Perfect Practice Makes Perfect (Tenses)

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

Present Perfect Cover Up

Present Perfect Cover Up

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

Past Perfect Travel Adventure Game

Past Perfect Travel Adventure

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

Progressive / Perfect Pronoun Pursuits Game

Progressive/Perfect Pronoun Pursuits

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

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

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

Where Do I Need To Go?

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

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

Directions Around My Town

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Adjective Hunt

Adjectives are not something that can be taught in a single lesson or even unit. They require constant review and expansion of knowledge. Thankfully, the study and practice of adjectives is something that can make a good basis for a lesson when you have mixed proficiency classes. I have a lot of different activities I that I do with my students involving adjectives, and all of them can be adjusted based on student proficiency. Some of the activities that I’ve shared about in the past are:

Picture Prompts–paper
Picture Prompts–digital

Picture Prompts Game

Picture Prompts is a game I originally developed to practice cause and effect or questions words, but I’ve used it for about a hundred other things since. One of those things is practicing adjectives. I vary the requirements based on students’ proficiency level. Beginning students simply state a single adjective and noun (white dog). Lower intermediate students will form a sentence describing a noun with the be verb (The dog is white.). Upper intermediate students will form a sentence describing a noun without a be verb, or possibly with multiple adjectives (The strong white dog jumps in the water.). Advanced students will use multiple adjectives and form sentences with multiple clauses (The strong white dog, which belongs to my brother, is trying to catch the hard brown stick.).

Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag–paper
Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag–digital

Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag Game

This was one of the first games I ever developed for practicing adjectives. Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag is more challenging than Picture Prompts because students are required to think of their own noun, as well as an adjective to describe it. It can be very difficult for lower proficiency level students to think of nouns that begin with a particular letter, so I often allow them to roll the letter cube more than once if necessary. In general though, I adapt the game for various proficiency levels in the same manner as Picture Prompts, but will sometimes add in an extra challenge for my intermediate to advanced students. I’ll ask them to alliterate their answer by using an adjective and noun that begin with the letter rolled, not just one or the other.

Appetizing Adjectives

Often our cumulative project after a full unit about adjectives, Appetizing Adjectives is still one of my students’ favorite projects of the year. Recently, we’ve taken to playing a board game version of Appetizing Adjectives before working on the various versions of our final project. It’s a fun way to get warmed up before diving into our summative assessment.

All of these activities are great, but today I’d like to share with you about an intermediate project/assessment that I sometimes use before Appetizing Adjectives, or when I don’t have the time or need for a full unit on adjectives: Adjective Hunt.

Adjective Hunt

Similar to Picture Perfect Prepositions, Adjective Hunt is a scavenger hunt type activity that requires little to no preparation and few materials. The only preparation is creating a list of 5-10 adjectives students already know and gathering some common materials. In fact, I suspect most, if not all of you, have all of the materials you need in your classrooms already. The materials you’ll need are white copy paper, glue sticks, scissors, markers, and magazines or catalogs students can cut up.

In class, give each student a list of adjectives and access to the required materials. If you want all students to work off the same list, you can save time and paper by displaying it on the board. You can also provide each student with a different list in order to provide variety to answers or different levels of challenge for differing proficiency levels. Another option is to provide a longer list (20-30 adjectives) and give students a particular number of required adjectives to use.

Students then look through the magazines and catalogs, hunting for pictures of things they can describe with one or more of the target adjectives. When students find such an image, they cut it out, glue it to a piece of copy paper, and start writing. What I require students to write depends again on their proficiency level. Typically, I follow the same requirements as with the games, beginning with two-three word labels and advancing to simple and then more complex sentences.

How long this activity takes depends mostly on how many adjectives students are required to use. When I have the time, I prefer to take a full two to three class periods and do approximately ten adjectives per student. When I’m short on time, I’ll shorten the list to five, or even three, adjectives and complete the activity/assessment in a single class period.

