well as brief turn directions, in the last section. Add the words start and finish to the first and last box, and the game board is complete.

To create the cards, I first chose 24 contranyms (lists of them are easy to find on the internet) and wrote example sentences for each. I underlined the contranym and added the two opposing definitions under each sentence as choice A and B. I numbered each of the cards for two reasons: it allows students to check one another’s answers with the key I give them, and I can use them as task cards, rather than a board game, if I so choose.

Game play is relatively straight forward. The student chooses a card, reads the sentence, and decides which definition is correct. If he/she chooses the correct definition (I provide each group with an answer key), he/she rolls and moves his/her piece. I’ve mentioned it before, but popular game pieces in my classroom include plastic counters, mini erasers, and milk jug lids. Since the definitions are provided, and there are only two choices, the game is a little too easy for higher proficiency students but it has some nice support for beginning and low intermediate learners.

The Digital Version

Since all classes were online last year I needed a digital version of the game. Converting it wasn’t too difficult, and the game play remained basically the same.

I placed the game board and directions for play as the background of the first slide. Each question was given its own slide and was also placed as the background (to prevent accidental changes). To provide an answer key, I use a “magic reveal” technique that’s been quite successful in the past. You can read a full description of how to do this yourself in this blog post, but the short version is you place the answer on the slide but make it the same color as the background (for this game I put a black square on the background and made the answer black). You then add another “magic” shape (I like to use a magnifying glass) that is dragged over the answer area. The shape is ordered so it is behind the answer on the slide. Thus it “reveals” the answer by allowing it to be seen when it is placed between the answer and the background. Since the answer is on the slide, students are on the honor system as far as cheating goes, but since this is a practice game I don’t worry about that.

In order to “draw” a card and “roll” the dice, I use the “Game Play” script my husband wrote for me. This script adds a menu item entitled “Game Play” to the existing menu list. Within the drop down menu students have the choice between “Roll Dice” and “Draw Card.” The “Roll Dice” option generates a pop up window that says “You rolled a __” and generates a random number between one and six. The “Draw Card” option randomly jumps the student to one of the question slides (where there is a hyperlinked button to return them to the game board). The “Draw Card” option requires permission to run the first time it is clicked, but I provide directions for the students to follow on the game board and they’ve never had a problem. The only issue I’ve ever run into is when a student didn’t listen to my directions regarding leaving the file in edit mode, as placing it into present mode removes access to the menu items and makes the game pieces unmovable.

Conclusion

I’ve played the game a few times with a couple of different groups this year and the results were about what I expected. All groups found the game to be fun. My advanced students thought it was too easy (which I expected) and my beginning students found it to be more challenging than other context clue activities but still doable (also as I expected). Their final opinion was the game is a good way to practice context clues and worth playing again. I still like the fact that all of the words are real words and am admittedly a little fascinated by contranyms (which I vaguely knew about but had never consciously considered). Give a lesson on contranyms a try and see how your students respond. Happy teaching, everyone!


Don’t have time to make your own game? Interested in other context clue activities? Try one of these:

Or get a bundle of all the context clue activities at a 20% discount:

Compounding Conjunctions

Paper Game

This semester I’ve been teaching a new-to-me advanced grammar and writing course, and have been really enjoying it. It’s been fun to revisit some of the activities and materials I used in the Academic Reading and Writing course I developed a few years ago. Something that may surprise teachers who are unfamiliar with English language learners, is that advanced students often struggle with some “easy” grammar and vocabulary, especially prepositions and conjunctions. These generally small words cause no end of difficulty for many students of English, and require an inordinate amount of practice and review to master. This semester’s group of advanced students is no exception, and I’d already noticed they were in need of a review of conjunctions when we came to a unit about identifying and writing compound sentences.

I knew I could do a discrete review of the four main coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, so) using my Tie That Binds activity, but this is a very packed course and we don’t have time for any review topics. If I wanted to review coordinating conjunctions (and we most certainly needed to), I needed to find a way to do it while covering the required content and compound sentences provided the perfect opportunity. Besides, why create a game that practices only one skill when more than one is possible?

The Setup

The game, Compounding Conjunctions, is rather simple, both in its creation and play. I used a basic game board, one I’ve used many times before, with squares around the outer edge of the paper with the start and finish being in the same square. I simply added the four most common coordinating conjunctions (and the ones I find require the most practice), one per square, in a repeating pattern around the board. I then wrote six simple sentences, each expressing an opinion that could be expanded upon in some way. These are the sentences I used, though you could easily use sentences that were more interesting, or applicable, to your own students:

  1. The legal voting age should (not) be raised.
  2. The United States should (not) require a year of military service for every citizen.
  3. Students should (not) have to wear school uniforms.
  4. Sugary drinks and snacks should (not) be allowed in school.
  5. Internet access should (not) be free for all people.
  6. Teenagers should (not) have social media accounts.

