Sort Cards: Alternative Uses

I love using sort cards! In fact, I use them in all of my vocabulary activity sets, including my phonics based vocabulary activity sets (and I have plans to add them to my academic vocabulary units). Sort cards are great for practicing vocabulary, but when I first started using them I kept thinking, “There has to be more I can do with these cards than have students match words to pictures/definitions.” It turns out there are A LOT more things you can do with sort cards, and today I’d like to share with you some of my (and my students’) favorites.


Do you remember the children’s game Memory? You place all of the cards upside down and take turns turning over two at a time. If the two cards you turn over match, you keep them and get an extra turn. Sort cards can be used in the same way. I suggest using two different colors of cards, one for the term and one for the picture/definition. This helps the game go faster because students aren’t turning over two terms or two pictures/definitions. Students turn over one of each color and, if they match, keep them and go again. The person with the most matches at the end of the game is the winner. This is a great way for students who aren’t as comfortable with verbal expression to practice vocabulary.

Game Smash

Use the sort cards and any gameboard and pieces (Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry are some of our favorites) to create a new game. At the start of each turn, the student will draw a card and either name and spell the term represented by the picture/definition, or will define the term on the card. If correct, the student proceeds with his/her turn per the game rules. If not correct, the student’s turn is over.


This game requires a few extra cards that simply say “Kaboom!” and an empty container of some kind. I have a set of Kaboom! cards (free download at the bottom) and several old oatmeal containers that I spray painted black and painted the word “Kaboom” on in red. To play, take one set of sort cards, mix in three to five Kaboom! cards, and place everything in your container. Students take turns drawing out cards. If the student draws a picture card, he/she names the term and spells and/or defines it. If the student draws a definition card, he/she names the term and spells it. If the student draws a term card, he/she defines it or uses it in a sentence. If the student is successful, he/she keeps the card. If the student is not successful, he/she discards the card. If the student draws a Kaboom! card, all of his/her cards, including the Kaboom! card, go into the discard pile. The student with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.


I have several different Fishing For… games, but any set of sort cards can be used as a fishing game. Similarly to Kaboom!, you will need a few extra materials in addition to the sort cards. You’ll need some Shark! cards (free download at the bottom) and some fishing ponds. My ponds are simply old oatmeal containers I spray painted blue and then dressed up with some badly painted fish and seaweed. To play, again mix one set of sort cards and three to five shark cards in the container. Directions for what to do with each card are the same as for Kaboom!, with the Shark! card replacing the Kaboom! card.

Collection Race

I was watching a YouTube video, Grammar Games with Flashcards, and the creator, Jenny White, suggested a fun game for irregular verbs. She said to scatter base verb cards around the room, have students race to find a card, bring it to the teacher, and state all three forms (present, past, past participle) of the verb in order to keep the card as a point. I was thinking, why couldn’t this work with any set of sort cards? Students could be given a specific length of time to search the classroom for cards. They could bring the cards, one at a time, to the teacher (or other designated person) and state the term, spelling, and/or definition that corresponds to what is on the card. If successful, the student keeps the card as a point. If not successful, the teacher keeps the card as a point. The student (or teacher) with the most points at the end is the winner.

Around the World

Do you remember the math game Around the World? The teacher shows a math flashcard and the first of two students to call out the answer proceeds in the game while the second student goes to the end of the line. Again I ask, why can’t we play this with any set of sort cards? The teacher shows a sort card with a picture and/or definition. The first student to call out the correct term proceeds while the slower student goes to the end of the line. Theoretically, you could show the term card and have students give the definition, but I think that’s too many words to call out. Maybe the students could call out a synonym instead?


This game also requires one extra piece of equipment: tiddlywinks, or some other flat disk students can flip. Lay your sort cards out on the floor or a large table in a grid pattern. Students gather around the sort card mat and take turns flipping their tiddlywink onto the mat. The student must then either name, define, or spell the term that corresponds with the card that his/her disk lands on in order to earn a point. You can increase the difficulty of this game by giving each student multiple discs of the same color (a different color for each student in the group). Rather than retrieving their discs after each turn, students leave them on the cards. In order to earn a point, students must land a disc on a previously unoccupied card and provide the correct term/definition/spelling.


If you’re looking for a game that might be a little less movement and noise inducing, you can always try Taboo or Pictionary. Follow the rules for either of these classic games, using your sort cards as the prompt cards. (If you need to review the rules, you can read them here: Taboo, Pictionary.) When I play Taboo, I’ll underline words in the definitions students can’t use with a dry erase marker. Pictionary makes a great game for students who aren’t comfortable with verbally answering questions.


