Homophone Sghoul & Self-Grading Task Cards With Drop Down Menu How To

Even though Christmas items are already starting to take over in stores around me it’s still October and Halloween is next on my calendar. In the past I’ve shared about the Spooky Synonyms bulletin board my students have done and one of our favorite pieces of Halloween literature, but I’m really excited about the treat I have for this year–a trick to make self-grading digital task cards even better!

Homophone Sghoul: Paper Version

The Activity:

Homophone Sghoul, task cards to practice the use of their/there/they’re is the latest spooky craze with my students. In these twenty-four school-themed sentences, students help the ghost choose the correct school (their, there, they’re) to complete the sentence. The cards can be used as task cards, a board game, a slap game, or response cards. If you’re not familiar with these terms, here’s a quick overview of each:

Task Cards: students choose a card, read it, record their answer in the correct box of a paper recording sheet, and then replace the card before choosing another. Some people refer to these cards as “Scoot” and, rather than giving groups of students entire sets of cards, pass out one card to each student. The students then pass the cards from person to person until every student has seen every card. I’ve also used the cards as a student scoot. I hang them around the room, or set them on various flat surfaces, and give each student a recording sheet and clipboard. The students then walk around the room, reading cards and recording their answers, until they’ve completed all of the tasks.

Board Game: use the sentence cards as the game cards. Students draw a card, verbally complete the sentence, and (if correct) roll/move their piece on the game board. I give groups an answer card they can use to check who is correct if a dispute occurs.

Slap: this is a fun whole class game. I use strong magnets to attach large answer signs to the whiteboard. The class is divided into two teams and each team is given a fly swatter. One student from each team comes to the front. I read a sentence and students use the fly swatter to slap the correct word to complete the sentence. The first person to correctly slap the word wins a point for his/her team.

Response Cards: give each student a set of small cards with a single answer on each. Read a single sentence aloud. Students hold up the card with the correct word to complete the sentence. This is a great way to quickly judge which students understand the material and which do not.

Homophone Sghoul Self-Grading Task Cards: Google Sheets
Homophone Sghoul Self-Grading Task Cards: Microsoft Excel

The Digital Version:

Enough about the paper version though, what I’m really excited about is the self-grading digital task card version of the activity. It was August of 2020, that I shared with you how to make self-grading digital task cards using Google Sheets. They work great and both my students and I have enjoyed using them to practice many different skills. The only thing I didn’t particularly like was how students had to spell words exactly right or have them marked incorrect. This was most evident to me when some of my beginning level students were practicing the use of much or many and one student spelled many with an e (meny) on every single “card.” While I do think it’s important for students to practice spelling words correctly, that wasn’t my first priority with this particular activity. It was also a source of frustration for the student, who thought she didn’t understand the lesson (but she actually did–she had used the word many correctly every time). I started thinking about it, trying to find a solution to the problem, and decided to experiment with using a drop down menu, along with the conditional formatting, to create the task cards. It ended up working like a charm and here are the step-by-step directions for creating your own self-grading digital task cards, complete with drop down menu answers.

The How To:

In the original post I gave you step-by-step directions for creating these cards in Google Sheets. This time I’ll give you the directions for using Microsoft Excel to create the cards. The process is similar, but there are slight differences, so I’ll include Sheets-specific directions for creating the drop down menu. The good news is the files transfer well, so it is possible to create in one program and up or download it into the other with minimal effort.

  1. Set up your directions tab.
    • Right click on the first tab at the bottom of your sheet.
    • Click rename and type “directions.” Hit enter.
    • Type directions for the students into the first cell at the top of the page. You can always type a list by placing each subsequent direction in the next cell/row down.
  2. Add more tabs (sheets) to your document.
    • Add a new tab by clicking the + at the bottom of the screen.
    • Rename the tab “1”
    • Add another tab by clicking the +
    • Rename the tab “Answers”
    • Add a third tab by clicking the +
    • Rename the third tab “Grade”
  3. Create your first task card.
    • Click on tab 1.
    • Add pictures and arrange them as you see fit by clicking Insert, Pictures before resizing and dragging/dropping them into position.
    • Choose a cell to be your answer cell
      • Change the color of it by clicking Home and the Paint Can.
      • Also on the Home menu, set the justification for the cell to “center” and adjust the font and font size.
    • The cell directly to the left of the answer cell will become the first half of your sentence/task (everything before the blank on the paper version).
      • Be sure this cell is set to right justification.
      • Adjust the font and size.
      • Type the first half of your sentence.
    • The cell directly to the right of the answer cell will become the second half of your sentence/task (everything after the blank on the paper version).
      • Be sure this cell is set to left justification (should be automatically set to this).
      • Adjust the font and size.
      • Type the second half of your sentence.
  4. Click on the answer cell on your first card (tab 1) and set up the drop down menu.
    • Excel directions for a short list:
      • Click on Data.
      • Click Data Validation
      • Click Data Validation again (in the drop down menu)
      • Under Settings and Allow choose List.
      • Under Settings and Source type your answer options, separate them with commas (in my case I typed: there, their, they’re)
      • Click OK
    • Excel directions for a long list:
      • If you have a long list of answer options you’ll want to create a hidden sheet/tab and type each option into a different cell in a single column.
      • Then, on the sheet where you want to add the drop down menu, click on the cell where the menu will appear.
      • Click on Data
      • Click on Data Validation
      • Click on Data Validation again
      • On the Settings tab under Allow choose List
      • Click the up arrow (source icon) at the end of the Source box.
      • Select your list of items on the hidden sheet.
      • Click OK.
    • Sheets directions:
      • Click on Data
      • Click on Data Validation
      • Under Criteria choose List of Items
      • Enter the items, separated by commas, in the next box.
      • Be sure to click the “Reject input” option for On invalid data
      • Click save
    • If you prefer to see these directions as a video, you can check out these two videos (not mine) on YouTube:
  5. Create more task cards
    • Create enough task cards so you will have one card per sentence/task.
      • Right click on tab 1.
      • Select move or copy
      • Click Create Copy
      • Click on “Answers” in the Before Sheet box (if you forget this step you can always drag and drop the tab later)
      • Click OK
    • Rename each card with ascending numbers.
      • Right click on the new tab.
      • Click Rename
      • Type the appropriate number
      • Hit enter
    • Go to each card and change the image(s) (if desired) and type in the sentence halves for each number.
  6. It’s now time to set up the Answer tab. This is one of the longer parts.
    • In the top row type the words Question, Answer, Points in adjacent columns.
    • Enter numbers in the question tab
      • Click on the first cell under Question
      • Type 1
      • Highlight all the cells 1 to the final answer (I highlighted cells 2-25 for 24 questions total).
      • On the Home menu click Fill, Series (column, linear, step value 1), OK
    • Set up the answers column
      • Click on the first cell under Answer
      • Type =
      • Click on the corresponding question tab at the bottom of the screen
      • Click the answer (colored) cell
      • Click enter
      • Repeat these steps for each of the cells in the answer column
    • Set up the points column
      • Click on the first cell under Points
      • Type =(
      • Click on the corresponding answer cell (should be the cell just to the left)
      • Type = “answer“1,0) **Do not type the word answer though–type the correct answer for the sentence. On my cards I typed either =”their”1,0) or =”they’re”1,0) or =”there”1,0).
      • Hit enter
      • Copy this down the column by grabbing the bottom right corner of the cell (cursor will turn into a +) and dragging down to the last cell in the list.
      • Go back to each cell in the points column and be sure the answer (word in quotation marks) is correct for the given sentence.
    • Add a cell for total score.
      • At the bottom of the Question/Answer/Points column leave one row/cell empty.
      • In the next cell down of the Answer column type Score
      • Click the adjacent cell (Points column)
      • In the Home menu click AutoSum
      • Check that the correct cells are highlighted (only the Points column cells for the sentences/tasks).
      • Hit enter.
    • Add a cell for percentage score.
      • Skip a row after the score cells.
      • In the next cell down of the Answer column type Percent
      • Click the adjacent cell (Points column)
      • Type =
      • Click the cell with the total score (should be two cells above your current cell).
      • Type /# of questions **Do not type the words “# of questions”–type the actual number of questions. On my cards I typed 24 because I had 24 sentences.
      • Hit enter.
      • Click on the cell again.
      • Right click.
      • Click Format cells, Number, Percent, OK.
    • Conditionally format the Answer cells
      • Click on the first cell under the word Answer.
      • On the Home menu click Conditional Formatting
      • Click Highlight Cell Rules
      • Click Text that contains
      • Type the correct answer for that question/sentence
      • Choose the color you want the cell to turn (I chose green)
      • Click OK
    • You will likely want to hide this tab. This allows you to know exactly which questions the students missed, but keeps that information from the students. They will still be able to see their score on the grade tab, and go back to make corrections if they choose, but they will not know exactly which numbers were incorrect. This forces them to actually think about the answers, rather than just click through the options on the drop down menu until the answer registers as correct on the Answers tab.
      • To hide this tab:
        • Right click on Answers at the bottom.
        • Click Hide
      • To reveal this tab (when you are ready to look at it):
        • Right click on any tab at the bottom.
        • Click Unhide
        • Click the name of the tab you want to reveal
        • Click OK
  7. Set up the Grade Tab.
    • Click on the tab Grade.
    • Add any pictures you’d like to have by clicking Insert-Image.
    • Add whatever text you’d like students to see.
    • Choose an empty cell and type the word Score.
    • Skip a row and type the word Percent.
    • Click the cell adjacent to Score
      • Type =
      • Click the Answer tab
      • Click the cell with the total score in it
      • Hit enter
    • Click the cell adjacent to Percent.
      • Type =
      • Click the Answer tab
      • Click the cell with the total percent in it
      • Hit enter

