Play Ball!

It’s baseball season again! The Detroit Tigers have their opening day next week (April 6) and soon many Americans will be heading out the ballfield, eating peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and not ever wanting to come back (to paraphrase a great old tune). In honor of all this, I thought I’d go over some of my students’ favorite baseball-themed activities.

Baseball Vocabulary

First featured in my post about our summer school baseball vs. cricket unit, this vocabulary set is one that gets pulled out and dusted off more springs than not. While my focus is generally more on academic vocabulary, understanding the vocabulary of baseball is a big part of culture learning. I’ve also had several students, especially from Central America, who are quite good at the sport and want to join the school’s team, but are too scared because they don’t know the English vocabulary. Either way, this sort activity is always a great place to start.

Am/Is/Are Triple Play

This oldie but goodie is one of the first task card sets I ever created and it practices the use of present tense to be. When I named this activity, I did intentionally make a play on words with

“triple play,” because it originally had three ways to use the task cards: task cards, response cards, and slap. Since then, by student request, I’ve added a game board so students can play that way as well. Thanks to Covid, there’s now a digital version of the task cards, too.

Who’s On First Listening Practice

This free activity was first mentioned in my post about authentic listening activities. It is a relatively challenging free listening activity in which students watch Abbott and Costello perform Who’s On First and complete a graphic organizer, labeling each position with the player’s name. A digital version of this free activity also exists.

Play Ball Amelia Bedelia Idioms

This activity also had a brief mention in my baseball vs. cricket post. It is very possible that my older (middle school and adults) students’ favorite books to read are Amelia Bedelia, and Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia is perfect for this time of year. Since there are so many idioms related to sports, and baseball specifically, after we read the book and discuss it, I like to take the opportunity to practice idioms. This is a simple matching activity that allows students to practice matching the figurative/idiomatic phrase with the intended meaning.


Our spring baseball unit was always fun and provided a nice way to take a break, but still keep learning, after and in between testing sessions. Even my less athletically inclined students enjoyed different aspects of the unit! If you want to go all out with baseball vocabulary, and just have to have all of these activities, you can get my Baseball Fun Bundle at a 20% discount. Happy teaching, everyone!

Bounce It In!

Do you have some extra plastic cups? How about a few ping pong balls? A permanent marker? Some vocabulary sort cards or other task cards? Then you have everything you need to play my students’ latest favorite vocabulary practice game–Bounce It In!

Another Practice Activity?

Yes, I have a lot of sort card and task card sets that I use in various ways. Yes, we have a lot of different vocabulary practice games and activities. You can read about the many different vocabulary games and activities in these posts:

But is it really possible to have too many activities for practicing multiple skills? I don’t think so. What I particularly love about this game is it can be used with literally any set of sort or task cards you have. You can even combine sets for a larger review session covering multiple skills/units.

Game Creation

Another advantage of this game? It is extremally easy to create. All you need to do is gather plastic cups (at least 10 for each team), some ping pong balls (1 for each team, different colors are advisable so everyone knows which ball is theirs as they bounce and roll around on the floor), and a permanent marker. You are going to number your cups from 1-10, creating a set for each group. There are various ways to set up the game, which we’ll discuss below. Grab your sort or task cards (1 set for each team), and you’re ready to go.

Game Play

The goal of the game is simple: earn as many points as possible by correctly completing the task (5 points) and earning bonus points by bouncing your ping pong ball into a cup (number on cup determines bonus points).

When practicing vocabulary, I use my sort cards. I mix the picture/definition and word cards together and place the stack face down near the where the students are sitting or lined up. The first student takes a card and either states the term that matches the picture/definition or gives the definition for the term shown. When practicing other skills, I put the task cards upside down near the students. The first student takes the top card, completes the task (completes the sentence with the target word, solves the math problem, etc.). If correct, he/she earns 5 points and tries to bounce the ping pong ball into a cup. The first student then retrieves the ball (this is important–if students don’t know who’s supposed to get the ball chaos can sometimes ensue) and the next student then takes a turn. Play continues in this manner until time is called. The student (or team) with the most points at the end is the winner. I highly suggest giving students a piece of scrap paper, or a white board, to keep track of their team’s score.

