Fishing for Contractions

I do not fish, at least not in real life. My father and grandfather used to take me when I was younger, but shortly after entering elementary school they decided I was old enough to bait my own hook and that was the beginning of the end for me. Pushing wiggly worms onto a hook? No, thank you. I continued to fish, using bread as bait, but it wasn’t too much longer before I had to start taking what I caught off the hook for myself, and mention was made of teaching me how to clean what I caught. Having to scale and gut fish was not something I ever envisioned myself doing, so I avoided having to do it by never catching another fish.

I do, however, fish in my classroom. My students and I play several different fishing-themed games, including Fishing for Contractions. There are several different ways of playing this game in the physical classroom, but today I’ll limit myself to two. Both methods require a collection of fish with contractions on half, and the words that can form a contraction on the other half (Pixaby is a great place to get royalty free clip art). You can purchase a PDF of the set I use by clicking the link above or the button to the side. I printed mine on white cardstock, cold laminated them (so the lamination wouldn’t peel when I cut through it), and then cut them out. You will need one set of fish for each group of students. We usually play in groups of 3-4, but it is possible with pairs or groups of 5-6. Once your fish are ready, you need to decide what type of pond you will use. This decision will affect how your students play the game.

The way I always envisioned playing the game was never feasible for the classroom setups I had. I really think it would be fun to actually fish for the contractions. I wanted to get magnetic fishing poles (with older students I’d have had to make my own by tying magnets to sticks or something similar) and thought I could make the fish magnetic by adding a jumbo paperclip over the mouth area. Then I planned to get a small inflatable wading pool and toss all of the sets of fish into it, mixing them all together. Then students could stand around the pool, cast into it, pull out a fish, and name either the contraction (if the fish had two words on it) or the words that made up the contraction. When they were correct, they added the fish to their catch bag. If they were incorrect, the fish would be thrown back into the “pond” to be caught again later. But, as I said, my classroom environments were never conducive to this plan, so I came up with an alternative that was easier on storage, the budget, and logistically.

I ended up making my own “ponds” by painting oatmeal containers. I am not an artist, so my “pond” looks a little funny, but the general idea is communicated. I painted one “pond” for each group. Before students arrived, I dumped one set of fish into each pond. To play, students reach into the pond and pull out a single fish. If they can correctly name and spell the contraction the two words would form, or the two words which make up the contraction, they keep the fish. If they are incorrect, the fish gets tossed back into the pond for later. This method may not be as dramatic, but it is still fun, and students seem to enjoy the activity (and I suspect my adults would prefer this particular version over the first anyway).

This past school year I, along with many others, was teaching online and needed a digital version of the activity. I ended up designing a game in Google Sheets and my husband coded a dice script into it for me. To play the game, I made a copy for each pair of students and gave them editing rights. Students were then able to type the contractions for the words indicated and, if correct (squares turn green when correct), “roll” the “dice” to see how many “casts” they got into the fishing pond for their points. Since this is a practice game I did not take a grade, so students did not need to return the completed game to me. Here’s a video showing how the game works to help you get a better idea:

Even though I’ve never been able to play this game the way I originally envisioned it, it’s still a fun game. I use the “ponds” for other games as well, so the time spent painting them was well worth it. If you make your own Fishing for Contractions game let me know how your students like it. Happy teaching, everyone!

Looking for another contractions activity? Check out this blog post from last March, this Green Eggs and Ham activity, and this bundle with all of these activities plus an extra one.

Want another fishing-themed activity? Maybe for math? Check out this blog post from last August and this parts of speech game.

Eggcellent Contractions

Get a free PDF summary of this activity!

Have you ever walked by the clearance displays of plastic eggs and wondered, “Who’s going to buy all of those?” The short answer? Me. I use plastic eggs for a lot of different activities (such as scrambled words, described in Vocabulary Activities) and have been known to buy them in bulk. Since spring is just around the corner (according to the calendar at least, we northerners know it’s likely to be awhile before the weather catches up) I thought I’d share with you another great use for those plastic eggs which will soon be on sale.

