Inferring Dialogue

Two of the things my students often struggle with are making inferences and using quotation marks. Students regularly confuse inferences with observations, telling me what they can see, rather than what they can guess. Then there is the issue of quotation mark use, which begins with a tendency to call them “double top commas” and goes on all the way to placing them after every word or not using them at all. In an effort to help students practice these skills a bit more, I came up with this fun activity, and today I’d like to share it with you (it’s a free download at the bottom). There are two versions, so hang in there with me as I explain the differences between them.

The Basic Idea

In both versions, students practice making inferences by looking at pictures of people talking. Designed in PowerPoint, each slide has a photo of two or more people conversing. The students look at the people and their surroundings before inferring what they people might be saying. Since it’s a photograph, it is impossible to observe what the people are saying, forcing students to move past telling me what they see to making a true inference. There are twenty pictures in all, fourteen have two speech bubbles each and the last six each have three bubbles.

Version One: Speech Bubbles

In the first version, each picture is as full screen as I could make it without distortion. I then added a speech bubble for each person. Students type the inferred dialogue into each speech bubble, creating a one frame cartoon, of sorts. There’s also a PDF version in which students can write the dialogue by hand, if computers are not available for their use. As I’ve said in the past, I prefer, whenever possible, to have students type their dialogues so they get practice typing, and build their typing stamina/speed, in preparation for standardized testing. Since speech bubbles do not require the use of quotation marks, this particular version practices only making inferences. It is version two that brings in the second skill.

Version Two: Writing Dialogue

This is the version I use with students who are ready to move beyond writing and punctuating simple sentences to using more advanced punctuation. In this version, the images are contained to the left two-thirds of the slide and a text box is provided on the last third. Students again type (or write, depending on which version you use) their inferred dialogue, but this time they must do so using quotation marks and phrases to identify who said what. This is also great practice of synonyms and other verbs to replace “said” in writing and speaking.

How I Use This Activity

No matter which version I decide to use, I typically follow the same pattern. We will do one or two pictures together as a class as an example. I’ll project it on the board, solicit suggestions, and then type the class’ chosen dialogue into the slide. Then, depending on the class, I’ll either have them complete the other pictures alone or, more often, with a partner. Students then present their dialogues to the class either via a glary walk (set the slides to advance automatically and put each presentation into present mode for digital projects) or by choosing the slide they think is their best and sharing it with the class (good speaking practice).

Use the Activity Yourself

You can create your own version of the activity (I found the pictures on Pixabay), but there’s no need. You can download my version for free from this post or, for a convenient one click download of all the PowerPoint and PDF files of both versions, from Teachers Pay Teachers. If you are thinking the digital version is the way to go but prefer Google, never fear! The file uploads well to Google Slides, so it’s an easy conversion for you. Without further commentary, here are the links for the files. Happy teaching, everyone!

Want to get all four versions of the activity in one convenient download? It’s free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


If you are looking for more practice with the skills of making inferences or using quotation marks, check out these resources:

Wheel of Quotations

A free game! Simply click the picture.

Ambivalent Inferences

A free activity! Simply click the picture.

Inferences? For Sure!–post with more information

It Might Be!

A fun board game!

Inferring: It Might Be!–post with more information & another free activity download

Inference Picture Challenge

A whole class PowerPoint game!

A new whole class game made especially for students just getting started with making inferences.

Getting Perspective

Helping students understand perspective can be difficult. It can be especially difficult helping them to see things from a perspective that isn’t their own. I have a writing mini-unit I do that helps with this process.

The first thing we do is discuss the definition of perspective and its synonym point of view. To help students truly understand this concept, I use a PowerPoint that I made based off a Chlloe article, Pictures That Show Just What a Difference a New Point of View Can Make.

In the article, Jade Kerr uses photos of familiar things and places, taken from unusual perspectives, to help us understand the difference point of view can make. I took these photos, and the descriptions given in the article, and paired them with photos of the same things and places taken from a more familiar point of view. The first slide has the familiar point of view with a title labeling the object or place. The next slide has the unusual perspective with the explanation text from the article. You can download the PowerPoint using the link below.

The students and I look at each slide in the PowerPoint, discussing the various photos and the difference perspective can make in how we view familiar objects and places. After looking through all of the images, the students get into pairs or small groups, choose one set of photos from the PowerPoint (I print out the slides and place them in plastic sleeve protectors, giving each group the set they’ve chosen as reference), and work together to write two paragraphs, one from each perspective.