Game Set Up

There are a variety of ways to set up your cups, depending on how you want to play the game. The most basic version is to set them up in a triangle, with cup 1 being closest to the players and cups 7-10 making the base of the triangle. Normally students sit at the wide side of a table but, for this game, have them sit or stand on one of the narrow sides and line up the cups with numbers 7-10 on the opposite end. This is a great way to set up the game if you want students to play in pairs or groups of three to four.

Another basic set up, if you want to have two pairs or teams compete head-to-head, is to create two triangles that share the number 10 cup. In this set up, the number 10 cup is placed in the center of the table and a triangle fans out on each side, with the numbers 1-4 being closest to the players for each team. This version is best played in teams. Team members try to go as quickly as possible in order to get in as many bounces as possible. The added challenge (and fun) is sometimes your ball will hit the other team’s and one, or both of you, could be knocked off course.

This last version is great if you have a larger class, a couple of larger round tables, and want to have four teams playing at the same time. To create the circle, I placed a single 10 cup in the middle of the table. The first ring has six cups, three 9’s and three 8’s. The second ring has twelve cups, three each of numbers 5-7. The outer ring has eighteen cups, four each of numbers 1 and 4 and five each of numbers 2 and 3. To play, position teams at four approximately equidistant locations around the circle. Students still take task cards and complete them, but now there as many as four balls bouncing at any given moment, meaning an even greater chance of a collision.


My adult students especially enjoy this game. They like all of the games we play, but sometimes they get tired of board games and need something different. I’m honestly not sure which game is more popular with the students, this one or Sliding Sorts, but this one took a lot less set up on my part. One last recommendation for you: have extra ping pong balls on hand. They don’t often break or get dented, but it does happen. They also sometimes roll to a location that’s too time consuming to fish them out of during the game and it’s easier just to hand the team a new ball. Happy teaching, everyone!

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).


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 Vocabulary

“Words are the most powerful thing in the universe…” (Charles Capps) I don’t know about you, but it seems I spend at least half of my instructional time on vocabulary. We know the old school method of assigning lists of words, requiring students to look up and copy definitions from the dictionary, and then quizzing them on those meanings does not result in actual acquisition of vocabulary.

For students to truly acquire, and be able to use, new vocabulary they need to see it in context and connect it to existing frameworks in their brains. Unfortunately, providing students with the necessary context and connections is not always easy. In this post I’d like to review for you some of the various vocabulary units and activities I use to help students truly learn and begin to use the vocabulary they need to succeed. I also have a few previously unmentioned free activities and resources to share with you!

Vocabulary Units/Sets

I have several different vocabulary units (for lack of a better term) I use. When working with preliterate and beginning students, I prefer my Phonics Based Vocabulary Units. When I was teaching with National Geographic’s Inside curriculum, I used academic vocabulary units specifically tailored to those books (level A and level B). With intermediate and advanced students who are in academically focused classes (not community education), I tend to use my 30 Weeks of Academic Vocabulary program.

For more targeted vocabulary instruction, I have themed vocabulary sets. These sets tend to all use the same vocabulary activities and focus on 12-24 words each. I have sets for various themes including:

These themed vocabulary activity sets have come about because of specific needs for various units of study. The use of the same basic activities allows students the opportunity to concentrate on the vocabulary and not spend time and energy trying to understand the directions for the activity.

Vocabulary Activities

While we tend to use the same basic activities over and over again, there are a few that are standout favorites. These favorites include:

A newer activity that I dreamed up a couple years ago is Connected Vocabulary. To play this game, you need to number your vocabulary words from 1-6, 1-12, or 1-20. Each group will also need two number cubes that have the same value as the number of words in your list. You can find number cubes in all of the standard sizes (D6, D12, D20) fairly cheaply on Amazon. The student whose turn it is will roll the number cubes to determine which words from the list he/she will use that turn. The student will then use both words in a single sentence or explain one way in which the two words/items are connected (i.e.: A cat and a bat are both mammals. -or- Cat and sit both have only one syllable.). If successful, he/she earns a point and the student with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Vocabulary Glossaries

As previously said, looking words up in a dictionary and copying the definition is not the most effective means of gaining new vocabulary. But, as I talk about in the post Adding to Our Lexicons, sometimes it is necessary. When we do engage in “dictionary work,” I prefer to have students go beyond creating a list of definitions. Generally, I ask them to complete either a Circle Graphic Organizer or a Master the Term Graphic Organizer (both are free!). We then place these organizers into our own custom glossaries.