Are there more ways to use sort cards? Oh, yes! (Check out the YouTube video Charlie’s Lessons 10 Flashcard Games for some fun and simple ways to use picture cards.) These eight ideas just happen to be some of the most popular ones I’ve tried in my class. Many of them also work with task cards–just substitute answering the question or solving the problem on the task card for providing the term/spelling/definition. If you have other fun uses for sort cards, let us know in the comments! Happy teaching, everyone.

Here are the links to download the Kaboom! and Shark! cards:

Pathways Reading & Writing Plans

Last week I shared with you my lesson plans and supplemental materials for National Geographic’s Pathways Listening and Speaking books. This week I have plans for the second half of the Pathways series, the reading and writing books. I haven’t had as much opportunity to teach these books, so there aren’t as many supplemental materials, but I’m happy to share what I have.

Lesson Plans

As with the listening and speaking plans, these are brief note/outline format plans of everything I do with the students, in the order I do it. I provided links to all of the supplemental games/activities, videos, websites, and other resources I use. I like to start lessons out with some type of discussion question or interesting fact set related to the theme. Even though speaking isn’t our primary focus, I like to incorporate as much spontaneous speech practice as possible so students have the opportunity to use and build context for the vocabulary they are learning. The discussion also helps to activate prior knowledge and increases student comprehension of the readings.

Another thing to note about these plans is that they are almost exclusively for the reading sections of the book. The schools I’ve taught at have a separate class for grammar and writing so I didn’t deal with that part of each unit. I do briefly go over and practice most of the grammar, but I never take the time for a full writing lesson. Quite honestly, I don’t know how I’d fit it in if I had to, four hours of class time isn’t enough to do everything I would like with just the readings. The students are always highly engaged and we have a lot of great discussion about each one.

Digital Vocabulary Glossary

While writing is primarily covered in another class, vocabulary is one of the primary focuses of these classes at our school. In fact, though I’ve created digital vocabulary glossaries for the listening and speaking books, the reason I started making them was for the reading classes. These glossaries work exactly like the ones I shared about last week (check the linked post for all the details), only the words are different. My students are often overwhelmed by the amount of vocabulary these courses cover, but the glossaries help them to feel a little more confident. The glossaries, in combination with a heavy focus on context clue skills (we practice them every unit), have made a big difference for my students and by the end of the semester their skills have really grown!

The Links

Unfortunately, that’s it for now. As I said, I haven’t had as much opportunity to teach these books, thus I have yet to create review menus and other curriculum-specific resources for them. Maybe I’ll get the opportunity sometime in the future. For now, here are the links to download your free copies of the lesson plans and vocabulary glossaries. Happy teaching, everyone!

IAs much as possible, I linked to free resources in the plans, but there are some paid resources as well. If you, like me, teach multiple levels of the books, and want an easy one-stop way to get the resources you need (and I created), then I have two options for you. The first option is a bundle that includes all of the Pathways Reading & Writing books (25% discount). The second is a bundle that includes all eight of the Pathways books, both listening/speaking and reading writing (30% discount).

Pathways Listening & Speaking Plans

It’s no secret that my favorite publisher of ESL curriculum is National Geographic. I used their Inside curriculum with middle school and really enjoyed it. My students found the readings to be engaging and we had a lot of great discussions. When I left middle school and started teaching at the college level, working with those books was one of the many things I missed.

Fortunately, I did not have to leave my favorite publisher behind though! Both of the colleges I’ve been teaching for use National Geographic’s Pathways series for several of their courses. Over the years I’ve developed plans for all eight of the Pathways books, as well as some supplemental materials for students. In this post, I want to share with you some of those plans and supplemental materials. All of them are free and I’ll provide links at the bottom for you to be able to download any that would be helpful for you and your students. This week I’m concentrating on the four listening and speaking books. Next week I’ll share what I have for the reading and writing books.

Lesson Plans

These are not scripted plans for non-teachers. These plans are more along the lines of unit outlines. I list out the various things I do with my students: discussion questions (I like to start the unit with a question or set of interesting facts related to the theme. It always produces a lot of good discussion, perfect spontaneous speaking practice.), book activities, videos, supplemental activities, handouts, and games. I do this in the order I plan to use them in class. It’s what I teach from every day. What I did do is go back and add in links for you so you know exactly which YouTube video I used, exactly which handout I printed, etc. Many of the activities, handouts, games, and other resources are free, some are not. I also have a tendency to use the same activities, especially games, multiple times in a semester. Sometimes I’ll tweak the rules to have more targeted practice, other times I won’t. The reusing of activities and games saves me time (explaining the directions is easier the second, third, fourth…time around) and allows the students to revisit some of their favorite activities (just this week I reused a game and my students said, “Oh, good, I really liked this one!”).

