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!

Conjunctions: The Tie That Binds

Am I the only one who hears, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words…” every time someone mentions conjunctions? As we all know, conjunctions are the words that hold our sentences together, the tie that binds words, phrases, and clauses into compound and complex sentences. Since my beginning level students often struggle to choose the correct conjunction (and, but, or, so), I decided to make a fun practice activity.

The Tie That Binds: Conjunctions is a set of 48 simple sentences that can be combined using one of the four main conjunctions (and, but, so, or). I wanted this activity to be versatile and we have five (six if you count the new digital version) different ways of using these cards.

Scoot Recording Sheet

Scoot: I designed the activity so the 48 sentences can be printed as 24 task cards with a pair of sentences on each card (see image in physical sort version below), or as 48 task cards with one sentence per card (cut the dotted line between the sentences). When we do this activity as a scoot, I pass out the 24 task cards with two sentences on each. Students then read the two sentences and, on their recording sheets, write a single sentence that uses a conjunction to combine the original sentence pair. This is particularly good practice for slightly more advanced students since they actually need to combine the sentences, deciding which words to keep and/or leave out. Less proficient students can simply write the conjunction they would use to combine the sentences, rather than the entire new sentence.

Physical Sort

Physical Sort: To do a physical sort, all students are given a set of 24 task cards, each with two sentences on them. Each group of 4-6 students is also given four containers labeled AND, BUT, OR, SO (paper plates or small plastic baskets work well). Students then read the sentence pairs and place each task card into the basket representing the conjunction that would best combine them. Pro tip: print each set of cards on different color cardstock, this allows you to quickly sort out the different sets of cards after multiple students toss them into the same baskets.

Four Corners

Four Corners: In this activity the students do all of the moving. I place a large conjunction sign in each corner of the classroom. I then read out the two sentences from a single task card (for lower proficiency students I also put the card on the document camera and display the sentences on the board for them to read along with). Students then move and stand in the corner representing the conjunction that would best combine the sentences. The final step is to ask for a volunteer to verbally combine the two sentences using the correct conjunction.

Response Cards

Response Cards: This version of the activity is a great way to quickly assess the entire class’ use of the four conjunctions without having to look at individual papers or worrying about students simply following the crowd (as in four corners). I give each student a set of four cards (as pictured here). I then read/display a task card with two sentences on it. Students hold up the card with the best conjunction to combine the two sentences. This works best if you tell students not to hold up their card until you give the signal. Read the sentences, wait a few seconds, then give the signal. The wait time gives students time to think and make a decision, rather than just look at what card everyone else is holding up and follow suit. This can also be done using whiteboards: students can either write the correct conjunction on the board or write a single sentence that combines the original two.

Match & Join

Match & Join: My favorite way to do this activity takes a bit more planning, but it visually reinforces the idea that conjunctions join two sentences together. To prepare, I cut the task cards into 48 cards with a single sentence on each and punched a single hole into each card. I then created my conjunction rings by printing the conjunctions on address labels, wrapping them around binder rings, and sticking them together to form a flag. I gave each student (or pair of students, depending on numbers) a set of sentence cards and a supply of conjunction rings. Students then matched the sentences (a numbered sentence with an unnumbered sentence) and used the correct conjunction ring to bind them together. This version was the most work for me to create, but it is a lot of fun and the physical representation helps to reinforce the purpose of conjunctions.

Digital Task Cards

Digital Version: As with just about every other activity I’ve ever used, I needed a digital version for this past year. Since there was no way to get physical materials to my students I decided on a set of self-grading digital task cards (directions for making your own in this post). Each “card” has the two sentences, two pictures (one for each sentence), and a combined sentence that is missing its conjunction. Students type the conjunction into the indicated cell and it is automatically added to the answer sheet at the end. The answer sheet (can be hidden) is conditionally formatted to grade the answers and sends the final number/percentage correct to a grade sheet for a quick reference. These digital task cards are available in both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel formats.

As I said in the beginning, I primarily use The Tie That Binds with my beginning to low intermediate students. When working on conjunctions with my intermediate and advanced students I tend to play Compounding Conjunctions, a board game practicing forming compound sentences with conjunctions (and, but, so, because). I’m really excited to be using these games in person again this semester and am looking forward to hearing what this semester’s group of students thinks about them. Happy teaching, everyone!

