To Be: In The World Series

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

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

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

Slap

Slap

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

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

Response Cards

Response Cards

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

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

Task Cards

Task Cards

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

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

Digital Version

Digital Version

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

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

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


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

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

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

Picture Prompts Board Game

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

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

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

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

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

Question Words Game

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

Cause and Effect Game

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

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

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

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

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


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

Interrogative Images

Cause & Effect Pictures
Picture Prompts Board Game

Escape! The Irregular Verb Grid

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

Escape! The Irregular Verb Grid: Paper Version

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

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

Escape! The Irregular Verb Grid: Digital Version

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Homophone Sghoul: Paper Version

The Activity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Digital Version:

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

The How To:

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

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

The Wrap Up:

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

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:

English Skillology, Level 4

Level 4: Advanced
Level 3: High Intermediate
Level 1: Beginner

I am now 3/4 of the way to my goal of creating an extra credit choice menu for each level I teach. At the most basic level, English Skillology is a choice menu. It includes four activities for each of the five skill areas in ESL: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and grammar. Inspired by a Monopoly-style choice menu of someone else’s, I decided to use a game board format for my own. Each skill is a side (grammar is in the corners), and has its own color. Students are then free to choose the number and type of activities they want to complete by the end of the semester. In creating the activities for each board I considered two different sets of standards and learning outcomes: those of the college where I teach and the Common Core. Level one (beginners) is aligned to the third grade Common Core, level three (high intermediate) is aligned to the seventh grade Common Core, and level four (advanced) is aligned to the ninth-tenth grade Common Core. Level two is in the works and will be aligned to the fifth grade Common core. You can read the previous posts (linked above) for details on the level one and three English Skillologies, here are the details about the activities in level four:

Reading:

  • Contranym Context Clues: A contranym is a word that has opposing definitions. This activity, a small piece of a larger board game, asks students to read nine sentences and choose the correct definition for the underlined word.
  • Oxymorons: Understanding figurative language is difficult for English learners and oxymorons can be especially confusing. This activity asks students to define each of the two words forming the nine oxymorons and then define the oxymoron itself.
  • CER & CRAAP Check: This is a one slide version of the free graphic organizer based assignment I often use with my reading class. Students choose an article from a major news outlet and make notes about the claim, evidence, and reasoning present. They then examine the article to find information regarding the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of it.
  • Main Idea & Detail: Identifying the main idea and details of entire texts can be a difficult task. This task asks students to read the text from Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech (taken from CommonLit) and then summarize the main idea and details in a manner of their own choosing (paragraph, graphic organizer, outline…).

Speaking

  • Sixty Second Summary (SSS): It’s relatively easy to summarize something when it can be as long as you want, there’s no need to make decisions regarding what to include and what to leave out. It is far more difficult to create a succinct summary, but that is what students are asked to do in this task. They have to read an article from NewsELA and, in sixty seconds or less, summarize the main idea and important details.
  • Informative Speech: Students are asked to use Online Voice Recorder to create a one to two minute informative speech about a topic of their choosing.
  • Pronunciation Challenge: Reading homophones is a big challenge, the only way to know which pronunciation to use is by the context. This activity asks students to record themselves reading ten sentences with homophone pairs in them. The challenge is to correctly pronounce all of the words.
  • One of a Kind: Everyone has something that is unique about them, something that makes them one of a kind. In this final speaking activity, students are asked to record a one to two minute speech explaining why they are one of a kind.

Writing

  • Narrative: Students write a narrative of at least two paragraphs long using correct grammar and punctuation.
  • Acyrologia Proofreading: Acyrologia is an incorrect or inappropriate use of words. Students are asked to retype a paragraph containing many examples of acyrologia using correct vocabulary and spelling. The paragraph is taken from a meme that has been floating around the internet and I do not know the original source.
  • Informative: Students are asked to write an informative essay of at least two paragraphs using correct grammar and punctuation.
  • Inferring Cause and Effect: Taken from my free Cause and Effect Pictures activity, students are asked to infer the cause and effect of each picture.