Egg contractions is a perfect example of how teacher hoarding (keeping “trash” because you just know you’ll have the perfect use for it someday) can come in handy. I was helping Mrs. C., the wonderful woman who ran our school cafeteria, clean up after the entire school had finished feasting on green eggs and ham, and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away the egg cartons. They were the large cardboard bases that held three dozen eggs each and I just knew they’d be perfect for an activity…I just didn’t know what activity (don’t judge, I know you have a similar stash of materials somewhere).

It was several months later and my students were working on contractions. Normally this is a fairly easy skill for my students and they master it quickly. This particular group was struggling and I was stumped as to what other practice activity we could try. I was staring into my resources closet, trying to come up with a new idea, when I saw the egg cartons and bag of plastic eggs. Inspiration hit and contraction eggs were born, or laid, as the case may be.

I grabbed an egg carton and a Sharpie marker and wrote a contraction inside each cup. I then grabbed the eggs and wrote the two words that formed each contraction, one word on each half of the egg, on each. I repeated the process to make a few more sets, separated the eggs, tossed the halves into a large shoe box, and was ready to go. The next day the students worked in groups to find egg halves that had the two words for each contraction on their cartons. They put the egg halves together and placed the eggs in the correct cup. The students loved it and I’ve been using the activity ever since.

There you have it, a real life example of how teacher hoarding is actually a good thing. Actually, this blog is full of examples of how I’ve used “trash” to teach (not sure if Paint Can Questions or Spin & Spell is my all time favorite). If you want more examples, stick around. In a couple of weeks I’ll tell you how my collection of old spoons came in handy for teaching collective nouns! Then in August I’m scheduled to do a webinar for Saddleback Educational Publishing that has even more ideas.

Want more contractions practice activities? Check out these fun possibilities:

Children’s Literature Based Activities for All Levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Skillology, Level 1

Level 1
Level 3

This past summer I decided to have an answer ready for the inevitable, “Can I do extra credit?” question. I created a choice menu of four activities for each of the five domains (reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar). I called my extra credit menu English Skillology, and it was a big hit. It was such a hit with my high intermediate students, that I decided to make one for my beginning students.  The level three English Skillology menu (available for free from the original blog post linked above) was based off of seventh grade Common Core Standards and the Core Competencies for the ESL department at the college where I teach. The level one English Skillology menu (also available for free by clicking the picture or this link) is also based off the Core Competencies of our department, but the Common Core Standards come from the third grade ELA set.

At the most basic level, English Skillology is a choice menu. It includes four activities for each of the five skill areas in ESL: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and grammar. Inspired by a Monopoly-style choice menu of someone else’s, I decided to use a game board format for my own. Each skill is a side (grammar is in the corners), and has its own color. Students are then free to choose the number and type of activities they want to complete by the end of the semester. If a student were to complete all of the activities, he/she would earn 120 extra credit points.

​I designed this particular board for my beginning students. In creating the activities I consulted two different sets of objectives: third grade Common Core ELA and the Core Competencies for my department at the college where I teach. Here’s a quick overview of the 20 activities:

  • Main Idea and Details:  Students read a brief selection about the Statue of Liberty and answer five questions about the main idea and details.
  • Text Features Sort: This is a small part of a larger Text Features Sort activity (paper and digital versions available). Students match definitions and pictures to seven different text features by dragging and dropping them into the correct boxes.
  • Compare and Contrast: Students read the story of Little Red Riding Hood and watch a movie version of it. They then complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two versions.
  • Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement: One part of a larger pronoun activity pack (paper and digital versions available), students drag and drop the correct pronoun over the underlined noun(s) in each sentence.


