Picture Prompts Board Game

I have not made an official check of all my lesson plans, but I feel as though I teach two things every semester: question/answer formation and cause/effect. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching beginner, intermediate, or advanced students, those two skills seem to come up in every curriculum. I have quite a few activities for teaching both skills, and have written about many of them previously (see Cause and Effect Part 1, Cause and

Effect Part 2, Paint Can Questions, and Beach Ball Questions), but over the summer I had to teach a new-to-me advanced course and realized I didn’t have a pure game that could be used for everyone from beginners to advanced students. Then I got thinking about the two activities I have that use pictures as prompts (Interrogative Images and Cause & Effect Pictures, both free and linked at the end of this post), and I thought, “These could be expanded into a full board game!” After that it wasn’t long before the game was complete.

I used a standard game board, one with boxes that zig zag back and forth across the board. It is the same basic board I used for my Question Land Board Game and several others. Since I’ve saved the board as a template, all I had to do was edit the title and directions areas. In the directions areas I simply placed the key for each version of the game so students would know what question word to use, or whether they were stating a possible cause or effect for their chosen picture.

To get the images for the prompts, I went to Pixaby, a great source for attribution and royalty free images. I chose 24 different images that provided a lot of opportunity for asking questions and talking about what is happening, what might have happened before, and what might happen next. I put the images into a “frame” and set them up four to a page for easier printing.

The final step was to write up directions cards for each version of the game. The directions I came up with are as follows:

Question Words Game

  1. Answer the question asked by the previous player with a complete sentence. Place the picture card at the bottom of the pile.
  2. Roll the number cube to determine which question word you will use.
  3. Take the top card and ask a question about it using the designated question word.
  4. If your question is grammatically correct, move your piece the number of spaces you rolled. If it is not correct, do not move your piece.
  5. Pass the picture card to the next player so he/she can answer the question you asked.

Cause and Effect Game

  1. Roll the number cube to determine if you will state a cause or an effect. (even numbers = cause, odd numbers = effect)
  2. Take the top card and state a possible cause or effect for the picture. Be sure to use a complete sentence.
  3. If the other players agree your sentence is plausible and grammatically correct, move your piece the number indicated on the number cube.
  4. Place the picture at the bottom of the pile.

I used the “frames” of the pictures to frame the directions and again made four to a page. This meant I only had to print a couple of directions pages to have enough for the entire class, rather than one for every group–again cutting down on the printing and cutting I had to do.

To create the digital version of the game, I used the “Dice” Script my husband wrote for me to add the ability to “roll the dice” without leaving the tab (see the post Digital Board Games for more information about the script). The game board featured miniature versions of the photos, but each square was linked to a slide with a larger version for easier viewing. The larger photo slides all have a button to return to the game board.

The directions for the digital version remain basically the same. The only addition was extra instructions to help students know how to use the “Dice” menu, which is very easy. Once again, a key is located on the game board itself to help students know which question word to use, or whether to state a possible cause or effect for the picture. I did let students type their responses into the chat box, rather than state them aloud, which made my older students more comfortable since many had small children at home and did not want to turn on their microphones.

Over the summer I only used the digital version to practice cause and effect. Since returning to in person classes this semester I’ve used the game to practice many skills including question words (beginners), cause and effect chains with transition words (advanced), relative clauses (advanced), and non-defining clauses (advanced). My adult advanced students in particular have enjoyed the game. The last time I pulled it out, they all made comments along the lines of, “Oh, good! That game is so fun!” And it is fun for me as well, listening to the sentences they come up with is highly entertaining. I think my favorite thus far is still, “The bird, which is about to become lunch, does not see the cat.” What I like most of all though is it provides them the opportunity to practice a targeted skill/grammar function without locking them into a particular sentence frame or formulaic response. They are free to select their own vocabulary and take the sentence in any direction they choose, making for much more authentic language production. The game has truly exceeded my expectations for effectiveness, usage, and fun! Happy teaching, everyone!

Here are the links to the different activities mentioned in the post:

Interrogative Images

Cause & Effect Pictures
Picture Prompts Board Game

Paint Can Questions

Question Words Digital Mystery Picture: Sheets
Question Land: Paper
Question and Answers Speaking Activity

Monday I shared with you the various activities I use at the beginning of my unit on question words: ​postersnotes (including the new digital version), match up cards (also in digital), and the free games Beach Ball Questions, and Escape! The Question Grid (the digital version includes a bridges variation). Today I’d like to share with you the games and activities we play in the second half of our unit.