I added some turn directions to the board and it was ready to print. I printed and laminated enough boards for groups of up to four students (our classes are capped at 20, but we often overfill them so I made enough for six groups–when I have more than 24 students I simply add a playing piece to the necessary sets and increase group size to five students). All that was left was to prepare the playing pieces: one number cube and four place markers for each group. I like to put everything in snack size Ziploc bags for easy distribution. What we use as playing pieces varies, depending on what I have available, but favorites include plastic counters, mini erasers, and milk jug lids.

Game Play

The directions for the game are simple. The first student rolls the number cube and moves his/her piece. He/she then uses the conjunction on the space to expand the sentence corresponding to the number roll (so if a student rolls a two and lands on a square that says but, he/she would say, “The United States should (not) require a year of military service for every citizen, but…”). If the student is able to state a grammatically correct compound sentence, he/she remains on the space and play continues to the next player. If the sentence is not grammatically correct, he/she returns to the previously occupied space and play continues to the next player. The first player to return to Start/Finish is the winner.

The Digital Version

Converting this to a digital game was easy. I simply made the game board the background of a Google Slide and added the “Dice” script my husband wrote for me. This script does not actually add dice, nothing moves or animates on the screen, but it does allow students to “roll” without leaving the game file. What it does do is add a menu item at the top of the screen that says Dice. Students click “Dice” and “Roll” to randomly generate a number between one and six. The number is displayed in a pop up box that says, “You rolled a X.” The box can be closed by clicking OK or the X, and students can then move their piece (circles I added) to continue the game. I always give my students the option of typing their sentences into the chat box, rather than speaking them aloud, because many of them are parents and don’t like to turn their microphones on due to background noise.

Conclusion

My advanced students have played this game twice thus far this semester. The first time was for its intended purpose: to practice creating compound sentences and review coordinating conjunctions. The second was to practice creating claims that could be argued (the first step in our lesson on writing a thesis statement). They enjoyed the game both times and deemed it a success. As is my custom during game time, I circulated, listening in, and gathering formative assessment data regarding my students’ strengths and weaknesses (one way I knew they needed to review conjunctions). It’s also always interesting to hear their opinions on various topics and the discussions that inevitably ensue between them–great unscripted speaking practice, another bonus! Happy teaching, everyone!


Don’t want to make your own game? Here’re the links to purchase mine, as well as the “dice” script and conjunctions practice activities:

To Be: In The World Series

I’m not a baseball fan, but I’ve had enough friends, colleagues, and students who are to understand at least the basics and to have attended a few games. Yesterday was the first game of the World Series, and even though it’s been a few years since Michigan’s beloved Detroit Tigers have been in the World Series (and even more since they won), I, like most Michiganders, am loyal to our Tigers. One summer my co-teacher and I taught an entire week’s worth of classes themed around baseball vs. cricket and we wore Detroit Tigers shirts every day! (Of course it may have also been a creative excuse to wear t-shirts to school each day…)

The World Series isn’t what really has me turning my thoughts towards baseball though (in truth I had to use Google to find out when it would be), the reason I was thinking about it is because I’m preparing a new-to-me class for next semester, a level one grammar class. Any ESL teacher knows the first grammar subject of any beginner’s level book: present tense to be. I don’t even want to think about how many times I’ve taught this particular grammar structure over the years, let’s just say a lot. When I first started teaching adults, and later middle school, it frustrated me that there were few games and other activities to practice basic grammar and vocabulary, such as present tense to be, designed for older learners. There were lots of cute games that looked like fun, but they were all geared for young children. Eventually I stopped being frustrated and decided to make my own. Am, Is, Are Triple Play was the first of many triple play activities I’ve designed, and one of the first activities I designed ever. It’s been through a few revisions over the years, the most recent of which being a face-lift and conversion to digital last year, but the heart of the game has remained the same.

A triple play activity is an activity that can be played in three different ways. This particular activity has the options of slap, response cards, or task cards. Over time I included board game versions as well, making them quadruple plays, but as this activity is baseball themed, and there’s no such thing as a quadruple play in baseball, so I haven’t changed it. If your students are absolutely in love with board games, you can always use the sentences (task cards) with a random game board and playing pieces to make it into one. For now, let’s just take a look at the three versions of play that do exist with this particular activity.

Slap

Slap

This is a fun whole-class game that all of my students enjoy. It was just a couple weeks ago I played a different version of it with my advanced adults and they wanted to know when we could play again. To play you need signs for each possible answer (for this game I made full page signs with Am, Is, Are on them), sentences missing the possible answers, and some fly swatters.

To play, divide the class into two teams. Each team sends one representative to the front of the room with the team’s fly swatter in hand. The opponents stand, facing the board where you’ve affixed the answer signs (I use strong magnets), fly swatters at the ready. The teacher reads one of the sentences, saying “blank” for the target word. The students then race to slap the sign containing the correct word to complete the sentence. The first student to slap the correct sign (or whoever’s swatter is on the bottom) wins a point for his/her team. The students return to their teams and new representatives are sent forward. It’s a quick, fun way to practice both the target grammar/vocabulary and listening skills.