The pairs/groups take turns sharing their paragraphs and we discuss as a class how the photo’s point of view influenced the way the students wrote each paragraph. This leads into a discussion of how an author’s perspective can influence a piece of writing and how fictional texts we’ve read in class would be different if told from another character’s point of view.

The final part of our mini-unit on perspective is to write fractured fairy tales by changing the perspective in some way. I start out by reading them the story of the Three Little Pigs (yes, even my adult students love having picture books read to them). Most of my students are familiar with the story and we take time to discuss any differences between the version I read and those they know from their own childhoods. Then I read them Jon Scieszka’s book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. We discuss how the story changes based on the new perspective. This leads into their writing assignment.

Students then choose a classic fairy tale, either one they already know or one from the collection of books I bring to class. They then change the perspective in some way, usually by changing the narrator of the story. The retelling of Cinderella from the step-sisters’ point of view, Snow White from the perspective of the Wicked Queen, and the Giant’s version of Jack and the Beanstalk are all popular choices. Sometimes the students choose to turn the villain into a misunderstood victim (as in Scieszka’s book), others they give an alternative motive for the hero’s actions, and still others choose to take the story in a completely new direction.

The entire unit usually takes about a week. Sometimes, if we have the time, we’ll spend extra time on peer editing and the revising of our writing, taking a full two weeks to complete it. It’s the perfect unit for immediately before or after exams because it gives students a bit of a break from the more serious nonfiction writing we usually do. Whenever we do the unit, it’s always a lot of fun and the resulting texts are some of my favorites to read and grade. I encourage you to try something similar in one of your classes. Happy teaching, everyone!

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)

Preparation:

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.

Conclusion:

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!

CER: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning

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

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

CER Posters-FREE

Posters / Anchor Charts

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

Graphic Organizers-FREE

Graphic Organizers

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

ELA Version

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

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

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

Math Version

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

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

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

Advertisement Discernment Investigation-FREE

Science Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Discernment Activity-FREE

Social Studies Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CER: The Board Game

Board Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

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

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!

Compounding Conjunctions

Paper Game

This semester I’ve been teaching a new-to-me advanced grammar and writing course, and have been really enjoying it. It’s been fun to revisit some of the activities and materials I used in the Academic Reading and Writing course I developed a few years ago. Something that may surprise teachers who are unfamiliar with English language learners, is that advanced students often struggle with some “easy” grammar and vocabulary, especially prepositions and conjunctions. These generally small words cause no end of difficulty for many students of English, and require an inordinate amount of practice and review to master. This semester’s group of advanced students is no exception, and I’d already noticed they were in need of a review of conjunctions when we came to a unit about identifying and writing compound sentences.

I knew I could do a discrete review of the four main coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, so) using my Tie That Binds activity, but this is a very packed course and we don’t have time for any review topics. If I wanted to review coordinating conjunctions (and we most certainly needed to), I needed to find a way to do it while covering the required content and compound sentences provided the perfect opportunity. Besides, why create a game that practices only one skill when more than one is possible?

The Setup

The game, Compounding Conjunctions, is rather simple, both in its creation and play. I used a basic game board, one I’ve used many times before, with squares around the outer edge of the paper with the start and finish being in the same square. I simply added the four most common coordinating conjunctions (and the ones I find require the most practice), one per square, in a repeating pattern around the board. I then wrote six simple sentences, each expressing an opinion that could be expanded upon in some way. These are the sentences I used, though you could easily use sentences that were more interesting, or applicable, to your own students:

  1. The legal voting age should (not) be raised.
  2. The United States should (not) require a year of military service for every citizen.
  3. Students should (not) have to wear school uniforms.
  4. Sugary drinks and snacks should (not) be allowed in school.
  5. Internet access should (not) be free for all people.
  6. Teenagers should (not) have social media accounts.

I added some turn directions to the board and it was ready to print. I printed and laminated enough boards for groups of up to four students (our classes are capped at 20, but we often overfill them so I made enough for six groups–when I have more than 24 students I simply add a playing piece to the necessary sets and increase group size to five students). All that was left was to prepare the playing pieces: one number cube and four place markers for each group. I like to put everything in snack size Ziploc bags for easy distribution. What we use as playing pieces varies, depending on what I have available, but favorites include plastic counters, mini erasers, and milk jug lids.