There’s A Video About That

I first mentioned this additional resource in January of 2021. At that time, I had only completed PDFs for books one and three. You can catch up on all the details in the two previous blog posts (New Resources for a New Semester and Student Reference Tools), but let me give you the quick overview here. This single page PDF is a play off the phrase, “There’s an app for that!” I wanted students to have a one-stop location to be able to review the grammar concepts we talked about in class. I also wanted them to be able to hear a different explanation from the one I gave in class. When I first started teaching, I felt as though I’d failed in some way if a student didn’t “get it” from my explanation, but he/she did from someone else’s. Since then I’ve learned that this just means everyone learns differently and the important thing is the student learned–not who they learned it from. There’s a Video About That allows students to hear another explanation in another voice without having to worry the person in the video is giving them bad information (a common concern among my students).

Review Menu

These menus came into being at the same time as There’s A Video About That (you can get all the details in the same two blog posts, linked above). They are meant to be a more in depth companion to the one page PDF. The PowerPoint menu (it uploads well to Google Slides) has two slides for each grammar concept. The first is an explanation of the concept (a review of what we went over in class). The second slide has a YouTube video (different from the video on There’s a Video About That) and links to free sites with games and/or exercises to practice the skill. Many of the games and activities are geared toward children, especially for levels one and two. I always talk to students on the first day of class and explain I’m not trying to insult them in any way, I simply want to provide them with free practice and these are the sites I could find. My students have never had a problem with it, and many of them will tell me how much fun it was to play the games. In fact, I introduced my pronunciation class, all adult advanced speakers of English, to Storyline Online just last night. I warned them that all of the books were picture books but, in a not unsurprising occurrence to someone who’s been using picture books with older learners for a long time, the only complaint I got was I wouldn’t take more class time for them to watch more videos.

Digital Glossary

This is a brand new resource for this semester. I took my Master the Term Vocabulary Graphic Organizer and made it the background of a PowerPoint slide, adding textboxes for each of the sections. I added in a table of contents and hyperlinked each letter of the alphabet to a slide that lists all of the vocabulary starting with that letter from the book. Each vocabulary word is hyperlinked to a slide with the graphic organizer background and the term. Each vocabulary word slide also includes links back to the table of contents and letter slide. Students can then complete the graphic organizer to help them review the vocabulary. This is not something I’m requiring for homework at this time, but I have had students tell me they are using it and finding it helpful for reviewing terms from the book. Since the graphic organizer slide was created as a slide master, it’s easy for students to add additional terms to their glossaries (they will have to copy and paste the table of contents buttons from another slide). I honestly doubt I’ll ever require completion of the glossary as homework, but it is an option for the future. A note regarding conversion to Google Slides: I did try it and most of the features worked fine. The only problem was on the alphabetical listing of the words pages. In PowerPoint I set the textbox to have three columns. The columns did not transfer to Slides and the words appeared in one long list, running past the bottom of the slide. So, if you choose to convert the PowerPoint file to a Slides file, you will need to go back and adjust the 26 alphabetical listing slides to be either a table or multiple textboxes.

The Links

Now that you have a basic idea of what’s available, here are the download links! As I said, all of these resources are free. I hope you and your students find them as helpful as my students and I do. Happy teaching, everyone!

As much as possible, I linked to free resources in the plans, but there are some paid resources as well. If you, like me, teach multiple levels of the books, and want an easy one-stop way to get the resources you need (and I created), then I have two options for you. The first option is a bundle that includes all of the Pathways Listening and Speaking books at a 25% discount. The second is a bundle that includes all eight of the Pathways books, both listening/speaking and reading/writing at a 30% discount.

Advice for Future Educators

I am part of several different teacher groups on Facebook and there are certain types of posts I see every year:

And the list goes on. These are all good questions, but there is one question that always impresses me just a little bit more than the others:

I’m a first/second year education major. What advice do you have for me now, at the beginning of my studies, to help me get the most out of my teacher preparation program?

I love that these future educators are going above and beyond to ensure they get the most out of their preparation time. Education majors are not for the faint of heart, they are a lot of work, and when someone is looking to go the extra mile, and already understands that not everything can be conveyed in a program, that tells me he/she will make a good teacher. Since such a great question deserves a much better answer than a quickly tapped out comment on social media, here are five pieces of advice I would give to future educators.