Response Cards

Response Cards

Response cards are a great way to quickly assess the entire class’ knowledge of a particular grammar topic. They are also a nice quiet listening practice activity for those days when your ears (and head) need a break from all of the noise. All you need is a set of cards with the possible answers for each student.

To proceed with this activity, give each student his/her own set of cards with the possible answers. I highly recommend printing on card stock and laminating for durability and reuse. The teacher reads one of the sentences aloud, saying “blank” for the target word. The students then hold up, word facing towards the teacher, the card containing the correct word to complete the sentence. The teacher can then quickly scan through the cards and get a sense of who is correct, and who is not (you can also make the cards different colors for even faster checks). If you’re practicing grammar/vocabulary that is new to the students, I recommend telling students that no one can raise an answer card until you give the signal. Read the sentence as before, wait a moment, repeat the sentence, wait again, and then give the signal. This will give students more time to think, and reduce the chance students will “know” the answer because they see someone else put it up first. It’s also possible to do this activity by having students write their answers on white boards and show them to you, but that takes a little longer. If you’re looking for a digital means of checking answers, look into Plickers.

Task Cards

Task Cards

Task cards can be used in so many different ways: as cards for board games, student scoot, card scoot, center work, etc. All you need are cards with individual sentences/problems/questions on them and a recording sheet for student answers.

My middle schoolers always liked using task cards as a student scoot activity. I’d spread the cards around the classroom (hanging on walls, sitting on shelves or desks, etc.) and give each student a recording sheet and clip board. The students would then walk around the room, stopping at each card, and recording their answers on the provided sheet. It’s very important to remind them to pay attention to which number card they are looking at and to record their answers in the correct squares! Even when I remind them to do this, there’s usually at least one who doesn’t follow directions and ends up getting nearly every question wrong because he/she wrote the answers in the wrong boxes. My adults prefer to stay in their seats, so I usually give each group of 4-6 students a stack of task cards and enough recording sheets for all group members. They then pick up a card, read it, record their answer, and return the card to the center before taking another. I still remind them each time to pay attention to the card numbers but it’s not nearly as often that one forgets and has problems as a result.

Digital Version

Digital Version

This was also one of the first activities I digitized, and I knew I wanted to see my students’ answers to these particular practice sentences, so the digital task cards that students clicked through weren’t going to work. The need for a digital version of this activity also came long before I learned how to make self-grading digital task cards, with or without drop-down answer options, so I needed another option.

What I decided to do was create a drag-and-drop activity. I shrunk my task cards down a bit and made them the background of each slide (to prevent accidental, or not so accidental, changes). I also added four movable (when in edit mode) baseballs to each slide. The students then read each sentence. To indicate their answer, a baseball was dragged and dropped into the correct glove for each sentence. To check students answers I had to scroll through each slide deck and look at where they placed the baseballs. It was not very convenient, but it also didn’t take nearly as long as I feared it might. Let’s just say if I need to use the digital format of this activity again I’ll probably do another redesign and create self-grading task cards instead.

Am, Is, Are Triple Play is far from the only activity I’ve developed to practice the present tense of to be, but it’s always been a favorite. I recognize that’s likely because it’s one of the first activities I ever developed on my own, but it seems to be consistently popular with my students as well. Here’s hoping next semester’s class enjoys it as much as those of the past. Happy teaching, everyone!


Need some more activities/resources for present tense to be? Try these links:

Need multiple activities? Want a discount? Try one of these bundles:

Interested in more baseball-themed activities? Try these links:

Picture Prompts Board Game

I have not made an official check of all my lesson plans, but I feel as though I teach two things every semester: question/answer formation and cause/effect. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching beginner, intermediate, or advanced students, those two skills seem to come up in every curriculum. I have quite a few activities for teaching both skills, and have written about many of them previously (see Cause and Effect Part 1, Cause and

Effect Part 2, Paint Can Questions, and Beach Ball Questions), but over the summer I had to teach a new-to-me advanced course and realized I didn’t have a pure game that could be used for everyone from beginners to advanced students. Then I got thinking about the two activities I have that use pictures as prompts (Interrogative Images and Cause & Effect Pictures, both free and linked at the end of this post), and I thought, “These could be expanded into a full board game!” After that it wasn’t long before the game was complete.

I used a standard game board, one with boxes that zig zag back and forth across the board. It is the same basic board I used for my Question Land Board Game and several others. Since I’ve saved the board as a template, all I had to do was edit the title and directions areas. In the directions areas I simply placed the key for each version of the game so students would know what question word to use, or whether they were stating a possible cause or effect for their chosen picture.

