A Grinchy Christmas, Part 2

Free Digital Similes and Metaphors Activity
How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game: Digital

Happy Grinch Week, everyone! On Monday, in A Grinchy Christmas, Part 1, I shared with you how I’ve been using digital board games, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas review game. Today I would like to share with you another fun activity my students and I like to do with How The Grinch Stole Christmas, this one for practicing distinguishing between similes and metaphors. 

My students really do love the book, but they love the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” just as much. This song is filled with similes and metaphors! But before getting to the song, I introduce similes and metaphors to the class. After a mini lesson on the difference between similes and metaphors, I like to have them practice as a group. Class Hook is a great resource for short video clips from favorite movies and tv shows.  You can search by entering your terms (topic, language function, type of video…) into the search box. Videos are marked with recommended grade ranges (elementary, middle school, high school), as well as topics, and relevant details (such as if it has profanity). Teachers can create playlists and view others’ comments about how they used the videos in class. You can choose to view the clips on Class Hook, or on YouTube. I searched for videos containing similes and metaphors and choose several, saving them to a playlist for future reference. In class we watch the videos and we discuss three questions:​

​     1. Did you hear a simile or a metaphor?
     2. What was the simile or metaphor that you heard?
     3. What does the simile or metaphor mean?

Since we are now online, I wanted something that my students could do asynchronously, if necessary. I created a set of digital task cards, of sorts, to meet that need. Each slide has the video clip (in Slides: click Insert, Video, copy and paste the YouTube address into the search box, click the video, click Insert), a place to mark if they heard a simile or metaphor, a place to type out the figurative language they heard, and a place to type out what the figurative language means. An answer key is also included. You can have this free resource added to your Google Drive by clicking on the picture above, or this link.

After our mini-lesson on similes and metaphors, and our group practice, it is finally time for “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” I pass out copies of the lyrics to students (download a PDF using the button above), and instruct them to get two different colors of writing utensils. At the top of their paper, students use one color to write the word “simile,” and the second color to write “metaphor.”  We then listen to the song without doing anything but enjoying it. The second time we listen, we underline all of the similes we hear. The third time we listen, we underline all of the metaphors we hear. We then listen a fourth time, trying to catch any figurative language examples we may have missed. The entire activity takes less than half a class period, and it’s a fun way to practice similes and metaphors.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas truly is a favorite of all my students. I love that we can practice such advanced language in such a fun way! I hope your students enjoy the activities as much as mine. Happy teaching, everyone!

A Grinchy Christmas, Part 1

How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game: Digital

Tomorrow, December 1st, is National Grinch Day. Though it’s not an official holiday, it is the start of the Christmas season, and many different organizations use this opportunity to promote reading, kindness, and community spirit. Hands down, the favorite part of December for my students is always reading How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching kindergarten or college, my students always enjoy this book. This week I’d like to share with you some of the activities we do with this book, and the best ways I’ve found to use digital board games in a remote setting.

Since many of my students are new arrivals in the USA, it is not unusual for them to have never read the book. We always spend the bulk of our time on reading comprehension. We read the book, watch the movie (both the cartoon version, and the updated version starring Jim Carrey), and compare/contrast the different versions of the story. The culminating activity is always a board game show-down to see who knows the story the best. I always allow students to reference the book, if needed, while play ​How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game, but they take it as a personal challenge to try and answer as many questions as possible without looking back at the text. Some tips I’ve learned through the years for playing these types of games in class:

  • Print each set (game board and cards) on different colors of card stock. This way, when you find a stray card on the floor later, you’ll know exactly which set it belongs to.
  • Store game pieces and cards in sandwich size Ziploc bags for easy distribution. I make a separate bag for each game set that contains the cards, playing pieces (colored counters or mini erasers), and a number cube. I then store the game boards and supplies bags in a gallon Ziploc bag. When I want to take the game to school, all I have to do is grab the big bag out of my Christmas supplies box. When it’s time to play, I quickly toss each group a board and a bag.

