Picture Prompts Board Game

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

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

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

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

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

Question Words Game

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

Cause and Effect Game

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

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

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

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

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


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

Interrogative Images

Cause & Effect Pictures
Picture Prompts Board Game

Cause and Effect, Part 2

The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate The Wash Cause and Effect Chain: Digital

On Monday I shared with you two of the activities my beginning and intermediate students like for practicing cause and effect. While cause and effect pictures (digital version) and Childhood Trouble Cover Up Game (digital version) are great for these students, they aren’t rigorous enough for my more advanced students. One thing I can count on every time I see cause and effect in an advanced textbook is a lot of rolling eyes and a chorus of, “This is so easy!” Of course that’s the standard response of middle schoolers to just about everything…but my college students have always had basically the same reaction to the topic of cause and effect, so at least some of the blame has fall to the topic and teaching methods. A few years ago I tired of my standard, “Ah, the sound of whining middle schoolers in the morning, better than coffee!” response, and tried something new. The results were amazing, and I’d like to share my lesson idea with you.

My new lesson plan revolved around one of my favorite children’s books of all time, The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash, by Trinka Hankes Noble. If you’re not familiar with the book, a little girl comes home from school and tells her mom all about the class field trip to a farm. The trip was quite the adventure because one student, Jimmy, brought his pet boa constrictor along and all kinds of trouble ensued. I’m not entirely sure what inspired me to use this book for my cause and effect lesson, but I suspect I was just looking for any excuse to share it with my students. I love sharing my favorite picture books with my older learners, and they love hearing them. As immigrants and English language learners, many of them have never read the books, and being familiar with childhood classics helps them connect with their English-speaking peers. My adult learners like reading the books in class and then going home and sharing them with their children. It gives them something proactive they can do to be part of their children’s English education.

The beginning of the lesson tends to go very similarly to every other lesson I’ve taught on cause and effect to advanced learners. I explain what we are going to be working on, they roll their eyes, and I wait for the whining sound to decrease to a reasonable level. Then I play my trump card. I tell them that there is only one activity for the class period, they can work in groups if they chose, and as soon as they are finished they can go (or have free time for middle school). Suddenly they are all sitting up straight, pencils in hand, and declaring, “I’ll be done in five minutes! Who wants to go for coffee?”

We begin the lesson with me reading the book aloud to them (this is their favorite part and they often ask me to read just for fun). Then we have a very brief discussion about how one cause’s effect often becomes the cause for another effect, which becomes the cause for another effect. I show them a cause and effect chain graphic organizer/flow chart, and explain how they work. Then I give them their assignment for the class period: create a cause and effect chain for the events in The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash. Turn it in to me, and if it’s at least 90% correct, they will be finished for the day. I pass out copies of the book and a graphic organizer I use for this purpose (paper version is included in the comprehension activities packet and a digital version is also available), though you could allow students to create their own chain by drawing boxes and arrows on a piece of paper. The students get to work and, other than answering the occasional procedural or vocabulary question, I am able to observe and catch up on work around the room.

I’ve been doing this lesson for years, and I’ve never once had a group finish in less than twenty minutes. It’s one thing to identify cause and effect in a single sentence or short paragraph, it’s a far more difficult thing to diagram out a complete story. This book adds an extra challenge because, while the events are clearly described, they are told in a somewhat reverse order. Some of the events cause more than one effect, or happen simultaneously, and I encourage students to modify their chains as necessary to show these connections. As long as they are able to connect the various causes and effects in generally the right order, I give them credit. By the time I introduce the lesson, the students whine, we read the book, they work in groups, and we discuss our final chains as a class, a 45 minute period is filled.

While I can’t guarantee that your students will, like many of mine, leave saying, “Wow, that was so hard!” I do think they will leave with a new appreciation for how cause and effect can be used to tell a good story. Go ahead and give cause and effect chains a try, what do you have to lose? Happy teaching, everyone.


FYI: As of next week, I’ll be making a couple of small changes to my blog posting routine. I’m only going to be posting once a week, and those posts will be coming on Wednesdays.

Cause and Effect, Part 1

Cause and Effect Pictures: Slides (Free)
Cause and Effect Cover Up Game: Paper
Cause and Effect Cover Up Game: Digital

It seems as though every semester I have to teach cause and effect. It’s a recurring theme because it’s important, but all of the time spent on one skill can get a little boring for students. Over the years I’ve developed a few activities that are fun, and today I’d like to share two of them with you.

Teaching older learners, I don’t have to teach the concept of cause and effect as much as the vocabulary surrounding it. They generally already know what a cause and an effect are, and how they are related, these concepts don’t change from language to language. What my older learners struggle with is identifying which part of a sentence or story is the cause vs. the effect, because the language can be unfamiliar. It would be easier if there were set patterns, and while there are some clue words, there are no rules for when to state the cause or effect in your communication.

Cause and Effect Pictures

Similar to when I teach inferences, I like to start with pictures. As explained in the video, “Importance of Modeling and Guided Practice” by IRLe Instructional Solutions Team, giving students examples and opportunities to practice under controlled conditions is important. One way to do this with cause and effect is to give students pictures and have them come up with two possible causes and effects for each. (Once again, this activity practices more than one skill because students need to make inferences in order to do this.) In order to facilitate this activity, I’ve put together a set of pictures and provided students with boxes in which to place possible causes and effects. The picture set includes ten different images, and we’ll typically do one or two together as a class before students complete the others on their own or in small groups. The activity is available for free as either a Google Slides (easily downloads to PowerPoint) or PDF file.