The Wrap Up:

As I shared in my post a little over a year ago, self-grading digital task cards are great. There’s no printing/laminating/cutting to do, students get a lot of good practice with various skills, and teachers still get the formative assessment data they need. Happy teaching, everyone!

How to Make “Infinite” Piles

I’ve never been the most tech-savvy person around, but I’ve always been able to hold my own. I know how to do everything I need to do and can generally figure out how to do new things quickly. This past year and a half meant that I, along with so many others, had to learn new skills quickly. As a hands-on, activity-based teacher I found myself having to completely revamp my methods and find digital ways to play our favorite games. Infinite piles have become standard in my digital activities and games.

This blog is full of posts describing the paper-based games and activities and how I converted them to digital, including digital board games (a big part of the credit for those goes to my husband, who is the author of all those wonderful scripts I use to make them). The majority of the games and activities involve dragging and dropping items (at least place markers), and many of them require multiples of the same item. At first, when making games such as Cover Up and Connect Four, I created long rows and columns of X’s, or whatever I wanted dragged and dropped. Then I started hearing about infinite piles. My first thought was these were shapes that were somehow self-reproducing: drag one off the pile and a new one automatically appears. I quickly learned that this is not case, they are actually piles of the same shape on top of one another, what makes them “infinite” is the fact that the creator has included far more than the amount you’ll ever need for the activity in the pile. I immediately understood the appeal and, in future activities such as Jeopardy in Slides and new Cover Up games, I started using infinite piles.

Making an infinite pile is incredibly easy:

  1. Draw or insert the image or shape you want to reuse. (Most of time this is simply an X for me, but I have used other shapes, such as the apples in Picking Apples.)
  2. Make copies of the image or shape. I do this by simply copying and pasting it (ctrl+C once and ctrl+V as many times as needed). Make at least as many copies as will be required to complete the activity and then, just for good measure, make another 5-10 (or 15, or 20…) more.
  3. Select all of the shapes. It these are the only selectable items on the slide (i.e.: everything else is part of the background), simply click ctrl+A. If these are not the only selectable items on the slide, you can either click on each individual item or, as I prefer to do, click on an empty spot near the top corner of the first item and drag your mouse to form a box around all of the items you desire. This is a bit easier in Slides than PowerPoint because you do not need to get the entire shape inside the selection box in Slides, as you do in PowerPoint, but it’s a very fast process in either program. Finally, be sure you haven’t accidentally selected anything that you don’t want as part of your pile (if you did, hold down the ctrl key and click on it to unselect it).
  4. In the format menu click on “Align.”
  5. Under align, click “Middle.”
  6. Open the format menu again and choose “Align” and “Center.”
  7. Drag your pile of shapes to wherever you’d like it to be on the screen.

Didn’t I tell you it was easy? The whole process takes only a minute or two and I now use this method constantly. Besides games and activities, I also use infinite piles to track student progress in real time. I assign my students an individual drag and drop activity (such as French Fry Synonyms), assigning individual slides to each student (before assigning the activity I make a copy of the activity slide for each student and put their names on them). I then add an infinite pile of smiley faces to the side of each student’s activity slide(s). As students work, I move from slide to slide, checking their answers. When an answer is correct, I drag and drop a smiley face next to it (incorrect answers are dragged back to where they came from). This makes it easy to quickly let students know what is correct, and for me to keep track of which answers I’ve checked.

I’m sure there are many more uses for infinite piles, I just haven’t thought of or had a need for them yet. Hopefully infinite piles will improve your digital activities as they have mine. Happy teaching, everyone!

