Where Do I Need To Go?

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

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

Directions Around My Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Square Root Clock

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

The Inspiration

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

The Implementation

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

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

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

The Result

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

Happy teaching, everyone!

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.

Adjective Hunt

Adjectives are not something that can be taught in a single lesson or even unit. They require constant review and expansion of knowledge. Thankfully, the study and practice of adjectives is something that can make a good basis for a lesson when you have mixed proficiency classes. I have a lot of different activities I that I do with my students involving adjectives, and all of them can be adjusted based on student proficiency. Some of the activities that I’ve shared about in the past are:

Picture Prompts–paper
Picture Prompts–digital

Picture Prompts Game

Picture Prompts is a game I originally developed to practice cause and effect or questions words, but I’ve used it for about a hundred other things since. One of those things is practicing adjectives. I vary the requirements based on students’ proficiency level. Beginning students simply state a single adjective and noun (white dog). Lower intermediate students will form a sentence describing a noun with the be verb (The dog is white.). Upper intermediate students will form a sentence describing a noun without a be verb, or possibly with multiple adjectives (The strong white dog jumps in the water.). Advanced students will use multiple adjectives and form sentences with multiple clauses (The strong white dog, which belongs to my brother, is trying to catch the hard brown stick.).

Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag–paper
Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag–digital

Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag Game

This was one of the first games I ever developed for practicing adjectives. Alphabet Adjective Zig-Zag is more challenging than Picture Prompts because students are required to think of their own noun, as well as an adjective to describe it. It can be very difficult for lower proficiency level students to think of nouns that begin with a particular letter, so I often allow them to roll the letter cube more than once if necessary. In general though, I adapt the game for various proficiency levels in the same manner as Picture Prompts, but will sometimes add in an extra challenge for my intermediate to advanced students. I’ll ask them to alliterate their answer by using an adjective and noun that begin with the letter rolled, not just one or the other.

Appetizing Adjectives

Often our cumulative project after a full unit about adjectives, Appetizing Adjectives is still one of my students’ favorite projects of the year. Recently, we’ve taken to playing a board game version of Appetizing Adjectives before working on the various versions of our final project. It’s a fun way to get warmed up before diving into our summative assessment.

All of these activities are great, but today I’d like to share with you about an intermediate project/assessment that I sometimes use before Appetizing Adjectives, or when I don’t have the time or need for a full unit on adjectives: Adjective Hunt.

Adjective Hunt

Similar to Picture Perfect Prepositions, Adjective Hunt is a scavenger hunt type activity that requires little to no preparation and few materials. The only preparation is creating a list of 5-10 adjectives students already know and gathering some common materials. In fact, I suspect most, if not all of you, have all of the materials you need in your classrooms already. The materials you’ll need are white copy paper, glue sticks, scissors, markers, and magazines or catalogs students can cut up.

In class, give each student a list of adjectives and access to the required materials. If you want all students to work off the same list, you can save time and paper by displaying it on the board. You can also provide each student with a different list in order to provide variety to answers or different levels of challenge for differing proficiency levels. Another option is to provide a longer list (20-30 adjectives) and give students a particular number of required adjectives to use.

Students then look through the magazines and catalogs, hunting for pictures of things they can describe with one or more of the target adjectives. When students find such an image, they cut it out, glue it to a piece of copy paper, and start writing. What I require students to write depends again on their proficiency level. Typically, I follow the same requirements as with the games, beginning with two-three word labels and advancing to simple and then more complex sentences.

How long this activity takes depends mostly on how many adjectives students are required to use. When I have the time, I prefer to take a full two to three class periods and do approximately ten adjectives per student. When I’m short on time, I’ll shorten the list to five, or even three, adjectives and complete the activity/assessment in a single class period.

As with the Picture Perfect Prepositions activity, I like Adjective Hunt because it allows me to see how well students understand the meaning of various adjectives. Students enjoy the freedom of being able to choose their own images and compose their own sentences. They also enjoy seeing their work displayed in the classroom. Then the fact that it can be adapted and used for multiple proficiency levels simultaneously is a wonderful thing as well! While I don’t expect anyone to give me a creative teaching award for this particular lesson, it is one I’ve used successfully many times and highly recommend. Give it a try with your students and let me know how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!

Solutions for Early Finishers

“I’m done!”

How many times have you already heard those words this year? And how many times were they quickly followed by, “What can I do now?”

Students finishing work and not knowing what to do next (even though you’ve given them about 100 options 1,000 times) is always a problem. I’ve always had routines and procedures that I taught and practiced over and over again. One year I even made this sign that I would just point to whenever my middle schoolers said anything similar. However, it never seems to be quite enough to fully end the problem of students calling out and then wondering what to do next. While I have yet to find the magic solution to preventing the question from being asked, I do have several activities that my students enjoyed participating in when they had a few free minutes.