As with the Picture Perfect Prepositions activity, I like Adjective Hunt because it allows me to see how well students understand the meaning of various adjectives. Students enjoy the freedom of being able to choose their own images and compose their own sentences. They also enjoy seeing their work displayed in the classroom. Then the fact that it can be adapted and used for multiple proficiency levels simultaneously is a wonderful thing as well! While I don’t expect anyone to give me a creative teaching award for this particular lesson, it is one I’ve used successfully many times and highly recommend. Give it a try with your students and let me know how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!

Adverbial Fractions & Percentages

What if I told you there was a way you could teach frequency adverbs and changing percentages into fractions with the same activity? Perhaps even in the same day (depending on how much time you have with students, though I recommend spreading it over two days).

That would be amazing, right? I have good news for you: it’s possible and I’m going to share with you all the details so you can give it a try yourself.

Frequency Adverbs

To start, teach or review the frequency adverbs with your students. I like to use this free poster/handout that uses percentages to represent the various frequency adverbs. Once students are familiar with the terms, it’s time to practice them by talking about our habits.

I have an activity/game set that I like to use when practicing frequency adverbs. The entire set is called Adverbs of Frequency: How Often Do You? There are five different activities in the set, but all reference the same 12 life activities: ride the bus, watch TV, read a book, eat breakfast, drink coffee, eat dessert, exercise, get a haircut, talk on the phone, go to the movie theater, take vitamins, and grocery shop.

I decide which of the five different activities I want to use based on which would be best for a particular group of students. The activity options are:

  • Scoot: I place full size frequency adverb posters in five different areas of the room. Students then move (scoot) to the correct area when I call out or show an activity. I then call on one or two students to express their frequency responses in a complete sentence (i.e.: I rarely ride the bus.).
  • Clip It: I give each student five different colors of clothes pins, one for each different adverb of frequency (this can also be done with sticky notes), and place the large activity cards around the room. Students move around the room, placing their clothes pins on each card to represent how often they do each activity. I find it helps students if I put a color key on the board for them to reference as they go. After students have finished, we discuss how often the majority of the class does each activity.
  • Sort It: I supply each group of students with five different colored containers (large plastic cups or paper plates work well), one color for each frequency adverb. I also provide each group of four to six students with a set of small activity cards. Students take turns drawing a card and expressing in a complete sentence how often they do that activity before placing it into the corresponding container.
  • Roll It: I give each group of four to six students a six-sided die, a set of small activity cards, and a reference card. Students take turns rolling the die, choosing an activity, and making a sentence using the adverb rolled and activity chosen. If sentences are grammatically correct, the student keeps the card. If not, the card goes back into the pile.
  • Cover Up: Cover up games are very popular in my class. In this version, I give each pair of students a cover up board, a twelve-sided die, and a set of covers (8 covers per student, each student needs a different color). Popular covers in my class include milk jug lids, counters, mini erasers, and marking X’s with dry erase markers. Students play by taking turns rolling the die. If the number rolled is not covered, the student can say a sentence about the activity shown in the corresponding square. If the sentence is correct, the student covers the space with one of his/her covers. If the sentence is not correct, or the space is already covered, the turn is forfeited. Once all the squares have been covered, the student with the most markers on the board is the winner.

Digital Version

When it came time to take this activity digital, I considered a lot of options. I thought about a digital cover up game, a digital Scattergories game, or a set of digital task cards. None of these options would lead to the conversations I wanted though, so I ended up creating a drag-and-drop activity.

This particular activity includes a section of empty boxes for students to type their names into. Each box is able to be dragged and dropped into the sections labeled with frequency adverbs. As we work through the activity, students move their name box (I have them add their names on the first slide and then I quickly copy and paste them onto all of the subsequent slides) into the correct section for them. I then call on a few students to express their tendency with a complete sentence. It’s a quick and easy way for students to still use the same basic activity while learning remotely.