Drag and Drop Synonym Sort

French Fry Synonyms: Digital
Synonym Puzzles: Digital

One reason why I have so many synonym activities, such as Word Cemetery and ​Shades of Meaning, is because synonym instruction is really vocabulary instruction. My more advanced students need synonym instruction as much as my beginning students, though they don’t always realize it. Announcing that we’ll be working on synonyms was one way to get a chorus of groans and complaints from my more advanced students, until I presented them with my French Fry Synonyms activity. 

French Fry Synonyms was not a game changer activity because it was so creative or cool, rather because it was deceptively difficult. Students know, or think they know, all of the sixteen words included, as well as multiple synonyms for each of them. What students don’t realize is that there are far more synonyms for these words than they realize, and some of those synonyms could actually be connected to multiple words.

The paper version of this activity is a basic sort. The overused words (good, bad, nice, pretty, sad, look, smart, go, said, like, love, hate, a lot, big, little, and happy) are on fry boxes, ​ and the synonyms are on rectangles that I print on yellow cardstock to make the fries. The students must sort the fries onto the correct boxes, five fries per box, and be prepared to explain why they placed each fry where they did. ​Since some of the synonyms (such as dismal which can be sad or bad) could be matched with more than one word, it is the ability to defend their choices that takes this activity to the next level.

I am fully on line this semester, but I didn’t want to forego this particular activity. My adult students especially appreciate it because so many of these synonyms are words they’ve never heard before. This prompted me to create a digital drag and drop version of French Fry Synonyms. Drag and drop activities are very easy to create, and my students have really enjoyed doing them. 

When creating a drag and drop activity, the first thing you need to do is decide what will be stationary and what won’t. You want to create all of your stationary items, and then convert them into background images. Making all stationary items part of the background protects them from being accidentally moved, edited, or deleted. I prefer to do this in PowerPoint, in fact I do almost everything in PowerPoint.

When I open PowerPoint, the first thing I do is adjust the size of the slide. You can do this by clicking on Design and Slide Size at the top. I vary my slide sizes for the different activities, but for this one I chose 17″ x 11″. PowerPoint will then ask if you want maximize or ensure fit of your slide elements. Since this is the first thing I do, it doesn’t matter which I choose, but I always choose ensure fit, just so I’m in the habit if I ever change the size of a slide I’ve already designed.

The second step in my drag and drop creation practice is to choose a background. You can find the Format Background option in the Design menu, or by right clicking on the slide and choosing Format Background from the menu that appears. I recommend that you choose something simple and not distracting. For this particular activity I chose a marbled look from my personal collection of pretextured backgrounds, hoping to create the illusion of a kitchen countertop. Often I will use the transparency slide in the Format Background menu to lighten the background. This helps my text and other elements to stand out a bit more. The final step is to click Apply to All at the bottom of the Format Background menu.

Now the fun begins with the designing of the non-moving elements. For French Fry Synonyms I wanted a section with the fry boxes and a separate fry station (place for my fries that needed to be sorted). I also knew that I needed room above each fry box for students to place the synonym fries, so I decided to divide my sixteen overused words onto two slides. The fry station was easy to create, all I had to do was draw a straight line from top to bottom and add the text “Fry Station” at the top. To create the fry boxes, I searched Pixaby (great source for royalty-free, commercial use, no attribution required images) for fry boxes, and chose one that was simple. In order to remove the fries in the original drawing, I inserted the image into Photoshop,  selected the inside of the fry box, reversed my selection, and hit delete. I was then able to fill the box with a red color, and save it as a .jpeg. Back in PowerPoint, I inserted the now empty red fry box, resized it, added a text box, and typed my first overused word. I was then able to copy and paste the box seven more times, move them around the slide, and change the word on each. To create my second slide, I opened the Insert menu, clicked New Slide, Duplicate Selected Slides. After changing the words one each fry box, I was finished. In order to covert my slides to images, I opened the File menu and clicked Save As. After choosing where I wanted the file saved, I changed the file type to .jpeg, clicked save, and chose All Slides. This created a new folder in my selected location, with a .jpeg file of each slide.

The fries would ultimately be moveable elements of my activity, but I didn’t want students to be able to edit (either by accident or on purpose) the synonym typed on each. In order to prevent this, I needed to create each fry as a separate image, one I’d be able to insert onto my final activity slides. Still in PowerPoint, I selected the Insert menu again, Shapes, and chose the rectangle shape tool. In my fry station (though it doesn’t matter where you do this), I drew a rectangle, changed the color to yellow, double clicked inside it to add text, and typed my first synonym. After formatting the text and resizing to my liking, I copied and pasted the fry 39 times (eight fry boxes, five synonym fries per box, 40 fries total). I then went through and changed the synonym on each fry. To get my fries for the next slide, I selected all of the fries, copied them, and pasted them onto slide two. After changing the synonym on each again, I was done creating synonym fries. The final step was to save them as images by right clicking on each fry, choosing Save as Image, and giving it a name. I like to name my draggable elements by whatever word is on them so they are automatically alphabetized for me in my file. This helps later because when I insert the images onto the final slide they are inserted in alphabetical order, saving me the trouble of tying to figure out how to arrange them in “random” order. In this instance, since I have two different sets of draggable images, I added a 2 to the front of the second set so I could quickly tell each set apart.

After all of this, it was finally time to create the final activity slides. I opened my Google Drive and created a new Slides file. Step one, as before, was to resize the slide by clicking File, Page Set Up, Custom. I then entered the same dimensions as before (17″x11″), and clicked Apply. It is very important to do this first so your background images (the unmovable parts of your activity) don’t get distorted when you import them.

When importing the unmovable background images, you can do it several ways. If you only have a couple of slides in the activity (such as with this activity), you can insert the background by right clicking on the slide, choosing Change Background, Choose Image, Browse, navigate to and select your image, Open, Done. You will need to repeat these steps for each slide. If you have a lot of slides (as I’ve had in other activities such as Too or Enough? or Context Clues Connect Four), I recommend using the Add-on Slides Toolbox. This Add-on allows you to import multiple images at a time, and set them as backgrounds on individual slides, with just a few clicks. It was a huge time saver for me!

It is now time to insert the movable elements. To do this, click Insert, Image, Upload from Computer. You can then insert as many images as you like. If an image needs cropped (sometimes clear space will be added around the edges), simply triple click on it and use the black bars to move the edges in and out. Once all of the images have been cropped, select them all (ctrl+a), and create a single pile by clicking Arrange, Align, Center, Arrange, Align, Middle. Once all of the images are in a single pile, you can adjust the size by dragging the blue boxes. If you want to maintain your proportions, try holding down the shift key while you drag the corner boxes. You can also set the size manually by clicking Format, Format Options, and typing in the exact dimensions you would like. Once all of the pieces have been sized to your liking, arrange them in your holding area (fry station in this case). Your work will be automatically saved in your Google Drive.