Need some of those links again? Here they are:

Fishing for Contractions

I do not fish, at least not in real life. My father and grandfather used to take me when I was younger, but shortly after entering elementary school they decided I was old enough to bait my own hook and that was the beginning of the end for me. Pushing wiggly worms onto a hook? No, thank you. I continued to fish, using bread as bait, but it wasn’t too much longer before I had to start taking what I caught off the hook for myself, and mention was made of teaching me how to clean what I caught. Having to scale and gut fish was not something I ever envisioned myself doing, so I avoided having to do it by never catching another fish.

I do, however, fish in my classroom. My students and I play several different fishing-themed games, including Fishing for Contractions. There are several different ways of playing this game in the physical classroom, but today I’ll limit myself to two. Both methods require a collection of fish with contractions on half, and the words that can form a contraction on the other half (Pixaby is a great place to get royalty free clip art). You can purchase a PDF of the set I use by clicking the link above or the button to the side. I printed mine on white cardstock, cold laminated them (so the lamination wouldn’t peel when I cut through it), and then cut them out. You will need one set of fish for each group of students. We usually play in groups of 3-4, but it is possible with pairs or groups of 5-6. Once your fish are ready, you need to decide what type of pond you will use. This decision will affect how your students play the game.

The way I always envisioned playing the game was never feasible for the classroom setups I had. I really think it would be fun to actually fish for the contractions. I wanted to get magnetic fishing poles (with older students I’d have had to make my own by tying magnets to sticks or something similar) and thought I could make the fish magnetic by adding a jumbo paperclip over the mouth area. Then I planned to get a small inflatable wading pool and toss all of the sets of fish into it, mixing them all together. Then students could stand around the pool, cast into it, pull out a fish, and name either the contraction (if the fish had two words on it) or the words that made up the contraction. When they were correct, they added the fish to their catch bag. If they were incorrect, the fish would be thrown back into the “pond” to be caught again later. But, as I said, my classroom environments were never conducive to this plan, so I came up with an alternative that was easier on storage, the budget, and logistically.

I ended up making my own “ponds” by painting oatmeal containers. I am not an artist, so my “pond” looks a little funny, but the general idea is communicated. I painted one “pond” for each group. Before students arrived, I dumped one set of fish into each pond. To play, students reach into the pond and pull out a single fish. If they can correctly name and spell the contraction the two words would form, or the two words which make up the contraction, they keep the fish. If they are incorrect, the fish gets tossed back into the pond for later. This method may not be as dramatic, but it is still fun, and students seem to enjoy the activity (and I suspect my adults would prefer this particular version over the first anyway).

This past school year I, along with many others, was teaching online and needed a digital version of the activity. I ended up designing a game in Google Sheets and my husband coded a dice script into it for me. To play the game, I made a copy for each pair of students and gave them editing rights. Students were then able to type the contractions for the words indicated and, if correct (squares turn green when correct), “roll” the “dice” to see how many “casts” they got into the fishing pond for their points. Since this is a practice game I did not take a grade, so students did not need to return the completed game to me. Here’s a video showing how the game works to help you get a better idea:

Even though I’ve never been able to play this game the way I originally envisioned it, it’s still a fun game. I use the “ponds” for other games as well, so the time spent painting them was well worth it. If you make your own Fishing for Contractions game let me know how your students like it. Happy teaching, everyone!

Looking for another contractions activity? Check out this blog post from last March, this Green Eggs and Ham activity, and this bundle with all of these activities plus an extra one.

Want another fishing-themed activity? Maybe for math? Check out this blog post from last August and this parts of speech game.

Body Boggle

As you can read in my bio, I am an adjunct professor and currently teach adults (or almost adults). It was in 2018 that I very reluctantly gave up my first love, teaching middle school, to move into this section of education, and I enjoy it quite a bit. What you can’t read in my bio is that I very briefly taught K-3 ESL. I am a middle school teacher who is happy working with adults, but when I moved back to the USA the only position available was K-3, so I took it (the next year I was promoted to head of program and my first act was to reassign myself to middle school and hire the best little people teacher I could find). That was quite the year and I learned a lot. I was constantly searching for new activities and games to engage my students, and get some of their limitless energy out of them. Body Boggle was one of our favorite games. Now, before my fellow middle school and above colleagues move on, let me assure you–Body Boggle has also been popular with my middle schoolers, and even my adults. I just don’t have any pictures of them playing because they made me solemnly swear to never take or share any. I can assure you though that the competition among my older students was much fiercer and there were more than a few times they requested the game!