Game Play

The directions for the game are simple. The first student rolls the number cube and moves his/her piece. He/she then uses the conjunction on the space to expand the sentence corresponding to the number roll (so if a student rolls a two and lands on a square that says but, he/she would say, “The United States should (not) require a year of military service for every citizen, but…”). If the student is able to state a grammatically correct compound sentence, he/she remains on the space and play continues to the next player. If the sentence is not grammatically correct, he/she returns to the previously occupied space and play continues to the next player. The first player to return to Start/Finish is the winner.

The Digital Version

Converting this to a digital game was easy. I simply made the game board the background of a Google Slide and added the “Dice” script my husband wrote for me. This script does not actually add dice, nothing moves or animates on the screen, but it does allow students to “roll” without leaving the game file. What it does do is add a menu item at the top of the screen that says Dice. Students click “Dice” and “Roll” to randomly generate a number between one and six. The number is displayed in a pop up box that says, “You rolled a X.” The box can be closed by clicking OK or the X, and students can then move their piece (circles I added) to continue the game. I always give my students the option of typing their sentences into the chat box, rather than speaking them aloud, because many of them are parents and don’t like to turn their microphones on due to background noise.

Conclusion

My advanced students have played this game twice thus far this semester. The first time was for its intended purpose: to practice creating compound sentences and review coordinating conjunctions. The second was to practice creating claims that could be argued (the first step in our lesson on writing a thesis statement). They enjoyed the game both times and deemed it a success. As is my custom during game time, I circulated, listening in, and gathering formative assessment data regarding my students’ strengths and weaknesses (one way I knew they needed to review conjunctions). It’s also always interesting to hear their opinions on various topics and the discussions that inevitably ensue between them–great unscripted speaking practice, another bonus! Happy teaching, everyone!


Don’t want to make your own game? Here’re the links to purchase mine, as well as the “dice” script and conjunctions practice activities:

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:

Children’s Literature Based Activities for All Levels

It is no secret that I love using children’s literature, especially picture books, in my teaching. My students all love them too. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching children, teens, or adults, they all enjoy being read to. If much time passes between my bringing a book to class, my older students will come up and ask me when we’re going to have “story time” again. This blog is more evidence of my obsession, with posts about The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash, The Giving Tree, Miss Nelson Is Missing, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, How I Became a Pirate, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to name a few. Some day I’ll write a complete post on why I use so many picture books in class, but not today.

One of the most frequently featured authors in my class is Dr. Seuss. On the one hand, as an ESL teacher, his books drive me (and my students) a little crazy because of how many made-up words they contain. On the other hand, his tendency to write primarily with high frequency words makes the books very accessible for language learners. Dr. Seuss’ books have also been translated into 30 languages, which means most of my students are familiar with at least one of them in their first language. Being familiar with the characters and story allows them to more easily access the English content. For those few students who haven’t heard of Dr. Seuss, or those books they haven’t already read, reading them provides the opportunity for them to create common ground with their English-speaking peers, most of whom grew up reading Dr. Seuss.

As a teacher it seems I’m contractually obligated to, as one student put it, “ruin books” with work. While I love to read, and I do believe there is a need for more pleasure reading in education, I rarely have the luxury of just enjoying a book with my older students. Sadly, story time is not an accepted practice in most secondary and higher educational institutes, so there needs to be some objectifiable learning that takes place along with the enjoyment of a good story, and our times with Dr. Seuss are no exception.

When I’m working with beginning language learners, bringing in educational objectives is fairly easy. All I have to do is continue to teach the same things teachers have been using Dr. Seuss books to teach for decades. Green Eggs and Ham is one of our favorites, and we have three different sorting activities that we do. In the first we match picture word cards to form rhyming pairs (also a great way to reinforce vocabulary). The second has various words from the book on green eggs and hams that students sort into alphabetical order. The third requires students to match the contraction green hams to the green eggs that have the original two words. All three activities are available as a discounted bundle, or as a digital drag and drop set.

My more proficient students like Dr. Seuss as well, but it’s a little harder to fit him into their educational objectives. One year my students were really struggling with classifying sentences as either active or passive voice, and especially with rewriting them as the opposite voice. (Side question: why do we even require them to learn that? They can write in the passive voice, they can write in the active voice, they know when to use each. Why do they need to be able to convert between the two?) I had already run through all of my various teaching tools, practice activities, and games when they asked me for one more chance to practice. Not having any idea how I’d deliver, I promised to bring something to our next class. I decided to make a task card set and, to add a little bit of fun to a not-so-fun lesson, to write the sentences about famous Dr. Seuss characters and books. My students loved it! They not only received one more opportunity to practice with active and passive voice (and the conversion between the two), but they started talking, reminiscing about their favorite Dr. Seuss books and characters, introducing classmates to new-to-them books, and learning about books they’d missed out on themselves. It turned out to be one of those lessons that was full of authentic student talk, the kind we ESL teachers dream about. The trend continued the next semester with another group of students, and hasn’t stopped yet. Each time I use this activity the result is the same: happy students, good practice with the objective, and lots of authentic speaking practice as well.