These glossaries aren’t fancy. They are three ring binders (usually one inch) that have construction paper dividers (trim to 9×11 inches) for each letter. Students then place the graphic organizers into the appropriate sections, alphabetizing the words as they go. At the end of the term, semester, or year (however long our class lasts), students have a custom glossary of the terms we learned together.

While the paper glossaries are great, some of my students preferred a digital version. In order to accommodate them, I created digital glossaries in PowerPoint to go with my 30 Weeks of Academic Vocabulary, Academic Vocabulary (correlates with National Geographic’s Inside curriculum), and CCSS Math Vocabulary (third grade and seventh grade) sets. (Side note: if you are teaching with National Geographic’s Pathways series, you can get premade glossaries, and lesson plans, for each book in the Listening/Speaking and Reading/Writing posts.) I also created a general template that students could use to create their own personalized glossaries for any class, subject, or personal learning goal.

The general template includes a title page, a general table of contents slide (letters of the alphabet), a general word list slide for each letter of the alphabet, and a preformatted Master the Term slide. The title page simply says “Vocabulary Glossary” and provides a place for students to list the text or class. The table of contents has all of the letters of the alphabet and each letter is hyperlinked to the appropriate slide for that letter’s word listing. The general word list slides for each letter include a button that is hyperlinked back to the table of contents and a textbox for students to enter their words in alphabetical order. Each letter has one Master the Term slide already formatted with a Table of Contents button and a button to return to that letter’s word list.

To use the template, students need to enter their term on the appropriate letter’s word list. They then will want to copy and paste the preformatted slide to create a new slide for their word. They will complete the sections of the graphic organizer, creating the entry for the new term. Finally, the students will hyperlink the term from the letter’s word list to the appropriate graphic organizer slide. It seems a little complicated but it’s actually quite easy, and I’ve never had a student who preferred the digital glossaries and couldn’t understand what to do with minimal instruction.

This PowerPoint template is a free download just below the picture in this section. The file also translates well to Google Slides, so fear not if you prefer Google over Microsoft. Feel free to help yourself and use it with your own students.

Word Wall Spinner Challenge

As I share in my Spin & Spell post, I create custom spinners for various games and activities in my classroom using old CD and DVD discs. My father built me several spinner stands (directions for building your own are free) and my students love using them. I design my own spinners using Publisher and print them on Avery CD labels. Our word wall spinners are just another version. Since our word wall is a central feature of our classroom, one of our go-to time filler activities is Word Wall Spinner Challenge.

The only equipment needed is one of two CD spinners with various challenges on them that relate to the word wall. Which spinner we use depends on how we’ve organized our wall. Since we often organize by part of speech, the second spinner is not very challenging since most of the sections ask the student to find a word of a specific part of speech. The included challenges are:

  • Find two rhyming words.
  • Choose a word and define it.
  • Choose a word and use it in a sentence.
  • Find two words with the same number of syllables.
  • Find two words with short vowel sounds.
  • Find two words with long vowel sounds.
  • Find two synonyms.
  • Find two antonyms.
  • Find a noun/verb/adjective/adverb.
  • Find a word that has a prefix or suffix.

To play, students take turns spinning and attempting to complete the challenge. If they do, they earn a point. Sometimes we have a race and two students compete the be the first to complete the challenge.

The CD spinner stand building plans are a free download from my Teachers Pay Teachers store and the CD label templates are a free download above. (The link is just below the picture of the spinner stand.) The PDF file will print out two copies of each spinner label. I will often put a label on each side of the CD so the people sitting behind the spinner can see what was spun as well.


I try very hard to provide as many opportunities as possible for my students to see words in context and practice using them. Are there other things we do to foster these connections? Of course, but the ones included here are the most common and successful thus far. I hope you’ve found at least one new idea to use in your classroom. Happy teaching, everyone!

Open Compound Nouns

We teachers, especially we ESL teachers, spend a lot of time talking about compound nouns. In fact, I have quite a few activities that I use to practice them with my students (check this blog post for details). This is important, but I’ve noticed there is one particular type of compound noun that seems to trip up my students more than any other, the open compound noun. My students tend to think of them as two separate nouns, or as an adjective and a noun, rather than a single noun, and I can understand why they do! Open compound nouns are tricky because they look like two words, when in fact they are functioning as one. Now there is some discussion about open compound nouns: should they actually be closed or hyphenated? I am not here to settle these arguments, for my purposes I’ve let Merriam Webster’s Dictionary be the determining voice. If Merriam Webster’s Dictionary lists the noun as a single entry, and does not close or hyphenate it, I consider it an open compound noun. Here are some of the fun activities my students and I use to build our open compound noun vocabulary.