Body Boggle is a very simple, virtually no-prep game to play. It’s perfect as a movement break and even Covid-regulations friendly (as long as you don’t allow team jumping, which is something my middle schoolers came up with and I’ll explain at the end). All that is required is some form of a alphabet mat. When I started playing the game I was doing pull-out instruction and did not have a classroom of my own. I taught wherever I could find an empty spot, often in the hallway, so I needed something very portable. Therefore, a foam puzzle play mat was my playing board of choice. You could also use an alphabet rug, or even circles with the alphabet written on it, anything that can be laid on the floor and stepped/jumped upon will work. Lay your playing board out on the floor, grab your spelling or vocabulary list, and you’re ready to play!

The first student stands anywhere along the side of the playing area. You call out a spelling word and he/she then steps onto the first letter of the word, jumps to the second letter, jumps to the third letter, and so forth. So if the spelling word is “cat,” the student would step on C, jump to A, jump to T, and then jump off the playing area. Students who correctly spell the word get a point. Students who are able to jump to all the letters, in order, without touching any other letters, get a second point.

My older learners also like playing Body Boggle to practice their vocabulary words. I will either show them a picture representation of the word (I use the picture half of our sort card activities) or read them a definition of the word. The student then has to state the word and jump out the spelling. They are given one point for knowing the correct word, one point for correctly spelling it, and one point for jumping without touching any extra letters. It makes for a fun, and more active, alternative to another of their favorite games, Spin & Spell.

This game was perfect for the end of the year! I’d take the students outside and we’d play on the sidewalk or in an empty corner of the parking lot. Since we were outside I didn’t even use my traditional playing mat, instead I used sidewalk chalk to draw out a grid and label it. I’d grab our vocabulary lists for the entire year and the students would play in teams. Sometimes they’d even jump as a team, with the first person stepping onto the first letter, the second person onto the second, and so on until the first person had to jump to the next letter in the word. That was especially challenging because they had to make their jumps with 2-3 other people on the playing surface, but they loved the challenge (especially my middle school boys)! It was a great way to review an entire year’s worth of vocabulary, keep them engaged after testing, and a perfect excuse to get out and enjoy the nice weather after a long winter. Give the game a try, I bet your students will enjoy it as much as mine do. Happy teaching, everyone!

My older learners love playing Body Boggle with their vocabulary words. My new arrivals who were just learning to read and write for the first time (they couldn’t read or write in their first language) asked to play it almost every week. I’d show them the picture sort card from our phonics based vocabulary unit for the week, and they’d name the word and jump out the correct spelling.

Digital Scattergories

A long-time favorite game of my students is Scattergories. We’ve enjoyed it as a warm up, time filler, and just for fun on game days. It’s a great way to get the brain juices flowing and practice vocabulary. The game is easily adaptable for different proficiency levels, making it perfect for an ESL classroom. When playing with beginning level students I extend the time and/or do away with the letter requirement. Having extra time, and being able to start their words with any letter, allows my beginning students to concentrate on vocabulary and nothing else. As the proficiency level of my students increases, I reduce the rule modifications. We shorten the allotted time to write answers (until my advance students are playing with the standard timer). I adjust the required starting letter constraints (from no required letter, to one of two or three letters, to the standard rules). Ultimately my advanced students play by the standard Scattergories rules.

