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!

Shades of Meaning

Teaching synonyms is a never ending process. Often, around Halloween, I will introduce my word cemetery bulletin board (now also a digital activity), and students will complete synonym graphic organizers, decorate tombstones, and look up synonyms for words we’ve declared dead. This board quickly grows stale though, and I need other synonym activities to keep students learning new words.

A second classroom decoration producing activity we do is shades of meaning. This activity is simple and virtually preparation free. The only thing I have to prep ahead of time is obtaining the paint chip cards. I do this by asking stores that sell paint if they have any of the paint chips with four or five different shades of a color all on the same card that I could have. Stores are always happy to help and I’ve never had a lack of supply. Besides the paint shade cards, all that is required are some markers, letters for the display title, and some form of thesauri (Word Hippo is a favorite digital version of ours).

To begin the activity we review what synonyms are and how to use a thesaurus. I take things a step further though and we talk about degrees of meaning. I want students to realize that synonyms aren’t all equal, and some words have stronger meanings (or at least connotations) than others. The baby was crying, but was it whimpering, sobbing, wailing…?

After our review and discussion, each student is given a set of overused words (anywhere from 1-4, depending on the number of students and how much time we have), a piece of paper, and access to a thesaurus. They then look up the overused words, consider the synonyms, and choose three or four of them to work with. The challenge of the task comes in that they can’t just simply write the synonyms in any order they choose. They need to put the words in order from strongest to weakest. In order to be issued a paint card and marker, students must show me their list of words and explain why they ordered them in the way they did. Once they have successfully ordered their words, and explained their reasoning, students then write the words (one per shade) on the paint chips, placing the weakest word in the lightest shade. 

I like this project because it helps students understand that language can be very precise, as well as descriptive. The requirement to explain their reasoning behind the ordering of the words always leads to some interesting discussions, and more than once a student has put words into an order I initially disagreed with, but they made a convincing argument that won me over. I also like how they have to really dig into the synonyms, not just copy them from the thesaurus. You can’t successfully rank words by strength, and defend your choices, without knowing what each individual word means, and how it differs in meaning from the other synonyms. Ultimately students end up considering the synonyms’ definitions and example sentences, as well as other factors when making their choices. Ultimately this quick (the entire process takes one class period or less) activity produces a lot of learning!

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!