Percentages to Fractions

Once students have a good understanding of frequency adverbs, it’s time to bring in the math. I like to do this part the next day or week because it gives me an opportunity to review what we just learned with frequency adverbs.

I always start out with a review of vocabulary (this free poster is a good one to keep around for fraction vocabulary). I also introduce, or review, how to convert a percentage into a fraction. This fold up activity is a fun way of doing that. Once I’m reasonably sure students have at least a general idea of how to convert a percentage into a fraction, it’s time to return to our frequency adverbs.

As a very quick review activity, I used the same activities and frequency adverbs as How Often Do You and created a Google Form (view the template and add it to your Google Drive with this link). When I’m ready, I share the link with students and they quickly fill out and submit the form.

It is the students’ responses that we use for our math practice. Once everyone has submitted the form, we check the summary section of the responses to see what percentage of our class selected each frequency adverb for each activity.

Students then work in groups to convert each percentage into a fraction and write a sentence (ex.: Thirty percent of us often ride the bus.). Since there are twelve activities in the form, and five possible responses for each activity, that could result in as many as 60 different conversions. In my experience, that rarely happens. Most of the activities have only two or three adverbs chosen for them. The students live in the same geographic area and tend to come from similar socio-economic backgrounds, meaning that their daily lives are actually fairly similar. If you feel there are too many percentages to be converted, you can assign each group a certain number of activities, thereby reducing the number of conversions.

Conclusion

There you have it, how I teach grammar and math with a single activity. My students get practice with frequency adverbs, basic vocabulary, sentence writing, using words to write numbers, and an important math skill. If you had told me I’d be thinking about, let alone creating, such a thing when I was in college, I would have laughed and said it was impossible to do so much with so little! But then that’s true of a lot of what I do these days. 🙂 Happy teaching, everyone!

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!

Phrasal Verb Reference

For native speakers, phrasal verbs are so common and “easy” we don’t even realize we use them (or even that they exist). While the structure and grammar of phrasal verbs is relatively easy to teach and grasp, the meaning and usage of them is not. There are just so many of them that do not mean what you would expect by simply considering the meaning of the verb and particle alone! My students are always asking for more practice with them, and I try to oblige, but games were just not enough, and I was starting to struggle to even create some of them.

I do have various references I point my students towards for looking up phrasal verbs and their definitions, (One of the ones we use the most is the Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary for learners of English.), but even this wasn’t enough. Sometimes students wanted to be able to quickly check if a word pairing was a phrasal verb or not. I also found myself wishing I had a chart that listed all of the phrasal verbs by both verb and particle. I tried searching for one but never found exactly what I what I needed. Finally, I gave up and decided to create my own.

I used all of those reference lists I’ve been pointing my students to over the years, and especially the Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary for learners of English, to create an Excel spreadsheet. I listed the verbs down the first column and the particles across the top row. If a verb and particle can be combined to form a phrasal verb, I put an X in the intersecting cell. The first tab of the spreadsheet is a complete list with all 1,135 included verbs. Following that is a tab for each letter of the alphabet so students can quickly look up a specific verb. Does the chart include every phrasal verb in the English language? No, but it does contain quite a few!

I learned a lot of interesting things while making the chart. For example, did you know that up is the most common particle? I found at least 388 verbs that pair with it! (Out is a relatively close second with 356 verbs.) Or that come and go are the most common verbs? Come pairs with 30 particles and go with 32!

The Phrasal Verb Chart is a nice digital reference for my students (it converts well to Google Sheets, if you are a Google school), and it’s been very helpful for me as well. It is yours to use as well, just click the download button above to get your own copy of the Excel version. I did password protect each of the tabs to prevent my students from accidentally making changes to it. The password is ESL2022#. If you need to unprotect a sheet, simply right click on the desired tab and click “Unprotect Sheet.” Type in the password and click OK. To reinstate the protections, right click on the tab again, click “Protect Sheet,” enter your desired password, click OK, reenter the password, and click OK. I hope it’s as helpful for you and your students as it’s been for me and mine. Happy teaching, everyone!