After over a year of being online, we’ve all gotten a lot more creative with playing games. There are online options for playing Scattergories, such as the Swellgarfo Scattergories List Generator, but none of them were as adaptable as I wanted. I knew I could always simply share my own screen with a list of categories while students wrote on paper, but I wasn’t thrilled with that idea either. Many of my students still struggle with utilizing online tools such as forms and collaborative documents/presentations, so I try to give them as much low-risk practice as possible. I considered using some kind of shared document, slide, or whiteboard, but then students could potentially see one another’s answers. I finally settled on using Google Forms for several reasons (given here in no particular order):

  1. Anyone on the internet can complete a Google Form, no Google account is necessary.
  2. I have multiple options for sharing the form. I can email students, post a link on our LMS, put a link in the chat feature, create a QR code for students to scan…
  3. I’m able to control when people can and cannot submit answers using the Accepting Responses button. This means more technological students don’t have an advantage, I can turn off Accepting Responses until I tell students to begin. Then with a single click of the button on my end, students are able to start working on their form. Shortly before time will be called, I warn students that they have 10 seconds left and remind them to hit the submit button. Then, once time is up, I turn off Accepting Responses, and no more responses will be accepted.
  4. Student answers are organized by question and easy to display by sharing my screen. We can go question by question, see who had the same answers for each category, and add up our points. One advantage of this, if you have a group of students very concerned about cheating (not my current situation, but I did spend quite a few years in middle school), is everyone sees everything–no one can claim someone else changed an answer or added a late response.
  5. I can quickly make new forms or reuse the old. To reuse an old form I simply delete the responses and resend it out.
  6. I am fully in control of required (or not) letters, time limit, and even categories. The game is 100% customizable and, since I also control when a form is accepting responses, students can’t start a round early while I am explaining the parameters of the competition.

I happen to own a copy of the now out of print Scattegories Junior, and often use its lists for our games. There are times though that I make my own sets, particularly when we have a theme or unit topic that I want to focus our vocabulary practice on. The button above has a force a copy link for a Scattergories round I created titled At School. When you click the link you’ll be prompted to sign into your Google account (if you’re not already signed in) and asked if you want to make a copy. Click the blue Make a Copy button and it will be added to your Google Drive.

If you decide to try Scattergories in Forms, there is one tip you’ll want to remember: don’t make any of the questions required. Forms are not able to be submitted until all required questions have been answered. You don’t want your students missing out on being able to participate because they couldn’t think of an answer to one or more categories. You also don’t want them having to waste valuable thinking/typing time by placing some type of response in every box. I’m still working the kinks out of this particular digitized activity, but thus far it seems to be working well. Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you! Happy teaching, everyone.

Game Smashing: Silly Shorts

Silly Shorts: Digital Version
Silly Shorts: Paper Version

Have you heard of app smashing? App smashing is when you use more than one app in order to accomplish a single purpose. According to the Edpuzzle blog, the term was first used in 2013, but I believe the concept has been around for much longer. I may not have been app smashing when I first started teaching (probably because I started teaching in the dark ages before everyone had a computer in their pocket), but I was certainly combining different tools in order to create a single educational experience. Today I’m coining my own term, game smashing, the use of more than one game in order to accomplish a single purpose.

Using elements of different games or activities to make a new one is nothing new, at least for me. My blog last week, Collective Noun Spoons, is a great example. I combined noun flashcards with the card game Spoons, to provide my students with the opportunity to practice singular, plural, and collective nouns. For this post, let’s leave the world of grammar and vocabulary behind and venture into another popular topic in the world of ESL: spontaneous speaking practice.

Everyone agrees students need to practice speaking more, and we try to give them as many opportunities as possible, but so often the speech produced lacks authenticity. It is either too planned/rehearsed, too formulaic, or just plain too read off of cards or game spaces. I want my students to practice speaking without being forced to use a particular grammatical structure (though this is need too, and we play a lot of games where they do have to use a specific grammatical structure) or a specific set of words. The problem is: what should they talk about? Anyone who’s ever lead a conversational group/class knows it’s not enough to simply sit down and expect the words to flow naturally. People need something to talk about, at least initially. I’ve also noticed that my students have the most authentic, and the most fluent, practice when they’re not focused solely on their speaking. If I can get their attention at least partially off of the speaking and onto something else, such as a game, they relax and produce much more natural and fluid language.