When we went digital last year, I didn’t want to give up the activity and created a digital version of the task cards. In the digital version students move the X to indicate if a sentence is active or passive. They then use the adjacent text box to rewrite the sentence in the opposite voice. While still very effective for practicing active and passive voice, the digital version isn’t nearly as much fun because the spontaneous talk and interactive nature of being around a table, or set of desks, together is missing. A small portion of this activity is included in the writing section English Skillology, level 3, if you want to take a look at it.

While on the surface it may seem that picture books, and especially the silly picture books authors such as Dr. Seuss are famous for, are too “babyish” for older learners, my experience tells me differently. My older learners love them just as much as the younger ones, and sometimes even more so because of the memories associated with them, or the chance to create new memories with their own children. Happy teaching, everyone!

Sentence Types Mobile Project

Sentence Types Mobile Project Rubric and Templates: FREE
Sentence Types Cover Up Game: Paper
Sentence Types Cover Up Game: Digital

I don’t know about you, but I hate teaching sentence types. Declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, imperative…who cares! As long as students can write and correctly punctuate a sentence, I’m happy. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me and I do have to teach the formal terms for the four types of sentences. Fortunately, no one really seems to care how I teach the information, so long as the students learn it. Today I’d like to share with you one activity and one game that all of my students enjoy when learning this particular vocabulary.

Sentence Types Mobile Project

As you have probably figured out by now, and I explain in my Authentic Open Book Assessments post, I’m not a big fan of traditional assessments. I prefer what I call “cheating-resistant” or “non-Googleable” assessments. I’m also a big fan of assignments that result in classroom displays (see my posts on Appetizing Adjectives, Picture Perfect Prepositions, Pronoun Snowpeople, and Shades of Meaning for more examples). So, rather than assign a worksheet where students fill in the correct end punctuation and label the sentence types, or a similar assessment, I decided to have them create mobiles. Each mobile had several required elements: all four sentence types had to be named, definitions for all sentence types, end punctuation for each sentence type had to be indicated, and three example sentences for each type had to be included. How students put their mobile together and communicated this information was up to their imagination. All I asked was that their final product be creative, neat, and organized. Yes, I do realize that students could still Google the definitions and example sentences. Yes, I do realize that they could still cheat. But it is much less likely for them to be able to do this when they complete the assignment in class. Let’s also be honest here: if a student really wants to cheat, he/she will find a way. I just do the best I can and ask the same of them.

The creativity of students never ceases to amaze me! I provide them with construction paper, glue, yarn, hangers, hole punches, and markers. If they want to use other supplies they are welcome to anything in the classroom, or they can bring them from home. Some students have brought things such as glitter (which I grudgingly allowed and then regretted), but most have been content to work with the supplies we had on hand. One particularly creative student brought in a craft ring and fashioned a three-point hanger out of the yarn. Another student attempted to make punctuation marks out of balloons, trying to twist and bend them as you would a balloon animal, but wasn’t totally successful. Suffice it to say, the end results are always at least interesting, and often inspiring.

To make the use of this particular activity easier, I have a free download for you. The download includes a very brief project requirements description, a simple rubric, and templates you can allow the students to use (if you choose) or you can use to create an example mobile. You can get the download by clicking on the picture above, or either of the links in this paragraph.

Sentence Types Training Game

The game we like to play is another of my cover up games. You can read all about cover up games in the linked blog post, but I’ll give you a brief description now. The goal of cover up is to be the first person to completely cover your game board. Generally I use milk jug lids as covers (because they are free and plentiful at my house), but other popular options with my classes have been counters and mini erasers (some kind of dog themed eraser would be cute with this particular game). On a student’s turn, he or she will roll either two six-sided dice or one twelve-sided die. The student then finds the corresponding square on his/her game board and states what type of sentence it is. If he/she is correct, he/she covers the space. If the corresponding space is already covered, the student does nothing and his/her turn is over. Sometimes my students prefer to play with the additional rule that allows them to remove their opponent’s cover from the indicated space, but we don’t always do this.