Interested in some of those games I’ve developed to practice phrasal verbs? Here are the links:

Or you can get all five phrasal verb games in a single bundle and at a 20% discount! The bundle includes the PowerPoint version of Jeopardy.

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!

English Skillology, Level 2

English Skillology, Level 2–Low Intermediate

About a year and a half ago, in the summer of 2020, I dreamed up this idea for a game board choice menu I could assign as extra credit. The next semester I was teaching a level three class, so I started with one for that level. Since then I’ve completed one menu for each level of courses our school offers (four).

Each of the menus has five sections: reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar. Each section has four activities, for a total of 20 activities. I post a template link to the menu on my class Blackboard or Padlet and give the students the entire semester to work on it. Students can earn up to five points for each activity they correctly complete, for a total of 100 possible extra credit points.

I also aligned each menu to Common Core State Standards. While we don’t use these standards at our school, it did provide a good way to organize the different levels. Level 1 uses third grade standards, level 2 features fifth grade standards, level 3 continues with seventh grade standards, and level four finishes things out with ninth-tenth grade standards. (If you do use CCSS, and WIDA, see this blog post for a free alignment between the K-8 ELA CCSS and old WIDA I Can Statements.)

Each menu features practice with different activities and skills, and I encourage you to get all of the details from my previous blog posts (level 1-beginner, level 3-high intermediate, level 4-advanced). Many of the activities are smaller versions of larger activities my students and I enjoy in class. Probably the best part about them though, at least from a teacher’s perspective, is that they are all free and provide extra practice that is not just “fluff.” Here is what one reviewer had to say about them:

 “I used Skillology 1 and 3 this week (ELLs at different language proficiency levels). I explained everything on Monday. I was out Tuesday – Friday due to proctoring tests. I was able to review between each day. Students focused on the tasks. Each student had to complete 5 tasks – one from each of the 5 skills. Thank you so much for these. I feel like I can use these again if I need to be out – definitely NOT busywork.”

H. Prashker, 10-9-21

Now that you’ve heard the background, and been given links to catch up with previous Skillologies you might have missed, here are all of the details for level 2 (low intermediate):

Reading

  • Proverbs: Words to Live By–This is a small sample of a board game I developed in response to my students wanting more speaking & reading comprehension practice, Proverbs from Around the World. Students read a proverb and explain in their own words what the proverb means/teaches. The full game is available in both paper and digital formats.
  • Contranym Context Clues–The full game was featured in this November blog post, but this small taste asks students to use context clues to determine which opposite meaning should be applied to the underlined word in the sentence. Again, the full game is available in both paper and digital formats.
  • Main Idea & Details– Students are asked to read an article, “What Are Clouds?,” from CommonLit, and complete a graphic organizer with the main idea and supporting details.
  • Claim, Evidence, Reasoning– We spend a lot of time practicing this skill in all levels of my classes. In this activity, students are asked to read another article from CommonLit, “Play, Play Again,” and identify the author’s claim, evidence, and reasoning. It is a simplified digital version of the CER graphic organizer we often use in class.

Speaking

  • Sixty Second Summary– Also known as SSS in my class, this is a challenging activity in which students must read or listen to a text and then summarize it in sixty seconds or less. In this instance, students read another CommonLit article, “Fly High, Bessie Coleman,” and summarize it orally using Online Voice Recorder.
  • Procedural– Taking an idea from one of our favorite preposition practice activities, Lego Preposition Build (the third activity in the post), students use the pictorial directions to help them orally describe how to use Legos to build an ice cream cone.
  • In My Opinion– Students use Online Voice Recorder to record their presentation to a school board regarding whether or not a uniform policy should be adopted for their school.
  • Persuasive– Again practicing using claim, evidence, and reasoning, students choose one of three statements to support and persuade others to agree with them on in a 2-3 minute speech. The statements are all taken from the larger game, Claim, Evidence, Reasoning: The CER Board Game (available in both paper and digital formats).