One of my students’ favorite games is Paint Can Questions. This is a game I created in 2015, and it is a physical race game (yes, my students actually run back and forth). To make the game I gathered 6 used paint cans, 90 paint stir sticks (Ask for them at any store that sells paint. In my experience they are always happy to donate however many you need.), three colors of spray paint, and boat letters.  The total cost of the project was about $25, a little high, but not too bad for a reusable activity (especially one I’m still using five years later!).  Gathering the paint cans was the greatest challenge (they are considered toxic, so stores can’t give them away), but my amazing family and friends helped me (and were happy to clean out their basements/garages; I just left the lids off to let any remaining paint drain/dry).  I then removed the labels on the cans and spray painted them black.  The sticker letters were easy to apply to the sides of the cans, and much faster than trying to neatly paint the question words, making them well worth the money.  Spray paint made preparing the stir sticks easy and quick.  The final step was using a marker to write the questions (minus the question word) on the sticks. I actually made three different sets of sticks (each a different color), so multiple teams can play at a time.

Before playing, I line up the paint cans at one end of the room (I try to take students to the cafeteria or other larger room to play. When I’m unable to use one of the larger areas, or go outside, the students help me shove all of the desks to the sides to make a safe running area.), with the question words facing towards the start line. Students are divided into teams (usually three or four students to a team), and given a set of sticks. Once I tell them to begin, the first student on each team reads the question on one of the stir sticks, consults with his/her teammates about the correct answer, then runs and places it in the correct paint can. Once the first person has returned to the team, player two takes a stick and repeats the process. Play continues until all of the sticks have been placed in ​cans. ​I then quickly check the sticks in each can, giving teams one point for each correct placement (thus the different color sets of sticks). The winning team is the team who finished the fastest (I give three points to first place, two points to second, and one point to third) and most accurate (it happens fairly often that the slowest team actually wins the game due to increased accuracy). 

Students love paint can questions, and usually beg to play again, and I almost always give in to them. This semester, and it’s looking more and more like next as well, we are fully virtual. I enjoy the game as much as the students, so I really wanted to find some way to use it digitally. I considered a lot of options, including digital task cardsself-grading digital task cards, and even another cover up or board game, but really wanted something special for this activity. I finally settled on creating another mystery pixel art activity. I used the same questions as the paint can game, and themed the picture around color and painting (see image above). You can get either the Google Sheets or ​Microsoft Excel version of the mystery picture by clicking the picture and button above, or the links earlier in this sentence.

Once we have worn ourselves out running back and forth, I like to play one more board game to practice asking and answering questions. Question Land is a game that is very loosely based on Candy Land. In the paper version students roll a number cube to see what question word they will use (the numbers and words are on the game board for easy reference). In the ​digital version, they use a specially scripted “Dice” menu to “roll” a question word. After discovering which question word a player will use, game play is the same for both versions. The student first answers the question asked by the previous player with a complete sentence. Then he/she asks a question of his/her own, using the word indicated. If the question is grammatically correct, the player moves his/her piece to the next square containing the question word he/she used. If the question was not grammatically correct, he/she stays in place. The first player to reach finish is the winner.

The finally activity we use in our unit is another free download from my Teacher Pay Teachers store.  Questions and Answers is a writing and speaking activity for up to six students (if you have more students simply make more copies of each page). Each page has three different questions with the words mixed up. In a separate square are the answers to the questions. Students must unscramble the questions and write them correctly in the provided space. Once students have all had a chance to unscramble and write their questions, they walk around the room, talking to one another. After finding a partner, they take turns asking and answering questions. At the bottom of each page is a place to mark if they were able to answer their partners’ questions correctly or not. After students have asked their questions of five others, and answered the remaining 15 questions in the activity, they return to their seats. They count up how many questions they were able to answer correctly (all of the questions relate to USA history), and the student with the most correct answers is declared a winner. As stated before, you can download this activity for free by clicking the picture above, or the Questions and Answers links in this paragraph.

By the time we finish all of these games and activities students have a good grasp on question words and how to use them. If you’re looking for a quick way to grab most of these activities (you’ll have to make your own beach ball and paint can set), you can find discounted bundles in my store. Three different discounted bundles are available: paper activities only, digital activities only, and paper + digital activities. Happy teaching, everyone!

Beach Ball Questions

5 W’s Question Words Posters Set
Question Word Foldable Notes
Question Words Match Up Cards: Paper
Escape! The Question Grid: Digital

Question words are difficult for English language learners. Trying to keep track of which question word will result in which type of answer can be confusing. Therefore, I spend a lot of time teaching, reviewing, and practicing question words. Over the years I’ve developed a series of lessons, materials, and activities that help students learn question words from the first introduction to understanding and using them in conversation. Today I’d like to explain to you some of the resources I use to introduce and do early practice with question words. Then I’m going to tell you about two of my student’s favorite games to play when practicing (both are free!). Finally, on Thursday, I’ll share some of the more advanced practice activities we do (again, two are free!).