Dominoes: Digital


Played similarly to traditional dominoes, each student takes five dominoes and the rest are placed in a draw pile. The top card from the pile is turned over and placed in the center of the playing area. The first person tries to match one of his/her cards to the card in the middle of the playing area, lining up the ends to form an open compound noun. If he/she has a matching card, he/she plays it, and the second person then takes a turn. If he/she doesn’t have a match, he/she draws a domino, plays it if he/she can, or adds it to his/her hand if not. The first person to get rid of all of his/her dominoes is the winner.

An alternative, less competitive, way to use dominoes is to give a complete set to each pair or group of students. The students then work together to create a huge rectangle by matching all of the words to form open compound nouns.

The digital version of the game is played in a similar fashion, but students drag and drop their dominoes to make plays. You can watch how to play the digital version in this short video:



Played exactly like the popular children’s game, this open compound noun version is perfect for vocabulary practice. Students turn over two cards, trying to match the term to the picture. It’s a great way to introduce less proficient students to the concept of open compound nouns. The included 24 nouns are all relatively common ones and so students have the opportunity to expand their vocabularies while playing a very low stress game.



This game uses the same 24 nouns as the others, but is more challenging linguistically. As in the popular card game, students have to describe the open compound noun without saying any of the words on the card. It’s a great speaking activity and one that my intermediate and advanced students really get into. When choosing the forbidden words, I tried to create a reasonable level of difficulty without making the game so challenging students wouldn’t want to play. It seems to have worked and my students have been known to ask to play the game again.



Hands down the most popular and competitive game in my open compounds game repertoire is Spoons. If you are unfamiliar with the game, you can get all of the details in this blog post. The goal of the game is to collect an open compound noun triplicate (word one, word two, compound noun) and grab a spoon from the center of the table. That starts a spoon grab frenzy with the final person being left spoonless and gaining a letter. Once a person collects all of the letters in SPOONS, he/she is out of the game. The winner is the last person in the game. There is an alternate play version included that doesn’t involve grabbing and wrestling for spoons, but I rarely have students that want to play it. Those that do opt for the more sedate version usually end up quickly abandoning it once they see how much fun other groups are having.

While these activities don’t get quite as much use as my general compound word activities, I do use them much more frequently than I expected when I first made them. In fact, just this week, we were talking about word stress in my pronunciation class. All of the students are advanced English speakers, holding advanced degrees, and most work full time in professional jobs here in the USA. Yet, the minute they saw the open compound noun examples in the book, several hands shot up and they all wanted to know why there were two word examples in the single word stress section. Fully expecting this to happen, I simply smiled, explained what an open compound noun is, and pulled out Open Compound Noun Taboo. As I did the first word as an example, I was reminded once again of how deceptively difficult that game is! One thing I can absolutely say, the game, as is always the case with these games, was a success with my students. Happy teaching, everyone!

Here are those links again, in case you missed some:

Or get a bundle that has all four of the games (paper version of dominoes) at a 20% discount!

This bundle has all four of the open compound noun activities and six “regular” compound word activities.

Eggcellent Activities: Scrambled Words

One of the things I often see in posts from other teachers is a need for more ways to practice spelling and vocabulary words. Last year I shared with you three of our favorite spelling games: Spin & Spell, Magnetic Spelling, and Body Boggle. Today I’d like to share with you another activity we often use to practice spelling and vocabulary: Scrambled Words. Besides being hands-on, relatively easy to set up, and good vocabulary practice, this activity is yet another way to use those plastic eggs that are so prevalent this time of year. So, if Contraction Eggs and Coin Eggs were a hit in your room, get ready for another eggcellent idea!

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Letter tiles (I use Scrabble tiles, but you can use anything that has a single letter on it and fits into the egg)
  • Plastic eggs
  • An egg carton (I make one set for every 4-6 students)
  • A recording sheet (described below)


Recording Sheet: I try to keep this very simple. I make three columns: egg number, picture and/or definition, word. The only column I fill in for students is the picture and/or definition. The students record the number from the egg in which they find the word in the egg number column (so I can be sure they actually unscrambled the letters in the eggs), and they write the word in the word column (to practice the spelling). The picture/definition takes this from a simple spelling exercise to a vocabulary exercise by giving the students at least some context for the word.

