A Grinchy Christmas, Part 2

Free Digital Similes and Metaphors Activity
How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game: Digital

Happy Grinch Week, everyone! On Monday, in A Grinchy Christmas, Part 1, I shared with you how I’ve been using digital board games, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas review game. Today I would like to share with you another fun activity my students and I like to do with How The Grinch Stole Christmas, this one for practicing distinguishing between similes and metaphors. 

My students really do love the book, but they love the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” just as much. This song is filled with similes and metaphors! But before getting to the song, I introduce similes and metaphors to the class. After a mini lesson on the difference between similes and metaphors, I like to have them practice as a group. Class Hook is a great resource for short video clips from favorite movies and tv shows.  You can search by entering your terms (topic, language function, type of video…) into the search box. Videos are marked with recommended grade ranges (elementary, middle school, high school), as well as topics, and relevant details (such as if it has profanity). Teachers can create playlists and view others’ comments about how they used the videos in class. You can choose to view the clips on Class Hook, or on YouTube. I searched for videos containing similes and metaphors and choose several, saving them to a playlist for future reference. In class we watch the videos and we discuss three questions:​

​     1. Did you hear a simile or a metaphor?
     2. What was the simile or metaphor that you heard?
     3. What does the simile or metaphor mean?

Since we are now online, I wanted something that my students could do asynchronously, if necessary. I created a set of digital task cards, of sorts, to meet that need. Each slide has the video clip (in Slides: click Insert, Video, copy and paste the YouTube address into the search box, click the video, click Insert), a place to mark if they heard a simile or metaphor, a place to type out the figurative language they heard, and a place to type out what the figurative language means. An answer key is also included. You can have this free resource added to your Google Drive by clicking on the picture above, or this link.

After our mini-lesson on similes and metaphors, and our group practice, it is finally time for “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” I pass out copies of the lyrics to students (download a PDF using the button above), and instruct them to get two different colors of writing utensils. At the top of their paper, students use one color to write the word “simile,” and the second color to write “metaphor.”  We then listen to the song without doing anything but enjoying it. The second time we listen, we underline all of the similes we hear. The third time we listen, we underline all of the metaphors we hear. We then listen a fourth time, trying to catch any figurative language examples we may have missed. The entire activity takes less than half a class period, and it’s a fun way to practice similes and metaphors.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas truly is a favorite of all my students. I love that we can practice such advanced language in such a fun way! I hope your students enjoy the activities as much as mine. Happy teaching, everyone!

A Grinchy Christmas, Part 1

How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game: Digital

Tomorrow, December 1st, is National Grinch Day. Though it’s not an official holiday, it is the start of the Christmas season, and many different organizations use this opportunity to promote reading, kindness, and community spirit. Hands down, the favorite part of December for my students is always reading How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching kindergarten or college, my students always enjoy this book. This week I’d like to share with you some of the activities we do with this book, and the best ways I’ve found to use digital board games in a remote setting.

Since many of my students are new arrivals in the USA, it is not unusual for them to have never read the book. We always spend the bulk of our time on reading comprehension. We read the book, watch the movie (both the cartoon version, and the updated version starring Jim Carrey), and compare/contrast the different versions of the story. The culminating activity is always a board game show-down to see who knows the story the best. I always allow students to reference the book, if needed, while play ​How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game, but they take it as a personal challenge to try and answer as many questions as possible without looking back at the text. Some tips I’ve learned through the years for playing these types of games in class:

  • Print each set (game board and cards) on different colors of card stock. This way, when you find a stray card on the floor later, you’ll know exactly which set it belongs to.
  • Store game pieces and cards in sandwich size Ziploc bags for easy distribution. I make a separate bag for each game set that contains the cards, playing pieces (colored counters or mini erasers), and a number cube. I then store the game boards and supplies bags in a gallon Ziploc bag. When I want to take the game to school, all I have to do is grab the big bag out of my Christmas supplies box. When it’s time to play, I quickly toss each group a board and a bag.