All that remains is to assign the activity to your students and let the fun begin! There are many ways to do this, and many of the specifics will depend on your LMS. When I did this activity with my adults last week, I copied and pasted the two activity slides enough times so each student would have his or her own set. I then put names on each slide so no one would be confused as to which slides were assigned to which student. Finally, I shared the deck with my students (giving them editing rights), and we all dived in. As the students worked on their individual slides, I moved from slide to slide, checking answers. If a fry was placed on the correct box, I drew a smiley face next to it. If a fry was not placed correctly, I either moved it back to the fry station (for obviously wrong answers, such as colossal for little), or asked the student for an explanation. Not all of my students have microphones that work well, so we like to use the built-in chat feature to communicate. If the student could give a defense of his/her choice that made sense, I added a smiley face; if not, the fry was returned to the fry station for resorting. They loved it, and as is typical for my adult students, they wanted to be sure they’d continue to have access to the activity so they could write all the words down for further study.

There are many other ways to create and use drag and drop activities, but this is the method that works for me. My students really do enjoy them, and are very engaged while completing them. Besides in class activities, such as this one, I’ve also assigned them as homework, and provided some for extra practice. I hope you and your students will enjoy them as much as we do. Happy teaching, everyone!

Context Clues Four in a Row

Context Clues Connect Four Set A: Digital
Context Clues Connect Four Set B: Digital
Context Clues Connect Four Set A: Paper
Context Clues Connect Four Set B: Paper
15 Weeks of Academic Vocabulary Set A
15 Weeks of Academic Vocabulary Set B

Every semester I spend a lot of time teaching context clues. Knowing how to recognize and use context clues is an important skill for any student, but it is especially crucial for English language learners. I have several different games and activities that I have collected over the years and like to use, but they are all paper-based, and my class is 100% virtual this semester. Since I still needed to teach context clues I was originally intending to convert these paper-based activities to digital games, as I had several others. When it came time to actually do the conversion though, I realized it was going to be much more difficult to convert these particular activities than I had expected. I really wasn’t looking forward to doing the work and was also thinking that it was high time I created my own context clues activity. About that time I was also involved in a Facebook conversation about teaching academic vocabulary and it hit me: why not kill two birds with one stone? I could teach context clues and review academic vocabulary all at the same time.

I still didn’t have a lot of time (my semester was starting in less than a week), but I no longer need it. I had previously created 30 weeks of academic vocabulary units, so all of the research and content was finished. All I needed to do was take the existing list of 150 vocabulary words, and example sentences, and create a game that allowed students to practice context clues with them. Thus, Context Clues Academic Vocabulary Connect Four was born. Before I describe for you my creation process (very easy, don’t worry), let me give you a quick demo of how the game is played.

To create the game I started, as I almost always do, in PowerPoint. As I’ve stated before, in order to prevent things from being accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose) edited or deleted by students as they play, I put as much as possible into the background. Thus, I start creating my games in PowerPoint and design all of the elements that I don’t want students to change or move on the slide. I then save my slides as images (File-Save As-choose .jpg or .png-all slides). In this case, the slide creation was quite simple. I needed a title slide, a game board slide with directions, question slides, and answer slides. My questions were sentences using the academic vocabulary words, the answer slides were definitions for the words. Since I didn’t have time to create 150 new example sentences I decided to use the sentences I’d already written for my 30 weeks of academic vocabulary posters. Transferring the sentences was easy. I set up the text box on my first question slide (changed the font, size, and made it bold), opened my original file, copied the sentence, right clicked on my question slide in PowerPoint, and under paste chose the A symbol (text only). This pasted the text into my slide but kept the formatting I’d just set up. I added a rectangle shape that said “Answer,” and my first question slide was finished. In order to keep everything the same, I then created a duplicate slide to be my answer slide. I changed the text in the rectangle shape to “Game Board,” and changed the question text to be the definition (also copied from the original file) instead of an example sentence. For each subsequent word I created a duplicate of the question or answer slide preceding it and changed only the question or answer text. 

The one thing I had to be sure to do while creating the question and answer slides was keep my question slides together. In other words, I couldn’t have my first question on slide three and the answer for that question on slide four. If slide three was question one, then slide four needed to be question two, and so on. This is for two reasons: 1. the game has to remain in edit mode when students play it and I don’t want them to be able to see the answer in the slide sorter on the left, and 2. I knew I’d be using the “draw” a card function in the game play script my husband wrote me and it requires all of the question cards to be sequentially numbered. This meant I had to do some scrolling as I set up the slides, but it wasn’t difficult. 

Once my slides were all designed and saved as images, it was time to insert them into Google Slides. The easiest way to do this is to use Slides Toolbox. The toolbox add-on has an insert tool that allows you to make slides from images and set the image as the background. After opening the toolbox and selecting the images I wanted it took about 2 minutes for everything to be uploaded and set up. Two minutes may seem like a long time, but it is much faster than trying to set over 150 slides’ backgrounds individually!

The next step was to set up hyperlinks to make my “Answer” and “Game Board” buttons functional. To do this I used the shape tool to draw a box over the “Answer” button on my first question slide. I then changed that box’s border and color to transparent. Then I copied the box and pasted onto all of the following question slides. Then, noting the number of the first answer slide, I went back to my first question slide and hyperlinked the “Answer” button to the first answer slide. To do this I clicked on my transparent box, clicked the link button in the toolbar, chose slides in this presentation, and chose the slide number for the first answer. I then repeated these steps for each of the subsequent questions, simply adding one to the slide number I was linking to (question one linked to slide 79, question two linked to slide 80…). Making my “Game Board” button functional was much easier. I simply added a clear box to the top of my “Game Board” button on the first answer slide and linked it to slide three (my game board). I then copied this linked rectangle and pasted it onto each subsequent answer slide.

I was now ready to install the game play script. This script adds a menu item to Google Slides that says “Game Play.” The sub-menus are “Draw a Card” and “Roll the dice.” This game does not require dice, so I had my husband take out that part of the script. Both written and video instructions for installing and using the script are included with the download. You can get your own copy of the script by using the button below.

Finally, I needed markers for the game board. I first inserted an X shape (I use the one found under the equation section of the shapes too.). I then copied and pasted it 41 times, so I had 42 X’s in total. To get it the size I wanted, I selected all of the shapes, clicked arrange, align, and center. This put all of my X’s on top of one another and I was able to easily drag the corners to get them to be the correct size. I then changed the color and distributed them across the bottom of the screen. Finally, I selected half of the X’s and changed the color again so each player would have his/her own set.