I tried using commercial games such as The Storybook Game and Silly Sentences, but none of them engaged my students the way I’d hoped. Some were too childish for my teenage and adult students, others didn’t allow for as much spontaneous language, and still others the students just plain hated. I was once again pondering this problem as I cleaned out (OK, rearranged, cleaned out implies I got rid of things) my teaching supplies. At the bottom of a box of things I’d forgotten about, I found my Story Cubes and Story Cubes Actions dice sets, things I’d once used to help students get ideas for their writing. I got to thinking these dice could also be used to generate speech, but simply rolling some dice and talking wasn’t enough to create the gamification that produced the best results for my students. The next shelf held the answer: several sets of classic children’s games, including Chutes and Ladders. My next thought was, “Why can’t I combine the Story Cubes with the board and dice from Chutes and Ladders to create a new game?” Thus, Silly Shorts was born.

Students roll the Story Cubes, speak, roll the number cube, and move along the Chutes and Ladders board, trying to be the first to the top. The game is perfect and can be easily adapted for any proficiency level. Lower proficiency students can use fewer story dice and share only a sentence or two. Advanced students can use more story dice and make use of the timer function on their phone to speak for 30-60 seconds. It’s simple to set up, uses things I already have, and produces a lot of relatively authentic speaking practice. The students have a lot of fun with it, and since they’re free to make up whatever stories they choose, there’s generally a lot of laughter and excited interjections from their classmates, meaning everyone gets practice–not just the person who’s turn it is.

Want to try playing this game with your students but don’t have all the pieces? No problem, when I reached a point where my class sizes were too big for the supplies I had, I made my own version of Silly Shorts. The pdf download includes a game board and two different options for getting the starting values (character, setting, object). Students can either roll dice (I suggest three different dice of different colors, one for each: character, setting, object) and check the reference cards, or you can use the included templates to print cd labels and build your own cd spinners (free building plans available). Students then use the designated character, setting, and object to form their sentence or story and, if successful, roll a number cube and move their piece.

Of course 2020 threw yet another curve ball at us and I had to take Silly Shorts digital. My husband wrote me a story “dice” script for Google Slides and now students can generate their character, setting, and object with just a couple of clicks. We have different ways of playing digital games (I explain them in this blog post, just scroll past the video), but since the goal of this game is speaking, we always take turns and use audio responses, not text.

Somehow I doubt the term game smashing is going to catch on, but that’s ok. I just love listening to my students as they practice their English and have fun doing it. Do you ever game smash in your classroom? If not, give it a try and see how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!

Collective Noun Spoons

Singular-Plural-Collective Spoons Card Game

Want more noun practice games and activities? Check out my Noun Practice Bundle:

My cousins and I used to play Spoons at almost every family gathering. The evening would start normally, with food and a lot of talking, but eventually someone would raid the silverware drawer and pull out a deck of cards. It was then the attitude of the room took a turn and it became everyone for him or herself. Let’s just sum up the following events by saying we used more than our fair share of Band-Aids and multiple spoons were harmed in the making of our fun.

If you’ve never played Spoons, you’re likely quite confused by my reminiscing. Why would you need Band-Aids to play a game? How can playing a game damage spoons? For a full explanation of how to play, see the rules on Bicycle Cards’ website, but I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version. The game is played with a deck of cards and spoons. The total number of spoons is one fewer than the number of players. The object of the game is to collect four-of-a-kind and sneak a spoon from the center of the table. Once the first person takes a spoon, the object becomes ensuring you are not the person left without a spoon when the frenzy of grabbing dies down. Whoever is found to be without a spoon receives a letter, and the first person to collect enough letters to spell S-P-O-O-N-S is out of the game. Competition to grab a spoon can get quite fierce, and just because you have your hand on a spoon doesn’t mean it’s yours. If someone else can grab it and yank it away, they will…at least that’s how my cousins and I always played.

How does all of this relate to collective nouns and education? Recently, I was texting with a friend about an educational application for a common game she was thinking through (I’m hoping she’ll write a guest blog post about it soon!). The biggest hurdle we were trying to overcome was the cost of the game (almost $15 for one set and she’d need a set for every 4 students). That got me thinking about cheap games, which lead to thinking about Spoons, which lead to remembering the large number of them I have in my “I don’t know how or when but I’m sure I’ll need this for school someday” supplies. (If you’re thinking I’m a hoarder, my husband will assure you I’m not. And may I remind you of other games/activities that have resulted from my “someday” supplies? Games/Activities such as Paint Can Questions, Spin & Spell, and Eggcellent Contractions.) That week I just happened to be teaching nouns and once again my students were struggling with the collective form. Then the various thoughts in my head eventually collided and merged into, “Wouldn’t it be fun to play Spoons with nouns?” A little more thinking, a few more texts to my former colleague, and Singular-Plural-Collective Noun Spoons was born.