Like many others, I have been online this semester, so I converted my How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game into a digital format. I’ve shared in many different posts about my process for converting games, and about the Game Play Script that my husband wrote for me to allow students to “draw” a card and “roll” the dice. If you want to see this particular game in action, you can check out this YouTube video:

Using Digital Board Games

Rather than repeat information I’ve previously shared, I want to share with you some of the best ways I’ve found to use digital board games in a remote learning environment. There are so many wonderful scripts, add-ons, and other innovative ideas, but there are still limits to what we can do in these digital environments. Here some of the different ways my students and I have successfully experimented with playing digital board games:

  1. Shared Screen–To use this method one person shares his/her screen with the group. This is great because everyone can see what’s happening at the exact same time. The draw back is that only the person who has shared his/her screen can edit or move things in the document, so the others have much less interaction. This is the method I prefer for games such as Jeopardy, where clicking and other actions are at a minimum, and the focus is on large group speaking.
  2. Small Group File Share Breakout Room Speaking–To use this method, a copy of the game must be made for each group, that copy must then be shared (with editing rights) with each member of the group. Groups then enter a breakout room (so they can talk to one another without disturbing other groups) and all open the file on their individual computers. Students then communicate via Zoom, Meet, or whatever conferencing tool you are using, while playing the game in the shared file. The advantage of this method is that all students can manipulate the game pieces and have access to the menu items. The disadvantage is that no one can see what another player is doing until he/she has completed it. Players also cannot see what other players do when they activate the scripts–they do not see the “dice roll” menu pop up, or what slide the player is randomly sent to when they “draw” a card. Also, unless you have a record feature for the breakout rooms, you have no idea what the students are saying as they answer the question prompts. While this might not matter much when playing a game such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it does matter a lot to me when we play games specifically to practice grammar features
  3. Small Group File Share Breakout Room Typing–This method is much the same as the previous one, but with one twist. In this method students not only speak their answers aloud, they also right click on the gameboard square, choose Comment, and type their answer into the comment box before posting it. This has the advantage of allowing me to quickly scan through and check their use of the target grammar feature (or other learning objective), but it has the disadvantage of taking much longer. Most of my students type much slower than they speak, and sometimes they get bored waiting for others to type answers (they are often not finished by the time it’s their turn again). I recommend this method for games such as Cover Up, and similar very small group games.
  4. Large Group Simultaneous Play–This method is the one that my students and I prefer and use most often. I’m using large group as a relative term, I would not attempt this with more than 10-15 students in a group. To use this method, divide students into groups of about 10 and share a copy of the game (with editing rights) with each group. I recommend dividing students based on tech ability, students who are better typists and more proficient at things such as drag and drop are grouped separately from those who struggle with these types of computer skills. There is no need to place students into breakout rooms, because they will not be talking aloud much, most of the communication is done through the chat feature (though my students like that they can verbally talk to me at any time via our conferencing tool). After students have all opened the shared file, they should also open the built-in chat feature of Google apps. The final step is for students to type their initials onto a game piece so everyone will know which piece belongs to which student (it is very likely you’ll end up with multiple students having the same color piece). Students will then begin to play the game at their own pace, taking turn after turn, not waiting for others to take their turns. All answers are entered into the chat box. I read over the chat box answers and type back feedback to encourage and help students with the learning target. This solves several problems: students are able to manipulate the game elements for themselves, they no longer get bored waiting for their turn, I get to see everyone’s answers in real time, and it no longer matters that no one can see the “dice roll” pop up menu or which card students randomly “draw.” Students are encouraged to move quickly, as the first player to finish is still the winner (hence the grouping by tech ability), but I reserve the right to move their piece backwards if they give too many incorrect answers in the chat. This is my students’ preferred method for playing board games in the digital environment.

This semester has been a lot of trial and error for me and my students, as I’m sure it has been for many others. I’m sure there are many other ways of playing games in a fully remote classroom, but these are the four that have worked the best for us. I hope it helps you to get some ideas for your classrooms as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

The Know-Nothings Talk Turkey

Digital Comprehension Journal
Paper Comprehension Journal

One of my biggest struggles in teaching older low proficiency English language learners is finding books for them to read. The books that contain vocabulary and sentence structures they are able to comprehend are made for very young learners. I do have two go-to series though that never fail to become favorites of my older learners: ​Amelia Bedelia and The Know Nothings

The biggest reason my students and I like these books is the main characters are adults. So many other great books, (such as Cam Jansen, a series I talked about in my Spooky Synonyms and Halloween Literature posts), have characters that are in early elementary school. While the books are well written, and the stories engaging, my students are unable to relate to the characters. It is also a little discouraging because they are having to read a children’s book. Conversely, Amelia Bedelia and The Know Nothings feature main characters that are adults and, while still obviously being written for children, it’s a little easier for my students to relate to them.