To get the images for the prompts, I went to Pixaby, a great source for attribution and royalty free images. I chose 24 different images that provided a lot of opportunity for asking questions and talking about what is happening, what might have happened before, and what might happen next. I put the images into a “frame” and set them up four to a page for easier printing.

The final step was to write up directions cards for each version of the game. The directions I came up with are as follows:

Question Words Game

  1. Answer the question asked by the previous player with a complete sentence. Place the picture card at the bottom of the pile.
  2. Roll the number cube to determine which question word you will use.
  3. Take the top card and ask a question about it using the designated question word.
  4. If your question is grammatically correct, move your piece the number of spaces you rolled. If it is not correct, do not move your piece.
  5. Pass the picture card to the next player so he/she can answer the question you asked.

Cause and Effect Game

  1. Roll the number cube to determine if you will state a cause or an effect. (even numbers = cause, odd numbers = effect)
  2. Take the top card and state a possible cause or effect for the picture. Be sure to use a complete sentence.
  3. If the other players agree your sentence is plausible and grammatically correct, move your piece the number indicated on the number cube.
  4. Place the picture at the bottom of the pile.

I used the “frames” of the pictures to frame the directions and again made four to a page. This meant I only had to print a couple of directions pages to have enough for the entire class, rather than one for every group–again cutting down on the printing and cutting I had to do.

To create the digital version of the game, I used the “Dice” Script my husband wrote for me to add the ability to “roll the dice” without leaving the tab (see the post Digital Board Games for more information about the script). The game board featured miniature versions of the photos, but each square was linked to a slide with a larger version for easier viewing. The larger photo slides all have a button to return to the game board.

The directions for the digital version remain basically the same. The only addition was extra instructions to help students know how to use the “Dice” menu, which is very easy. Once again, a key is located on the game board itself to help students know which question word to use, or whether to state a possible cause or effect for the picture. I did let students type their responses into the chat box, rather than state them aloud, which made my older students more comfortable since many had small children at home and did not want to turn on their microphones.

Over the summer I only used the digital version to practice cause and effect. Since returning to in person classes this semester I’ve used the game to practice many skills including question words (beginners), cause and effect chains with transition words (advanced), relative clauses (advanced), and non-defining clauses (advanced). My adult advanced students in particular have enjoyed the game. The last time I pulled it out, they all made comments along the lines of, “Oh, good! That game is so fun!” And it is fun for me as well, listening to the sentences they come up with is highly entertaining. I think my favorite thus far is still, “The bird, which is about to become lunch, does not see the cat.” What I like most of all though is it provides them the opportunity to practice a targeted skill/grammar function without locking them into a particular sentence frame or formulaic response. They are free to select their own vocabulary and take the sentence in any direction they choose, making for much more authentic language production. The game has truly exceeded my expectations for effectiveness, usage, and fun! Happy teaching, everyone!


Here are the links to the different activities mentioned in the post:

Interrogative Images

Cause & Effect Pictures
Picture Prompts Board Game

Escape! The Irregular Verb Grid

The story behind how this particular game came to be is a little convoluted, but it’s a perfect example of how my brain works. One of the games my husband and I like to play is Blokus. One weekend we played a round just for fun. Later that week a friend, who isn’t a teacher, asked me about games she could play with her kids to help them practice basic math skills. I told her about Three In A Row, a fun math game that can be played with just some dice and a hundreds chart. Still later that week, I was preparing a lesson plan about irregular past tense verbs and thinking I needed one more practice game. Somehow all of these events swirled together in my head and I started thinking, why can’t I combine elements of Blokus with elements of Three in A Row to create a new game? The resulting game was Escape!

Escape! The Irregular Verb Grid: Paper Version

Escape! The Irregular Verb Grid is a simple to make and easy to play game. The game board is a 10×10 grid with the present tense form of an irregular verb in each cell. To prepare, simply print out the grids (free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, simply use the link above or click on the picture) and gather your other supplies (all normal classroom materials). I suggest printing the grids on card stock and then laminating them for repeated use. You can use dry erase markers to color the cells (you’ll need one color for each player on the board). You can also print on regular paper and play with crayons or colored pencils, if you choose, but then you’ll need a new grid for each round.

The game can be played in groups of two, three, or four, and each person in the group will need his/her own color. The goal is to move from one side of the board to the other by making past tense sentences with the irregular verbs. Before beginning, each student chooses a side to start from, only one student may start from any given side, and there is no advantage to starting from one side or another. Students then choose a verb, any verb, from the row or column that forms the border of their chosen side. On a student’s turn, he/she will state a past tense sentence using the verb in the cell he/she has selected. If the sentence is grammatically correct (or at least the verb is conjugated correctly), he/she will color in the cell. Once a cell has been claimed, or colored in, by a student, it is not eligible to be used again by anyone. On subsequent turns, students may only select cells that have at least one side touching a cell which he/she has already claimed (and is not already claimed by another student). Of course one wants to reach the opposite side as quickly as possible, which means taking the most direct route, but with other players claiming cells, one will have to make detours and go around previously claimed cells. There is also the challenge of knowing the correct conjugation for the verbs in one’s chosen path, but with up to three verbs eligible to be chosen on any given turn, it’s rare students cannot make a move of some kind–even if it’s not the one they’d prefer.