Listening

  • How to Tie Your Shoes: Students watch a short TED Talk and complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two ways of tying your shoes.
  • Word Stress Makes A Difference: The sentence, “I never said she stole my money” has a different meaning depending on the stressed word. Students are asked to write the meaning of each sentence based on the stressed word.
  • CER & CRAAP: Students are asked to listen to a TED Talk and read the speaker’s biography before completing a one slide version of the CER and CRAAP graphic organizer again.
  • Have a Meeting? Take a Walk: Students again watch a TED Talk, this time completing a graphic organizer about the main idea, details, things they learned, and questions they still have.

Grammar

  • Relative Pronouns and Adjective Clauses: In a shortened drag-and-drop version of my Relative Clause Memory / Relative Clause Digital Task Cards activity, students drag the correct relative pronoun to connect each noun to the adjective clause.
  • Academic Vocabulary Context Clues: This activity is also a small portion of a much larger game, Academic Vocabulary Connect Four, a supplemental activity to my 30 Weeks of Academic Vocabulary Units. Students read a sentence and use context clues to write their own definition for the underlined vocabulary word.
  • Idiomatic Figurative Language: These five sentences from my Idiom Jeopardy game each contain a baseball-themed idiom (the idioms can also be found in my Play Ball, Ameila Bedila Idioms sort activity). Students are asked to read the sentence and write a sentence that explains the meaning of the underlined idiom.
  • Ranking Synonyms: This final activity combines my French Fry Synonyms sort with our Shades of Meaning activity. Students are asked to drag-and-drop five synonyms for each overused word and place them in order from weakest to strongest.

So how did I create this extra credit menu? In the most general terms, here are the steps I took:

  1. I designed the choice menu and each activity slide in PowerPoint.
  2. I then saved those slides as images that I uploaded as backgrounds for the various slides (I use the add-on Slides Toolbox for this). This was to prevent any accidental (or not-so-accidental) deletions or edits by students.
  3. I added text boxes. Once again, in order to prevent unwanted deletions and edits I took steps. This time I made use of the master slide (now called theme builder). Under Slide, click Edit Theme. This will allow you to add and edit various slide layouts. I simply created master slides that included text boxes in the locations I needed them.
  4. I added videos for the students. The listening assignments, and a few others, required students to listen to a talk, or watch a short video. I inserted theses on the proper slides by clicking Insert and Video. This allowed me to find the video on YouTube and put it directly on the slide. Having the video on the slide has many benefits but the three most important to me are: no need to go to an outside site (less chance of clicking our way to distraction), advertisements are eliminated from the video, as well as watch next suggestions (again, less chance of distraction), I can choose when the video starts and ends (so if the beginning or ending is not relevant I can tell it to skip those parts).
  5. I set up the hyperlinks so when students choose an activity (by clicking on it in the menu) they will be automatically taken to the correct slide to complete it. I did this by drawing a square over each of the boxes in my menu. I then made the square and its border clear (tip: don’t make the square clear until after you’ve done the hyperlink so you can remember which links are finished and which aren’t). To make the shape a hyperlink, I click on it, clicked Insert Link in the menu bar (looks like a link in a chain), chose “Slides in this Presentation,” the number of the slide I wanted, and apply. 
  6. Finally, I added a “Game Board” button to each of the activity slides so students could quickly return to the choice menu from anywhere in the document. To do this I inserted a rectangle, put the text “Game Board” in it, and then used the Insert Link tool to link to the first slide. Once I did the fist one, I was able to copy and paste it onto all of the other slides.

English Skillology levels one and three were very popular the last couple of semesters and I’m hoping level four will be as well. As I mentioned before, level two is in process and I’m hoping to have it for next semester (especially since I’m teaching two level one classes so I’ll probably use it for extra credit in one of the classes). You can download all three levels of English Skillology for free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Happy teaching, everyone!


Need some of those links again? Try these buttons for quick access to the free English Skillology Choice Menus:

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.