Work Hard and Learn A Lot Now

If you are the type of student to be asking for advice early, I’m sure you are the type of person who will work hard and learn all you can. That being said, I know how tempting it is to cut a corner here or take the occasional shortcut there. As I acknowledged earlier, education majors are difficult. It’s been a few (ok, more than a few) years since I was an elementary education major, but I still remember staring at a little blurb of an assignment in a syllabus and thinking, “What in the world am I supposed to do?” Let me encourage you to struggle with the assignment and keep working until you figure it out. Please don’t post something on social media, or Google until you find someone else’s solution, and copy or tweak it for your own assignment. Even if you change the response or credit your source so you aren’t committing plagiarism, you won’t learn nearly as much as if you had persevered on your own. Does that mean you can’t ask for help? No, of course not. My classmates and I spent many an hour sitting in library study rooms and dorm lounges kicking around ideas, searching teacher magazines, calling up practicing teachers we knew to pick their brains, and working together to figure things out. The key here was we were truly collaborating, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of various ideas, and expanding our knowledge. Besides helping me to better understand the various theories and methodologies we were learning in class, these discussions helped me understand that no two teachers are alike and that’s OK. I saw how method X worked really well for teacher A, but not as well for teacher B. I learned that the same idea could be applied in different ways by different people and yield positive results each time. I also learned that it’s ok to try something and fail, that my colleagues would be there to help me work through what happened and improve the plan for next time. In short, resist the urge to cut corners or take shortcuts, it will only cost you in the long run.

Plan and Save NOW for Student Teaching

Do most careers have paid internships? Yes. Is it fair that education majors have to pay, rather than be paid, to do their internships? No. Is there anything we can do to change this? No. My advice to you is this: accept reality and move on. You’ll only waste time and raise your blood pressure if you sit and stew over it. More practically, my advice to you is to use the time you have. It always amazes me when I see panicked posts from education majors about to start student teaching and they have no idea how they’re going to support themselves or pay for it. You have at least three years of preparation before student teaching, you know student teaching is a full time unpaid internship, start preparing now. If at all possible, build up your savings so you won’t have to work another job during student teaching. It’s a lot of work and mentally/emotionally draining. I know this isn’t practical for everyone, so if you have to work while student teaching, start positioning yourself with your employer so you can work evenings and weekends only. You aren’t going to be able to student teach part time, and you aren’t going to be able to change the school schedule, so you’re going to have to adapt your lifestyle to the student teaching schedule. The sooner your start thinking about and planning for this the better.

A related sub-piece of advice: do not take a position that allows you to combine your student teaching with your first year of teaching. It seems like the perfect solution: get paid, have a guaranteed job when you’re done, extra experience… very tempting, I get it, but I do truly believe it’s a mistake. Student teaching is an extremally valuable experience and gives you the opportunity to learn things and be mentored in a way that cannot be replaced, no matter what the administration promises you. Are there those who will disagree with me, say they skipped student teaching and would recommend it? Yes, there are. Are there those who skipped student teaching and would agree with me because they regret it? Yes, there are. Ultimately it’s going to be a personal decision, but I truly do believe not doing student teaching will end up costing you in the long run.

Avoid and Ignore Negative People

Every profession has its complainers and education is no exception. I told you I’m part of several teacher groups on Facebook, and there are a lot of negative posts in all of the groups. I love teaching, I’ve been doing it for nearly two decades now, and sometimes all of the negativity gets me down. Protect yourself and your future by surrounding yourself with positive people, not complainers. I’m not telling you to put on rose-colored glasses and only hang out with Pollyannas, there are most definitely some harsh realities about the world of education you need to be aware of, rather I’m saying find the optimistic realists. Find those people who acknowledge the truth about education and the problems within it but take positive action to change the things they can and choose to accept the things they can’t. Sitting around complaining improves nothing, and many things are beyond our influence (such as unpaid student teaching), so rather than focusing on what we don’t like and can’t do anything about, focus on what is good and within our power to change.

Build Your Wardrobe, Not Your Classroom

One of the more common posts I see is in regards to student teachers and new teachers not having anything to wear. After four years of high school and three or more years as a college student, one’s wardrobe tends to be more comfort casual than business casual. My advice: start building your professional wardrobe now. Rather than asking family and friends to buy you classroom supplies, decorations, and/or library books, ask them to buy you clothes and shoes for your teacher wardrobe. As I point out in my post about new teacher classroom supplies, you have no way of knowing what the school will supply, other teachers will give you, or even what you’ll truly want/need in the way of classroom supplies. Also, in a very unpopular opinion these days, you don’t need a Pinterest-perfect themed classroom with a fully stocked library. It is perfectly acceptable to have a “boring” room and utilize the school’s library. What you will need, and can be assured no one at the school will provide for you, is a teacher wardrobe. Start building that now, making sure you have enough professional clothes to go at least two weeks in every season of the year (there will be weeks when laundry just will not happen), and avoiding things that require dry cleaning (you’ll be on a teacher’s salary). Since you don’t know what the dress code of the school you end up in will be, and it’s not unusual to move around your first few years of teaching, I recommend business casual as your minimum level of formality. Schools with less formal (or no) dress codes never have an issue with teachers who choose to dress more professionally, but the opposite does not hold true. I give some specific things to consider regarding clothing in my post about interviewing, and while you’ll likely be less casual in your classroom than for an interview, the general principles still apply. You’ll be standing, moving, and working all day and you don’t want to have to think about your clothing. More professional than less is always the safer choice.