The Eggs: Each egg is numbered, 1-12 or 1-18 (depending on the size of my word list and carton). I then place the letter tiles to spell one word from our list into each egg. I do not put the words into eggs in the same order as the recording sheet. Doing so would defeat the point of having to unscramble the letters, students would be able to just write the words from the picture/definition alone.

The letter tiles can get a little expensive, especially if you are (like me) making quite a few different sets (we use this activity with nearly all of our themed vocabulary units and our phonics based vocabulary units). I have found letter tiles cheaper on eBay, but even that can get expensive after awhile. My solution was to employ the services of my woodworking father again. He sanded scrap wood and cut it into squares of approximately the same size as Scrabble tiles for me. I then wrote the letters I needed on the wood using a Sharpie marker. The result wasn’t as fancy, but it worked and was much cheaper.

At first I considered reusing the same eggs and letter tiles, just mixing up the combinations for the different lists, but I taught the same units over and over again and didn’t want to have to remake my eggs every year. Instead, I labeled the end of each carton with the unit information so I can quickly grab the set I want. Over the years there have been times when I no longer used a particular set (such as when the curriculum changed), and so those cartons were recycled and the eggs & tiles were reused to make new sets.

In Class Use:

I’ve used Scrambled Words in two ways. Sometimes we’ll do it as part of our whole class practice time. In those instances, I give a set of eggs and recording sheets to each group of students and let them work. The other way I’ve used this activity is as a center activity. I place 1-2 sets of eggs in the center along with a stack of recording sheets. When students get to that center in the rotation, they do the activity and leave their completed recording sheet inside a folder for me to check later.

The only problem I’ve ever run into with this activity is occasionally students will get the letters for two different eggs mixed up, or won’t get all of the letters back into a particular egg. I always remind students to only do one egg at a time, making sure to put the letters for that egg away before getting another one out, but accidents do happen. I am always careful to record on a small piece of paper I can keep in the carton (and remove before giving it to students) a key that tells me what word is in each egg. That allows me to quickly check that all the eggs have the correct letters in them before putting them away to await the next time we need them.


The first time I tried this activity I didn’t know how it would go over, especially with my middle school and adult students. They didn’t find it too childish though and it is a good way to practice spelling/vocabulary words that’s not writing them over and over again. Scrambled Words, along with Spin & Spell and Magnetic Spelling, is a staple in our vocabulary units, both the themed sets and our phonics based units. So, if you’re looking for a new way to practice spelling and vocabulary words, consider giving Scrambled Words a try. I think your students will like it. Happy teaching, everyone!

Kangaroo Words

I am an English language teacher, a grammar nerd, and I lived in Australia for nearly four years, so when I heard about kangaroo words I was ridiculously excited. I first heard about kangaroo words, words that contain their own synonyms (with the letters in the correct order), from a meme on Facebook. Since I know better than to simply believe everything I read online (especially on social media), I did a little more digging and found an article about them on Once I determined kangaroo words really are a thing, I got even more excited! A little more searching led me to the Kangaroo Words website, where I learned about twin kangaroo words, grand kangaroo words, and anti-kangaroo words.

Here’s a brief description of each term to help you out:

  • Kangaroo Word- a word that contains its own synonym, the letters for the synonym are not necessarily consecutive, but they are in the correct order (example: blossom > bloom)
  • Joey Word- the synonym contained within the larger word (example: bloom < blossom)
  • Twin Kangaroo Word- a word that contains two of its own synonyms, two joeys, the letters are still in the correct order (example: community > county, city)
  • Grand Kangaroo Words- similar to twin kangaroo words, a grand kangaroo word contains two of its own synonyms, but this time the second joey is inside the first joey (example: alone > lone > one)
  • Anti-Kangaroo Words- a word that contains its own antonym, the letters for the antonym are in the correct order (example: bearded > bare)
Kangaroo Words Game

It is probably a little pathetic how excited I got about this new-to-me linguistic phenomenon, but learning of it set my brain off and running with all of the different teaching and game possibilities it presented. I finally settled on a new version of my fishing games, but instead of drawing cards from a “fishing pond” (recycled and painted oatmeal container) students draw out of the “kangaroo pouch” (a fabric bag I made from old bulletin board material, though you can purchase them instead). The game is great vocabulary practice for synonyms (obviously), and even some antonyms, but why practice only one skill when you could include more? Knowing that some of the words would be unfamiliar to my students, (And if they don’t know what the word means how can they find the synonym hidden within it?), I placed each in a sentence so they could use context clues to help them guess the meaning of new words.