This is the first digital game I’ve created that does not have a paper-version as well. While there were other activities that changed format or type when they were converted to digital, this one is the first that is completely new. I did end up creating a paper version, and it is played in a very similar way, but includes cards to draw and a glossary to check answers. You can get either Context Clues Connect Four game by clicking the pictures above, or a discounted bundle of both (digital or paper). You can also get the paper-based 15 week academic vocabulary units by using the pictures above, or a bundle of all 30 weeks. Also available is a bundle that combines both paper Connect Four games and all 30 weeks of academic vocabulary.

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.

Self-Grading Digital Task Cards

Much or Many: Sheets Version
Relative Clauses: Sheets Version
The Tie That Binds: Conjunctions: Sheets Version
Syllables: Sheets Version

Task cards are great, aren’t they? Students like them, teachers like them, administrators like them, there’s really no reason to not like them! Figuring out how best to create digital task cards has been a journey for me; but I persevered and was rather content with the digital task cards I had come up with, except one thing–I had no way of know what my students had answered, or I had to click through multiple slides for each student and check everything by hand. I missed the recording sheets and the relatively easy grading methods I had for paper-based task cards. Until last week that is! It took some thinking and experimenting, but I knew that if I could use conditional formatting to create games and mystery pictures, I should be able to use conditional formatting to create self-grading task cards. I was correct, it is possible, and I’m going to tell you exactly how I did it. But first, here’s a look at these cards in action so you can see why I’m so excited about them!

Cool, right? And they were extremely easy to make. This is possible in both Excel and Sheets, but I find it a little easier to complete in Sheets because there are fewer options. The good news is that Sheets can be downloaded as Excel (click File, Download, Microsoft Excel) and all of the formatting stays in place. These directions will be for Sheets.

The first thing I did was rename the first tab as “Directions.” To rename a tab:

  1. go to the bottom of the screen
  2. right click where it says Sheet1
  3. click Rename
  4. type the new name for the sheet

I then clicked in the first cell and started typing my directions. I chose to type one sentence per line in hopes the students will read the directions more carefully if they weren’t in paragraph format. To insert the arrow directing them to the tabs for the questions I did the following:

  1. Click Insert
  2. Click Drawing
  3. I chose the arrow I wanted from the shapes menu and drew it on the screen.
  4. Click “Save and Close” in the upper right corner.
  5. Reposition and resize the arrow to fit your needs.

After the directions are finished it’s time to add the question, answer, and grade tabs. I recommend that you add the answer tab first and you update it as you go. To add a tab click the + sign in the bottom left corner. Change the name to “Answers” using the above steps. I chose to label column A as “Question,” so I could easily see which question the answer corresponded to, and I went ahead and numbered down column A (type 1 into cell A2, grab the bottom right corner of the blue outline around the cell and pull down, the numbering will be done automatically). Column B I labeled “Answer.” Going back to my directions tab, I again clicked the + button and renamed this newest tab “1” for question one.

On the question tabs you are going to include whatever you would normally place on a task card. I chose to include a picture (click Insert, Image, Over Cells) and the sentence that I wanted them to complete. One thing you do need to be sure and include though is an easily identifiable place for them to type their answer. You need to know exactly where the answer will be typed in order for the conditional formatting to work. I took care of this problem by choosing a cell, resizing it (not necessary but I wanted it to be large and not easily missed), and coloring it tan. Now that your first task card is set up, it’s time to make the magic happen on the answer sheet. 

  1. Click on the answer tab.
  2. Click in the cell for the answer to question/task 1 (cell B2 on my sheet).
  3. type =
  4. Click on the answer cell from task card 1 (click on tab 1, click on the answer cell).
  5. Click on the Answers tab.
  6. Hit enter.

Now anything typed into the answer cell on task card 1 (tab 1) will automatically appear in the corresponding answer cell on the Answers tab. Next I need to do the conditional formatting for the self-checking part of the task cards. (This step is not necessary if you are not planning to allow students access to the answer tab but it only takes a moment and I think it’s worth it.)

  1. On the Answers tab click on the cell for the answer to question 1 (cell B2 on my sheet).
  2. Click Format
  3. Click Conditional Formatting
  4. Under Format rules, Format cells if… choose “text is exactly”
  5. Type the correct answer in the box labeled “Value or formula”
  6. Choose the color you want the cell to turn (I leave mine green).
  7. Click Done.

To test this out, click on tab 1, type the correct answer in the answer box, hit enter. Now click on the answer tab and next to number 1 should be your answer and the cell should be green. This in itself is cool, but now to make it self-grading!

  1. On the Answers tab click the cell next to the answer for question 1 (cell C2 on my sheet).
  2. type =IF (that’s equals sign IF)
  3. click the cell with the answer (Answers tab cell B2 on my sheet)
  4. type the correct answer in quotation marks (i.e.: “much”)
  5. type ,1,0 (that’s comma one comma zero)
  6. hit enter

The cell next to your answer for question one should now have a number 1 in it. You have now completed the set up for task card 1. 

To create the next task card you could start from scratch, but I recommend copying and pasting to save yourself a little setup work. 

  1. Right click on tab 1 at the bottom of your screen.
  2. Click Duplicate
  3. Rename the new tab 2 (or whatever number you are on).

Now you just need to change elements such as the picture (if you choose) and the question. The answer box is already formatted for you, as well as any static elements you may have included (i.e. a border). Once the card is designed to your satisfaction, follow the steps above to update the Answers tab. Continue repeating these steps for each of your task cards.

Only a few things remain to be done. The first step is to finish the auto-grading feature. 

  1. On the Answers tab click the cell below the points for the last question (the cell immediately bellow the last 1/0 cell, on mine it was cell C27).
  2. type =SUM(     (that’s equals sign SUM and open parenthesis) 
  3. click on the 1/0 cell for question 1 (cell C2 on my sheet) and drag down to highlight all of the 1/0 cells
  4. release your mouse button
  5. hit enter

You now have a total number of questions correct. To convert this to a percentage, be sure you are in the cell below your total score (cell C28 on my sheet).

  1. type =
  2. click the cell with your total score (cell C27 on my sheet)
  3. type /   (that’s a forward slash or divide sign)
  4. type the total number of questions
  5. hit enter
  6. click again on the cell with your percent (cell C28 on my sheet)
  7. click Format
  8. click Number
  9. click Percent
  10. hit enter

You now have a percentage grade for the activity. 

This next part is totally optional but I wanted it because I sometimes use task cards as an assessment. The Answers tab will now clearly show which questions are correct and which are incorrect. This is great if I want students to be able to go back and correct their work, but what if I don’t want to make it obvious which questions are right or wrong, and I still want them to know their final score? My solution was a grade tab.