One of the poster sets that goes on my wall before school even begins, and doesn’t come down again until school is over, is my 5 W’s question words. The posters themselves are simple, five large W’s (each prints on its own letter size piece of cardstock) with a question word, the type of answer it produces, and a picture, but they become frequently referenced anchor charts for my students. I laminated them with my cold laminator, and I’ve been using the same set for a decade now with no problems.

When it comes time to explicitly teach question words, I always start with foldable notes. The front has the eight main question words (who, what, when, where, why, which, how, how many) in outline font so students can color them. The students cut under each word, creating flaps that can be lifted to see the notes. On the back of the flap students write the type of answer each question word produces (i.e.: who = person), and on the area under the flap they write an example question and answer. Since I am all digital this semester, I created a digital notes version. In the digital version, students click the question word to go to the appropriate slide. On the slide they list a translation, type of answer, and example question and answer. Each slide then has a button that will link back to the top list of question words.

After creating our notes sets, my students like to start practicing with question words by using the match up boards that my father designed and built for me. These boards were inspired by the learning wrap-ups that I, and many others, used as a kid to practice basic math facts. Since I couldn’t make new boards for every set of vocabulary I wanted to practice, my father designed boards that I could slide cardstock cards in and out of, and my students could use rubber bands to match the vocabulary to the definition, picture, answer, or anything else I chose to put on the other side. My question words match up card set has three different cards. The first card asks the students to match the wh– word with the type of answer it elicits and a picture. The second card asks students to match the wh– word with the correct question (there is a blank line instead of the wh– word). The third card asks students to match the wh– word with a short answer. Again, since we are virtual this semester (and it’s looking more and more like next semester will be as well), I created a digital version of the match up cards. The digital version does not require the boards, but all of the matching items are the same. Rather than using rubber bands to indicate their matches, students stretch provided lines from one side to the other.

Once students have gotten relatively familiar with the question words and the answers they each produce, it’s time for our first game. Beach Ball Questions is one of my students’ favorite games to play, I think because they get to throw a ball around the classroom. All that is required to prep this game is a beach ball and a Sharpie marker. Blow up the ball and use the marker to write a question word in huge letters, one for each section of the ball. Allow the writing to dry, deflate, take to school, reinflate, and you are ready to play. Students gather in a circle and I start the game by tossing the ball in the air and catching it with two hands. Using whatever question word my right thumb is on, I ask a question before tossing the ball to another player. The person who catches the ball must first use a complete sentence to answer my question, then he/she asks a new question that begins with whatever word his/her right thumb is on. Play continues in this manner for as long or short as you like. I encourage students to not repeat questions, and sometimes I will help them think of one if they can’t come up with something new. During our question word unit I keep the beach ball at school, and whenever we have an extra couple minutes at the end of class I’ll grab it and we’ll play for awhile. It’s a great way to get out of our seats and practice our speaking and listening skills, as well as our question word vocabulary.

The second practice game we like to play (which you can download for free using the links above or in this paragraph) is Escape! The Question Grid. The goal of this game is to move from one side of the grid to the other by asking and answering questions. Students choose one side of the grid (one student per side), and any question word on that side, from which to start. On a student’s turn, he/she answers the question asked by the previous student, indicates which square he/she would like to claim (it must have at least one side touching a square which already belongs to the student), and asks a question using the word in the square. If the question is grammatically correct, the student uses his/her dry erase marker to color in the square on the laminated grid. The next player then takes his/her turn. Play continues until one student reaches the opposite side and escapes the grid. A digital version of Escape! The Question Grid is also available. In the digital version students must type their questions onto the provided rectangles, and then drag and drop the rectangle onto the square they are claiming. There is also a variant of the game that includes bridges. The bridges, limited to five per player, can be used to cross over a square previously claimed by an opponent. In order to deploy a bridge, a student must type a complete sentence answer to the question posed on the cover of the square he/she wishes to cross over. The use of the bridge constitutes the player’s turn, but does open up more spaces for him/her to claim in the future. Though this game takes a bit more prep work than Beach Ball Questions, and can’t be as easily used as a time filler at the end of a lesson, it is still a very fun practice game. I especially like it because we can play it over and over again since the questions and answers change every time.

As I said in the beginning, these are only the resources, activities, and games I use in the initial stages of my question words unit. On Thursday I’ll share some of the more advanced activities and games we use, including a couple more free ones. Happy teaching, everyone!

Digital Board Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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