Another reason we like these books so much is that they are funny! Amelia Bedelia and all of her comprehension mistakes is very relatable for English language learners. The Know Nothings’ lack of understanding is not quite as relatable, but they are happy and they don’t let their difficulties deter them from their goals. My students like the positive attitudes and easy comradery of the four friends.

When I was searching for Thanksgiving lessons beyond my stand-by readings and vocabulary from The ESL Teacher’s Holiday Activities Kit, I decided to focus on The Know Nothings Talk Turkey for our reading comprehension work. In this book the four friends realize it is time for Thanksgiving, talk briefly about why we celebrate it, and then set out to have a true American Thanksgiving experience. They have a lot of adventures as they try to find and serve a turkey, but in the end are thankful to be together as friends.

In order to facilitate our reading, I developed a tri-fold brochure with questions for each chapter and a very short final comprehension check. Once printed and folded, the comprehension journal/brochure served as a bookmark, as well as a place to track their learning. Since so much of our lives has gone online this year, I created a digital comprehension journal for my online friends to use. The digital version includes all the same questions in a single slide deck with hyperlinked buttons for each chapter and the table of contents (first slide) for easy navigation. This lesson also provided yet another chance for my students to practice using the steps to comprehension (see previous blog post) that I’d taught them, though instead of underlining the sentences in the text I had them mark them with sticky-notes instead.

The book is rather short, so we were able to read the entire thing, and complete our journal, in less than a week. The students really enjoyed the story and it was a great way to introduce them to some American Thanksgiving history and traditions. Happy teaching, everyone!

Steps to Comprehension

Steps to Comprehension Posters

We’ve all experienced it, the desire to scream, cry, pull our hair out, do something, when students answer basic knowledge-level questions incorrectly. It dives me absolutely insane having to watch students take a test and get questions wrong, especially when the answer is right there in the text. I just want to say (ok, shout), “Look back at the text! Read!” Thankfully, most of my students eventually stop putting me through this torture and learn to look back at the text before answering. How do I get them to do this? A combination of a lot of explicit instruction, a ​set of posters displayed prominently in my room, and just a little bit of “torture,” middle school teacher style.​

One of the first poster sets I put up every year, and leave up all year, is my Steps to Comprehension posters. This is a set of seven footprints with the steps I teach my students to follow when answering any comprehension question. The first poster simply says, “Steps to Comprehension.” Each of the other footprints lists a single step:

  1. Read the question and choices.
  2. Read the passage.
  3. Read the question and choices again.
  4. Find a sentence or two that tells the answer.
  5. Read the question and choices again.
  6. Mark your answer.

These are simple steps, but it is amazing how much reinforcement it takes to get students to follow them.

Once school begins I dive straight into explicit teaching and reinforcement of these steps. Before introducing and reading our very first piece of text for the year, I point out the posters and we talk about them. We read each step and talk about how doing this action will help us answer the question(s). I then introduce our text and model the steps, verbalizing the thoughts that go through my head as I am reading and comprehending a passage. We work through several texts over several days (weeks, months…) as a group, the whole time verbalizing our thinking/rational for what we’re doing. I encourage the students to, whenever possible, underline the sentence(s) that help them answer the question and write the question number next to them. To be sure students are getting enough practice, I like to use daily reading comprehension practices as part of our morning/bell work. I have quite a collection of photocopiable books for this purpose, but two of my favorite publishers are Evan-Moor and Scholastic. As they begin working through the process on their own, students don’t verbalize their thoughts as much, but I still require them to underline and number sentences to support their answer choices. As we go over the answers I will encourage students to share what sentences they underlined and why for different questions.

Eventually, once students are proficient with the steps, and are consistently able to correctly answer various levels of comprehension questions, I allow them to choose if they want to continue underlining sentences or not. There is a caveat though (this is where the “torture” comes in), any student who does not complete a comprehension assignment with 90% (or whatever percentage I deem fair) accuracy or better, must correct his/her mistakes AND underline sentences in the reading. He/she is also required to underline sentences from the beginning for the next comprehension assignment. The students hate having to correct their mistakes, and most hate underlining the sentences to begin with, so it usually only takes enforcing this rule once or twice before all students are scrupulously applying the steps to comprehension.