Like many others, I have been online this semester, so I converted my How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game into a digital format. I’ve shared in many different posts about my process for converting games, and about the Game Play Script that my husband wrote for me to allow students to “draw” a card and “roll” the dice. If you want to see this particular game in action, you can check out this YouTube video:

Using Digital Board Games

Rather than repeat information I’ve previously shared, I want to share with you some of the best ways I’ve found to use digital board games in a remote learning environment. There are so many wonderful scripts, add-ons, and other innovative ideas, but there are still limits to what we can do in these digital environments. Here some of the different ways my students and I have successfully experimented with playing digital board games:

  1. Shared Screen–To use this method one person shares his/her screen with the group. This is great because everyone can see what’s happening at the exact same time. The draw back is that only the person who has shared his/her screen can edit or move things in the document, so the others have much less interaction. This is the method I prefer for games such as Jeopardy, where clicking and other actions are at a minimum, and the focus is on large group speaking.
  2. Small Group File Share Breakout Room Speaking–To use this method, a copy of the game must be made for each group, that copy must then be shared (with editing rights) with each member of the group. Groups then enter a breakout room (so they can talk to one another without disturbing other groups) and all open the file on their individual computers. Students then communicate via Zoom, Meet, or whatever conferencing tool you are using, while playing the game in the shared file. The advantage of this method is that all students can manipulate the game pieces and have access to the menu items. The disadvantage is that no one can see what another player is doing until he/she has completed it. Players also cannot see what other players do when they activate the scripts–they do not see the “dice roll” menu pop up, or what slide the player is randomly sent to when they “draw” a card. Also, unless you have a record feature for the breakout rooms, you have no idea what the students are saying as they answer the question prompts. While this might not matter much when playing a game such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it does matter a lot to me when we play games specifically to practice grammar features
  3. Small Group File Share Breakout Room Typing–This method is much the same as the previous one, but with one twist. In this method students not only speak their answers aloud, they also right click on the gameboard square, choose Comment, and type their answer into the comment box before posting it. This has the advantage of allowing me to quickly scan through and check their use of the target grammar feature (or other learning objective), but it has the disadvantage of taking much longer. Most of my students type much slower than they speak, and sometimes they get bored waiting for others to type answers (they are often not finished by the time it’s their turn again). I recommend this method for games such as Cover Up, and similar very small group games.
  4. Large Group Simultaneous Play–This method is the one that my students and I prefer and use most often. I’m using large group as a relative term, I would not attempt this with more than 10-15 students in a group. To use this method, divide students into groups of about 10 and share a copy of the game (with editing rights) with each group. I recommend dividing students based on tech ability, students who are better typists and more proficient at things such as drag and drop are grouped separately from those who struggle with these types of computer skills. There is no need to place students into breakout rooms, because they will not be talking aloud much, most of the communication is done through the chat feature (though my students like that they can verbally talk to me at any time via our conferencing tool). After students have all opened the shared file, they should also open the built-in chat feature of Google apps. The final step is for students to type their initials onto a game piece so everyone will know which piece belongs to which student (it is very likely you’ll end up with multiple students having the same color piece). Students will then begin to play the game at their own pace, taking turn after turn, not waiting for others to take their turns. All answers are entered into the chat box. I read over the chat box answers and type back feedback to encourage and help students with the learning target. This solves several problems: students are able to manipulate the game elements for themselves, they no longer get bored waiting for their turn, I get to see everyone’s answers in real time, and it no longer matters that no one can see the “dice roll” pop up menu or which card students randomly “draw.” Students are encouraged to move quickly, as the first player to finish is still the winner (hence the grouping by tech ability), but I reserve the right to move their piece backwards if they give too many incorrect answers in the chat. This is my students’ preferred method for playing board games in the digital environment.