This particular game is themed around sentences you might say to your dog. I play up the fact that I often talk to my dog, Karah, and she often gets confused. The students need to help her by correctly categorizing and punctuating the sentences on the board. Even my older students think it’s funny I talk to my dog (and will generally admit to doing the same), and it allows me to be a little silly with them. Each playing board has twelve unique sentences, so when students finish one game they are able to trade boards and play again immediately.

As with many of my games and activities, this particular one needed to be adapted for distance learning. The paper version is great, but it doesn’t work so well while teaching digitally. A digital version is also available, and students enjoy playing it just as much. To create the digital version, I simply adjusted the “Dice” Script that my husband wrote for me so it would allow students to “roll” a number between one and twelve, rather than one and six. The students really like playing the various digital board games, and I really like how these scripts allow them to play without having to move between multiple tabs or programs.

Sadly I haven’t come up with a digital alternative to our mobile project, so we had to forego doing it this year. In the meantime, we enjoyed playing Sentence Types Training Game, and are looking forward to the fall and hopefully being back in the classroom. Happy teaching, everyone!

Spin & Spell

My family is full of good sports, at one time or another all of them have been pulled into helping with my teaching ideas in some way. My father is quite possibly the most patient of all, and has definitely been pulled in more often than most (he even pulled empty paint cans out of the garbage in another state for my Paint Can Question Words activity). He’s always been quick to jump in and help bring my imaginings and plans to life, and without his help the game I’d like to share with you today wouldn’t work nearly as well.

One afternoon one of the other ESL teachers and I were talking about a game we wanted to play with students. The problem was the game required a spinner, and we were trying to figure out the best way to go about creating one. We finally hit upon the idea of using Avery CD Labels to print the face, and sticking the labels on old CDs to form the spinner itself. The problem was how to actually use the spinners. We tried spinning them around pencils and stopping them with a finger. We could get it to work, but the students struggled to hold the pencil, spin the CD, and stop it without something going flying off in a direction it wasn’t meant to. Then we tried spinning them around a single finger. A couple of band-aids later we realized the flaw in that plan. We finally gave up for the afternoon and went our separate ways to think about the problem.

At a later time I was describing the problem to my father and expressing my desire for some type of stand to act as our spinner frame. My father asked a few questions, lead me down to his workshop, dug out some scrap wood, and soon presented me with a spinner stand (pictured), asking if it would do. Not only did it “do,” but it was exactly what we needed!

Fast forward a few years and I now have a collection of CD spinner stands (handcrafted by my father, of course), as well as a large collection of scratched, outdated, or otherwise useless CDs and DVDs awaiting labels. I make labels to use in place of dice for games, labels specifically for games, labels for vocabulary practice, and for a host of other uses. One of my students’ favorite games to play with CD spinners though is Spin ‘N Spell.

Spin ‘N Spell is a very simple game that I started playing with my students to help them practice vocabulary and spelling. I create a spinner by printing pictures or definitions of their spelling or vocabulary words in the various sections. The students then take turns spinning the CD, naming the vocabulary word represented, spelling the word, and using it in a sentence. They get one point for identifying the word, one for spelling it correctly, and one for creating a unique sentence (no fair repeating someone else’s sentence) with the word. Each turn has the potential of earning between one and three points, and it is rare that a student will earn zero points. The spinner and stand are then passed to the next student who spins, identifies, spells, and creates a sentence. Play continues until a designated point value is reached, or we run out of time.

Spin ‘N Spell is great because it is quick to set up (the CDs and spinner stands live in my classroom year round), simple to understand, and can be played for any length of time. It makes for a perfect brain break, or five-minutes-left-in-the-period activity. The students enjoy it and like trying to come up with the funniest or most unique sentences possible. The best part is that it really does improve their vocabulary and spelling skills.

If you’re thinking, “That’s great for you, but what am I supposed to do?” fear not. You too can have your own set of cd spinners. The building plans are available for free via the button or links above. A very basic level of woodworking skill is required to assemble them, but even I (who was very nearly and eighth grade shop drop out) can put one together, so you can too, or you can find someone who’ll do it for you. (Time to make friends with the shop teacher?) If you can’t get spinner stands made, you can always try spinning the CDs around pencils or some other object…just learn from our mistake and avoid using your finger as the object. Happy teaching, everyone!