This simple set of posters and small adjustment to my lessons made a huge difference with my students. Students still get questions wrong from time to time, but nearly as often, and almost never a basic knowledge-level question that is answered directly in the text. The poster set can be downloaded for free by clicking the picture or link above. Happy teaching, everyone!

Genre & Author’s Purpose

A lot of things frustrated me as a teacher, such as how students would ignore the word wall and fail vocabulary tests until I made it an integral part of my teaching (see my Vocabulary Word Wall post from Monday for details), but nothing made me crazier than having students not know basic vocabulary for genre and author’s purpose. Then one year it hit me, it was my fault. I realized that I taught multiple genres, but never addressed the subject as a whole; I taught author’s purpose on occasion, but it was largely a one off unit. I decided that I was going to change all of that and created two new reference areas in my classroom, right next to our word wall.

My ultimate goal was to do with genre and author’s purpose what I’d done with vocabulary: make it an explicit and integral part of every lesson involving text. After discussing the vocabulary and adding it to our word wall, my students and I would turn our attention to genre and author’s purpose. By this point we’d already been skimming the text to find the vocabulary words and read the sentences they appeared in, but we took one more look back at the various text features. Based on the vocabulary, example sentences we’d read, images, and other textual clues we’d seen thus far we would make a prediction as to the genre and the author’s purpose for the text. We’d write the title of the selection on two small shapes (pre-cut calendar shapes work great), attach one to the appropriate genre poster, and the other to the correct section of our author’s purpose pie. We’d then proceed with our lesson and, after we’d thoroughly studied the text, return to our predictions and adjust it if needed.

The students quickly became comfortable with the names of various genres and sometimes engaged in quite heated debates over distinctions such as if a text was historical or realistic fiction. The words persuade, entertain, and inform also became commonplace and the discussions over where to place a particular text could sometimes only be ended by placing it on the line between two sections. The real test came that first spring when standardized testing rolled around. I knew my students could determine genre and author’s purpose as a group, but would they be able to apply their knowledge as individuals, and in a testing situation? I needn’t have worried, they all did great, and their scores rose tremendously on all areas of the test.

I wish I could tell you where I found the genre posters. I know that I downloaded them for free from some location on the internet, but have forgotten where over the years. The only one that I know for sure is the humor poster, which I designed myself to add to my set. All of the posters can be downloaded via the buttons on the above (they are letter sized PDF files). I highly recommend using a cold laminator to protect your posters. The cold lamination lasts much longer than the hot and is not nearly as prone to peeling. The author’s purpose poster is something I made by hand. I used a piece of poster board and then traced around a laundry basket to make the circle. Then, using what little bit of geometry knowledge I have, I measured the diameter, found the center point, and divided the circle into three sections. The letters were stickers I bought at Walmart, or some other similar store. I hung everything on my classroom wall and the fun began.

It really is amazing how small differences can make such a big outcome in student learning. The new vocabulary, genre, and author’s purpose posters and supplies cost less than $25 for the year (and most were reusable), and the discussions only added about ten minutes total to my teaching time. Such a small investment for such huge gains! 

Halloween Literature

Vocabulary Sort Cards: Paper
Vocabulary Sort: Digital

I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween. It’s nothing specific, it’s just never been my favorite holiday. However, part of my job as an ESL teacher is cultural instruction, and so each year I had to do something with it. Since I’m always on the look out for ways to accomplish more than one educational goal with a single lesson or unit, it should come as no surprise that I wanted to do the same with my Halloween unit. 

Besides wanting to accomplish multiple educational goals, I also needed to consider my students’ needs. Over the years I’ve had many traumatized students pass through my classroom, some of them refugees from war torn regions. I’ve never considered the scarier aspects of Halloween appropriate for school, and most certainly not for these students in particular, no matter their age. So a simultaneous goal has been to expose my students to the holiday, but focus on the less scary parts.