This semester has been a lot of trial and error for me and my students, as I’m sure it has been for many others. I’m sure there are many other ways of playing games in a fully remote classroom, but these are the four that have worked the best for us. I hope it helps you to get some ideas for your classrooms as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

The Know-Nothings Talk Turkey

Digital Comprehension Journal
Paper Comprehension Journal

One of my biggest struggles in teaching older low proficiency English language learners is finding books for them to read. The books that contain vocabulary and sentence structures they are able to comprehend are made for very young learners. I do have two go-to series though that never fail to become favorites of my older learners: ​Amelia Bedelia and The Know Nothings

The biggest reason my students and I like these books is the main characters are adults. So many other great books, (such as Cam Jansen, a series I talked about in my Spooky Synonyms and Halloween Literature posts), have characters that are in early elementary school. While the books are well written, and the stories engaging, my students are unable to relate to the characters. It is also a little discouraging because they are having to read a children’s book. Conversely, Amelia Bedelia and The Know Nothings feature main characters that are adults and, while still obviously being written for children, it’s a little easier for my students to relate to them.

Another reason we like these books so much is that they are funny! Amelia Bedelia and all of her comprehension mistakes is very relatable for English language learners. The Know Nothings’ lack of understanding is not quite as relatable, but they are happy and they don’t let their difficulties deter them from their goals. My students like the positive attitudes and easy comradery of the four friends.

When I was searching for Thanksgiving lessons beyond my stand-by readings and vocabulary from The ESL Teacher’s Holiday Activities Kit, I decided to focus on The Know Nothings Talk Turkey for our reading comprehension work. In this book the four friends realize it is time for Thanksgiving, talk briefly about why we celebrate it, and then set out to have a true American Thanksgiving experience. They have a lot of adventures as they try to find and serve a turkey, but in the end are thankful to be together as friends.

In order to facilitate our reading, I developed a tri-fold brochure with questions for each chapter and a very short final comprehension check. Once printed and folded, the comprehension journal/brochure served as a bookmark, as well as a place to track their learning. Since so much of our lives has gone online this year, I created a digital comprehension journal for my online friends to use. The digital version includes all the same questions in a single slide deck with hyperlinked buttons for each chapter and the table of contents (first slide) for easy navigation. This lesson also provided yet another chance for my students to practice using the steps to comprehension (see previous blog post) that I’d taught them, though instead of underlining the sentences in the text I had them mark them with sticky-notes instead.

The book is rather short, so we were able to read the entire thing, and complete our journal, in less than a week. The students really enjoyed the story and it was a great way to introduce them to some American Thanksgiving history and traditions. Happy teaching, everyone!

Halloween Literature

Vocabulary Sort Cards: Paper
Vocabulary Sort: Digital

I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween. It’s nothing specific, it’s just never been my favorite holiday. However, part of my job as an ESL teacher is cultural instruction, and so each year I had to do something with it. Since I’m always on the look out for ways to accomplish more than one educational goal with a single lesson or unit, it should come as no surprise that I wanted to do the same with my Halloween unit. 

Besides wanting to accomplish multiple educational goals, I also needed to consider my students’ needs. Over the years I’ve had many traumatized students pass through my classroom, some of them refugees from war torn regions. I’ve never considered the scarier aspects of Halloween appropriate for school, and most certainly not for these students in particular, no matter their age. So a simultaneous goal has been to expose my students to the holiday, but focus on the less scary parts.

When working with beginning level students, one of my go-to resources is the ESL Teacher’s Holiday Activities Kit. This book has photocopiable lessons that consist of a coloring picture, vocabulary, a short reading (less than ten sentences with an illustration for each sentence), and comprehension activities. They are the perfect level for beginning students, and every holiday you can imagine is represented, with the “bigger” holidays having more than one reading and comprehension. It was my low intermediate students that I was struggling with what to do. They already knew the basics of the holiday, most had been in the USA for at least one year, but I still didn’t want to get into the scarier aspects, or the history of it. I finally decided that I wanted to approach it using literature. 

One of my favorite series to use with intermediate language learners is the Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler. The books are mysteries, but they are not scary, and have a touch of humor to them. The main characters are relatable and the books provide excellent opportunities to practice skills such as predicting, inferencing, and others. They are also relatively cheap (usually less than $5 a copy), so I could afford to get a copy for each student (I did a Donor’s Choose project to get the funds). Thus, Cam Jansen and the Mystery at the Haunted House became my book of choice for Halloween. 