Escape! The Irregular Verb Grid: Digital Version

Since this game came to be during the time of Covid, I needed a digital version as well. Also free, the Google Slides version of the game is basically the same, but offers an alternative “Bridges” version as well. In the normal Escape! The Digital Irregular Verb Grid game, students do not color in cells, they drag and drop covers from their “infinite” piles. The rest of the play remains the same, though I give students the option of typing their sentences into the chat instead of verbally stating them. This was more comfortable for my adult students who were trying to participate in class while caring for young children at the same time.

In the “Bridges” version, which is on a separate slide, each player is given five “bridges,” smaller covers, they can use to cross over a previously claimed square. Play remains the same, but if a player runs into a particularly large obstacle, or ends up completely blocked from forward progress, he/she can bridge the obstacle and continue on his/her path toward freedom. You can make the game more difficult by deleting bridges from their piles, just remember to delete from all piles equally.

This game has met with great success among my students and I love how easy it is to setup and use. In fact, I like it so much I made another version: Escape! The Question Grid, which I talk about in my post entitled Beach Ball Questions. Are there more versions in the future? Let’s just say I have a level one grammar class, with a new-to-me curriculum, to teach next semester and I think I may want something extra besides my Eggcellent Contractions and Fishing for Contractions activities for our unit on contractions… Happy teaching, everyone!


Need those links for the free Escape! The Verb Grid games again? Here they are:

Want more activities to practice irregular past tense verbs? Check out these fun options:

Or get all three of these verb activities, plus others, at a 20% discount in these bundles:

Homophone Sghoul & Self-Grading Task Cards With Drop Down Menu How To

Even though Christmas items are already starting to take over in stores around me it’s still October and Halloween is next on my calendar. In the past I’ve shared about the Spooky Synonyms bulletin board my students have done and one of our favorite pieces of Halloween literature, but I’m really excited about the treat I have for this year–a trick to make self-grading digital task cards even better!

Homophone Sghoul: Paper Version

The Activity:

Homophone Sghoul, task cards to practice the use of their/there/they’re is the latest spooky craze with my students. In these twenty-four school-themed sentences, students help the ghost choose the correct school (their, there, they’re) to complete the sentence. The cards can be used as task cards, a board game, a slap game, or response cards. If you’re not familiar with these terms, here’s a quick overview of each:

Task Cards: students choose a card, read it, record their answer in the correct box of a paper recording sheet, and then replace the card before choosing another. Some people refer to these cards as “Scoot” and, rather than giving groups of students entire sets of cards, pass out one card to each student. The students then pass the cards from person to person until every student has seen every card. I’ve also used the cards as a student scoot. I hang them around the room, or set them on various flat surfaces, and give each student a recording sheet and clipboard. The students then walk around the room, reading cards and recording their answers, until they’ve completed all of the tasks.

Board Game: use the sentence cards as the game cards. Students draw a card, verbally complete the sentence, and (if correct) roll/move their piece on the game board. I give groups an answer card they can use to check who is correct if a dispute occurs.

Slap: this is a fun whole class game. I use strong magnets to attach large answer signs to the whiteboard. The class is divided into two teams and each team is given a fly swatter. One student from each team comes to the front. I read a sentence and students use the fly swatter to slap the correct word to complete the sentence. The first person to correctly slap the word wins a point for his/her team.

Response Cards: give each student a set of small cards with a single answer on each. Read a single sentence aloud. Students hold up the card with the correct word to complete the sentence. This is a great way to quickly judge which students understand the material and which do not.

Homophone Sghoul Self-Grading Task Cards: Google Sheets
Homophone Sghoul Self-Grading Task Cards: Microsoft Excel

The Digital Version:

Enough about the paper version though, what I’m really excited about is the self-grading digital task card version of the activity. It was August of 2020, that I shared with you how to make self-grading digital task cards using Google Sheets. They work great and both my students and I have enjoyed using them to practice many different skills. The only thing I didn’t particularly like was how students had to spell words exactly right or have them marked incorrect. This was most evident to me when some of my beginning level students were practicing the use of much or many and one student spelled many with an e (meny) on every single “card.” While I do think it’s important for students to practice spelling words correctly, that wasn’t my first priority with this particular activity. It was also a source of frustration for the student, who thought she didn’t understand the lesson (but she actually did–she had used the word many correctly every time). I started thinking about it, trying to find a solution to the problem, and decided to experiment with using a drop down menu, along with the conditional formatting, to create the task cards. It ended up working like a charm and here are the step-by-step directions for creating your own self-grading digital task cards, complete with drop down menu answers.