When working with beginning level students, one of my go-to resources is the ESL Teacher’s Holiday Activities Kit. This book has photocopiable lessons that consist of a coloring picture, vocabulary, a short reading (less than ten sentences with an illustration for each sentence), and comprehension activities. They are the perfect level for beginning students, and every holiday you can imagine is represented, with the “bigger” holidays having more than one reading and comprehension. It was my low intermediate students that I was struggling with what to do. They already knew the basics of the holiday, most had been in the USA for at least one year, but I still didn’t want to get into the scarier aspects, or the history of it. I finally decided that I wanted to approach it using literature. 

One of my favorite series to use with intermediate language learners is the Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler. The books are mysteries, but they are not scary, and have a touch of humor to them. The main characters are relatable and the books provide excellent opportunities to practice skills such as predicting, inferencing, and others. They are also relatively cheap (usually less than $5 a copy), so I could afford to get a copy for each student (I did a Donor’s Choose project to get the funds). Thus, Cam Jansen and the Mystery at the Haunted House became my book of choice for Halloween. 

I sourced much of our comprehension work from edHelper, and their free literature unit for the book. To go along with it, my students and I created The Word Cemetery bulletin board, which I described in my last blog post. The first time I taught the book I realized I’d forgotten something: vocabulary. How I forgot vocabulary is still a mystery to me. I spend huge parts of my life teaching vocabulary and have an entire set of vocabulary activities I use regularly. Since I never want to make the same mistake twice, I developed a vocabulary sort activity to use in the future. Now, before reading the book, we go over the vocabulary and use the sort cards (available by clicking on the pictures above) to practice. 

The last couple of years I’ve been teaching adults at a community college and I’ve actually missed getting to read this book. If our curriculum weren’t so packed, I’d still try to work it in, but for now I just remember previous years fondly. Hopefully you and your students can enjoy the book for me. Happy teaching!

Context Clues Four in a Row

Context Clues Connect Four Set A: Digital
Context Clues Connect Four Set B: Digital
Context Clues Connect Four Set A: Paper
Context Clues Connect Four Set B: Paper
15 Weeks of Academic Vocabulary Set A
15 Weeks of Academic Vocabulary Set B

Every semester I spend a lot of time teaching context clues. Knowing how to recognize and use context clues is an important skill for any student, but it is especially crucial for English language learners. I have several different games and activities that I have collected over the years and like to use, but they are all paper-based, and my class is 100% virtual this semester. Since I still needed to teach context clues I was originally intending to convert these paper-based activities to digital games, as I had several others. When it came time to actually do the conversion though, I realized it was going to be much more difficult to convert these particular activities than I had expected. I really wasn’t looking forward to doing the work and was also thinking that it was high time I created my own context clues activity. About that time I was also involved in a Facebook conversation about teaching academic vocabulary and it hit me: why not kill two birds with one stone? I could teach context clues and review academic vocabulary all at the same time.

I still didn’t have a lot of time (my semester was starting in less than a week), but I no longer need it. I had previously created 30 weeks of academic vocabulary units, so all of the research and content was finished. All I needed to do was take the existing list of 150 vocabulary words, and example sentences, and create a game that allowed students to practice context clues with them. Thus, Context Clues Academic Vocabulary Connect Four was born. Before I describe for you my creation process (very easy, don’t worry), let me give you a quick demo of how the game is played.

To create the game I started, as I almost always do, in PowerPoint. As I’ve stated before, in order to prevent things from being accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose) edited or deleted by students as they play, I put as much as possible into the background. Thus, I start creating my games in PowerPoint and design all of the elements that I don’t want students to change or move on the slide. I then save my slides as images (File-Save As-choose .jpg or .png-all slides). In this case, the slide creation was quite simple. I needed a title slide, a game board slide with directions, question slides, and answer slides. My questions were sentences using the academic vocabulary words, the answer slides were definitions for the words. Since I didn’t have time to create 150 new example sentences I decided to use the sentences I’d already written for my 30 weeks of academic vocabulary posters. Transferring the sentences was easy. I set up the text box on my first question slide (changed the font, size, and made it bold), opened my original file, copied the sentence, right clicked on my question slide in PowerPoint, and under paste chose the A symbol (text only). This pasted the text into my slide but kept the formatting I’d just set up. I added a rectangle shape that said “Answer,” and my first question slide was finished. In order to keep everything the same, I then created a duplicate slide to be my answer slide. I changed the text in the rectangle shape to “Game Board,” and changed the question text to be the definition (also copied from the original file) instead of an example sentence. For each subsequent word I created a duplicate of the question or answer slide preceding it and changed only the question or answer text. 