From the Answers tab create a new tab by clicking the + sign in the bottom left corner. Rename the new tab “Grade.” I then inserted a picture (just for fun) and an encouraging message. I then chose a cell and typed “Number Correct” (cell H4 in my example). In the next cell over (cell I4 on my sheet) I told it to automatically populate from the Answers sheet.

  1. On the Grade tab click where you want the number correct to appear (cell I4 on mine).
  2. Type =
  3. Click on the Answers tab.
  4. Click on the box with the total correct (cell C27 on my sheet)
  5. Click on the Grade tab.
  6. Hit enter.

I then repeated this process a row or two lower for the total percentage, this time pulling in the percentage from the Answers tab (cell C28 on my sheet). I now have a sheet that will show my students their grade, but not which questions are correct or incorrect. On this tab they are still able to see that they answered N questions incorrectly, but they don’t know which ones.

The final step is to hide the Answers tab so they don’t have access to which specific questions are correct or incorrect (this step is optional but good if you want to use the cards as an assessment).  To hide a tab:

  1. Right click on the tab you wish to hide.
  2. Click Hide sheet.

To make the tab visible again (if you want to look at specific answers without having to click on every tab):

  1. Click View.
  2. Click Hidden Sheets
  3. Click Answers

Can students do this too? Yes. Are they likely to think about it and do it? Probably not. Unless they know the tab is there they have no reason to go looking for it. Add to that the fact that they’d have to be able to read the conditional formatting formulas we inputted to get the correct answers, and cheating is highly unlikely.

That’s it, you now have a complete set of self-grading digital task cards. To use them you will need to make a copy of the document for each student and give them editing rights (be sure you’ve deleted any answers you typed on the question tabs as you tested things out). The best way of doing this will depend on your learning management system. To do this on Blackboard I create a Force a Copy link and post the link in my assignment. In Google Classroom you can just put the link into classroom and choose “make a copy for each student.” The important thing is that each student have his or her own copy of the cards.

This truly is my new favorite way to do task cards. I like it so much that I’m planning to go back and recreate some of my other task cards (the ones where students move circles to indicate their choice and I have to check each slide individually) using this method. I hope you find it helpful as well, happy teaching!

Digital Task Cards

Can or May? Slides Version
Its or It’s? A Vacation Slides Version
See these task cards in action!
Pirate Homophones: Are, Our, Hour: Slides Version
See these task cards in action!

How many times have you given your students a Google Slides or PowerPoint presentation and they just clicked through it rather than using the buttons provided? Frustrating isn’t it? The point of the activity is for them to click in the places we want them to click and yet, either by accident or on purpose, they always seem to miss things by randomly clicking elsewhere on the slide. Today I’m going to show you how to fix this problem. I’ll warn you now: this can be time consuming! But, it is worth it in the end. This post gives step-by-step instructions, but if you prefer a video, skip to the end. 

First, as always, design your slides elsewhere, I usually use PowerPoint, even if I’m going to be giving my students a PowerPoint in the end. Doing the design work this way prevents any accidental (or accidentally-on-purpose) deletion or editing of the slide contents. When designing your slides be sure to create words or “buttons” that students will click on to “answer” the questions. Each feedback slide (tells students if they were correct or not) needs to include a “button” that links to the next question. Once you have all of the parts designed, save your PowerPoint slides as images.

  1. Click on “Save As”
  2. Change the file type to either .jpg or .png, either will work.
  3. Tell it to save all slides and wait a moment. A new folder will be created with images of each slide. 

You are now ready to create your file that will ultimately be shared with students. You want to import all of those images you just created and set them as the background.

  • In PowerPoint the easy way to do this is, in a new PowerPoint file, choose Insert, Photo Album, New Photo Album. You can then use the Insert From File/Disk option to navigate to your stored pictures, select them all, and insert them. 
  • In Google Slides there is an add-on that makes this easier. Click on Add-ons, Get Add-ons, and search for Slides Toolbox.
    • Once it’s been installed click on Add-ons
    • Slides Toolbox
    • Open
    • Import Tools
    • Create slides from images
    • Check the Set as Page background box
    • Next
    • Upload
    • Select files from your device, then navigate to where you stored the files and select them all.

If you have a lot of slides this will take a couple of minutes, but it is still much faster than doing them one-by-one.

Now that you have all of your slides set up as images/backgrounds, it is time to start making the magic happen. The first thing we want to do is make it so students cannot advance slides by clicking anywhere. To do this we are going to link each slide to itself.​

  1. On the first slide use the shape tools to draw a rectangle that covers the entire slide.
  2. Copy that rectangle and move down through the slides, pasting the rectangle on each remaining slide.
  3. Go back to your first slide and click on the rectangle. Change the rectangle so it is transparent in color and has a transparent border. Then click the hyperlink button (looks like a linked chain) and choose the same slide (so if you are on slide 2, link to slide 2).
  4. Go down through the slides, clicking on each rectangle, making the rectangle clear with a clear border, and linking each slide to itself (slide 3 gets linked to slide 3, slide 4 links to slide 4…).

Now, if you put the presentation into present mode, you can click anywhere on the slides but they will not advance.

Making the slides advance is the next step:

  1. Back in edit mode, go to your first slide.
  2. Using the shape tool again, draw a shape (I always use rectangles, but any shape will do) over where you want students to click to “answer” the question. Be sure to make a separate shape for each answer possibility. 
  3. Make your shape clear with a clear border.
  4. Click on the hyperlink button again. This time you are going to hyperlink to the slide that tells students if they are correct or not. You can choose to have separate correct/incorrect slides, or have one slide that shows the correct answer and gives an explanation. Just be sure to link to the slide that has the feedback you want to give for that particular answer.
  5. You will need to repeat this process for each answer on each slide.
  6. Once you finish the question slides you will need to repeat the process to add a box to each feedback slide linking students to the next question.

A lot of work, I know, but it really is worth it. The good news is that once you finish creating all of your answer and next question buttons, you are done. Put your slides in present mode and try them out…pretty cool, huh? If you prefer video tutorials, here is a short one:

Happy task card creating, everyone! Next week I’ll show you how to create self-grading task cards in Sheets/Excel that can be used as an assessment, it’s my new favorite digital task card delivery method!

Too or Enough? Commonly Confused Adverbs

Too or Enough? Paper Version
Too or Enough? Digital Version

A couple semesters ago a group of students was really struggling with the difference between the adverbs too and enough. The explanation in the book was clear, we had a good discussion, but after completing the provided practice exercises they still weren’t feeling confident. Since I too was tired of the book’s practice exercises, I decided to make a fun game for them to play instead.