Writing

  • Opinion Writing– Practicing claim, evidence, and reasoning once again, students will write a paragraph or more stating (and supporting) their opinion on a topic of their choosing.
  • Informative Writing– Given free reign to choose their topic again, students will this time form an informative paragraph (or more). They are also encouraged to “cite” any sources by at least stating the name of them in the paragraph.
  • Narrative Writing– This story can be fiction or nonfiction, but it must be at least one paragraph long and use correct grammar and punctuation.
  • Dialogue Writing– Practicing both making inferences and the proper use of quotation marks, this is the only writing activity that is not in paragraph form. Students are given four pictures and they must provide a possible dialogue for the people in them.

Listening

  • Similes and Metaphors– This is a tiny, three-part piece of a larger activity I describe in this December, 2020 blog post. Students watch three different movie/TV clips, identify which figurative language they hear, and explain what it means. The original activity is, like this Skillology, free.

The other three listening activities are all shortened versions of TED Talk comprehension activities. As I explain in this blog post, I believe listening practice should be as authentic as possible and find TED Talks to be an excellent source for texts. In each of the activities, students listen to the linked TED Talk and then answer four comprehension questions about what they heard. The full comprehension activities involve more questions.

Grammar

  • Compounding Conjunctions– The full board game is described in this November, 2021 post, but in this quick version students are asked to take one sentence and expand it into four compound sentences using four different conjunctions. The board game version is available in paper and digital formats.
  • Past Perfect Travel Adventure– Another miniature version of a full board game, students write sentences in the past perfect about experiences from various places around the globe. The original board game is available in both paper and digital formats.
  • Prefixes and Suffixes– There are two levels of these puzzles, and this activity features a small piece of the second level. Students match the affix, root word, new word (root word + affix), affix meaning, new word meaning, and picture to form a rectangle. The full set of puzzles is available in both paper and digital formats.
  • Synonym Puzzles– In a second puzzle activity, students match three synonyms to form a rectangle. The complete set of puzzles is available in both paper and digital formats.

Creating these four English Skillology choice menus has been quite an experience. It was challenging at times, but I had a lot of fun. I love how I now have a way to deal with the ever present, “Can I do extra credit?” question that is effective and requires some real practice of important skills. While I don’t see more Skillology menus in my future at this point, anything is possible. Happy teaching, everyone!

Homophone Days of Yore

I, like every language teacher, impress on my students the importance of listening carefully to what they hear. My students, like most language students, generally follow my advice and listen closely in order to hear subtle differences in the words we use. This is good practice and serves them well, until we have extra difficult words. Case in point: homophones.

Homophones are their own special brand of torture, in my opinion. Words that sound exactly the same but have different meanings? The only thing that’s worse is homonyms! At least homophones have the decency to have different spellings! Homophones are just one of the many reasons we spend a lot of time in my class working on context clues (see other posts, such as Contranym Context Clues, for information about some of the ways we practice this skill), but sometimes we need to practice distinguishing between specific sets of homophones.

Finding activities to practice distinguishing between specific homophone pairs/triplets can be frustrating at times. It’s not that specific activities don’t exist, rather that they are generally geared towards younger learners (which makes sense since homophone instruction begins as early as kindergarten). As a teacher of older learners (formerly middle school, now adults) who are also new to English, I need to help my students with these basic skills, but I don’t want to bore or insult them with the activities we do. This is why I often find myself making my own supplemental practice activities–not because I have terribly new ideas, but because my students need something I haven’t been able to find elsewhere.

The Theme

I generally find the hardest part of creating these activities to be thinking of practice sentences/questions. It’s easier when I have a theme, and I’ll often take my theme from the unit the activity was originally created to accompany, but sometimes my theme choice is a little more…well, let’s call it creative. This is one of those times. I don’t completely remember why I was thinking about the homophones your and you’re, but as I was considering them the third version (yore) popped into my head. My immediate thought was, “Well, at least we don’t often use that one.” But the thought was there and ultimately lead to my theme: historical facts and customs. This activity is one I use almost exclusively with beginners and low intermediate students, so I saw no reason to include the actual word “yore” in the practice exercises.