The one thing I had to be sure to do while creating the question and answer slides was keep my question slides together. In other words, I couldn’t have my first question on slide three and the answer for that question on slide four. If slide three was question one, then slide four needed to be question two, and so on. This is for two reasons: 1. the game has to remain in edit mode when students play it and I don’t want them to be able to see the answer in the slide sorter on the left, and 2. I knew I’d be using the “draw” a card function in the game play script my husband wrote me and it requires all of the question cards to be sequentially numbered. This meant I had to do some scrolling as I set up the slides, but it wasn’t difficult. 

Once my slides were all designed and saved as images, it was time to insert them into Google Slides. The easiest way to do this is to use Slides Toolbox. The toolbox add-on has an insert tool that allows you to make slides from images and set the image as the background. After opening the toolbox and selecting the images I wanted it took about 2 minutes for everything to be uploaded and set up. Two minutes may seem like a long time, but it is much faster than trying to set over 150 slides’ backgrounds individually!

The next step was to set up hyperlinks to make my “Answer” and “Game Board” buttons functional. To do this I used the shape tool to draw a box over the “Answer” button on my first question slide. I then changed that box’s border and color to transparent. Then I copied the box and pasted onto all of the following question slides. Then, noting the number of the first answer slide, I went back to my first question slide and hyperlinked the “Answer” button to the first answer slide. To do this I clicked on my transparent box, clicked the link button in the toolbar, chose slides in this presentation, and chose the slide number for the first answer. I then repeated these steps for each of the subsequent questions, simply adding one to the slide number I was linking to (question one linked to slide 79, question two linked to slide 80…). Making my “Game Board” button functional was much easier. I simply added a clear box to the top of my “Game Board” button on the first answer slide and linked it to slide three (my game board). I then copied this linked rectangle and pasted it onto each subsequent answer slide.

I was now ready to install the game play script. This script adds a menu item to Google Slides that says “Game Play.” The sub-menus are “Draw a Card” and “Roll the dice.” This game does not require dice, so I had my husband take out that part of the script. Both written and video instructions for installing and using the script are included with the download. You can get your own copy of the script by using the button below.

Finally, I needed markers for the game board. I first inserted an X shape (I use the one found under the equation section of the shapes too.). I then copied and pasted it 41 times, so I had 42 X’s in total. To get it the size I wanted, I selected all of the shapes, clicked arrange, align, and center. This put all of my X’s on top of one another and I was able to easily drag the corners to get them to be the correct size. I then changed the color and distributed them across the bottom of the screen. Finally, I selected half of the X’s and changed the color again so each player would have his/her own set.

This is the first digital game I’ve created that does not have a paper-version as well. While there were other activities that changed format or type when they were converted to digital, this one is the first that is completely new. I did end up creating a paper version, and it is played in a very similar way, but includes cards to draw and a glossary to check answers. You can get either Context Clues Connect Four game by clicking the pictures above, or a discounted bundle of both (digital or paper). You can also get the paper-based 15 week academic vocabulary units by using the pictures above, or a bundle of all 30 weeks. Also available is a bundle that combines both paper Connect Four games and all 30 weeks of academic vocabulary.

English Skillology, Level 3

English Skillology (free)

It’s the first day of class, I’ve just handed out the syllabus, and I already know the two questions that are about to be asked: “What’s going to be on the final exam?” and “Can I do extra credit?” This year I decided to get ahead of the extra credit question. If I am going to give extra credit points, I want the students to actually participate in meaningful work to earn them. I also tend to struggle with coming up with extra meaningful work for them to do. Enter English Skillology, my latest genius (I hope!) idea for getting ahead of my students. 

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. If a student were to complete all of the activities, he/she would earn 120 extra credit points.