The object: Try to collect a noun triplicate (singular, plural, collective form of the same noun). Once a triplicate is collected, that player takes a spoon from the center of the table (he/she can be sneaky about it, taking the spoon and continuing to play). After one player has taken a spoon, all other players race to get a spoon as well. The player without a spoon gets a letter. Any player who spells S-P-O-O-N is out. The last player standing is the winner.

Materials: To play, you can use any set of noun flash cards that includes the singular, plural, and collective forms. I made my own, and you can purchase them (along with directions for playing Spoons) in my Teachers Pay Teachers or Amazon stores. You will also need spoons. You’ll need one fewer than the total number of people in each group; so if you have 28 students in groups of four, that’s seven groups, three spoons per group, a total of 21 spoons. While it is possible to play with plastic spoons, I highly recommend using metal spoons. The plastic ones tend to break with more energetic groups and can have sharp edges when they do. You can get cheap metal spoons at dollar stores, Salvation Army, Good Will, garage sales, and a host of other places. One other thing that may be helpful to students, but is not absolutely required, is a reference handout of the various noun forms. I made one to go with my noun cards and you can download it for free using the button above.

How to play:

1. Place the spoons in the center of the group, use one less spoon than the number of people in the group (so a group of four students would use three spoons).

2. Deal out three cards to all players. Players look at their own cards but no one else’s.

3. Place all remaining cards in a face-down pile next to the dealer.

4. The dealer picks up the top card, looks at it, and decides to keep it or pass it.

5. The dealer passes 1 card (either the one from the pile or one from his/her hand) to the person on his/her right.

6. As cards are passed, students look at them one at a time, and pass one card (either the one viewed or one from the hand) to the next player. The last player places the cards in a discard pile next to him/her.

7. If the draw pile runs out, pause and reshuffle the discard pile to form a new draw pile.

8. Once a player has collected a noun triplicate (singular, plural, collective form of the same noun), he/she takes a spoon from the center of the table. It is acceptable, even encouraged, to be sneaky about it, continuing to play if no one sees the player do it.

9. After one player has taken a spoon, all other players race to grab a spoon as well.

10.  One player will not be able to grab a spoon. That player receives a letter.

11. Any player who collects all of the letters to spell S-P-O-O-N is out of the game.

12. The last player in the game is the winner.

Knowing that not every student will be interested in playing such an energetic, competitive game, I did consider and devise a set of alternate rules. This alternate play version also has the advantage of not requiring any spoons, so you can play the game even if you don’t have a set of random spoons laying around.

Object: Collect noun triplicates (singular-plural-collective form of the same noun) and be the player with the lowest score at the end of the game.

How to play:

1. Shuffle the cards and deal out three cards to each player. Players may look at their own cards only. Place remaining cards face down in the center of the table. Turn the top card over, place it face up next to the draw pile to form a discard pile.

2. The first player takes a card to form a hand of four cards. He/she may choose the top card from either the discard or draw pile.

3. The first player discards a card to bring his/her hand back down to three cards.

4. The second player then takes his/her turn by taking and discarding a card.

5. When a player has collected a noun triplicate (singular-plural-collective form of the same noun), he/she lays down all three cards in front of him/her and discards a final time.

6. All remaining players get one more turn to try and form a triplicate.

7. Score the round by giving players points for the three cards remaining in their hand: Singular nouns = 1 point; Plural nouns = 2 points; Collective nouns = 3 points. Any player who successfully collects a noun triplicate scores zero points for the round.

Whether or not this particular idea falls into the category of “educational genius” or “should have stayed in my head” is yet to be finally determined. Early indicators are for the former, but we’ll have to wait for the end of social distancing regulations and the ban on materials sharing to be lifted for more testing. Happy teaching, everyone!

Love the idea of playing spoons with your students? Why not practice compound nouns with the same game?