Where Do I Need To Go?

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

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

Directions Around My Town

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What to Wear?

Making vocabulary practice interesting for students is not always easy, especially older students. While my adult students understand the value of repetitive vocabulary study, and thus are willing to participate, my middle schoolers were not always so accommodating. I did eventually find some culmination activities that were almost always a hit, such as Appetizing Adjectives for food vocabulary and Outfit on a Budget for clothing.

Vocabulary Practice Pack
Guess the Word Game

Vocabulary Practice Activities

We start out with many of the same vocabulary activities as our other studies: sorts, clip cards, spinner games, match up boards, etc. While I’m always trying to keep students engaged, I do find that using a standard set of activities helps them to concentrate on the vocabulary words and not the activity directions. That said, clothing vocabulary was one of the first sets to have a Guess the Word PowerPoint Game made to go with it, and my students love this game! I’ll be writing a post with all of the details (including step-by-step directions and a template you can use to make your own versions) soon, but for now you can see the community places version of the game in action in this YouTube video. It’s after these standard activities, when we get to the culmination activity, that the real fun begins though.

Outfit on a Budget Challenge

As a wrap up to our unit, I give students a challenge. Since I already have several good descriptive writing activities (including Describe That Picture and Descriptive Writing With Mr. Potato Head), I usually make the final product of this project a speaking presentation. When I have time, I prefer to do this project in two parts, but sometimes I have to skip straight to the second half in order to fit everything into a limited semester.

Part One

Students are told they are now all fashion consultants and it is their job to put together the perfect outfit for a given occasion. Students are placed into pairs and told to decide if they will be dressing a man or a woman. They then randomly draw an occasion card from my stack (part of the free download at the bottom of this post). Occasions run from very casual things such as staying home on a Saturday to highly formal events such as attending a wedding. Pairs are then given time to shop for the perfect outfit. Their outfit must include all outer clothing (no underwear), shoes, and accessories. No budget is given for this first part, but I do limit them to one or two websites to do their shopping (usually Amazon or Walmart).

As students are working, they take screen shots of the various pieces of their outfit and keep a running total of the cost. All of this is combined in a class Google Slides presentation. All pairs are allotted a single slide which must contain the occasion, images of the outfit components, and a grand total. Students then take turns presenting their chosen outfit to the class. They need to describe the outfit and explain why it is the perfect choice for the event which their fictional client will be attending. Limiting students to one slide, and requiring them to primarily fill it with pictures, helps break students of the habit of writing their speech out on the slide. Students begin to understand that presentation slides are there to support their speaking, not duplicate or replace it.

Part Two

For part two, students keep the same partner and occasion, but this time must draw a card from the budget pile (also included in the download below). Students once again design the perfect outfit, including all clothing except underwear, as well as all accessories and shoes, but this time they must do it within a certain budget. Since the budget cards range from $35-195, I will sometimes have two piles (casual vs. formal events).

The working and presentation aspects of the project remain the same, but students must include their assigned budget in the presentation, as well as the final total. Sometimes, depending on the age and math abilities of my students, I will even require them to figure and include sales tax in their final costs. This is an excellent culture lesson as many countries do not have sales tax or include it in the price you see advertised (and their math teachers love the extra practice with percentages it gives students).

Conclusion

This final project is a lot of fun and provides the students with practice in several different vocabulary areas: clothing, colors, numbers, money… It also requires some good descriptive speaking skills, something my students generally need to work on. When I don’t have access to technology available, I give students catalogs (yes, they’re still out there, you just have to request them) and a graphic organizer to help them prepare for their presentation. For the presentation itself, I either allow them to either skip the visuals completely or make a poster to share (often a small one we place on the document camera). The final outfits are always a lot of fun to see, especially the differences between the budgeted and unbudgeted versions! If you’re looking for a fun way to practice vocabulary and speaking skills, I highly recommend giving this activity a try. Happy teaching, everyone!

As promised, here is the download for the activity cards and graphic organizer, as well as links to the other vocabulary activities.

