It’ll Come Out In The Wash, You Can Count On It!

Count / Non-Count Wash Sort: Paper
Count Non-Count Wash Sort: Digital

Many years ago now I was sorting laundry and thinking about the struggles my students were having getting everything in their sentences to agree, especially words such as much/many and few/little. I had tried many different practice activities such as task cards, games, and even worksheets (you know I was desperate if I tried worksheets!), but they still weren’t mastering the skill. As I worked on the laundry it occurred to me that I might be missing an underlying issue; I was treating the symptom and not the disease, so to speak. It was then that I realized what I’d been missing all along, the problem wasn’t with the determiners, it was with the nouns. My students didn’t know the difference between a count and a non-count noun. Inspired by this realization, I revamped my approach and spent a couple of lessons on count vs. non-count nouns.

Two things were particularly helpful to my students: a handout and a sort activity. The handout (which you can download for free using the button on the left) was very simple. It’s just a list of yes/no questions that help a student decide if a noun is count or non-count. My students referred to it quite a bit in the early stages of our lessons but less and less as time went on.

Since I’d had my revelation about how to help my students while sorting laundry, I decided to make my sort activity laundry themed. I found a t-shirt clip art and started placing nouns and pictures on each one. I quickly ran out of nouns that you actually place into a washing machine, so I expanded to other clothing-themed items. Students have never complained or noticed, but if they did I’d just play up how everything in my closet is dirty and I don’t have time to do anything but toss it all in the washing machine. Then I found baskets that looked similar to laundry baskets for students to toss the t-shirt icons in, one for count and one for non-count (so two per student or student pair). I printed and laminated (I recommend cold lamination because it’s thicker and never peels, even after you cut through it) everything, cut it all out (the most time consuming part), glued a clothes pin on the back of each basket label, and was ready to go. (Tip: print each set of sort cards on a different color of cardstock. This way when you find a lost card on the floor later you know which set it belongs to.) The students found the activity to be very helpful. They worked in pairs, often referring to their handouts, and a lot of good discussion about which basket to put the different t-shirts in ensued.

As a final assessment of my students’ abilities to differentiate between count and non-count nouns, we played a game of Slap (students use a fly swatter to slap the correct answer). They did great and I was very proud of them, but the real test came when we returned to agreement and students had to try and use those determiners again. I’m not sure who was more nervous when we started the first activity, them or me, but all nerves were quickly forgotten as they flew through it with no problems at all. I learned a valuable lesson that year and ever since I’ve taught count and non-count nouns before determiners.

This year I had to take this activity digital. Most of the activity is exactly the same: students sort t-shirts based on whether the item named and pictured on the front is a count or non-count noun. But this sort is a drag and drop in Google Slides and students sort the t-shirts onto two separate washing machines. My beginning students loved it and mentioned how having the picture on each t-shirt helped them learn some new vocabulary. And, once again, when we went to do the much or many task cards activity (this year a self-grading task card activity–learn how to make one in the blog post), the students we able to quickly work through them and comprehend why one determiner was used instead of the other. If only I found such great inspiration every time I sorted the laundry! Happy teaching, everyone.

Looking for more noun practice activities? Check out these fun sorts and games:

Collective Noun Spoons

Singular-Plural-Collective Spoons Card Game

Want more noun practice games and activities? Check out my Noun Practice Bundle:

My cousins and I used to play Spoons at almost every family gathering. The evening would start normally, with food and a lot of talking, but eventually someone would raid the silverware drawer and pull out a deck of cards. It was then the attitude of the room took a turn and it became everyone for him or herself. Let’s just sum up the following events by saying we used more than our fair share of Band-Aids and multiple spoons were harmed in the making of our fun.

If you’ve never played Spoons, you’re likely quite confused by my reminiscing. Why would you need Band-Aids to play a game? How can playing a game damage spoons? For a full explanation of how to play, see the rules on Bicycle Cards’ website, but I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version. The game is played with a deck of cards and spoons. The total number of spoons is one fewer than the number of players. The object of the game is to collect four-of-a-kind and sneak a spoon from the center of the table. Once the first person takes a spoon, the object becomes ensuring you are not the person left without a spoon when the frenzy of grabbing dies down. Whoever is found to be without a spoon receives a letter, and the first person to collect enough letters to spell S-P-O-O-N-S is out of the game. Competition to grab a spoon can get quite fierce, and just because you have your hand on a spoon doesn’t mean it’s yours. If someone else can grab it and yank it away, they will…at least that’s how my cousins and I always played.