Paper Activities

Homophone Days of Yore: Paper

Similar to my Am, Is, Are Triple Play activity, the task card set I designed for your vs. you’re can be used in multiple ways: to play Slap, as individual response cards, as straight task cards, or as clip cards. For a description of how to play Slap, use response cards, or use task cards for Scoot activities, see the blog post To Be: In The World Series. Since this particular activity is themed around history, not baseball, and therefore “triple play” doesn’t have a double meaning, I’ll explain a fourth way of using the task cards.

Using the task cards as clip cards is exactly what it sounds like: students use clips (clothes pins) to indicate which homophone (your/you’re) correctly completes the sentence. This is a great way to use task cards as center activities (yes, centers are beneficial for older learners too). I simply put a large basket of clothes pins in the center along with several sets of task cards (print on different colors of cardstock for easy sorting later). Students can work on the task cards and then check one another’s work. If they cannot agree on an answer, or are unsure, they can ask or check an answer key I provide (place inside a manilla folder so they don’t accidentally see it).

Digital Version

Digital Version: Sheets

While my students and I all enjoy Slap, Scoot, and the other paper activities, I find that I often don’t have time in class, especially with my adult students, to work on such discrete skills as specific homophone pairs. For these skills I need to be able to provide students with practice activities they can do on their own, usually at home, and that automatically provide feedback regarding the accuracy of their answers. I don’t want them to have to wait for me to check their work, and (to be quite honest) I don’t have time to check more work.

Digital task cards are always an option, especially self-grading digital task cards, but we already use those quite a bit in my classes. Something my middle schoolers loved, but I never used much with my adults, is mystery pictures. A couple of semesters ago my adults were struggling with identifying the number of syllables in a word, so I offered them a syllable mystery picture as extra practice. The next class they all told me how much they enjoyed it and asked if I had any others they could try. Remembering that experience, I decided to make a digital mystery picture for practicing your vs. you’re. (Step-by-step directions, written and video, for creating your own digital mystery picture activity are available in this blog post.)

For me, the most difficult part of creating a mystery picture is the creation of the picture itself. I am not an artist, so my abilities are limited to simple shapes. Once again I started thinking about the third “yore” and how my students would feel/react when they eventually learned of its existence. That resulted in the picture you see above, an annoyed emoji-like face with the words, “There’s a third!” The students love it and tell me how perfect it is.

The other feature I included in this particular mystery picture is drop down answer choices (step-by-step directions for creating this feature are in this blog post). In my experience, my beginning level students’ greatest struggle with these independent digital activities is the spelling of the words. If even one thing is off about their typing, the answer is marked as incorrect. By providing them with the opportunity to simply click on the answer from a menu this problem is eliminated (and they get practice reading the different spellings of the homophones).

Conclusion

Homophones are not going anywhere. As much as I’d love to help my students and remove this particular torture from the English language, it’s just not possible; but I can provide them with interesting, and age-appropriate, practice activities/sentences. Student response to this particular sentence set has been overwhelmingly positive, and more than once I’ve found students spending more time discussing their thoughts about a particular custom than doing the actual activity (speaking practice!). Middle school boys seem to especially enjoy the sentence about an ancient Japanese form of suicide in which you slit your own stomach open; and the women often react to the one about coloring your teeth black to enhance your beauty. While the teacher of beginning level students in me still cringes a bit at the inclusion of the word “yore” (even in the title) in the activity, the side of me that loves playing with language is still stronger and so it has stayed. It hasn’t resulted in any real confusion and the students are exposed to a new vocabulary word. Happy teaching, everyone!


Looking for more homophone activities? Here are some to consider:

Or get a bundle of activities for 20% off!

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: