Square Root Clock

I’ve shared in the past how I prefer to decorate my classroom with things that support what we are studying. Most of those decorations are intentionally chosen, but every once in awhile something finds a permanent home in my classroom by pure happenstance. My square root clock is one of those items.

The Inspiration

For four years, I had the privilege of working with a very energetic, creative, new math teacher. She came up with some of the craziest ideas, but they often ended up being some of the best. I’ll never forget how she solved the problem of students tipping back in their chairs. After about the third time one fell, once again minorly injuring himself in the process, she told all of the students to stack their chairs along the side wall of the classroom. When I went to pick up my students for intervention time, she explained to me why everyone was either standing or sitting on the floor and asked for my support by denying the students chairs in my room as well. After school I asked her if she wanted help putting the chairs back out around the tables. She informed me she didn’t need help because the chairs were going to stay stacked. When questioned her as to how long they’d stay stacked, her answer was, “Until they prove to me they can use them properly.” A week later, she decided it was time, we put the chairs back out, and not a single student ever tipped back in one again. But it wasn’t just interesting classroom management techniques I observed in her classroom, she had some excellent teaching ideas as well. It was preparing my students for a math lab in her class involving cookies and candy that inspired my Pi Day Circles activity, as well as the Nutrition and Percentages unit I designed. However, the one thing that became a permanent part of my classroom did not join my decorations until nearly a year after I moved to a new district.

The Implementation

As any experienced teacher will tell you, being smarter than the students is a major part of teaching. This is very likely more true for middle school teachers than any others. One year I was working with my eighth grade English language learners on exponents and roots. I told my students they needed to memorize their square roots, at least through the square root of 144 (12). My students just looked at me and, in the way only middle schoolers can, said, “Whatever, you can’t make us.” I, being a veteran of middle school teaching, simply smiled and sent them on to their next class, never saying a word.

That night, remembering the square root clock from my previous colleague’s classroom, I made a few labels for our classroom clock (you can download your own copy for free, the link is below the picture). When the students came in the next morning I still didn’t say a word, I simply waited. It didn’t take long for one, convinced he’d been in class for at least an hour (rather than the two minutes that had actually passed), to glance up at the clock. His immediate reaction was priceless. He literally jumped out of his seat, pointed at the clock, and started yelling in Mandarin. I didn’t need a translator to help me understand what he was upset about! This got all of the other students’ attention and soon my classroom was in a multilingual uproar.

After giving them a few moments to get it out of their system, I retook control and began to restore order (and the use of the English language) to my room. Once everyone was back in their seats and listening to me again, I simply repeated the exact words I’d spoken the day before, “You really need to memorize the first twelve squares and their roots.” I then continued the lesson as if nothing had happened.

The Result

The next week we had a quiz over exponents and roots (I covered up the clock). Every single student passed, most received 100% on the first twelve. I decided to leave the labels up as reinforcement for their learning (and because the clock was quite high on the wall and I didn’t feel like climbing on a chair on a table to take them down). The next year when I was putting up decorations, I put the labels back up simply because they were in the box with everything else. Later that year, the new-to-the-building math teacher came to see me. It seemed my students were outperforming all others on exponents and roots and she wanted to know what I’d done. I simply showed her the clock.

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.


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!

Sweet Percentages

This week is tax week in the USA, never a week that gets people very excited. It does get me thinking about percentages though. That brought to mind a fun activity I did with my middle schoolers one year that served as an assessment after we’d been working on percentages for several weeks, M&M Percents.

The assessment consisted of only four questions:

1. “What percentage of your M&Ms is each color?” I provided them with a chart and filled in the colors for them. The students did their work on the back of the paper and wrote the final percentages on the other half of the table. Each student’s answer for this question was slightly different, but because there is actually a formula for how many of each color goes into each bag (which is what question three is based off of), the answers were quite similar. I also highly advised all of the students to make a chart of their own with the total number of M&Ms of each color in it. This had two advantages: I had raw data to work from when checking answers, and they could eat their candy sooner rather than later (I only pointed out one of the advantages to the students.)

2. “Today is the 16th day of the month and Miss Bowman’s favorite color is green. I want 16 green M&Ms. If 4% of each package consists of green M&Ms, how many M&Ms need to be in the package for me to get exactly 16 green M&Ms?” Besides assessing their percentage skills, this question also allowed me to assess their abilities with writing an algebraic equation from a word problem (a skill we’d learned in a previous unit). The first time I gave this assessment was on the 16th of whatever month, and I honestly don’t remember if I updated this question the next time I used it, but it wouldn’t be hard to do.

3. “The Mars Candy Company has published the average percentage of M&Ms in a bag by color. If a regular sized bag of M&Ms has 48 pieces of candy in it, how many can you expect of each color?” I tried to find the official publication of these numbers again, but was unsuccessful. I did learn that the percentage actually varies based on which factory the M&Ms were packaged in (there are two), at least according to Stats Medic. I provided students a table for this question as well (they once again had to show their work on the back) and used the following percentages:

  • Red- 13%
  • Blue- 24%
  • Green- 16%
  • Yellow- 14%
  • Orange- 20%
  • Brown- 13%

4. “Write your own percent problem based on your bag of M&Ms.” We are always trying to push students to think deeper and use higher order thinking, to go up a level or two on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and that’s what this question was aiming for. I also wanted them to practice their math writing skills in preparation for the state testing that was coming in the near future. I gave a lot of grace on this one and, provided the question was related to percentages and made mathematical sense, gave full credit for whatever they came up with.

I would love to tell you that the students didn’t complain at all, and passing out chocolate candy with my assessment resulted in happy students; but anyone who’s ever taught middle school, or even met a middle schooler, would know instantly I was telling a lie. Of course my students whined–they were taking an assessment. Was there less whining than usual? Yes…after I promised an extra bag of M&Ms to anyone who achieved a score that was higher than their personal average. Yes, it’s true, I am not above bribery–especially when faced with whining middle schoolers and having to teach math first thing in the morning. What I can tell you with complete honesty is that this was a successful assessment and I liked how it was short, easy to prepare, hit multiple levels of Bloom’s, and allowed me to check students’ understanding of multiple standards. So, while I can’t promise you a fun or painless tax season, at least I’ve given you a possible assessment for your next unit on percentages. Happy teaching, everyone!

Eggcellent Activities: Coin Eggs

The calendar says it’s spring, and the weather is starting to feel like spring (though those of us native to Michigan know better than to trust it yet), and that has me thinking about spring things. It’s also tax season, and that has me thinking about money and how much practice my students need with American coins.

The coins of the USA are very different from many other countries in many ways, but the one that trips my students up the most often is their size. Many countries create coins proportionate to their value: the larger the coin, the more it is worth. Here in the USA, the size means nothing in relation to its value, and in fact it gets confusing at times: a quarter is the largest commonly used coin, and the highest value of the commonly used coins; but the dime, which is the second largest value commonly used coin, is the smallest of the coins. And then we name the coins! It’s not enough to simply call them a five-cent-piece, or ten-cent-piece; nope, each coin has to have a separate name that may or may not (and let’s be honest, it’s more often not in the four most common coins) be related to its value. Thus, my immigrant students need a lot of practice with coins!

I have several activities I use plastic eggs for, including Eggcellent Contractions, but today I want to focus on my coin egg center. I originally used this as an assessment at the end of a unit on American money, but it also makes for a great center/practice activity.


To create your own coin eggs, you’ll need a few things:

  • plastic eggs (12-18 for each set, I used 12)
  • an egg carton (1 for each set)
  • plastic coins (I used only penny, nickel, dime, and quarter for my center)
  • a recording sheet (you’re welcome to download and use mine, it’s free)

You’ll want to make one set of coin eggs for every 3-4 students. One way to avoid having to make multiple sets is to use this as a center activity. The danger of this is some students (especially younger students) aren’t always very adept at getting all of the coins back into the correct egg and this can cause issues for students who follow them.

Set Up:

Set up for this activity is fairly easy. Number each of the eggs 1-12 (or 1-18), a Sharpie marker works great for this. Then place coins of various denominations into each egg. I chose to keep the total of each of my eggs under $1, but that was a pure choice. You can make the totals as high, or low, as you need for your own students. Finally, create a recording sheet for students to use as they work on the activity. As I mentioned above, my recording sheet is available for free, and you are welcome to download and use it. If you want students to practice the names of the coins, as well as finding the total, be sure to tell them to record both on their sheets.


As I mentioned earlier, I originally used this activity as an assessment at the end of a unit about money in the USA. My student desks/tables were in groups of 4, so I gave each group one set of eggs and the required number of recording sheets. It was an easy way for me to check their understanding of coin name vocabulary, as well as their ability to add coin values (these were all beginner level ELLs who had limited or interrupted formal educational {SLIFE} backgrounds). If you prefer not to use the activity as an assessment, it does make an excellent center activity. Place 1-2 sets of eggs in your center along with recording sheets. Students are able to complete the activity and leave their recording sheet in a designated location for you to check later.


What I particularly like about this activity is the use of the plastic coins. It allows students to get used to the different sizes and colors of the coins, something that is hard to do with black and white pictures on a worksheets. The tactile manipulatives also helped my students to practice skills such as sorting the coins by value first, making finding a total easier. Did this add a bit of extra work for me? Yes, I had to source the coins, and I also have to check the various sets after each use to be sure the coins are back in the correct eggs, but the work is minimal (especially since my recording sheet key has the names of the coins present in each egg on it) and I think the benefits outweigh the extra effort required.

My students’ reaction to the activity? They all said it didn’t feel at all like taking a test, and they all performed better on their standardized assessments that spring. All in all, it is a quick and easy to put together activity that yields good results. Give it a try and see how it works with your students. Happy teaching, everyone!

Need more practice activities for USA coins? Maybe one of these will be what you’re looking for:

Pi Day

I never paid much attention to Pi Day, until I worked with a particularly wonderful and enthusiastic math teacher. She declared (and rightly so) that if she had to teach reading and writing in math class, other teachers should have to teach math in their classes as well. She lobbied long and hard and was

successful in getting March 14th declared as a Pi-focused day for all classes and subjects in our 5th-8th grade classes (it was a K-8 school). This began a tradition that continued through the years and was so popular the students even came to school on Saturday one year because they wanted to celebrate on the day–not before.

Pi Linguistics Shirt

As an ESL teacher, I decided to put my own spin on the celebration. Dressing up was always encouraged for special events, and there are plenty of Pi Day t-shirts out there for purchase, but I wanted something that would be unique and relate to my field as well, so ended up designing my own shirt that I still wear each year, even though I teach ESL at a college now. The front says Pi Linguistics and the back says, “Homophones–We sound the same but are different where it counts!” I printed the designs onto iron-on transfer paper, ironed them onto a white t-shirt, dug out a red long sleeve t-shirt and black skirt, and my outfit for the day was ready. If you’re desiring your own Pi Linguistics shirt, you can download the templates (they will print backwards, as is required for the transfer) using the button to the left.

The Math Lesson

An ESL teacher does more than teach students English, we also support them in other classes, such as math and science. Vocabulary acquisition is a big part of that support, and the vocabulary for Pi Day was no exception. We talked at great length about words such as circumference and diameter. We read the book Sir Circumferece and the Dragon of Pi, and we drilled the various formulas until it seemed we were reciting them in our sleep. The students still weren’t fully grasping the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle though.

It was at this point that I decided to try a little discovery hands-on learning. I planned out a lab in which students would measure the circumference, diameter, and radius of various sized circles. They’d then divide the circumference by the diameter (and get pi). Finally, they’d find the area of the circle (another skill they were struggling with). Our math teacher already had a fun Pi Day activity planned where students would do something similar with various cookies, and I didn’t want to take away from her fun, but I did want our beginning-level ELLs to be prepared to fully participate with their team (she was planning a race-style competition). So to get my circles I turned to the person who’s solved many of my teaching-material needs dilemmas: my father. My dad is the one who solved my spinner problem by designing and building CD Spinner Stands, and my matching game issue by designing and building Match Up Boards (the building plans for both projects are free downloads). I explained to him what I wanted, 4-6 circles of various sizes, and he went to his workshop, cut them, sanded them, painted them, and gave them to me shortly thereafter. I then gathered my other supplies: sewing measuring tapes (since they are flexible it eliminated the need for students to stretch string around the circles and then measure the string), the graphic organizer (download for free using the button above), and some calculators.

After thinking about the lab a bit more, I decided I wanted to add a bit of a challenge for early finishers. This desire led me to the PE teacher’s office where I begged and bribed (it’s amazing what you can get with a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in hand) my way into being allowed to raid his collection of sports equipment. Since many sports balls are of similar size, I chose only a soccer ball (my students’ favorite sport). Other circular equipment I found included frisbees and hula hoops. I then quickly added a second page to the graphic organizer and was nearly ready for our discovery lab day.

The last step was the extra incentive I promised them for finishing the entire lab without whining (or with less whining than normal–I was dealing with middle schoolers after all). I baked several different kinds of pie so everyone could enjoy a sweet treat before returning to class. As I was doing this activity with newly arrived ELLs (all less than a year in the USA), I baked traditional American pie flavors: cherry, apple, and pumpkin. Several of the students had never had any of the flavors and they loved trying these new “American” desserts.

As you can see in the first photo, the final result was something of a mess all over our table, but I didn’t mind cleaning it up in the least. The lab had accomplished it’s goal, and my students seemed to fully grasp the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle. They’d also been given the opportunity to participate in a similar activity to what they’d be doing in class later that day, allowing them unpressured time to process and understand the directions–an invaluable opportunity for our lower proficiency ELLs.

Whatever your plans for Pi Day next week, I hope you enjoy them. If you’re still unsure what your plans are, feel free to try one or more of these ideas. My students and I enjoyed them and I think you will too. Happy teaching, everyone!


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.


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!

CER: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning

I first heard about CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) when the K-8 school I was working at insisted on it being used in every class for every subject. I’ll admit to being very dubious at first, especially in regards to using such a language-heavy approach for my English language learners, but the more I used it, the more convinced I became. So convinced, in fact, that I still use it over a decade later with my adult language learners.

CER is a great strategy for every subject, whether identifying the author/text’s claim, evidence, and reasoning; or ensuring that one’s own writing/speaking includes all three elements. Like most strategies, for the implementation of CER to have the greatest effect, you need to explicitly teach how to use it and provide plenty of practice opportunities/reminders. Here are some of the ways I teach and use it in my classes:

CER Posters-FREE

Posters / Anchor Charts

One of the decorations with a purpose that is a permanent fixture in my classroom is our CER posters. Each letter features the word it stands for in yellow and two questions (one for reading, one for math) in white. I place these approximately 8″x10″ letters in a prominent position and we refer to them often throughout the year. I also print out a single page handout (pictured) for students to keep in their notebooks for easy reference.

Graphic Organizers-FREE

Graphic Organizers

You remember my concern about a language-heavy strategy and ELLs? Since I had no choice regarding implementation, I provided my students with a support system. These graphic organizers turned out to be some of the best things I ever used with my students! Once they understood how to use them, and became familiar with the system, their writing improved tremendously.

ELA Version

There are two versions, one for ELA and one for math. Both are simply boxes with titles and guiding questions to help students. The ELA version (pictured) has four sections:

  • Topic/Theme: What question are you trying to answer?
  • Claim: What is your opinion? What do you think?
  • Evidence: What support do you have for your opinion? How do you know this?
  • Reasoning: Why do you think this? Why is what you say true?

We also use the ELA graphic organizer to analyze texts we read. The students use it to help them identify and outline/take notes regarding the author’s claim, evidence, and reasoning. It helps them to pick out the main ideas and most relevant supporting details. They can then use their notes to write summary paragraphs, when necessary.

Math Version

The math version also has four sections, and worked wonders on my students’ approach to word problems! It really helped them think through the word problem itself, and their answer, allowing them to better respond to those wonderful prompts on standardized tests that require them to explain how they solved the problem in words. The sections are:

  • Question (This one does not have an extra prompt, students simply copy the part of the problem that has the question in it.)
  • Claim: What is your answer? (I also prompt them to show their work–in other words, do the problem in this space.)
  • Evidence: How did you do the math? Tell me in words.
  • Reasoning: Why did you do the math this way?

We practiced a lot with the graphic organizers–completing them together as a class at first, then in groups, and finally on their own. Before long they were quite proficient at the system and many sketched out their own little version of them on their scratch paper during the math writing portions of standardized tests.

Advertisement Discernment Investigation-FREE

Science Connection

As I mentioned, all teachers of all subjects were required to implement CER in their classes. The science teacher was struggling to help our ELLs understand the scientific method and asked for my help. After spending nearly two months teaching it, and all the vocabulary that goes with it, to my eighth graders, it was time for a summative assessment. Never one to miss an opportunity to combine subjects/objectives, I designed an assessment that would check the students’ understanding of the scientific method, discrimination between types of variables, and also some of our ELA objectives.

We originally did the activity as a whole group so they would be familiar with it, and then they completed it individually. It was a great opportunity to review not only science vocabulary, but also terms such as “credible source” and “research.” The basic premise of the activity was to use CER to identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning of an advertisement (It’s in print: is it true?). The students then used the scientific method to design an experiment to test the validity of that claim.