  • Introduction: Students will use Screencastify, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute introduction of themselves.
  • Informative: Students will use Screencastify, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute informative speech about a topic of their choosing.
  • Narrative: Students will use OnlineVoiceRecorder, or another program of their choosing, to record a 1-2 minute story.
  • Tourist Advice: Students pretend their closest friend is going to visit their home country and give a 1-2 minute speech giving advice about what to see. This is a small part of a writing activity I have done many times.


  • Descriptive Writing: Similar to my Describe That Picture activity, students choose a beautiful picture and insert it on the slide. They then write a paragraph describing the picture.
  • Informative Writing: Students write at least one paragraph giving information on the topic of their choosing.
  • Myth or Legend: After reading the provided example, students retell a myth or legend from their home country.
  • Narrative: Students write a narrative, of at least one paragraph in length, on a topic of their choosing.


  • The Incredibles: Students watch a short clip from the movie and answer five questions about it.
  • The Blind Side: Students watch a short clip from the movie and answer five questions about it.
  • Pronoun Problem: Students watch a short clip from a Bugs Bunny episode and answer five questions about the pronouns used.
  • The Electoral College Explained: Students watch a TED Ed video and complete a graphic organizer about it.


  • Subject-Verb Agreement: A small piece of a larger activity Have or Has: School Supply Rush (paper and digital versions available), students drag the provided circles around the correct word (have/has) to complete each sentence.
  • Conjunctions: Another sample from a larger activity, Conjunctions: The Tie That Binds (paper activity and digital self-grading task card versions available), asks students to drag and drop the correct conjunction to combine the two sentences.
  • Possessive or Contraction: In this small piece of Possessive Noun or Contraction? It All Comes Out In The Wash (paper and digital versions available), students drag each t-shirt to the correct washing machine to indicate if the word/phrase on the shirt is possessive or a contraction.
  • Singular or Plural Nouns: Students drag and drop the nouns into the correct column, sorting them by singular or plural.

So how did I create this extra credit menu? In the most general terms, here are the steps I took:

  1. I designed the choice menu and each activity slide in PowerPoint.
  2. I then saved those slides as images that I uploaded as backgrounds for the various slides (I use the add-on Slides Toolbox for this). This was to prevent any accidental (or not-so-accidental) deletions or edits by students.
  3. I added text boxes. Once again, in order to prevent unwanted deletions and edits I took steps. This time I made use of the master slide. Under Slide, click Edit Master. This will allow you to add and edit various slide layouts. I simply created master slides that included text boxes in the locations I needed them.
  4. I added videos for the students. The listening assignments, and a few others, required students to listen to a talk, or watch a short video. I inserted theses on the proper slides by clicking Insert and Video. This allowed me to find the video on YouTube and put it directly on the slide. Having the video on the slide has many benefits but the three most important to me are: no need to go to an outside site (less chance of clicking our way to distraction), advertisements are eliminated from the video, as well as watch next suggestions (again, less chance of distraction), I can choose when the video starts and ends (so if the beginning or ending is not relevant I can tell it to skip those parts.
  5. I set up the hyperlinks so when students choose an activity (by clicking on it in the menu) they will be automatically taken to the correct slide to complete it. I did this by drawing a square over each of the boxes in my menu. I then made the square and its border clear (tip: don’t make the square clear until after you’ve done the hyperlink so you can remember which links are finished and which aren’t). To make the shape a hyperlink, I click on it, clicked Insert Link in the menu bar (looks like a link in a chain), chose “Slides in this Presentation,” the number of the slide I wanted, and apply. 
  6. Finally, I added a “Game Board” button to each of the activity slides so students could quickly return to the choice menu from anywhere in the document. To do this I inserted a rectangle, put the text “Game Board” in it, and then used the Insert Link tool to link to the first slide. Once I did the fist one, I was able to copy and paste it onto all of the other slides.

I’m really excited about this particular project. It was a lot of work to put together but I believe it will be very valuable for my students. I especially like how it allows them to earn extra credit by participating in meaningful learning activities. Don’t forget to download your own copy of English Skillology from Teachers Pay Teachers today–it’s free!