The paper version of the game has two different forms: a board game and a cover up version. Cover up is played in pairs. Students share a board (pictured on the left) and take turns drawing cards, reading the sentence, and then covering up a square that lists the correct word to complete the sentence (I use milk jug lids as my covers, they’re free and come in a variety of colors.). The first player to cover four spaces in formation (straight line, a square, four corners) is the winner. In the board game version (playable by groups of 2-4 students), students draw a card, read the sentence, and determine if the blank should be completed with too or enough. If correct, the student rolls the die and moves his/her piece on the board. The first person to reach the finish square is the winner.

Since class has been moved on-line, and even if we were in the classroom students wouldn’t be allowed to sit close together or share materials, I needed a digital version for this fall. I had already created a couple of different digital cover up games, and I really wanted to do something different this time. I had also recently seen a YouTube video about making magic reveal answers, and I really wanted to try it for myself. Enter the digital board game, complete with game play script. Before I tell you about how I made the game, here’s a quick video showing you how it works:

The first part of the process was very similar to other board games I’ve made. I started by designing the various slides in PowerPoint. In order to make everything fit I like to resize my slides to 17×11 (in PowerPoint click on Design, Slide Size, Custom Slide Size, enter your desired dimensions and cick OK, choose Ensure Fit). This allows me to simply take my already-designed paper game board, save it as an image, and insert it on half the slide. The second half of the slide is where I type instructions for how to play the game. After setting up the game board slide, I then set up a slide for every question. Each question slide includes the sentence prompt and a box called “Game Board.” Once all of my slides were designed, I saved them all as images (Save As, choose .jpg or .png, Save, All Slides).

In order to have my magic reveal answer I needed to create and save three more images: “too,” “enough,” and a magnifying glass. For the two text answers (too/enough), I created a text box in PowerPoint, typed the word too, changed the color of the text to be the same as my background, right clicked on it, chose “Save as Image,” and saved it. I then repeated the process for enough. The magnifying glass was slightly harder because I am not an artist. I do, however, know of a great source for royalty-free images and clipart, Pixaby. I simply went there, searched for magnifying glass, chose one with a clear background, and saved it to my computer.

I was now ready to start setting up my game in Google Slides. First, I needed to upload the game board and sentence slides I designed in PowerPoint and set them as the backgrounds of individual slides. Designing in PowerPoint, saving as images, and setting those images as backgrounds prevents students from accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose) moving, changing, or deleting things you don’t want them to. This process of uploading and setting all these images as backgrounds used to be very tedious and time consuming. Then I was introduced to the add-on Slides Toolbox. This add-on allows me to import images and set them as backgrounds on separate slides in about seven or eight clicks, rather than the seven or eight clicks per slide it used to take. 

After getting all of my backgrounds in place, I needed to make my Game Board button functional. In order to do this, I drew a rectangle over the button on the first question slide, made the rectangle and border clear, and then hyperlinked it (use the link button in the toolbar) to the slide with my game board. I then copied the box and pasted it onto each question slide. The nice thing about this copy and paste method is that the hyperlink is also copied and pasted and Slides automatically pastes it in the same location on ever slide. So I literally copied it, clicked on the next slide, hit ctrl+v, and clicked the next slide to repeat the process. The entire operation only took me about 30 seconds.

It was now time for the part I’d been waiting for: creating the magic reveal. Starting with the first question slide, I inserted the image for the correct answer (too or enough). I then positioned the image over the black line, making sure no part of it covered anything black. Because the word is typed in the same color as the background it became invisible. I then inserted the magnifying glass image that I’d previously saved and set it to go to the back (right click on it, choose “send to back,” or click on it and click alt+shift+b). By sending the magnifying glass to the back I told the program that any time it’s sharing space with another object on the screen the other object should be on top. In other words, when I drag the magnifying glass over the answer line, the word on the line is put on top, the magnifying glass is put on the bottom, and the word becomes visible because something that is a different color is between it and the background. Very cool! I then went to each question slide and repeated the steps:

  1. insert answer image (too or enough)
  2. position answer over line in sentence
  3. insert magnifying glass image (actually I just copied and pasted it from the previous slide)
  4. send magnifying glass to the back (unfortunately this setting does not copy and paste with the image)

The last big task I had to complete was adding the game play script that my husband wrote for me. This script adds a menu item to the top that says “Game Play.” Under that menu are additional menus that say “Draw Card” and “Roll Dice.” The “Draw Card” menu will randomly jump a player to one of the question cards (similar to drawing a card from the top of a pile). The “Roll Dice” menu will produce a pop up window that says, “You rolled a __,” and give a randomly generated number between one and six. This script (as well as others) is available in my store and includes a video giving step-by-step instructions on how to install and use it.

All that was left to do now was create the pieces for my students to move. On the game board slide I made a circle, copied it, pasted it three times, recolored them to be four different colors, arranged them where I wanted them, and I was finished. 

Just a couple of quick tips/reminders for using them in your classroom:

  • Make a copy and assign the copy. Despite all of our efforts, students will have problems and you don’t want your original file messed up.
  • In order to play together students will need to share a single file. That means you will need to make a copy for each group of students and then share that copy (with editing rights) with each of the students in the group. So if you have 28 students, playing in groups of four, you will need 7 copies of the game. Each copy will then have to be shared with each student in that particular group (so yes, you will have to set your groups up ahead of time).
  • Students need editing rights to play. If they don’t have editing rights they will not be able to move any of the playing pieces.
  • Google Slides must remain in edit mode. Once in presentation mode you are unable to drag/move any of the game pieces (you will also lose access to the game play menu).

 Digital board games take a little bit of work to create (though it is getting easier as I go and learn new tricks, such as Slides Toolbox) and set up, but I really think it’s worth it. My students always respond so positively to games and I was very frustrated last semester when I couldn’t use them. Now that I have learned how to do all of these cool things I can’t wait for on-line instruction this fall!

Integer Fishing

As an ESL teacher I end up teaching all subjects. During my middle school days (ah, the good ol’ days) I had a self-contained classroom of newly arrived 7-9th graders. Those were some fun times, but also some tough times for this grammar guru. Don’t get me wrong, I love math, social studies, science…all of the subjects. Grammar is just the one that comes easiest to me. In the end I approached all of the subjects, especially math, the same way I approach grammar: with games! Integer fishing is one that I originally created using plastic eggs, dice, and white boards. With the arrival of Corona Virus, I knew that a digital version was needed. Enter Google Sheets with scripts and conditional formatting. Then I kept hearing about teachers at Microsoft schools who couldn’t use Google Apps, and I could relate (my college has Google for students and Microsoft for professors–try to figure out that combination!). Enter macro-enabled Excel. Today I’d like to share with you one of the games that I’ve made using these methods and give you a template with a macro-enabled button for “rolling” a number cube.