The CER portion of the worksheet/graphic organizer presented them with questions very similar to those on the graphic organizer we used regularly:

  • Claim: What claim does this ad make? What are they saying is true?
  • Evidence: What evidence do the advertisers present? How do you know what they say is true?
  • Reasoning: What reasoning does the advertisement give? Why do they say they are telling the truth?

Of course most advertisements contain little, if any, evidence or reasoning, and this provided a great opportunity for discussion. The students saw this first hand when we did the activity together, and I reminded them this might be the case when they did it on their own.

The second part of the worksheet/organizer lead them step-by-step through the process of designing an experiment to test the advertisement’s claim. The prompts were as follows:

  • Ask a question to guide your investigation.
  • Gather information: What sources of information would be credible sources for your research?
  • Write a hypothesis.
  • Design an experiment: Independent Variable, Dependent Variable, Control Group, Steps to Follow
  • Collect data: What data would you collect? How would you collect it?
  • The final two steps of the scientific method are what? (List them below)

We had a lot of great discussion while completing the activity as a whole group, and the students said they didn’t even feel like they were taking an assessment when they did it on their own. Their science teacher was thrilled they’d finally mastered the vocabulary (and in time for a standardized test), and they were among an elite group of students in our school who could distinguish between independent and dependent variables with great accuracy. In short, I was very proud of them. (A tiny version of this is in the writing section of English Skillology 3.)

News Discernment Activity-FREE

Social Studies Connection

Number 8 on my list of Top 10 Free TPT Downloads of 2021, this activity is perfect for helping students to think critically about the news they hear and read both on and off line. News Discernment Investigation combines CER and CRAAP into one activity that helps students distinguish false from true news. As with all parts of our CER instruction, we worked together to complete the worksheet/organizer as a class before they tried on their own.

This two page worksheet/organizer is also divided into two sections: CER and CRAAP. After selecting a news article (students are prompted to copy and paste a link, or at least put the title and publication information), students identify the following things:

  • Claim: What claim does this article make? What are they saying is true?
  • Evidence: What evidence does the article present? How do you know what they are saying is true? (I tell students to look for facts.)
  • Reasoning: What reasoning does the article give? Why do they say they are telling the truth? (I tell students to look for non-factual logic or supporting details.)

The second section takes their thinking to a deeper level and prompts them to apply CRAAP to the article.

  • Currency: When was the information published?
  • Relevance: Is the information related to my question and appropriate?
  • Authority: Who is the author? Who does the author cite? What are their qualifications?
  • Accuracy: Is the source supported by evidence?
  • Purpose: Is the source neutral or biased?

Finally, students are prompted to write a brief paragraph answering the question, “Do you believe this article, or do you think it is fake news? Be sure to defend your position with textual evidence.”

I have only used this particular activity with my high intermediate and advanced students, but if you could use it with lower proficiency students if you sourced the news articles from sources that write specifically for ELLs. It is also featured in an English Skillology, this time level four.

CER: The Board Game

Board Game

My students are always looking for more speaking practice, especially unscripted speaking practice that doesn’t force them to use specific grammatical constructions. Silly Shorts still remains their favorite practice game, but CER: The Board Game (digital version also available) runs a close second. I originally thought this would be a nice supplemental speaking practice game, but I used it multiple times last semester in my advanced writing class to teach a plethora of skills from writing thesis statements to persuasive strategies.

The game itself is a simple zig-zag board that I use frequently. To play, students take a card, read the statement, choose a position, and state their claim, supporting it with evidence and reasoning. If they are able to successfully do so, they roll and move their piece. Sometimes I require them to focus on a specific skill, other times I set a minimum number of seconds they must speak for, other times I simply let them play.

The cards contain over 50 different prompts, and all prompts include “(not)” so students can choose if they are in favor of, or against, the particular statement. Some of the prompts include:

  • The legal voting age should (not) be raised to twenty-one.
  • Middle and high school students should (not) have to wear school uniforms.
  • Sugary drinks and snacks should (not) be allowed in school.
  • Internet access should (not) be free for all people.
  • All drugs should (not) be legalized.