Connected Conditionals

Connected Conditionals Board Game: Paper

Despite my efforts, game smashing is still not a popular term, but it continues to be a real thing in my classroom. Awhile ago I saw a video from Twinkl ESL about The Chain Game. This is an easy, no prep game for practicing conditionals. It seemed like fun and I decided to try it. My students loved it! They only had two comments: they wanted to practice more conditions at a time (but needed a reference sheet), and they wanted it to be more game-like. After thinking about it for awhile, I put together a board game version (complete with reference chart in the middle of the game board) and tried it out on them. They declared it even better than the original speaking version and asked to play again sometime. Today, I’d like to share all the details with you so you can try out your own version of Connected Conditionals with your students.

The Materials

To play the board game version, you’ll need a few things, including a game board, playing pieces, and reference chart (free download above). You have some choices here: you can make your own, you can game smash, or you can purchase my premade version using the links above.

The first time we tried the game board version of the game, I game smashed to see how it would go. I used a game board and set of playing pieces from popular board games (Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, etc.) for each group. This worked well, but when we tried to play again many of the students didn’t have their paper reference charts with them (don’t forget, it’s a free download above). They also had a little bit of trouble keeping track of which conditional to use when practicing multiple conditionals.

That was when I created Connected Conditionals specific game boards. The basic board is one I’ve used many times, with squares around the outside of the page and a blank center (the easiest way to do this is to put a huge table over the entire page and merge all of the inner cells). Normally I put game directions in the center, but this time I put a slightly smaller version of the reference chart. This meant that no matter how many times we played, or how far apart those times were, every student would have access to the reference chart every turn.

I also took the opportunity to create specific direction cards for the various conditional combinations (saving me from having to write them on the board every time we wanted to play):

  • Zero Conditional Only
  • First Conditional Only
  • Second Conditional Only
  • Third Conditional Only
  • Zero & First Conditionals
  • Zero & Second Conditionals
  • Zero & Third Conditionals
  • First & Second Conditionals
  • First & Third Conditionals
  • Second & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, First, & Second Conditionals
  • Zero, First, & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, Second, & Third Conditionals
  • First, Second, & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, First, Second, & Third Conditionals

Of course this meant I needed to gather playing pieces and dice, but that was easy to do. We often use plastic counters for playing pieces, but other popular options include milk jug lids and mini erasers.

Game Play

The general directions for playing are as follows:

  1. The first player rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence using the target conditional (assigned based on the die roll on the specific direction cards). Example: If it is cloudy, I will take my umbrella.
  2. If the sentence is grammatically correct, player one moves his/her piece the indicated number of spaces. If it is not grammatically correct, he/she stays on his/her current square.
  3. Player two rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence. Besides using the target conditional (which may or may not be the same as player one’s, depending on the directions set and die roll), he/she must also use the end of player one’s sentence as the beginning of his/her own. Example: If you had taken your umbrella, I would have worn my coat with a hood.
  4. If player two’s sentence is grammatically correct, he/she moves his/her piece,
  5. Play continues with each consecutive player rolling and making sentences using the target conditional and the end of the previous player’s sentence.
  6. The first player to reach finish is the winner.

The cards giving directions for the fifteen different conditional combinations include which die rolls go with which conditional, as well as example sentences. To give you an idea of what I mean, here are the directions for the zero, first, and second conditional version:

  1. The first player rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence using the target conditional. Roll 1 or 4 = 0 conditional, Roll 2 or 5 = 1st conditional, Roll 3 or 6 = 2nd conditional: Ex: (rolls a 2) If it is cloudy, I will take my umbrella.
  2. If the sentence is grammatically correct, player one moves his/her piece the indicated number of spaces. If it is not grammatically correct, he/she stays on his/her current square.
  3. Player two rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence. Besides using the target conditional, he/she must also use the end of player one’s sentence. If player two’s sentence is grammatically correct, he/she moves his/her piece. Ex: (rolls a 6) If you were to take an umbrella, I would wear a jacket.
  4. Play continues with each consecutive player rolling and making sentences using the target conditional and the end of the previous player’s sentence.
  5. The first player to reach Finish is the winner.

Possible Scaffold

My advanced students do quite well with this game, but sometimes my lower proficiency students need help thinking of things to stay. One thing that helps is to allow them to roll story dice or use the spinners from our Silly Shorts game. Of course students are always allowed to make the sentences as ridiculous as they choose (and they do!), so the picture dice/spinners really help.