I sourced much of our comprehension work from edHelper, and their free literature unit for the book. To go along with it, my students and I created The Word Cemetery bulletin board, which I described in my last blog post. The first time I taught the book I realized I’d forgotten something: vocabulary. How I forgot vocabulary is still a mystery to me. I spend huge parts of my life teaching vocabulary and have an entire set of vocabulary activities I use regularly. Since I never want to make the same mistake twice, I developed a vocabulary sort activity to use in the future. Now, before reading the book, we go over the vocabulary and use the sort cards (available by clicking on the pictures above) to practice. 

The last couple of years I’ve been teaching adults at a community college and I’ve actually missed getting to read this book. If our curriculum weren’t so packed, I’d still try to work it in, but for now I just remember previous years fondly. Hopefully you and your students can enjoy the book for me. Happy teaching!

Spooky Synonyms

Word Cemetery Synonym Activity: Paper
Word Cemetery Synonym Activity: Digital

As English language learners my students typically have a smaller vocabulary than their peers. This is normal and I generally don’t have a problem with it. However, this does not mean that they shouldn’t be learning new words, and we spend a lot of time on synonyms in my class. One October I decided to involve the students in creating a bulletin board for our Halloween / Dia De Los Muertes celebrations. Since we were also in the process of reading Cam Jansen The Mystery Haunted House, I decided to tie the two activities together, but the book is incidental to the activity and you can use either of these activities without reading the book. 

I started by creating a graphic organizer for the students to complete. I wanted them to get practice using a thesaurus, but I didn’t want to totally remove the context of the vocabulary words (see previous posts on ELL accommodations and vocabulary activities for more on why). Thus the graphic organizer had the overused word in the center, a place for synonyms at the top, and the bottom included sections for three different sentences: a sentence from the book using the word, an improved book sentence (students replaced the overused word in the book sentence with one of the synonyms), and an original sentence using a different synonym for the overused word. 

Each student received a different graphic organizer (a total of eight words were represented). After completing the graphic organizer they were able to use it as payment for a tombstone and ghosts. In groups (based on the word from their organizer) the students designed the tombstone listing the overused word as the name and the part of speech as the relationship. They then listed one synonym on each ghost (a minimum of three was required) and decorated those as well. Everything was eventually combined into one bulletin board under the title of “Word Cemetery Where Dead Words Rise As Synonyms.” The students loved it and actually started using some of the synonyms on occasion! Administration thought it was great too and specifically commented on how clever it was after a walk through.

This year our October celebrations are online so I wanted to develop a digital version of the activity. I decided to use one of my favorite programs: Google Slides. The basic concept is still the same and slide four (pictured above) has the eight tombstones, along with an example and a supply of ghosts already provided. The example and tombstones themselves are in the background, and thus protected for accidental (or not-so-accidental) editing. The graphic organizers appear on the following slides, one for each word, and are also in the background, with textboxes supplied for student notes.

One of the things that most excited me about this project was it gave me a chance to create my first “infinity” draw piles. I’d seen other digital activity descriptions refer to them, but hadn’t really thought about their creation. It turned out to be remarkably simple, one of those “Duh!” moments that I seem to be having so often these days. I simply chose my ghost (once again I was able to find the royalty free clipart I needed on Pixaby), added a text box, grouped the two together, and copied/pasted it about 20 times. I then selected all of the ghosts (easier for the first set since I could simply click ctrl+A), right clicked on them, chose align vertically-middle, align horizontally-center, and they had all moved into a single pile. I repeated the process with the second ghost (because I just had to have two different ghosts), and I had two “infinity” piles of ghosts students could drag and drop. Of course the piles aren’t truly never ending, but since students were only required to do three synonyms per dead word (meaning a total of 24 synonyms), and there are about 40 ghosts in total, the chances of them running out are slim. If your students are over achievers, and you fear them running out, simply paste a few more ghosts onto the slide before aligning them into a single pile.

You can get both of these activities for yourself by clicking on the pictures above. As I said, my students found the process to be a lot of fun and it was a great addition to our October festivities. Happy teaching everyone!