Soapbox moment and unpopular opinion warning…I see a lot of people advocating for teachers to be allowed to dress very casually or however they choose. While I agree that one’s clothing does not make one a better or worse teacher, I do think we should dress in a professionally appropriate manner for our grade and subject area (gym teachers should not be allowed to wear sloppy sweats with holes in them but a dress or suit/tie would not be appropriate either). We are client-facing professionals and we should dress like it. Our society does not treat teachers with the same level of respect they do other professionals (or much respect at all) and this needs to change. One way we can help with this is to present ourselves as the professionals we are by the way we dress. While looks/dress shouldn’t influence what we think about, or how we treat, other people, the sad reality is that they do. So let’s help ourselves, or at least get out of our own way, by dressing for the societal position we want.

Digitally Gather Ideas

As a resource junkie I know that saying, “focus on your wardrobe, not your classroom,” is easier said than done and not nearly as much fun. There are a million fun, cute, and exciting resources and ideas out there and you want them all–I do, too! Please, learn from my mistakes and resist buying them. Instead, focus on building your digital idea files. You know what you will be certified in when you graduate. Start gathering as many ideas as you can for every subject and grade level you’ll be certified in, plus/minus two (high and low achieving students). Save files, links, photos, videos, and any other digital records you can. Organize them in folders by subject/skill and just keep adding to them. (Specifics on how I do this can be found in my Digital Materials Organization post.) This is a free way you can start preparing now and you will be very thankful for it! If you do this, when you sit down to plan out a lesson you will have a wealth of ideas and resources you can use to supplement, extend, deepen, and reteach the material. When planning lessons, the supplementary things are the generally the hardest part. The vast majority of the time the curriculum will help you with the basics and give you a place to start, but it’s the extras that really drive a lesson home and help it stick in students’ brains. Give yourself a leg up in this area and gather ideas now. Will you end up with some that you never use? Yes, but that’s the beauty of doing this digitally–it takes up no physical space and is easy to move.

There are so many more things I could say, but they will have to wait for another day. Again, the fact that you are reading posts like this one tells me you are going to be a good teacher. Keep working, keep learning, and I look forward to seeing you in the room next door to mine some day soon. Happy teaching, everyone!

Master’s Degree Now or Later?

One of the most frequent questions I see discussed on social media is, “When should I start a master’s degree?” It’s often phrased as, “Should I start my master’s right away or should I teach for a few years?” It’s a good question, and ultimately the decision is a personal one, but I’d like to give you my perspective. Spoiler alert: I think you should wait a few years.

The most frequent argument I hear for getting your degree early is that you’ll make more money sooner. This is true, most schools set up their pay scale so those with advanced degrees are paid a higher wage. The question is, how much higher a wage? The argument I hear most often for waiting to get a degree is that it’s easier to find a job without one because the school can pay you less. This also has a certain amount of truth to it, but how much truth is unknown. I myself have been applied for, and gotten, three different jobs after gaining an advanced degree (two of the jobs were with two master’s degrees on my resume). While I agree these are factors to consider, I don’t think they are the only, or necessarily most important, ones.

The purpose of a master’s degree, in my opinion, is to set you up for the end of your career. If you want to go into administration, you’ll need a Master’s of Educational Leadership. If you want to be a specialist or interventionalist, you’ll need a corresponding degree. If you want to stay in the classroom, you will want a Master’s of Teaching for your grade/subject area. I think you get the idea.

The problem with deciding what you want to do at the end of your career is that you don’t know who you are as a teacher yet. Thus far you’ve experienced education almost entirely from the viewpoint of a student. The view from the other side of the classroom is very different and there is a lot that goes on in a school that students never even notice (even student teachers just get a small glimpse of it). It takes a few years to get to know yourself as a teacher and start to see/experience different aspects of the education world.

I’ll use myself as an example. When I graduated with my BS in elementary education, there was one thing I was sure I’d never do: teach English language learners. TESOL was just getting started as a focus for schools in most of the USA, and they’d talked about it in some of my classes, but it wasn’t something anyone really pushed. I listened and decided it wasn’t for me. Then I started teaching for a non-profit that had an English language school and said, “You have a teaching certificate. You can run the school for us.” I decided that if I was going to do this, I should do it right, and took the classes necessary to become certified in TESOL. Shortly after that, I enrolled full time in a Master’s of Education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program. It’s been 14 years since I finished that degree; I am still teaching ESL and still enjoying it. In fact, I can’t imagine not teaching language learners! Had I immediately gotten my master’s after graduation I would likely have gotten a general Master’s of Elementary Education, or become a reading specialist. There’s nothing wrong with either degree, I know many great teachers who have one or the other, but neither would have been the right one for me and my career would likely look very different today.