Childhood Troubles Cover Up

As with nearly all skills, I have a game that we like to play to help us practice a little more. Cover Up is a popular game in my classes. The students like it because there are a variety of ways to play, and I like it because it is easy and cheap to create, set up, and use. The goal of the game can vary, but popular goals in my classroom include getting three in a row, covering up a group of four, four corners, and covering your entire board. Covering the entire board is the most popular goal by far, and students really like it when we play with the additional rule that allows them to remove their opponent’s covers under certain conditions (explained further in the game’s directions).

When I was developing this game, I was trying to think of a theme for the sentences, and about how effects are similar to consequences. That lead me to thinking about all of the effects/consequences in life, especially as a child, and how all children have some type of trouble in their life. I decided to theme the game around problems kids face as they grow up, such as not getting dessert because they didn’t eat their vegetables, or getting in trouble for not doing their chores. Having spent nearly two decades teaching in the inner-city, as well as having many refuge students in my ESL classes, I am well aware that some children face very serious problems in their lives, but I wanted this game to be fun, and so chose not to include such situations. Instead I focused on sentences that dealt with things that are relatable to children in many different countries, from all different backgrounds, and that seem like huge problems to kids who are experiencing them. My older learners (especially my adults) LOVE the sentences. They say it brings back a lot of memories, and it often prompts them to tell one another stories of the various “troubles” from their own lives (authentic speaking practice!).

The paper version of the game is played using some type of cover (popular covers in my class include: milk jug lids, counters, and mini erasers) and a twelve-sided die for each pair of students. I highly recommend laminating the game boards (I prefer cold lamination because it doesn’t peel, even after you cut through it.) so they last longer, and you can clean/disinfect them easily. The digital version includes and “infinite” pile of covers for students to use (created by drawing an X, copying and pasting it about 30 times, selecting all of the X’s, aligning them center and middle) and a modified dice script that randomly generates numbers between one and twelve. As with all of my digital activities, the only moveable or editable parts are the covers, everything else is part of the background image.

Of course one picture activity and one game are not nearly enough practice for cause and effect, but they are a place to start. We do many other activities, readings, and play several other games over the course of the semester, but these are the two I like to start with. On Thursday I’ll share with you an activity I like to use with my advanced students that always starts with them rolling their eyes and ends with them admitting that cause and effect may not be as easy as they’d assumed. Until then, happy teaching, everyone!

Cover Up Games

Present Perfect Cover Up: Paper
Participial Adjective Cover Up: Digital
Past Continuous Cover Up: Paper
Sentence Types Cover Up: Digital
Cause & Effect Cover Up: Paper
One of the favorite games in my classroom is Cover Up. We have two different ways of playing it and this post features one game for each version of play.

The first way we play is two players share a game board with the goal is of covering four squares with your color of marker. The squares can be in a straight line, diagonal line, four corners, or four squares that form a grid. In order to get the right to cover a square students must first correctly complete a sentence.

In the participle adjective paper version of the game, students draw a card, read the sentence, and decide if the word in parenthesis needs an -ed or an -ing ending to correctly complete the sentence. If the student is correct about the ending, he/she then places a cover (I use milk jug lids as my covers) over a square on the board with the corresponding ending.

The digital version of Participle Adjective Cover Up is slightly different. For this version I inserted a custom script in order to create an additional menu item called “Ending.” Students click “Ending,” and then  “Generate Ending,” and a box pops up that says “You rolled -ed,” or “You rolled -ing.” Students then search the board for a sentence that requires the specified ending to complete it. The student reads the sentence aloud, correctly filling in the blank, and then is able to drag one of his/her X’s over the spot to claim it. Here’s a short video showing the game in action:

In the second version of play for Cover Up, each student receives his/her own board. The goal can be adjusted, but in general I tell the students that the first person to completely cover the board in the winner.

The paper version requires a 12-sided die of some kind (or two 6-sided dice and students can choose how many to roll each turn). The first student rolls the die and checks his/her board to see if the indicated number is covered. If it is not, he/she forms a sentence using the present perfect tense and the situation described in the square. If the sentence is grammatically correct, the square receives a cover (again, I use milk jug lids). If the sentence is not grammatically correct, the square remains uncovered. If the number rolled has already been covered, the turn is forfeited. 

The digital version is played in a similar fashion, but it has a specially coded “Dice” menu added to it. The first student clicks on “Dice” and “Roll Dice,” and a window pops up showing a number between 1 and 12. Play then proceeds as described above, with the student checking his/her board to see if the square is available or not and forming a sentence when it is. Covers are the grey X’s in the center of the board, which can be dragged and dropped where needed. 

Both digital games have been designed and uploaded so the only things that can be moved or edited on the slides are the covers. The words and pictures are all part of the background and cannot be accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose) deleted or changed. Here’s a short video showing the digital version of Present Perfect Cover Up in action:

Cover up really is one of the most popular games in my classroom. The use of milk jug lids for covers makes it cheap to make and helps it stand out from other games. The students especially enjoy the element of chance added by the fact they can’t control the dice roll and so the first person to take a turn isn’t automatically the winner. 

All of the versions of the games (paper and digital for distance learning) are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, just click the photos and buttons above. Also available are bundles of the paper and digital games at a 25% discount, and a script you can add to Google Slides or Docs to create your own game using a D6 number cube.