​I designed this particular board for my high intermediate students (I hope to create at least three more boards, one for each of the proficiency levels I teach.). In creating the activities I consulted two different sets of objectives: seventh grade Common Core ELA and the Core Competencies for my department at the college where I teach. Here’s a quick overview of the 20 activities:

  • Author’s Purpose: 9 different genres/types of writing are listed, and students have to say what is most likely the author’s purpose in writing and why. 
  • Different Media: Students are provided with the text of Androcles and the Lion, and a short video of the same story. The task is to compare and contrast the two accounts.
  • Inferences: Clues to the identity of six different people/things/places are given. Students must make an inference of the thing being described, insert a picture of it, and write a sentence explaining why they came to that conclusion. (This is actually a small piece of my board game It Might Be…Inferences with Modal Verbs available in both paper and digital formats.)
  • News Comparison: Students find two articles, from two different sources, about the same event/topic, read each, and compare/contrast the two accounts using a Venn Diagram.


  • Infomercial: Students will use Screencastify, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute infomercial. An example video is provided.
  • News Report: Students will use Screencastify, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute news report. An example video is provided.
  • Informative Speech: Students will use OnlineVoiceRecorder, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute speech.
  • Elevator Pitch: Students will use OnlineVoiceRecorder, or a program of their choosing, to record a 30-60 second elevator pitch. Links to articles describing elevator pitches and how they can help one’s career are provided.


  • Active or Passive: Students read six different sentences about Dr. Seuss characters, drag the X to mark if the sentence is active or passive, and then rewrite the sentence as its opposite type. (This is a small piece of my Active of Passive Voice with Dr. Seuss Task Cards, available in both paper and digital formats.)
  • CER Advertisement Discernment: Students will locate and then copy and paste an advertisement from the internet. Students must then identify and describe the claim, evidence, and reasoning presented in the advertisement. (The full version of this activity is available in my TpT store.)
  • Informative Essay: Students write an informative essay, of at least one paragraph in length, on a topic of their choosing.
  • Narrative: Students write a narrative, of at least one paragraph in length, on a topic of their choosing.


  • 5 Ways to Kill Your Dreams: Students listen to the TEDTalk and complete the outline notes.
  • A Skateboard With A Boost: Students listen to the TEDTalk and complete the vocabulary and comprehension questions.
  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance: Students listen tot he TEDTalk and record three things they learned, two questions they have, and write a short paragraph reflection.
  • Why I’m A Weekday Vegetarian: Students listen to the TEDTalk and complete the persuasion graphic organizer.


  • Relative Clauses: Pretending to play Taboo, students will write three clues for each item/person/place, being sure to avoid the listed disallowed words. (This is a small part of the game Relative Clause Taboo, available in my TpT store.)
  • Prefixes & Suffixes: Students will drag and rearrange the puzzle pieces to complete the six puzzles. Each completed puzzle lists an affix, a root word, a new word, a definition for the affix, a definition for the new word, and a photo. (This is a small part of level 2 of my prefix and suffix puzzles, available in both digital and paper formats: level 1 paperlevel 1 digitallevel 2 paperlevel 2 digitalpaper bundledigital bundle.)
  • Synonyms: Students will drag the synonyms to the correct box to match them to the overused words. (The full version of this activity, French Fry Synonyms, is available in both paper and digital formats.)
  • Gerund / Infinitive: Students will type the correct form of the word in parenthesis. (The complete task card set is available in both paper and digital formats, as well as a Google Form version.)

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. Under Slide, click Edit Master. 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.

I’m really excited about this particular project. It was a lot of work to put together but I believe it will be very valuable for my students. I especially like how it allows them to earn extra credit by participating in meaningful learning activities. Don’t forget to download your own copy of English Skillology from Teachers Pay Teachers today–it’s free!

Sequencing Sentences

The Giving Tree: Digital
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Paper
Miss Nelson Is Missing: Digital
How I Became A Pirate: Paper
Hands down, some of the most popular resources in my store are my sequencing sentences. Currently I have four different sets: The Giving Tree, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Miss Nelson Is Missing, and How I Became a Pirate.

All of the sets are based on the same basic lesson plan: after reading the book, students use the sentence strips to reorder and retell the story. Personally, I have printed the sentence strips on card stock, laminated, and cut them for use over multiple years. I’ve heard other teachers print them on paper and have the students glue them into interactive notebooks. Either way, students get a lot of good practice sequencing and retelling the events of the stories.