Another argument for waiting to get your master’s degree is finances. Taking a few years to teach gives you the chance to start paying off any student loans you may have taken out for your bachelor’s degree. Rather than continuing to add to your debt, take the opportunity to gain some experience and pay it down a little. There are even loan forgiveness programs for qualifying teachers, but they all require you to teach full time.

Besides dealing with any student loan debt, getting started with your teaching career can help you pay for your master’s degree in different ways. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships for returning students and students who are advancing their careers through further education. The school you work for may also offer some type of tuition reimbursement program. The first school I worked for upon returning to the USA had such a program and it paid for almost half of my second master’s degree (curriculum and instruction, if you were wondering). Sometimes, if a school really needs people with a particular certification, they will pay for the entire degree (though this is fairly rare and usually for very specific specialty fields).

Besides getting to know yourself as a teacher and finances, there’s application to be considered as well. I don’t mean the application to the program, I mean the application of your learning. Both of my master’s degrees required me to complete assignments, projects, and research that could only be done in a classroom with real students. There were also a lot of readings and class discussions that were much more meaningful to me because of my classroom experience.

You learn a lot in your teacher preparation program, and student teaching is invaluable experience, but nothing can compare to having your own classroom and learning on the job. I’m sure you’ve seen the memes and funny videos about the college classes they should have offered. They are funny for a reason–there’s a lot of truth in there! Some things just can’t be taught in a classroom, or experienced in a student teaching internship. Having a few years of teaching under your belt will give you a whole new perspective on the theories being taught and how various concepts/approaches might look in the classroom.

Finally, though certainly not least, your first few years of teaching will likely be the hardest of your career. I speak from experience when I say that being a full time teacher and a full time student is HARD! To some degree it is easier now with remote learning (yes, I did both of my master’s degrees in the dark ages before on-line learning was popular), but don’t underestimate how much time a degree will take, even in a remote format.

You also don’t want to underestimate how much time and energy those first few years of teaching will take. While I will be the first to tell you that it’s ok to stick close to the curriculum and not do a lot of the extras your first year or two, it still takes a lot of time to make even the most basic of lesson plans and prepare for each new day of learning. I was only able to survive teaching and taking classes because I was teaching the same curriculum I’d used for a few years already and I only had to update and tweak my lesson plans, not start from scratch. I’d also already worked the kinks out of my classroom management strategy and classroom routines/procedures for every aspect of the school year. Teaching is never an eight to three, or even eight to four, job, but it does get easier and less time consuming as you gain more experience.

Whether you decide to pursue that master’s immediately or wait a year (or two, or three…), I can tell you this–it will be a valuable experience for you. Even though I never became a curriculum director or designer, as I thought I might when pursuing the second degree, I use both of my master’s degrees every day. I learned a lot pursuing both degrees and they’ve made me a better teacher. I’m sure you’ll find the same to be true for you as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

Open Compound Nouns

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

Dominoes: Digital


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

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

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



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



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



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

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

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

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

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

Adverbial Fractions & Percentages

What if I told you there was a way you could teach frequency adverbs and changing percentages into fractions with the same activity? Perhaps even in the same day (depending on how much time you have with students, though I recommend spreading it over two days).

That would be amazing, right? I have good news for you: it’s possible and I’m going to share with you all the details so you can give it a try yourself.

Frequency Adverbs

To start, teach or review the frequency adverbs with your students. I like to use this free poster/handout that uses percentages to represent the various frequency adverbs. Once students are familiar with the terms, it’s time to practice them by talking about our habits.

I have an activity/game set that I like to use when practicing frequency adverbs. The entire set is called Adverbs of Frequency: How Often Do You? There are five different activities in the set, but all reference the same 12 life activities: ride the bus, watch TV, read a book, eat breakfast, drink coffee, eat dessert, exercise, get a haircut, talk on the phone, go to the movie theater, take vitamins, and grocery shop.