Lego Area

As I mention in my post, Out of the Blue Classroom Favorites, the Lego table is one of the more popular areas in my classroom. It’s a small table with a couple of chairs, a pail of Legos and some baseboards. Sometimes I include a book with the picture directions for building various things (free download from More Preposition Fun post), but students generally ignore this. If students have free time, they may sit at the table (no more than two students at any given time) and build whatever they wish. It’s not unusual for them to simply cover the baseplates with Legos, building nothing in particular, but it seems to be relaxing for them.

Puzzle Area

Also mentioned in Out of the Blue Classroom Favorites, the puzzle table is similar to the Lego area. It is a small table with a couple of chairs and a jig saw puzzle spread out on it. Students sit at the table (again, no more than two at a time) and work on the puzzle as they have time and desire. Once a puzzle has been completed, we take a picture of it to hang on the wall behind the table, and begin a new one. Not only is it a fun activity for students to participate in during down time, it helps build our classroom community as well. Since all students are working on the puzzle together, it belongs to the entire class and everyone feels a sense of accomplishment when it’s finished.

Free Reading Area

Again, not a fancy area, but a popular one. As I describe in my Alternative Seating post, my reading corner consisted of an area rug,  a body pillow with a fun colored cover, and some arm pillows. The only rule about the reading area was one has to be either reading or working quietly on schoolwork. The number of students allowed to use it at any given time depended on how much space I had available to dedicate to it that year.

Card/Board Games

In our digital world, many students don’t have as much time to play traditional card/board games. Some of my students have never played a card or board game in their lives. I kept a shelf of classic games that ranged from two to four players and students were allowed to take them to their desks or a quiet corner of the classroom (our short table with chair cushions was always a popular spot) to play when they finished early or we had special days such as Fun Friday. Some of the most popular options from my collection were Uno, Go Fish, Sorry!, Connect Four, and Battleship.

Skillology Choice Boards

Featured in Top Free Teachers Pay Teachers Downloads of 2021, English Skillology Choice Boards were a way for my students to earn extra credit during their free time. I have four levels (beginner, low intermediate, high intermediate, advanced) and students could use class Chromebooks to access their boards from their desks. All of my boards are free, use the links above to get all of the details and your own copies.

Note Folding / Origami

When I was in high school, back in the dark ages, no one had cell phones. The passing of notes was our main form of communication. It wasn’t enough to simply write a note, fold it in half or quarters, and give it to someone, though. No, it had to be folded in an elaborate fashion. After we did a notetaking activity where students created what I always knew as a cootie-catcher (apparently some called them fortune tellers), my students were amazed at my paper folding skills. Later, when we had some free time, I showed them a few other ways of folding paper I remembered, and they loved it. The whole thing became another free time “center” in our classroom. I printed out instructions for various ways of folding notes, and students would write to one another and then attempt to follow them. They had a blast, and the best part was they were getting a lot of good writing and reading practice in the process. Eventually, I bought a few origami instructional books for students who wanted to try some more elaborate paper folding creations.

Fun Sheets / Art Center

The final option that became fairly standard in my classrooms was a fun sheets / art center. It was simply a shelf with copies of various activity sheets and some basic art supplies. I copied sudoku puzzles, crosswords, wordsearches, and a variety of coloring pages that I downloaded for free from the internet. I organized them in manilla folders (with an example stapled to the front) and mail organizers. Next to the papers I had bins with crayons, colored pencils, markers, scissors, white copy paper, colored copy paper, and wallpaper (see Out of the Blue Favorite Classroom “Supplies”). Students could take what they wanted and complete the pages or create original art projects.


Some of these options, such as the reading corner, were always available in my classroom. Others, such as the origami area, came and went throughout the year(s). A lot of it was determined by how much space I had and access to supplies. I would love to tell you that having these various options/centers solved the “I’m done! Now what?” problem in my classroom, but that would be a lie. It did reduce it, though, and most of the time that was good enough for me. Happy teaching, everyone!

Help! I’m Being Observed!

Some of us have been in school for awhile, for others its only been a couple of weeks, but whenever you started, it’s almost that time of year again: observation time. I’ll admit that this time used to strike fear into my normally confident teacher heart. I’ll even admit to still having twinges after more than two decades of teaching, but I don’t worry nearly as much as in the past.

My Advice

Don’t put on a dog and pony show. Don’t try to come up with an over-the-top, can’t-be-beat lesson. Simply teach whatever you would have taught, in the way you would have taught it, if there were no observation. In a nutshell, pretend the administrator/evaluator isn’t even in the room.