The How To:

In the original post I gave you step-by-step directions for creating these cards in Google Sheets. This time I’ll give you the directions for using Microsoft Excel to create the cards. The process is similar, but there are slight differences, so I’ll include Sheets-specific directions for creating the drop down menu. The good news is the files transfer well, so it is possible to create in one program and up or download it into the other with minimal effort.

  1. Set up your directions tab.
    • Right click on the first tab at the bottom of your sheet.
    • Click rename and type “directions.” Hit enter.
    • Type directions for the students into the first cell at the top of the page. You can always type a list by placing each subsequent direction in the next cell/row down.
  2. Add more tabs (sheets) to your document.
    • Add a new tab by clicking the + at the bottom of the screen.
    • Rename the tab “1”
    • Add another tab by clicking the +
    • Rename the tab “Answers”
    • Add a third tab by clicking the +
    • Rename the third tab “Grade”
  3. Create your first task card.
    • Click on tab 1.
    • Add pictures and arrange them as you see fit by clicking Insert, Pictures before resizing and dragging/dropping them into position.
    • Choose a cell to be your answer cell
      • Change the color of it by clicking Home and the Paint Can.
      • Also on the Home menu, set the justification for the cell to “center” and adjust the font and font size.
    • The cell directly to the left of the answer cell will become the first half of your sentence/task (everything before the blank on the paper version).
      • Be sure this cell is set to right justification.
      • Adjust the font and size.
      • Type the first half of your sentence.
    • The cell directly to the right of the answer cell will become the second half of your sentence/task (everything after the blank on the paper version).
      • Be sure this cell is set to left justification (should be automatically set to this).
      • Adjust the font and size.
      • Type the second half of your sentence.
  4. Click on the answer cell on your first card (tab 1) and set up the drop down menu.
    • Excel directions for a short list:
      • Click on Data.
      • Click Data Validation
      • Click Data Validation again (in the drop down menu)
      • Under Settings and Allow choose List.
      • Under Settings and Source type your answer options, separate them with commas (in my case I typed: there, their, they’re)
      • Click OK
    • Excel directions for a long list:
      • If you have a long list of answer options you’ll want to create a hidden sheet/tab and type each option into a different cell in a single column.
      • Then, on the sheet where you want to add the drop down menu, click on the cell where the menu will appear.
      • Click on Data
      • Click on Data Validation
      • Click on Data Validation again
      • On the Settings tab under Allow choose List
      • Click the up arrow (source icon) at the end of the Source box.
      • Select your list of items on the hidden sheet.
      • Click OK.
    • Sheets directions:
      • Click on Data
      • Click on Data Validation
      • Under Criteria choose List of Items
      • Enter the items, separated by commas, in the next box.
      • Be sure to click the “Reject input” option for On invalid data
      • Click save
    • If you prefer to see these directions as a video, you can check out these two videos (not mine) on YouTube:
  5. Create more task cards
    • Create enough task cards so you will have one card per sentence/task.
      • Right click on tab 1.
      • Select move or copy
      • Click Create Copy
      • Click on “Answers” in the Before Sheet box (if you forget this step you can always drag and drop the tab later)
      • Click OK
    • Rename each card with ascending numbers.
      • Right click on the new tab.
      • Click Rename
      • Type the appropriate number
      • Hit enter
    • Go to each card and change the image(s) (if desired) and type in the sentence halves for each number.
  6. It’s now time to set up the Answer tab. This is one of the longer parts.
    • In the top row type the words Question, Answer, Points in adjacent columns.
    • Enter numbers in the question tab
      • Click on the first cell under Question
      • Type 1
      • Highlight all the cells 1 to the final answer (I highlighted cells 2-25 for 24 questions total).
      • On the Home menu click Fill, Series (column, linear, step value 1), OK
    • Set up the answers column
      • Click on the first cell under Answer
      • Type =
      • Click on the corresponding question tab at the bottom of the screen
      • Click the answer (colored) cell
      • Click enter
      • Repeat these steps for each of the cells in the answer column
    • Set up the points column
      • Click on the first cell under Points
      • Type =(
      • Click on the corresponding answer cell (should be the cell just to the left)
      • Type = “answer“1,0) **Do not type the word answer though–type the correct answer for the sentence. On my cards I typed either =”their”1,0) or =”they’re”1,0) or =”there”1,0).
      • Hit enter
      • Copy this down the column by grabbing the bottom right corner of the cell (cursor will turn into a +) and dragging down to the last cell in the list.
      • Go back to each cell in the points column and be sure the answer (word in quotation marks) is correct for the given sentence.
    • Add a cell for total score.
      • At the bottom of the Question/Answer/Points column leave one row/cell empty.
      • In the next cell down of the Answer column type Score
      • Click the adjacent cell (Points column)
      • In the Home menu click AutoSum
      • Check that the correct cells are highlighted (only the Points column cells for the sentences/tasks).
      • Hit enter.
    • Add a cell for percentage score.
      • Skip a row after the score cells.
      • In the next cell down of the Answer column type Percent
      • Click the adjacent cell (Points column)
      • Type =
      • Click the cell with the total score (should be two cells above your current cell).
      • Type /# of questions **Do not type the words “# of questions”–type the actual number of questions. On my cards I typed 24 because I had 24 sentences.
      • Hit enter.
      • Click on the cell again.
      • Right click.
      • Click Format cells, Number, Percent, OK.
    • Conditionally format the Answer cells
      • Click on the first cell under the word Answer.
      • On the Home menu click Conditional Formatting
      • Click Highlight Cell Rules
      • Click Text that contains
      • Type the correct answer for that question/sentence
      • Choose the color you want the cell to turn (I chose green)
      • Click OK
    • You will likely want to hide this tab. This allows you to know exactly which questions the students missed, but keeps that information from the students. They will still be able to see their score on the grade tab, and go back to make corrections if they choose, but they will not know exactly which numbers were incorrect. This forces them to actually think about the answers, rather than just click through the options on the drop down menu until the answer registers as correct on the Answers tab.
      • To hide this tab:
        • Right click on Answers at the bottom.
        • Click Hide
      • To reveal this tab (when you are ready to look at it):
        • Right click on any tab at the bottom.
        • Click Unhide
        • Click the name of the tab you want to reveal
        • Click OK
  7. Set up the Grade Tab.
    • Click on the tab Grade.
    • Add any pictures you’d like to have by clicking Insert-Image.
    • Add whatever text you’d like students to see.
    • Choose an empty cell and type the word Score.
    • Skip a row and type the word Percent.
    • Click the cell adjacent to Score
      • Type =
      • Click the Answer tab
      • Click the cell with the total score in it
      • Hit enter
    • Click the cell adjacent to Percent.
      • Type =
      • Click the Answer tab
      • Click the cell with the total percent in it
      • Hit enter