I decide which of the five different activities I want to use based on which would be best for a particular group of students. The activity options are:

  • Scoot: I place full size frequency adverb posters in five different areas of the room. Students then move (scoot) to the correct area when I call out or show an activity. I then call on one or two students to express their frequency responses in a complete sentence (i.e.: I rarely ride the bus.).
  • Clip It: I give each student five different colors of clothes pins, one for each different adverb of frequency (this can also be done with sticky notes), and place the large activity cards around the room. Students move around the room, placing their clothes pins on each card to represent how often they do each activity. I find it helps students if I put a color key on the board for them to reference as they go. After students have finished, we discuss how often the majority of the class does each activity.
  • Sort It: I supply each group of students with five different colored containers (large plastic cups or paper plates work well), one color for each frequency adverb. I also provide each group of four to six students with a set of small activity cards. Students take turns drawing a card and expressing in a complete sentence how often they do that activity before placing it into the corresponding container.
  • Roll It: I give each group of four to six students a six-sided die, a set of small activity cards, and a reference card. Students take turns rolling the die, choosing an activity, and making a sentence using the adverb rolled and activity chosen. If sentences are grammatically correct, the student keeps the card. If not, the card goes back into the pile.
  • Cover Up: Cover up games are very popular in my class. In this version, I give each pair of students a cover up board, a twelve-sided die, and a set of covers (8 covers per student, each student needs a different color). Popular covers in my class include milk jug lids, counters, mini erasers, and marking X’s with dry erase markers. Students play by taking turns rolling the die. If the number rolled is not covered, the student can say a sentence about the activity shown in the corresponding square. If the sentence is correct, the student covers the space with one of his/her covers. If the sentence is not correct, or the space is already covered, the turn is forfeited. Once all the squares have been covered, the student with the most markers on the board is the winner.

Digital Version

When it came time to take this activity digital, I considered a lot of options. I thought about a digital cover up game, a digital Scattergories game, or a set of digital task cards. None of these options would lead to the conversations I wanted though, so I ended up creating a drag-and-drop activity.

This particular activity includes a section of empty boxes for students to type their names into. Each box is able to be dragged and dropped into the sections labeled with frequency adverbs. As we work through the activity, students move their name box (I have them add their names on the first slide and then I quickly copy and paste them onto all of the subsequent slides) into the correct section for them. I then call on a few students to express their tendency with a complete sentence. It’s a quick and easy way for students to still use the same basic activity while learning remotely.

Percentages to Fractions

Once students have a good understanding of frequency adverbs, it’s time to bring in the math. I like to do this part the next day or week because it gives me an opportunity to review what we just learned with frequency adverbs.

I always start out with a review of vocabulary (this free poster is a good one to keep around for fraction vocabulary). I also introduce, or review, how to convert a percentage into a fraction. This fold up activity is a fun way of doing that. Once I’m reasonably sure students have at least a general idea of how to convert a percentage into a fraction, it’s time to return to our frequency adverbs.

As a very quick review activity, I used the same activities and frequency adverbs as How Often Do You and created a Google Form (view the template and add it to your Google Drive with this link). When I’m ready, I share the link with students and they quickly fill out and submit the form.

It is the students’ responses that we use for our math practice. Once everyone has submitted the form, we check the summary section of the responses to see what percentage of our class selected each frequency adverb for each activity.

Students then work in groups to convert each percentage into a fraction and write a sentence (ex.: Thirty percent of us often ride the bus.). Since there are twelve activities in the form, and five possible responses for each activity, that could result in as many as 60 different conversions. In my experience, that rarely happens. Most of the activities have only two or three adverbs chosen for them. The students live in the same geographic area and tend to come from similar socio-economic backgrounds, meaning that their daily lives are actually fairly similar. If you feel there are too many percentages to be converted, you can assign each group a certain number of activities, thereby reducing the number of conversions.


There you have it, how I teach grammar and math with a single activity. My students get practice with frequency adverbs, basic vocabulary, sentence writing, using words to write numbers, and an important math skill. If you had told me I’d be thinking about, let alone creating, such a thing when I was in college, I would have laughed and said it was impossible to do so much with so little! But then that’s true of a lot of what I do these days. 🙂 Happy teaching, everyone!

Match Up Boards

Learning Wrap Ups

I loved my third grade teacher, Mrs. Sherkey. Maybe that’s why third grade is one of the elementary grades I remember the best. One thing I remember quite vividly is Learning Wrap Ups. I remember sitting in a corner of the classroom in 19… and carefully wrapping that string around the plastic stick to practice various multiplication fact families. Then I’d eagerly turn it over to see if I’d gotten them all correct or not. This week I went looking and was pleasantly surprised to find they still make them!

When I was a novice teacher, one thing I tried to do was remember all of the impactful learning experiences I had. What were the things I actually remember doing and learning from? I figured if they worked for me, they could work for my students. Learning Wrap Ups were one of the things that came to mind, but at that point I didn’t teach math. I also wanted something that could be easily changed, allowing students to practice multiple skills/vocabulary (and I didn’t want to have a gazillion plastic sticks I had to keep track of and store). So what did I do? What I’ve often done when faced with something I needed/wanted for my classroom: I gave a rambling description (complete with hand gestures and badly drawn pictures) to my father. Much like what happened with the CD spinners (see the Spin & Spell post for details), my dad went to his workshop and came back with a prototype Match Up Board. After giving it a trial run, he produced a complete set of them for me, a set that I’m still using years later.