My Rational

First, it’ll make your life easier. Teachers have far too much to do already. I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time or energy to come up with an elaborate lesson for no reason other than someone’s going to be watching. Do I sometimes teach what might be classified as elaborate lessons? Yes, but I plan them well in advance, prepare the students ahead of time, and schedule them when they’ll make the greatest impact in student learning.

Second, I barely have time to teach as it is and don’t need one more thing disrupting our learning schedule. Between state testing, fire drills, assemblies, field trips, snow days, and the myriad of other interruptions to our learning schedule, the last thing I need is one more thing delaying or changing our lessons.

Third, students of all ages are highly routine dependent. If you haven’t already figured this out, you haven’t been teaching long. Change one thing in the routine and it’s quite possible your students will react as though the world has suddenly started orbiting in the opposite direction. This is more of an issue for younger students than older, but even in the upper grades you’ll have students that do not deal well with change (and those that will suddenly call out, “Why aren’t we doing it how we normally do?” or something similar). A change in routine or procedure, or the introduction of a new activity, can also result in confusion. Students may not be reacting badly to the change, and may not want to make your life more difficult, but doing anything for the first time makes it more likely for things to go less than smoothly. Sticking to the familiar greatly lowers your chances of disaster.

Fourth, your administrator is likely already familiar with how you teach. Few administrators shut themselves up in the office all day. Most administrators can be found all over the school dealing with problems, talking to students, helping a teacher, and just generally being present. As they move about the building they observe what is going on in each room they pass. Long before an administrator enters a classroom for an observation, he/she already has a sense of whether or not the teacher is a good teacher. He/she also already has a sense of what type of classroom environment he/she will be entering. So even if you put together that perfect lesson, nothing goes wrong, and no students call you out, it’s highly probable your administrator will know things weren’t “normal.”


Bottom line: trust yourself and your abilities as a teacher. When it’s your turn to be observed, just do what you do best–educate! Things are much more likely to go well for everyone if you simply stick to your normal plans and routines. If they don’t go as perfectly as you’d hoped, it’ll be OK, your administrator will understand (he/she has taught a bad lesson or two in the past, too).

Whatchamacallit Context Clues

I think we can all agree that teaching students how to use context clues is important. I spend a lot of time on context clues with all of my classes, especially my lower proficiency level classes, but I have long had two recurring frustrations. The majority of context clues practice activities are made for young learners, and they almost always use nonsense words. Those two things are show stoppers for me and my older language learners, particularly my beginning level students.

Over the years, I’ve developed several different activities for my older students (middle school and up) that practice context clues that use actual English words:

These games are all wonderful in their own right, and we play them quite often, but I wanted something even more fun. Inspired by a game of Balderdash, I decided to make a context clues board game in which players would define real words that even native speakers weren’t likely to know.

I started by searching for names of objects that few, if any people, knew had names at all. Once I had compiled a list of them, I checked each word by looking it up in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Not surprisingly, a few of the words had to be eliminated from my list because they have either been removed from our modern dictionary or were never recognized in the first place. You can download a free copy of my final list via the Whatchamacallit Glossary below.

The hardest part of the game creation process was the same as it always is: writing an example sentence for each of the 32 words remaining on my list. This time it wasn’t that I had to use the same word(s) over and over again, but that I needed sentences that would give enough clues about the meaning of the words so students could guess it without actually giving the definition. I wanted the sentences to be challenging enough to keep the game interesting, but not so challenging that my students became discouraged. Consequently, the sentences ended up being a bit longer than I would normally write for this type of activity.

After creating my playing cards with the sentences, I made sure to number them. This allows me to use the cards, along with the recording sheet I created, as a scoot activity and not just a board game. Game/activity versatility is important to me because the composition of my classes changes so frequently. I don’t want to be locked into a specific format or type of activity if it won’t be the most effective for a particular group of students.

I added in a copy of my standard zig zag game board, some place markers, and six sided dice, and we were ready to play. I tested the game with several different groups of students and found it worked with all of them, though my lowest proficiency students really struggled with it. The sentences were a little too linguistically complex for them and a few became frustrated. I wasn’t surprised when my intermediate students gave their approval to the game, but I was a bit concerned about my advanced students. I was afraid it would be too easy and they would be bored. I was wrong. The game was easier for them, but they still had to think about many of the words and thought it was fun to learn vocabulary their native English speaking friends wouldn’t know.

My students’ final assessment of the game was it is fun and something they’d like to play again. My advanced students asked if I’d make them copies of the glossary and came back the next week with stories of impressing friends with their extensive vocabulary knowledge. Hopefully your students will like the game just as much. Happy teaching, everyone!

Here’s the glossary download I mentioned:

If you don’t have time to make your own context clues game, try out one of mine:

Need digital versions of the games? I have those, too:

Or get a bundle with all of the games at a 20% discount:

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.

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!

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!