Some of the prompts are more controversial than others. I always begin my classes with a discussion on respect and it is our agreed upon policy that anyone can hold/express any opinion, provided it is done respectfully. My students have always honored this policy and we enjoy a lot of spirited, but respectful, discussions. Some of the more controversial/discussion-inducing prompts include:

  • Capital punishment (the death penalty) should (not) be abolished.
  • The use of animals in medical testing should (not) be allowed.
  • The United States should (not) require a year of military service for every citizen.
  • Scientists should (not) continue to develop artificial intelligence.
  • Parents should (not) have access to their teenagers’ electronic devices.

Of course with over 50 prompts included, if you don’t think one is appropriate for your students it’s easy to leave it out. The large number of prompts also allows me to tell students to simply choose another one if they do not understand, or don’t wish to speak about, it for any reason.

One of the things I used this game to reinforce was my students’ understanding of persuasive strategies. I actually added a dice key to the game for this very purpose. When we play the persuasive strategies version, students roll the dice and have to utilize the matching strategy in their response.

  • 1=big names
  • 2=logos
  • 3=pathos
  • 4=ethos
  • 5=kairos
  • 6=research

This added a whole new dimension of challenge to the game and really helped to cement students’ understanding of the different strategies.


As I shared at the beginning, I was originally extremally skeptical and reluctant to implement CER in my classes. Today I consider it to be one of the most essential parts of my instruction and would go so far as to say it’s revolutionized my teaching in many ways. If you haven’t tried it yourself yet, I urge you to implement it and see the difference it can make for yourself. Happy teaching, everyone!

There’s no better time to try it than now, all of the resources I described, but one, are free! (The board game is $2.) Here are the links again:

Or, if you want to get everything in one click, you can get all five resources (paper version of board game) in one bundle for $2.

Three In A Row

Order of Operations Three in a Row
Digital Version

When I was teaching math to my middle schoolers, one of the biggest struggles they had was remembering the order of operations. They wanted to start on one side of the problem and complete whatever they came to first with no regard to the proper order. I knew this was not an unusual thing for students to do, and I tried to provide them with a lot of opportunities to practice. They all liked playing Smath, but I needed more games for them to play. Three in a Row is not unique to me, but it was very popular with my students. I liked it because it provided excellent practice and used materials we already had in our classroom.

Three in a row is an easy to prep, quick to implement, game to practice order of operations. Usually played in pairs (but able to be played in groups up to four), the goal of the game is to cover three squares in a row on a hundreds chart. To accomplish this, students use three numbers each turn (numbers can be 1-6 or 1-12, depending on teacher choice) to write a math sentence. It can be easily scaffolded up or down by allowing students to use parentheses, and assign one of them numbers as an exponent or not, depending on student abilities. The answer to the math sentence is then claimed by the student on the hundreds chart. More experienced students can make use of the optional black out rule, where a space that has been previously claimed can be blacked out by claiming it a second time. Any blacked out space is then unusable by either student. This adds yet another level of strategy, and difficulty, to the game.

To play Three in a Row with your students you’re going to first have to make a couple of decisions:

  1. How will the students obtain their three numbers each turn?
    • Roll one number cube three times. (this can be a six-sided or twelve-sided die, depending on the desired difficulty level)
    • Roll three dice once. (again, these can be a six-sided or twelve-sided die, depending on the desired difficulty level) This is my preferred method as it allows students to look at all three numbers at once without having to write them down.
    • Draw three cards from a set that has three of each of the target numbers on it.
  2. How will students cover or mark the squares? You’ll need one color for each student, plus a color for the black out squares, if using this rule.
    • Place mini-erasers (While I’m normally a big fan of using erasers as place markers in games, in this case they are not my favorite choice because each student needs to have a set of the same eraser, meaning I have to separate the assortment into shapes.), counters, milk jug lids, or other small objects on the squares.
    • Color laminated boards with dry erase markers. This is my preferred method as it makes replay incredibly fast and it’s easy to store.
    • Use unlaminated paper boards and color with colored pencils, crayons, or markers. If you choose this method you’ll need a lot of hundreds charts on hand for replay purposes.
    • Print, laminate, and cut sets of bingo chips or colored squares for each group.

Once you’ve decided on how students will obtain their numbers, and how they’ll mark the squares, the only other supply you’ll need is a hundreds chart for every two students. I highly recommend laminating them so you can simply reuse the same charts each time you play. (I’ll again recommend cold lamination, it’s thicker and never peels, even after you cut through it. I love my cold laminator and have been using the same one for nearly ten years without a problem.) I often will also pass out individual white boards, dry erase markers, and erasers to my students as well. This way they can write down their number sentences, calculate the answer, and experiment with different combinations before claiming a spot on the game board. This is not necessary to play the game, and students could simply use pencils and scrap paper instead, but it does help my students create more sophisticated number sentences and they like using the white boards.