The overall design of the boards is quite simple: three sections that I can slide cardstock strips into with columns of screws running down the interior dividing pieces. They are sized so the cards are printed on a single sheet of letter-sized cardstock and then cut apart (meaning I make two quick cuts with my guillotine and I’m done). I format my cards to print double-sided and on the back create an answer key. In other words, flip the center card and you can quickly check if the answers are correct or not.

To use the boards, students place the cards in the three sections and hook rubber bands around the screws to match the items on the left with those on the right. My boards all have ten screws in each column, meaning up to ten things can be matched. It makes for a great center activity because the boards, cards, and rubber bands can all be left on a table and students can check their own work.

So what do I use these boards to practice? In a word, everything. The most common thing is vocabulary. I put the words on the left and a picture or definition on the right. Most of my vocabulary units include a set of match up cards in them. I’ve also used them to practice question words, parts of speech, compound words, and USA coins. One of the things I appreciate the most about Match Up Boards is they are easy enough for a kindergartener to use but not too childish for my adult learners (one of my adult classes used them this week). Do I occasionally have to review classroom materials usage procedures? Yes, because kids will be kids and at times rubber bands do fly through the air (especially with my middle schoolers), but for the most part my students are quite responsible about it.

If I’ve convinced you to try Match Up Boards in your own classroom, you just need to find yourself someone with some basic tools and knowledge of woodworking (my dad assures me they aren’t difficult to make and a novice craftsman can do it). The plans are a free download from one of the many links in this post and include written instructions as well as a couple of diagrams. Go on, give them a try–I bet your students will like them. Happy teaching, everyone!

Did you make your own boards and want some premade cards to use with them? These card sets are ready to go, and if you print them double-sided they include the answer key on the back of the center card.

Connected Conditionals

Connected Conditionals Board Game: Paper

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

The Materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Play

The general directions for playing are as follows:

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

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

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

Possible Scaffold

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

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

Phrasal Verb Reference

For native speakers, phrasal verbs are so common and “easy” we don’t even realize we use them (or even that they exist). While the structure and grammar of phrasal verbs is relatively easy to teach and grasp, the meaning and usage of them is not. There are just so many of them that do not mean what you would expect by simply considering the meaning of the verb and particle alone! My students are always asking for more practice with them, and I try to oblige, but games were just not enough, and I was starting to struggle to even create some of them.

I do have various references I point my students towards for looking up phrasal verbs and their definitions, (One of the ones we use the most is the Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary for learners of English.), but even this wasn’t enough. Sometimes students wanted to be able to quickly check if a word pairing was a phrasal verb or not. I also found myself wishing I had a chart that listed all of the phrasal verbs by both verb and particle. I tried searching for one but never found exactly what I what I needed. Finally, I gave up and decided to create my own.

I used all of those reference lists I’ve been pointing my students to over the years, and especially the Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary for learners of English, to create an Excel spreadsheet. I listed the verbs down the first column and the particles across the top row. If a verb and particle can be combined to form a phrasal verb, I put an X in the intersecting cell. The first tab of the spreadsheet is a complete list with all 1,135 included verbs. Following that is a tab for each letter of the alphabet so students can quickly look up a specific verb. Does the chart include every phrasal verb in the English language? No, but it does contain quite a few!

I learned a lot of interesting things while making the chart. For example, did you know that up is the most common particle? I found at least 388 verbs that pair with it! (Out is a relatively close second with 356 verbs.) Or that come and go are the most common verbs? Come pairs with 30 particles and go with 32!

The Phrasal Verb Chart is a nice digital reference for my students (it converts well to Google Sheets, if you are a Google school), and it’s been very helpful for me as well. It is yours to use as well, just click the download button above to get your own copy of the Excel version. I did password protect each of the tabs to prevent my students from accidentally making changes to it. The password is ESL2022#. If you need to unprotect a sheet, simply right click on the desired tab and click “Unprotect Sheet.” Type in the password and click OK. To reinstate the protections, right click on the tab again, click “Protect Sheet,” enter your desired password, click OK, reenter the password, and click OK. I hope it’s as helpful for you and your students as it’s been for me and mine. Happy teaching, everyone!

Interested in some of those games I’ve developed to practice phrasal verbs? Here are the links:

Or you can get all five phrasal verb games in a single bundle and at a 20% discount! The bundle includes the PowerPoint version of Jeopardy.