Before I get to the digital version of the game, let me tell you about the physical game. To make the game you’ll need several items: an egg carton (I used an 18 count), plastic eggs in two colors (one for positive and one for negative), a six-sided die, a positive/negative die, and a twenty-sided die. Write an integer between +20 and -20 on the bottom of each egg (put positive numbers on one color and negative numbers on another) and place in the container. When you’re ready to play, pass out one container, the dice, and a whiteboard & marker to each set of students (I usually have students play in pairs, but you could do up to four in a group). The first player rolls all three dice. The +/- and D20 dice tell the student the goal answer, this is the number he/she wants to be at when his/her turn is over. The D6 die tells the student how many eggs he/she must turn over. The student turns over eggs one at a time, adding the integers together as he/she goes (the whiteboard is very helpful for this purpose). The object is to have the final total be the same as the goal number the student started the turn with. After turning over the required number of eggs, the student’s score is the distance between the goal and the final total (so if the goal was -4 and the student’s eggs added up to +1, his/her score would be 5). The game starts out difficult, because other than knowing if an egg is positive or negative, the student does not know the values of each egg. As the rounds progress, students start to remember the value of different eggs and the students are able to use their knowledge of integers to help them.

Now I’d like to share with you how I created the digital version of the game, but first a look at how it is played:

For most of the creation process, the steps are the same in both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. When creating the activity I started by typing out the directions for students. I wanted it to be very clear how to play the game. I then created color-coded recording spaces for students to keep track of the game rounds (we used to use a white board for this). This was nothing more complicated than selecting the cells I wanted them to use for each purpose, filling the cells with a particular color, and then labeling the group. The real fun came when I started creating the fishing hole and the catch basket. The fishing hole was simple, I simply selected a group of cells, colored them blue, and set the text to be white and centered. The magic started with the catch basket.

I used a random number generator (Google) to get 12 numbers between -20 and +20. I typed one number into each cell, selected the cells, made the text a dark brown, and then colored the cells a dark brown. This essentially made the numbers invisible. My next step was to enter the conditional formatting. I described how to do this in detail in my blog post about mystery picture activities (there’s even a video). Just as a quick reminder, here are the steps to conditionally format cells based on the contents of another cell:

  1. select the cell you want to change
  2. click Format
  3. click Conditional Formatting
  4. under Format rules, Format cells if… choose “Custom formula is…”
  5. add the custom formula: =$[column of the cell you are referencing]$[row of the cell you are referencing]=””  (ie: =$A$3=”X”)
  6. choose the color you want the cell to turn (I chose white so as to reveal the brown letters)
  7. click done

Unfortunately, you have to format each cell individually, but it didn’t take me too long and the end result is worth it. When I finished, each blue cell in the fishing pond corresponded to each brown cell in the catch basket. When students make an X in a blue cell, the corresponding brown cell turns white, revealing the catch value.

The magic continued with the addition of the Catch Goal and Number of Casts buttons, but this is where I needed my husband (a software engineer) to help me. I do not program and to create the activities two different programming languages were required. Sheets required JavaScript and Excel required VBA. All I did in this process was to insert an image and label it, from there the expert took over. He inserted a script for Sheets and a macro for Excel. I’ll spare you the long explanation of how he made it all work (because I don’t understand it). The good news is that he did and says it wasn’t difficult (so if you do know how to program you could do it yourself).

The final result was the game that you saw demonstrated above. The demonstration video was made with the Google Sheets version, but the play is the same with the Excel version. The Google Sheets version is for sale in my Teachers pay Teachers store, but the frustration of being a Microsoft school continues for all. It turns out that macro-enabled files are not supported on the TpT platform and I was unable to upload the Excel version. But the GOOD news is that since the game was already made, I decided to use my blog to disseminate it–for free! And, because I feel the pain of not always being able to use Google Apps, I included a template as well. The template includes the macro-enabled dice roll button. To use it simply open the file, do a “save as” so you don’t mess up your template, and design your game. The Roll button will randomly generate numbers between one and six, just like a number cube. I hope you and your students enjoy the game as much as I and mine have. Happy gaming, everyone!

Digital Mystery Picture Activity

Who’s / Whose Mystery Picture: Sheets
Question Words Mystery Picture: Sheets
Syllables Mystery Picture: Sheets

My students love mystery pictures and I love them because they are so easy to grade. Ever since I started digitizing my games and activities I’ve wanted to create a digital mystery picture activity, but couldn’t figure out the best way to go about it. This past week I learned how and I want to share it with you. The secret is conditional formatting. I’ll give you the step-by-step process here, but if you prefer a video version there’s one below.

1. Create your picture in Google Sheets (or Excel if you prefer). Get it exactly how you want it to look once the students have correctly completed the activity.
2. Go over several rows from your picture and start typing your questions. In this case I had sentences that I wanted students to complete, but it could be anything from a math problem to a factual questions. You just need to have a defined answer that everyone will type the same. Place one question per row.
3. In front of your questions color the box where you want students to type their answer. Students must type the correct answer, in the correct box, for the picture to “magically” appear.
4. Now you’re ready to start conditionally formatting your picture. Go over to the picture and randomly select however many cells you want to tie to the first answer. Be sure all of the cells are the same color!
5. In order to help myself remember which cells I’d already done I first changed the selected cells to white.
6. Click on Format, Conditional Formatting.
7. Click “Add Another Rule”
8. In the Format rules box click the down triangle and choose “Custom formula is.”

9. In the box enter the formula: =$Y$3=”Who’s”  The Y is the letter of the column where the answer will be typed. The 3 is the number of the row where the answer will be typed. Inside the quotation marks is the text for the correct answer. If your answer is numerical it does not require quotation marks.
10. Choose the color you want the cells to turn.
11. Click done.
12. Repeat steps 4-11 for each of the questions you’ve created, being sure to conditionally format all of the cells in your picture.

You can test your work by going through and typing the answers in the boxes and watching the picture appear. When incorrect answers or typed, or correct answers are typed incorrectly, nothing will happen and the boxes will stay white (or whatever color you set them to be).

The first time I created a mystery picture I fell into the trap of recreating digitally what I had on paper. I made every cell correspond to an answer (80 questions for an 80 cell picture) and every answer correspond to a color (all of the “am” answers were blue). The great thing about digital is that you are freed from these restrictions. You can make every answer correspond to as many or as few cells as you choose (just remember they all have to be the same color). You can also make any answer be any color, even if it wasn’t that color previously (hence my activity has two possible answers but three different colors). The digital format opens up a lot of possibilities!

My students already enjoy mystery color pictures and I can’t wait to see their response to the digital version! Want my mystery picture activities? Use the picture links and buttons above!