Digital Board Games

Last week I did a blog post about how to convert a paper PDF game board into a digital game that can be played during distance learning. Since then I’ve been working to convert the paper-based resources that I plan to use this semester to digital formats. This week I’d like to share with you the results of those efforts.

All of the games that I converted are things I obtained for free from various sources. Wherever possible I credited the original source and provided links to the original document. You can obtain your own copies of these games by clicking the pictures on the left. Most will open a template preview window. To use the templates, click the blue “Use Template” button in the upper right-hand corner. This will add the game to your Google drive. 

I think my biggest struggle when first thinking about creating digital board games was how to deal with the dice situation. There are a lot of options out there for virtual dice, but they all involve students having to have another tab open and switching between them. I can’t speak for your students, but I suspect they are similar to mine in that moving between tabs is not the easiest thing in the world. Besides accidentally closing them on a regular basis, there’s just something about having to work in more than one tab that proves distracting to my students. Inevitably they see something, click on it, and become lost in the black hole of the World Wide Web. My husband, a software engineer, solved this problem for me by writing some scripts that I can add to Google Slides, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. The scripts do NOT add dice that move and turn, but they do add menu items (where you see File, Edit, View…) that perform the same function. Honestly, my students are just as happy with the menu items and don’t seem to miss seeing the dice move and change at all. Some of the games (such as Sentence Scramble) require very specific scripts, but most run off of one of four different scripts. The four main scripts are:

  • “Dice” Script–adds the functionality of a D6 number cube; a box pops up that says “You rolled a…” and a number between one and six
  • Game Play Script–adds the “Dice” Script as well as a “Draw Card” function that randomly jumps students to another slide (the “card”) 
  • Alphabet “Dice” Script–adds the functionality if a letter die; a box pops up that says “You rolled a…” and gives a letter from A-Z
  • Alphabet and Numerical “Dice” Script–combines the “Dice” Script and the Alphabet “Dice” Script into one menu item called “Dice”

​Not all of the scripts were used in the creation of these games, but most feature at least the “Dice” Script, and Intonation Monopoly features the Game Play Script. You can obtain your own copies of the scripts, so you can make your own games, by using the links above or the buttons at the bottom of this post. Each script comes with step-by-step directions for installing it and a video demonstrating the installation steps as well as how to use it.

Sentence Scramble is unique because it has a very specific script to generate the type of sentence students must find. It’s also unique because it involves a magic reveal answer slide. I described the step-by-step process of creating magic reveal answers in a previous blog post, and it was the perfect solution to my answer key problem for this game. I knew students would need an answer key, but didn’t want to have to set up a hyperlink for every square on the game board. I also didn’t want to have a slide that just showed students every answer from the board. The magic reveal trick was perfect because students can drag the magnifying glass to reveal only the answer they need while the others remain hidden.

The final activity pictured above, Clip ‘Em Centers, is a set of self-grading task cards, not a board game. I gave the step-by-step directions for creating these cards in a previous blog post, but I’m rather enamored with them. Students type their answers into specific cells of a Google Sheet or Excel spreadsheet, those answers are automatically recorded and graded on a separate tab, and a final tab gives students their total results. While the activity doesn’t involve any scripts, it does solve my problem of not knowing what my students answered when they completed digital task card activities.

In short, the past couple days has been a kind of culmination of all my learning over the last few months. I’m excited that I’ll be able to use so many of my favorite paper games and activities this semester during distance learning. I hope you find them helpful as well!

How to Use a PDF Game Digitally

Today I’ve been working on figuring out how to use some of my existing paper-based resources with my fully digital classes. Most of the resources I use in a typical semester are things I’ve created myself, but I do have a decent number of resources that I’ve gotten from other sources and really like. It’s how to use those resources that ​were created by other people that’s been giving me fits lately. My own things were easy, I have all the original files and was able to edit and convert as needed. Not so much with those that came from other sources. For some of the activities I ended up creating something brand new (like my Context Clue Connect Four Digital Game, blog post coming soon), but I don’t have time to create something to replace all of my existing games and activities (and I really like some of them). Today I figured out how to use all of those great PDF games I have!