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, all that’s left is to pass them out to students and play the game. Since numbers are randomly assigned each turn, the game can be played over and over again without students ever becoming too familiar with the answers that will land them a spot on the board. The game was always a hit with my students, and I’m sure yours will enjoy it as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

Don’t feel like gathering the supplies? No problem, you can get a download of everything you need (directions, hundreds chart, covers, and number cards) in my TPT store.

Want to play the game but need a digital version? No problem! There’s a Google Slides digital version in my TPT store as well. It features a specially coded “dice” menu. Please note: this menu does not add visual dice to the screen–nothing rolls or moves. It adds a “Dice” menu to the list at the top of the screen (File, Edit, View…Dice), which students click on and choose D6 or D12. The script then runs and students are presented with a box that says: “You rolled X, X, X” (X = a different number 1-6 or 1-12, depending on which was chosen). In order to play the game, make a copy for every group of students. Share the copy with the students who will be playing, being sure to give them editing rights. Students must keep the file in editing mode in order to play. Placing it in present mode will remove access to the dice menu and make the pieces unmovable. “Infinity” piles of covers are provided (there are 50 covers in each pile) for students to use. Students can use the chat menu, or talk to one another via your meeting platform, in order to communicate (for more information on the different ways my students like to play digital games see the blog post: A Grinchy Christmas, Part 1 and scroll down past the video). There is nothing for the students to return to the teacher.

Descriptive Shape Vocabulary

Free Shape Vocabulary Poster Set
Free Shape Vocabulary Poster Set
Free Shape Vocabulary Poster Set
Guess My Shape Game

Last fall I saw a Facebook post asking if anyone had a shapes vocabulary poster that included the adjective, as well as the noun form, of each shape name. I realized that I had no such poster, the value of such a thing, and decided to make one. The one turned into a three page set (tabloid size, 11 x 17 inches) as I decided to include some 3D shapes, as well as 2D. The posters are free to download, simply click one of the pictures or links.

Shape vocabulary isn’t something I think about much anymore, but it is something I’ve had to teach quite a bit in the past. I spent a lot of time with it when I was teaching a middle school self-contained class of newcomers and we had to do a geometry unit (geometry is my math nemesis). I tried everything that semester from a very basic shape book for my newest arrivals (it’s actually something I developed and used the year I taught kindergarten, first, and second grade beginning ELLs) to a version of shape quotations that I read about on another blog. I had a shape vocabulary poster, of course, and my students all had shape vocabulary stickers in their math notebooks, but the idea of including the adjective form of the words never occurred to me. Looking back on it, I wish I’d thought of it then, but it’s going to have to be one for the “better late than never” pile and I’ll do it from now on.

When I was teaching that dreaded geometry unit, my students’ favorite game to practice the various vocabulary they were learning was Guess My Shape Game. The game was inspired as I was watching students play Guess Who to practice their vocabulary for describing people. They were doing a great job, using a lot of the vocabulary we’d been learning for body parts and clothing, and it got me thinking about the shape vocabulary we’d been learning. My students were doing fairly well with basic shape names, but were struggling with vocabulary for shape attributes, such as edge, vertices, etc. I thought, “This would be the perfect game to practice such vocabulary, they’d have to ask questions that use the vocabulary words to guess the correct shape.”

That night I went home and started work on my first ever Cover Up Game. The game was created by making a game board for each student with twelve different 2D shapes on it. Since students would be choosing different shapes to be the “mystery shape” from a pile of cards, both boards could be identical and had no need of the numbers my other cover up boards have (this also means the game doesn’t require the 12-sided dice the other cover up games do). The shape cards were just a slightly larger version of the shapes on the game board and without the name labels. I printed everything on cardstock and laminated the boards and cards for durability. (Side note: as much as possible I use cold lamination for my games and activities. It is thicker than hot and never peels, even as it ages or after you cut through it. I have some games that I laminated, cut, and have been using for over two decades. The students have bent the pieces and I’ve wiped them down with disinfecting wipes and they still look brand new!)