Compound Words

Compound words can be a language learner’s best friend or worst nightmare. On the one hand, if you know the two smaller words, you can usually guess the meaning of the larger word (Doghouse = house for a dog). On the other hand, the combination of the two smaller words doesn’t automatically result in an understanding of the larger word (Honeymoon? You need some further understanding to make sense of that one!). Since compound words are inescapable, I have developed a plethora of games and activities to help my students practice them. Here are six of the most popular and effective ones.

Total Physical Response

Total physical response, or TPR, is a well known technique in language learning circles. In short, language is learned by using movement to respond to verbal prompts. It is based off the theory that by involving movement, getting more of the body involved, learning will be increased; not a new concept for most teachers. I use it to help my students remember what a compound word is.

The verbal aspect is a short sentence we repeat: “You take one word, you take another word, you smash them together, and make a new word.” Physically we demonstrate this by holding out one hand, palm up, when saying the first phrase (“You take one word…”). We then hold out the other hand, palm up, when saying the second phrase (“…you take another word…”). While saying the third phrase (“…you smash them together…”) we press the palms of our hands together (my middle school boys tended to be a bit more vigorous with this part than absolutely necessary). For the final phrase (“…and make a new word.”) we’d lace our fingers together, essentially folding our hands, and put up just our index fingers to form the number one.

It may seem like a very silly activity, but it really helps students remember the basic definition of a compound word. I have even “caught” a few of them making the hand gestures and whispering to themselves during standardized tests when asked about compound words.

Compound Word Guessing Game: FREE

Guessing Game

Another whole class practice activity, the Compound Word Guessing Game, is a great introductory activity as well. Each slide of the PowerPoint starts by showing two pictures. Students must identify the pictures, put the words together, and state the compound word (which is revealed by clicking once anywhere on the slide). There are 15 different compound words included and you can download a free copy by clicking the picture on the left of the above link.

Compound Word Flashcards / Sort

Flashcards / Sort Activity

I prefer to use these flashcards as an individual or pair sort activity. I print, laminate, and cut the cards ahead of time. I then mix them up and place each set of cards into a Ziploc bag. Students then work, either individually or in pairs, to sort the cards into 22 compound word groups. Each group has both smaller words as well as the full compound word. The activity takes up quite a bit of space, but not too much time. My students love spreading out on tables, rugs, and even the bare floor to do it! This activity can be done with any set of compound word flashcards, but I have never found a set I liked for my older learners. Everything I’ve ever found commercially available were puzzles, not flashcards, and were very childish in their look and feel. They were also simply the two individual words, no designation for the compound word, and most included extra hints as to how they went together (usually in the shape/joining of the puzzle pieces). The straight flashcard nature of the set I use provides more of an “adult” learning experience and reinforces the new meaning of the compound word.

Compound Word Memory

Memory Game

Who doesn’t have fond memories of playing Memory as a child? I loved laying the cards out in neat rows and columns before trying to find all of the matching pairs. This game uses the same concept, but with compound words. Each half of the compound word is shown on a card. Each card also includes a picture and word for the half of the full compound word, which is represented only by a picture, and a question mark for the second half of the word. Students turn over two cards, see if the compound word pictures match, and read the two halves of the word to make the complete compound word. It’s a relaxing, slower-paced game, and perfect for early practice because there are a lot of supports provided through both pictures and words.

Compound Word Spoons

Compound Word Spoons

Spoons is the game with the greatest potential for action, and is a favorite of my older students, especially the boys. I give a full explanation of how to play the game in the post Collective Noun Spoons, but the short version is repeated here. The goal of the game is to collect a compound noun triplicate (two small words and the full compound word they form) and grab a spoon. The last person to grab for a spoon will be left empty-handed and receive a letter. Gain enough letters to spell S-P-O-O-N-S, and you’re out of the game. Directions for an alternate version of play, one that doesn’t involve grabbing and wrestling for spoons, are included, and tend to be preferred by my less competitive students. Similar to the flashcards/sort activity, this game (which includes 40 compound words, rather than the 22 of the flashcards) can be played with any set of compound word flashcards that includes cards for each of the smaller words and a third card with the compound word, if you can find such a set, which I never have.