The Wrap Up:

As I shared in my post a little over a year ago, self-grading digital task cards are great. There’s no printing/laminating/cutting to do, students get a lot of good practice with various skills, and teachers still get the formative assessment data they need. Happy teaching, everyone!

Jenga Sentences

Candice and me in China, fresh off the plane and ready to do some teacher training–a time when we jumped together!

If there is one thing every teacher absolutely needs, it is a teacher bestie. This is the person who will either talk or push you off the cliff, or, depending on the day, take your hand and jump with you. I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of amazing teachers over the years, but my teacher bestie is Candice. Candice and I met while working at Pontiac Middle School, and we are both a little crazy. How can you not bond with colleagues when you work for a school that goes by PMS? And the school colors are red and white? We won’t get into the details of the t-shirt debacle of 2016; I’ll just leave it at this, the school slogan for the year was “The time is now…a sense of urgency” and someone decided to add the school initials. With a friendship forged in such an environment, how can the two of us not be a little crazy?

Among the many duties of a teacher bestie is being a sounding board for new teaching ideas. Candice has always been great about listening to the somewhat less than organized random educational brainstorms that pop out of my head. She helps me refine them, think through potential problems, and even tells me flat out when one might be better off left in my head (who do you think helped me think through Collective Noun Spoons?). Since Candice is primarily an educational technology person (though she’s taught all subjects at one point or another), I’m usually the one coming up with new ways to use common household objects and recyclables in lessons, but last year Candice was voluntold into my former position as ESL teacher (and she rocked it!) and she came up with some creative ideas of her own. Today we’d like to share one of them with you: Jenga Sentences.

As you already know, lesson and activity ideas can be inspired by just about anything. This particular idea was inspired when Candice saw an advertisement for the game Jenga. She started thinking about how the game could be used to practice making sentences, texted me some random thoughts, and a short time later we had a plan. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions haven’t allowed us to test out the game yet, but we’re hoping to do so soon.

Preparing the game is relatively simple: buy a Jenga set and use a permanent marker to write words on the blocks. We were thinking of using 15 verbs (in base form, students can conjugate them as needed), 15 nouns/pronouns (could double up some pronouns by putting the masculine and feminine forms on the same block), 10 prepositions, and leaving 14 blocks blank (wild–students could use a dry erase marker to write words of their choice on them). The goal of the game would be for students to form sentences from the words they pulled from the tower. Any block they chose that had a word they didn’t need or want would be placed on the top of the tower, just as in regular play. If a student is able to form a complete sentence before the tower falls, he/she is the winner. If the tower falls before anyone forms a sentence, all students lose and must start over.

We discussed the possibility of giving students cards listing the parts of speech they would be required to use in their sentence, but weren’t sure about it. I have a commercial game, Cooking Up Sentences, that uses recipe cards to do this, and it is far more difficult than one would imagine. My students always preferred playing the game without the recipe cards and just forming their own, often very silly, sentences. If we were to do this, we thought it would be good to paint the ends of the blocks (blue for nouns, green for verbs, etc.) so students knew which part of speech they were extracting. By the end of the discussion we decided adding cards with prescribed parts of speech would be easy to do later and we’d prefer to try the game without them first.

The other possibility we discussed was having different levels of the game. We could incorporate more parts of speech (adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions…) and/or vocabulary from our lessons for more practice. This was also an idea we decided to put on hold for now because the only way we could envision it working would be to add blocks to the game (combine Jenga sets to form larger starting towers) or eliminate the wild blocks, neither of which we were prepared to do at this point (and both of which would be easy enough to do later).

As I said earlier, Covid prevented us from ever actually trying the game with students. Just after we were talking through the various aspects of the game, the Covid rules and restrictions changed again. Then this year Candice moved back to a technology position and the game hasn’t fit in with the courses I’m teaching. Next semester I’m teaching a level one grammar and writing course, so maybe I’ll get the opportunity to try the game with those students. In the meantime, if any of you have the opportunity to try out Candice’s idea, you can let us know how it goes! Happy teaching, everyone!

Body Parts

Whenever I have to teach vocabulary for parts of the body I end up feeling as though I’m some kind of strange model, or playing a twisted game of Simeon Says, or doing the Hokey Pokey…or some weird combination of all three! Let’s just say it’s always an adventure teaching this very necessary vocabulary. Through the years I’ve tried a lot of different activities, these are some that have become favorites.

Body Part Magnets

This is a simple activity to practice labeling the most basic body parts. I printed the pictures of the students (be aware they print on ledger size, 17″x11″, paper) and laminated them. I then printed the body part labels, laminated them, and attached magnets to the back of each. I placed magnets on the student pictures that corresponded to the body parts. Students then placed the labels on top of the correct body parts. If you don’t want to do magnets, Velcro would work as well.

Body Drawings

This activity requires a partner and some thoughtful setup. I recommend you tell students ahead of time they will be laying on the floor and tracing one another so they can choose their clothing appropriately. I also suggest you allow students to choose their own (same gender) partners so they’ll be more comfortable. You will need a large sheet of paper (I use bulletin board paper supplied by the school or large rolls of craft paper) for each student. The paper needs to be at least a little longer than the student is tall. Students take turns laying on the paper while a partner traces a rough outline around their body. After completing the rough outlines, students tidy up the silhouettes and add in details such as eyes, nose, fingernails, ears, clothes, etc. Finally, students label as many body parts as they can (including eyelashes, earlobe, fingernail, etc.). Students tend to get very detailed in their labels and have a lot of fun looking up words such as “pinky finger” and “nostril.” The finished products make for fun classroom displays!

Sort Cards: Paper

Sort Cards

We also do more traditional activities such as sort cards. Students match the picture cards to the name cards for 35 different body parts. Besides the matching activity, we also use these as flashcards, prompt cards for Body Boggle, and to play a Memory-style game. Sometimes we’ll even adapt the math fact practice game Around the World for a fun speed competition. When we were fully online I transformed this into a drag-and-drop activity so my students could still practice their vocabulary.

Clip Cards: Paper

Clip Cards

Another practice activity I was surprised my older students would like is clip cards. Students look at the picture in the center of the card and clip a clothes pin over the correct word. Maybe it’s the fact that middle schoolers enjoy clipping the clothes pins to their fingers, noses, ears, and other body parts, but they always seem to enjoy working with clip cards. These also make a great center activity–place a big basket of clothes pins and sets of the cards in the center and let students clip away. Students can check one another’s efforts or you can do it yourself later.

Parts of the Body Board Game

Board Game

Board games are always popular with my students, and this one is no exception. In this game, students draw a card before rolling the die. If the card has a picture of a body part on it, the student must name the body part. If the card has the name of a body part on it, the student must point to it on his/her own body. If successful, the student rolls the die and moves his/her piece. This game was yet another one I converted to digital, though it (unlike most of my games) requires students to leave their cameras on so their classmates can check if they are pointing to the correct body part or not.

To go along with these activities I have others such as magnet spelling strips, spinners, worksheets, and more. They are my standard vocabulary practice activities and are more completely described in the post Vocabulary Activities. These activities are bundled together into a discounted single download (also includes the sort cards, clip cards, and board game) and a digital version is also available.

Are there other activities out there? Absolutely! I’ve even tried quite a few of them, but these are the ones I’ve found to be the most successful on at least two levels: students like them and they result in vocabulary acquisition. I’m sure other activities are just as good, but by the time we finish with all of these activities and worksheets my students have a good grasp of body part vocabulary and don’t need much further practice. Does that mean I’ll never become inspired and create something new? Well, let’s just say you don’t know me very well if you think that! 🙂 Happy teaching, everyone!