The game is simple to play:

  1. The students each draw a shape card, keeping it secret from their opponent.
  2. Students take turns asking yes or no questions about the mystery shape’s attributes.
  3. Students use the information gained from their questions to mark off shapes that don’t fit the criteria. (example: If the mystery shape has four edges, it cannot be a circle or a triangle, so those shapes would be marked off.)
  4. When a student thinks he/she knows what the mystery shape is, he/she asks, “Is your shape a _________?” If correct, he/she is the winner. If not, the game continues.

Since students can draw multiple cards, the game can be played over and over with the same partners. Sometimes we’d have a tournament and students would change partners every round based on if they won or lost.

Marking off the shapes that don’t fit the given criteria can be done in different ways. I suggest either using dry erase markers to X them out or some type of cover. Favorite covers in my class include milk jug lids, mini erasers, and plastic counters. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what you use as a cover, but since there is the potential for needing as many as 11 covers per student, you want something that is cheap and easy to replace when lost or damaged.

I can’t remember who posted that question about a shape vocabulary poster on Facebook, but I wish I could. I’d like to thank him or her for inspiring me to create something new and starting my trip down memory lane. It’s been years since I thought about that geometry unit! Whoever that might have been, if you read this post, thank you! Happy teaching, everyone!

St. Patrick’s Day Math

One Step Equations with Integers Mystery Picture: Sheets
One Step Equations with Integers Task Cards: Paper Version
Solving Equations Poster/Anchor Chart: FREE!

Warning: If you haven’t figured it out by now (and the name of my blog wasn’t a clue), I am not a math teacher. I have had the privilege of working with some excellent math teachers, but I am not a math teacher. I will be forever grateful to my math teaching colleagues who patiently answered my many questions, and never once laughed when I walked in their room with my book literally on my head to cover my frustration. That said, as an ESL teacher, I am often required to teach subjects I am not comfortable with (Science! I am definitely NOT a science teacher!), math in particular. It’s taken a few years (OK, more than a few), but thanks to my wonderful colleagues and a lot of practice, I finally feel relatively comfortable teaching math, at least through pre-algebra. Today’s post is math related, and is dedicated to all of the wonderful math teachers who put up with me in PLC meetings (HCA FePi and Pontiac Middle, I’m thinking of you!) and patiently explained the concepts I never grasped as a student.

When faced with teaching content I’m not comfortable with I tend to fall back on teaching strategies that I am comfortable using. For me, that means visuals, games, task cards, and other active learning materials. One year we were approaching St. Patrick’s Day and my students were struggling with integers and one step equations. I’d already provided them with a visual, a color-coded poster that reviewed vocabulary and the steps to follow (use the link to get your own free copy), and we’d practiced more times than I cared to think about. Desperate for more practice activities, I decided to make a set of task cards. Rather than use X or Y as the variable, I used a shamrock outline instead. While this one activity didn’t magically transmit the skill of solving one step equations with integers into my students’ heads, it was a fun and different way to practice. The students enjoyed working in groups and being able to do something that wasn’t a worksheet for a change.

Since this St. Patrick’s Day will be a little different, I wanted to make a digital version of the activity so students could continue to have a little fun while practicing this important skill. I could have created a set of digital task cards, but that would have required me to come up with answer choices and not provided teachers with any feedback on student learning. Self-grading digital task cards were also an option, and it would solve my problems with digital task cards, but I wasn’t overly excited about the idea. I finally decided to make a digital mystery picture (for a tutorial on how I create them, see this blog post).

The hardest part of any digital mystery picture creation, in my opinion, is the creation of the picture. Since these task cards were originally St. Patrick’s Day themed, I wanted to continue in that vein. I settled on the picture that you see above: a pot of gold under a rainbow. I’m not an artist, but basic shapes are doable, and the rounded shapes were easier to create than I’d feared. I will admit that I went a little crazy filling in the background, and ended up with far more squares that needed to be colored in than I’d expected, but it all worked out in the end. I was able to reuse the equations from the paper task cards, but this time I used the traditional variable X instead of a shamrock. I’m quite happy with the end result, and I think it’s a fun way for students to practice. Teachers are still not going to see student work, but they can see their final answers, and students receive immediate feedback as to the accuracy of their answers.

As I said in the beginning, a bit of a different post for me. Next week I’ll be happily ensconced back in the friendly world of grammar, vocabulary, and all things English, but I wanted to wish everyone an early Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and give a quick shout-out to my math teaching friends. HCA FePi and Pontiac Middle math PLC, I couldn’t have done it without you! You know who you are, and you know where to find me if you want a copy of the digital activity. Happy teaching, everyone.