Egg Pairs

Similar to Eggcellent Contractions, this next activity is a great way to use and reuse those plastic eggs you see at the store every Easter season. Write one half of a compound word on each half of an egg. Separate the egg halves and toss them in some kind of container (I use an old shoebox, but you could also use a plastic container of some kind). Students then work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to put the halves of the eggs together to form compound words. This activity is more challenging than the others because it lacks the picture support. You can increase the difficulty level again by making sure the egg halves that form a compound word aren’t the same color.

Six different activities may seem like a lot for a “simple” concept, but I regularly use them all. I’m not really sure there is such a thing as too much compound word practice, and by using all six activities I am able to find something appropriate for students of multiple proficiency levels. Give some of them a try and see how your students like them! Happy teaching, everyone!

It’ll Come Out In The Wash, You Can Count On It!

Count / Non-Count Wash Sort: Paper
Count Non-Count Wash Sort: Digital

Many years ago now I was sorting laundry and thinking about the struggles my students were having getting everything in their sentences to agree, especially words such as much/many and few/little. I had tried many different practice activities such as task cards, games, and even worksheets (you know I was desperate if I tried worksheets!), but they still weren’t mastering the skill. As I worked on the laundry it occurred to me that I might be missing an underlying issue; I was treating the symptom and not the disease, so to speak. It was then that I realized what I’d been missing all along, the problem wasn’t with the determiners, it was with the nouns. My students didn’t know the difference between a count and a non-count noun. Inspired by this realization, I revamped my approach and spent a couple of lessons on count vs. non-count nouns.

Two things were particularly helpful to my students: a handout and a sort activity. The handout (which you can download for free using the button on the left) was very simple. It’s just a list of yes/no questions that help a student decide if a noun is count or non-count. My students referred to it quite a bit in the early stages of our lessons but less and less as time went on.

Since I’d had my revelation about how to help my students while sorting laundry, I decided to make my sort activity laundry themed. I found a t-shirt clip art and started placing nouns and pictures on each one. I quickly ran out of nouns that you actually place into a washing machine, so I expanded to other clothing-themed items. Students have never complained or noticed, but if they did I’d just play up how everything in my closet is dirty and I don’t have time to do anything but toss it all in the washing machine. Then I found baskets that looked similar to laundry baskets for students to toss the t-shirt icons in, one for count and one for non-count (so two per student or student pair). I printed and laminated (I recommend cold lamination because it’s thicker and never peels, even after you cut through it) everything, cut it all out (the most time consuming part), glued a clothes pin on the back of each basket label, and was ready to go. (Tip: print each set of sort cards on a different color of cardstock. This way when you find a lost card on the floor later you know which set it belongs to.) The students found the activity to be very helpful. They worked in pairs, often referring to their handouts, and a lot of good discussion about which basket to put the different t-shirts in ensued.

As a final assessment of my students’ abilities to differentiate between count and non-count nouns, we played a game of Slap (students use a fly swatter to slap the correct answer). They did great and I was very proud of them, but the real test came when we returned to agreement and students had to try and use those determiners again. I’m not sure who was more nervous when we started the first activity, them or me, but all nerves were quickly forgotten as they flew through it with no problems at all. I learned a valuable lesson that year and ever since I’ve taught count and non-count nouns before determiners.

This year I had to take this activity digital. Most of the activity is exactly the same: students sort t-shirts based on whether the item named and pictured on the front is a count or non-count noun. But this sort is a drag and drop in Google Slides and students sort the t-shirts onto two separate washing machines. My beginning students loved it and mentioned how having the picture on each t-shirt helped them learn some new vocabulary. And, once again, when we went to do the much or many task cards activity (this year a self-grading task card activity–learn how to make one in the blog post), the students we able to quickly work through them and comprehend why one determiner was used instead of the other. If only I found such great inspiration every time I sorted the laundry! Happy teaching, everyone.


Looking for more noun practice activities? Check out these fun sorts and games:

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?