Game Creation

First I created a list of the various types of kangaroo words, as many as I could find. I then narrowed those lists down to 68 kangaroo words, 5 grand kangaroo words, 5 twin kangaroo words, and 16 anti-kangaroo words. I then created a glossary of that included the word, a definition for it, and the joey word(s). If you’re interested in what words I used, you can download my glossary for free using the button above.

The next step was to write example sentences for each of the kangaroo words I’d chosen. I purposefully wrote sentences that would give clues as to the word’s meaning because, as I said earlier, if you don’t know what a word means it’s going to be very difficult to identify its synonym. This was, as always, the hardest part of the game creation process; thinking up 90+ sentences for the target words is a much harder task than it seems. Once the sentences were written, the rest was easy.

I downloaded some attribution free, royalty free clip art from Pixabay, designed my playing cards, created a game reference card, and was finished. Each playing card had the type of word written at the top (kangaroo, grand kangaroo, twin kangaroo, anti-kangaroo), a kangaroo clip art image, the example sentence (with the target word underlined), and a point value on it. Kangaroo words are worth +1, grand and twin kangaroo words are worth +2 points, and anti-kangaroo words are worth -1. The game reference cards have definitions for each type of word on one side and scoring instructions on the other.

Game Play

Each group of students (I usually have students play in groups of 3-4) is given a bag with the cards already mixed up inside of it. On a student’s turn, he/she will randomly choose one card from the bag. He/she then reads the sentence and, if needed, may ask a fellow student to read the definition for the target (underlined) word from the glossary. The student then proceeds to try and identify the joey word(s) in the target word (answers can be checked using the glossary. Scoring is as follows:

  • Kangaroo Word = keep the card as +1 point if the joey word is identified; discard the card if the joey word is not identified and receive 0 points
  • Twin Kangaroo Word = keep the card as +2 points if both joey words are identified; discard the card and receive 0 points if neither or only one joey word is identified
  • Grand Kangaroo Word = keep the card as +2 points if both joey words are identified; discard the card and receive 0 points if neither or only one joey word is identified
  • Anti-Kangaroo Word = if the antonym is identified, give the card to the opponent of your choice as -1 point; if the antonym is not identified, keep the card as -1 point for yourself

Players continue to take turns, drawing cards and trying to identify joey words. When all of the cards have been drawn, or time is up, the player with the most points is the winner.


This is one of the simplest playing games I have, but it is one of the most linguistically challenging ones. There were quite a few kangaroo words I ran across that I needed help to identify the synonyms within. Though they all make sense when you have them pointed out, some of the synonyms are not the most common ones we associate with the various words. For that reason, I have only tried this game out on my advanced students thus far. They found it to be quite challenging, and I have to admit part of me (no doubt the part that made me a good middle school teacher) was secretly gratified to see them struggle a bit after they all said, “Synonyms and context clues? Again? This is so easy!” Their reaction earned this activity a place in the, remind-the-students-they-don’t-know-everything-yet section of my repertoire, right next to creating a cause and effect chain for The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate The Wash. It also told me that I was right not to ask my lower proficiency students to try and tackle this particular synonyms/context clues practice game yet. Happy teaching, everyone!

Not sure your students are ready for this type of activity? Check out these blog posts for other synonym and context clue activity ideas:

Eggcellent Activities: Coin Eggs

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

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

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


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

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

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

Set Up:

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


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


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

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

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

TWO TOO Many Owls TO Count on TUEsday (TwosDay, 2-22-22)

To, Two, Too: A Homophone Quadruple Play

I, like many of you, am loving the fact that February 22, 2022, falls on a Tuesday. The thought of all those twos together makes my hyper-organized, pattern-loving heart just go pitter-patter. And what better way to celebrate a day of twos than with a homophone activity all about two…or to…or too…

When I first dreamed up this activity, the concept of TwosDay had not been realized yet, at least by me. I was simply thinking about random teacher things and for some reason to-two-too was stuck in my head (probably because I was working on a lesson about its/it’s). For some reason this lead to thoughts of owls and the whoo-whoo sound they make (at least in English) and how who rhymes with too. I’ll spare you the full description of my convoluted thoughts and just say that the end result was this owl-themed quadruple play activity practicing distinguishing between the usage of to, two, and too. In the interest of full disclosure, I do have slight feelings of guilt related to the theme of this particular activity. While I do appreciate the sound-play of the rhyming too-whoo situation, as an ESL teacher I find it a little cruel to do this to language students. Animals make different sounds in different languages and owls do not say too in English. While I recognize this could be a little confusing for learners, I finally decided it was not a huge problem and went with it.

Each of the sentences is about owls, most featuring interesting facts. Some of the sentences are:

  • Owls are nocturnal, that means they go _______ bed when the sun comes up.
  • We refer _______ a group of owls as a parliament.
  • There are around 200 species of owls. That’s a _______ with _____ zeros after it.
  • Our aviary has parrots, cockatoos, and owls, ________.
  • Many owls have ears that are located at _______ different heights on their heads.

There are 24 different sentences in total and I had a lot of fun learning about owls while writing them.

We spend a lot of time practicing homophones in my classes, and we do a lot of different activities with task cards. Since every class is different, and no class likes to do the same activity over and over again, I typically make my task card sets into what I call quadruple play activities. I explained this in an earlier post, but I’ll give you a quick run-down of my students’ four favorite ways to use task cards here as well.

  1. Slap– I use heavy duty magnets to attach large signs with the answer choices on the board. Students are divided into two teams and each team is given a fly swatter. One person from each team stands in front of the board, fly swatter in head. I read one of the sentences (or display it via the doc cam) and the students race to be the first person to slap the correct word to complete the sentence. The winner gains a point for his/her team and the fly swatters are passed to new team members.
  2. Response Cards– Each student is given small cards with the answer choices on them. I read one of the sentences (usually displaying it via the doc cam again) aloud. All of the students then hold up their choice for the correct word to complete the sentence. This is a great way for me to quickly assess which students understand the concept and which need a little more help. What I particularly love is the quieter students are included as well, yet do not have to face the anxiety of “performing” in front of the group. A little tip: tell students not to hold up their cards until you give a signal. This prevents students from simply copying the answer of early responders.
  3. Scoot / Task Cards– There are a variety of ways to use task cards, but the two most popular are card scoot or student scoot. In card scoot, each student is given a recording sheet and one task card. The students then record their answer for that particular card in the correct square of the recording sheet, passing the card to the next student when finished. Alternatively, my students like to just pile the entire set in the center of the table, grab one, record the answer, and exchange it for another from the pile (this means I need one set of cards for each group of 4-6 students, rather than a single set for the entire class, but it works well). In student scoot, cards are hung up or scattered around the room. Students carry their recording sheet with them as they wander, writing down their answers as they find the various cards around the room. Student scoot is a great way to incorporate movement into your day but does require a little more in the way of classroom management. I also recommend giving students clipboards on which to brace their papers or some may be returned with holes in them.
  4. Clip Cards– This is a good way to use task cards in a center. Place the cards and a basket of clothes pins in the center. Students use the clothes pins to indicate which word will correctly complete each sentence. They can check one another’s work or you can provide them with an answer key in a folder to check themselves.

These four activities are far from the only ways we use task cards in my class (someday I’ll have to do an entire post with various ways to use task cards), but they are the most popular. As I tell my students, unfortunately the only way to learn the various homophones is through practice–but that doesn’t mean the practice has to be boring. Here’s to a creative and fun TwosDay! Happy teaching, everyone!

Need other homophone activities? There may not be a “perfect” date for these other homophone sets, but learning to distinguish between them is necessary anyway.

Your vs. You’re

Their vs. There vs. They’re

Are vs. Our vs. Hour

Whose vs. Who’s

Its vs. It’s

Mixed Practice

Homophone Practice Bundle: Multiple Sets, 20% Discount

Homophone Days of Yore

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

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

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

The Theme

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

Paper Activities

Homophone Days of Yore: Paper

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

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

Digital Version

Digital Version: Sheets

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

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

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

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


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

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

Or get a bundle of activities for 20% off!