My first thought was to copy and paste the part of the PDF document that I wanted. Nope, didn’t work, couldn’t select anything. Second, I tried opening the PDF in Adobe Photoshop Elements, but that didn’t work either. Finally, I remembered seeing a video about how to create editable text from a non-editable PDF. In the video the presenter talked about using the Snipping Tool to take a screenshot of part of the PDF. I decided to try it, and it worked! I just searched for Snipping Tool on my computer and it came right up. I clicked on New, drew a box around the part of the PDF I wanted, and saved the image to my computer. 

Now that I had the game board the rest was easy. I opened a new PowerPoint file, resized the slide to be 17×11 (click on Design, Slide Size, Custom), and started designing. First, I built my title slide. Having a title slide isn’t necessary, but I like to put one there so I can quickly know what game I’m looking at in my Google Drive. Second, I added a second blank slide and inserted the image of the game board I snipped earlier (Insert, Pictures, This Device). Third, I inserted a text box and typed out step-by-step directions for students to follow when they played the game. Finally, I put in the Teach This logo (I am very strict with my students about plagiarism and wanted to be sure to give proper credit to the creator of the game board.) and my own Gaming Grammarian logo. 

Why did I do all of this work in PowerPoint when the game is going to be played as a Google Slide? Simple, protection from accidental or accidentally-on-purpose edits by students. I design all unmovable parts of my digital activities in PowerPoint or Publisher and save them as images. To save these slides as images I clicked File, Save As, my destination folder, and chose .jpeg as my file type. PowerPoint will then ask if you want just the one slide, or all of them. If you choose all slides PowerPoint will create a new folder and place all of your slide images inside it.

It was now time to put everything into Google Slides. I opened a new Slides presentation in my Google Drive and named it. Since I only have two slides in this game I didn’t bother with the Slides Toolbox add-on, but I highly recommend it for when you have a large number of slides to upload as backgrounds. With only two slides it was just as easy to right click on the white background, choose Change Background, Choose Image, and navigate to where PowerPoint had stored my backgrounds. After adding my title slide I added a blank slide (click the + button) and repeated the process to add the game board. Now there were only three things left to do:

  1. I drew a circle, copied and pasted three more times, and changed the colors so I’d have four different playing pieces for the students.
  2. I drew boxes over the two logos, made the boxes transparent with transparent borders and linked (use the button that looks like a chain) each logo to the appropriate website.
  3. Add the dice.

There are a lot of options out there for dice, but most of them involve going off to another site, and many of my students struggle with moving between tabs on the computer. To avoid these problems, as well as the distractions that inevitably arise from students moving around the web, I use a special script that my husband wrote for me. The Dice Script adds a menu item to Google Slides that says “Dice.” The script doesn’t actually add pictures of dice, and nothing moves on the screen, but it does produce a random number between one and six. My students don’t mind not having actual dice at all and find using the menu to be quite easy. If you are interested in how I add the script I’ve made a video showing the step-by-step process:

Once I hit the reload button (to activate the script, you only have to do this after installing the script the first time), I was ready to play. To allow my students to play the game I make a copy for each group of four students (so they won’t all be playing on the same file and because I never let my students have access to my original files). Each copy is then shared, with editing rights, with the four students who will play it, and we are ready to go. The students open the file using the share link and are automatically in the same file. Remember, the file must remain in editing mode during the game! If the file is put in present mode the game pieces will become unmovable and students will lose access to the dice menu. Students can talk to one another via our virtual meeting platform (we’re using Blackboard Collaborate) or through the built in chat feature found in all Google Apps. In class I wander from group to group, listening in and helping as needed. Digitally I jump in and out of breakout rooms. If I wanted to be able to check all the sentences my students use I could use the comment feature. Tell students that on each turn they need to right click on the square where their piece is, click Comment, and type out their sentence before clicking Comment again. That will create a record of all sentences that can be viewed later.

I have to say, this is a game-changer for me! The list of resources that needed to be either converted to digital or replaced with something new was starting to depress me. Now I feel re-energized and excited about the rest of the semester.

Want this game for yourself? Click on the picture above or the button below. The link is a template link, you’ll be able to see a preview of the game and choose whether or not to click the “Use Template” button. Please note, the dice script needs a little longer to load, it may be as long as 30-60 seconds before it appears. The exact length of loading time depends on your connection.