How does all of this relate to collective nouns and education? Recently, I was texting with a friend about an educational application for a common game she was thinking through (I’m hoping she’ll write a guest blog post about it soon!). The biggest hurdle we were trying to overcome was the cost of the game (almost $15 for one set and she’d need a set for every 4 students). That got me thinking about cheap games, which lead to thinking about Spoons, which lead to remembering the large number of them I have in my “I don’t know how or when but I’m sure I’ll need this for school someday” supplies. (If you’re thinking I’m a hoarder, my husband will assure you I’m not. And may I remind you of other games/activities that have resulted from my “someday” supplies? Games/Activities such as Paint Can Questions, Spin & Spell, and Eggcellent Contractions.) That week I just happened to be teaching nouns and once again my students were struggling with the collective form. Then the various thoughts in my head eventually collided and merged into, “Wouldn’t it be fun to play Spoons with nouns?” A little more thinking, a few more texts to my former colleague, and Singular-Plural-Collective Noun Spoons was born.

The object: Try to collect a noun triplicate (singular, plural, collective form of the same noun). Once a triplicate is collected, that player takes a spoon from the center of the table (he/she can be sneaky about it, taking the spoon and continuing to play). After one player has taken a spoon, all other players race to get a spoon as well. The player without a spoon gets a letter. Any player who spells S-P-O-O-N is out. The last player standing is the winner.

Materials: To play, you can use any set of noun flash cards that includes the singular, plural, and collective forms. I made my own, and you can purchase them (along with directions for playing Spoons) in my Teachers Pay Teachers or Amazon stores. You will also need spoons. You’ll need one fewer than the total number of people in each group; so if you have 28 students in groups of four, that’s seven groups, three spoons per group, a total of 21 spoons. While it is possible to play with plastic spoons, I highly recommend using metal spoons. The plastic ones tend to break with more energetic groups and can have sharp edges when they do. You can get cheap metal spoons at dollar stores, Salvation Army, Good Will, garage sales, and a host of other places. One other thing that may be helpful to students, but is not absolutely required, is a reference handout of the various noun forms. I made one to go with my noun cards and you can download it for free using the button above.

How to play:

1. Place the spoons in the center of the group, use one less spoon than the number of people in the group (so a group of four students would use three spoons).

2. Deal out three cards to all players. Players look at their own cards but no one else’s.

3. Place all remaining cards in a face-down pile next to the dealer.

4. The dealer picks up the top card, looks at it, and decides to keep it or pass it.

5. The dealer passes 1 card (either the one from the pile or one from his/her hand) to the person on his/her right.

6. As cards are passed, students look at them one at a time, and pass one card (either the one viewed or one from the hand) to the next player. The last player places the cards in a discard pile next to him/her.

7. If the draw pile runs out, pause and reshuffle the discard pile to form a new draw pile.

8. Once a player has collected a noun triplicate (singular, plural, collective form of the same noun), he/she takes a spoon from the center of the table. It is acceptable, even encouraged, to be sneaky about it, continuing to play if no one sees the player do it.

9. After one player has taken a spoon, all other players race to grab a spoon as well.

10.  One player will not be able to grab a spoon. That player receives a letter.

11. Any player who collects all of the letters to spell S-P-O-O-N is out of the game.

12. The last player in the game is the winner.

Knowing that not every student will be interested in playing such an energetic, competitive game, I did consider and devise a set of alternate rules. This alternate play version also has the advantage of not requiring any spoons, so you can play the game even if you don’t have a set of random spoons laying around.

Object: Collect noun triplicates (singular-plural-collective form of the same noun) and be the player with the lowest score at the end of the game.

How to play:

1. Shuffle the cards and deal out three cards to each player. Players may look at their own cards only. Place remaining cards face down in the center of the table. Turn the top card over, place it face up next to the draw pile to form a discard pile.

2. The first player takes a card to form a hand of four cards. He/she may choose the top card from either the discard or draw pile.

3. The first player discards a card to bring his/her hand back down to three cards.

4. The second player then takes his/her turn by taking and discarding a card.

5. When a player has collected a noun triplicate (singular-plural-collective form of the same noun), he/she lays down all three cards in front of him/her and discards a final time.

6. All remaining players get one more turn to try and form a triplicate.

7. Score the round by giving players points for the three cards remaining in their hand: Singular nouns = 1 point; Plural nouns = 2 points; Collective nouns = 3 points. Any player who successfully collects a noun triplicate scores zero points for the round.

Whether or not this particular idea falls into the category of “educational genius” or “should have stayed in my head” is yet to be finally determined. Early indicators are for the former, but we’ll have to wait for the end of social distancing regulations and the ban on materials sharing to be lifted for more testing. Happy teaching, everyone!

Love the idea of playing spoons with your students? Why not practice compound nouns with the same game?

English Skillology, Level 1

Level 1
Level 3

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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