The fewer conditionals you are practicing at any given time, the easier the game. We almost always practice only one or two conditionals at a time, but sometimes my advanced students like to challenge themselves with one of the more challenging levels. Whichever version of the game we play, we always end up with some very entertaining sentences! I’m honestly not sure which game produces more laughter, this one or Silly Shorts. Give it a try and see what your students think. Happy teaching, everyone!

English Skillology, Level 2

English Skillology, Level 2–Low Intermediate

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

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

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

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

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

H. Prashker, 10-9-21

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

Reading

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

Speaking

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

Writing

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

Listening

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

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

Grammar

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

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

Picture Prompts Board Game

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

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

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

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

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

Question Words Game

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

Cause and Effect Game

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

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

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

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

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


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

Interrogative Images

Cause & Effect Pictures
Picture Prompts Board Game

English Skillology, Level 4

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

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

Reading:

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

Speaking

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

Writing

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

Listening

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

Grammar

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

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

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

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


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

Game Smashing: Silly Shorts

Silly Shorts: Digital Version
Silly Shorts: Paper Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Skillology, Level 1

Level 1
Level 3

This past summer I decided to have an answer ready for the inevitable, “Can I do extra credit?” question. I created a choice menu of four activities for each of the five domains (reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar). I called my extra credit menu English Skillology, and it was a big hit. It was such a hit with my high intermediate students, that I decided to make one for my beginning students.  The level three English Skillology menu (available for free from the original blog post linked above) was based off of seventh grade Common Core Standards and the Core Competencies for the ESL department at the college where I teach. The level one English Skillology menu (also available for free by clicking the picture or this link) is also based off the Core Competencies of our department, but the Common Core Standards come from the third grade ELA set.

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 beginning students. In creating the activities I consulted two different sets of objectives: third 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:
Reading

  • Main Idea and Details:  Students read a brief selection about the Statue of Liberty and answer five questions about the main idea and details.
  • Text Features Sort: This is a small part of a larger Text Features Sort activity (paper and digital versions available). Students match definitions and pictures to seven different text features by dragging and dropping them into the correct boxes.
  • Compare and Contrast: Students read the story of Little Red Riding Hood and watch a movie version of it. They then complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two versions.
  • Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement: One part of a larger pronoun activity pack (paper and digital versions available), students drag and drop the correct pronoun over the underlined noun(s) in each sentence.

Speaking

  • Introduction: Students will use Screencastify, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute introduction of themselves.
  • Informative: Students will use Screencastify, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute informative speech about a topic of their choosing.
  • Narrative: Students will use OnlineVoiceRecorder, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute story.
  • Tourist Advice: Students pretend their closest friend is going to visit their home country and give a 1-2 minute speech giving advice about what to see. This is a small part of a writing activity I have done many times.

Writing

  • Descriptive Writing: Similar to my Describe That Picture activity, students choose a beautiful picture and insert it on the slide. They then write a paragraph describing the picture.
  • Informative Writing: Students write at least one paragraph giving information on the topic of their choosing.
  • Myth or Legend: After reading the provided example, students retell a myth or legend from their home country.
  • Narrative: Students write a narrative, of at least one paragraph in length, on a topic of their choosing.

Listening

  • The Incredibles: Students watch a short clip from the movie and answer five questions about it.
  • The Blind Side: Students watch a short clip from the movie and answer five questions about it.
  • Pronoun Problem: Students watch a short clip from a Bugs Bunny episode and answer five questions about the pronouns used.
  • The Electoral College Explained: Students watch a TED Ed video and complete a graphic organizer about it.

Grammar

  • Subject-Verb Agreement: A small piece of a larger activity Have or Has: School Supply Rush (paper and digital versions available), students drag the provided circles around the correct word (have/has) to complete each sentence.
  • Conjunctions: Another sample from a larger activity, Conjunctions: The Tie That Binds (paper activity and digital self-grading task card versions available), asks students to drag and drop the correct conjunction to combine the two sentences.
  • Possessive or Contraction: In this small piece of Possessive Noun or Contraction? It All Comes Out In The Wash (paper and digital versions available), students drag each t-shirt to the correct washing machine to indicate if the word/phrase on the shirt is possessive or a contraction.
  • Singular or Plural Nouns: Students drag and drop the nouns into the correct column, sorting them by singular or plural.

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!

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:
Reading

  • 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.

Speaking

  • 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.

Writing

  • 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.

Listening

  • 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.

Grammar

  • 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!