As we’ve been making the transition to more digital learning, I wanted to make the activity digital. I used the same sentences, but created a drag and drop activity in Google Slides. Initially, I created my sentence strips by making a text box, inserting my elements, and saving it as an image. This prevents students from accidentally changing any of the text. Then, I created a single slide Google Slide deck and inserted my chosen background. Finally, I uploaded all of my sentence strip images and arranged them, out of order, on the slide. Now, when I want to assign the activity, I simply make a copy for each student and give them editing rights. Students are then able to, while in edit mode, drag the sentence strips around the page to sequence the story’s events. If the slide is placed in present mode, nothing is movable and the activity cannot be completed.

In order to have students do the retelling portion of the assignment I would approach it in one of several ways. If the student is old enough to type, I might add a second slide that consists only of a text box before sharing the assignment. Then the student could, on the second slide, type out his/her retelling of the story. If the student wasn’t able to, or didn’t want to, type the story, I could instruct him/her to use the voice typing feature that is built into Google Slides to insert the retelling into the speaker notes (Tools-Voice Type Speaker Notes). Another option could be to use an add-on such as mote to leave voice comments. The possibilities truly are endless

Each set of sequencing sentences is available separately in paper or digital format. There are also discounted bundles that offer a single book paper + digital versions, all books paper versions, all books digital versions, and all books paper + digital versions. Check them out today!

Inferring: It Might Be…

There are so many fun activities for teaching inferencing to younger students, but not so much for the older learners that I teach. At its core, inferencing is a skill that transfers, but English language learners still need to practice the language of inferencing. The best way to practice the language of inferencing is to actually make inferences, but having students hide things in paper bags and make guesses didn’t seem appropriate for my middle school and adult learners. This week I’d like to share with you the four main activities I use with my older learners when practicing inferencing (and other skills).

After defining the word inference, my students are usually scared. Even when I simplify the formal definition, and explain that it’s just an educated guess, my students still look fairly nervous. In order to help them relax, and realize this is a skill they already have, I like to start with some pictures. These are nothing fancy, just things I’ve pulled off the internet, but I have two sets (you can get them from the buttons on the left). I simply display them one at a time on the board, and ask the students, “What can you infer from this picture?” They almost always start by telling me what they can see, such as, “The boy is eating vegetables.” I don’t tell them they are making an observation, not an inference, instead I ask follow up questions such as, “Does the boy like vegetables?” and “How do you know he doesn’t like vegetables?” After the students answer, I explain that they’ve just made an inference. They took what they could see, a boy making a face at a forkful of vegetables, and added what they knew, kids don’t like vegetables, and made an inference: the boy doesn’t like vegetables. We then move on to the next picture and repeat the process. After a couple of pictures their confidence has grown and they are ready for a greater challenge.

Our second activity is usually a board game, and one of our favorites is It Might Be… The object of the game is to infer a specific person or thing based on a category (sports, occupations, food, famous places, famous people, animals) and set of six clues. The fewer clues a student needs to infer the person/item, the more spaces he/she gets to move. To play, the person to the right of the player whose turn it is draws a card. The card holder then reads the category and first clue. The person whose turn it is either makes an inference as to the person/item being described, or asks for another clue. If the player is able to correctly infer the item from the first clue, he/she moves six spaces. Every additional clue required reduces the number of spaces the player will move by one (so if four clues are read, the player moves two spaces). I use this game as an opportunity to sneak in a little practice with modals of possibility/probability (might, may, must, could…), by requiring students to include one in their answers. Play continues in this manner, with students taking turns and reading to one another, until someone reaches finish and becomes the winner.

digital version of this game is also available, but is played slightly differently. Rather than another player reading clues, all of the clues are presented at the same time. Students use a specially scripted game play menu item to “draw a card” (they are jumped to a random question slide in the deck), and read the clues for themselves. After making their inference, they click the answer button to check the answer, and the game board button to return to the playing board. Once at the playing board, students again use the game play menu to “roll” the dice and move their piece. You can learn how to play the digital version of the game in this video:

Honestly, the digital version of the game is cool, but my students and I all prefer the paper version of this game. We all like how the number of spaces you move is directly tied to how early you’re able to make a correct inference, it adds a level of challenge and reward that is missing from the digital version. But, the digital version did get the job done, and we were able to practice both inferences and modals of possibility while doing distance learning.

On Thursday I’ll share with you two other activities we enjoy using to practice inferencing. Until then, happy teaching, everyone!