Task Cards: Five Alternative Uses

I’m not sure when I first learned about task cards, it was sometime after college, but I am a big fan. They are a great way to save paper, add variety, and even assess student learning without it feeling like a test or a quiz. There are a variety of ways to use task cards and I’ve tried many of them. Sometimes I’ll

hang/place task cards around the room, give students recording sheets and clipboards, and have them wander the room and complete the tasks as they find them (also known as student scoot). Sometimes I’ll give each student a card, have them complete the card, and pass it to the next student (also known as card scoot). I’ve also placed task cards and recording sheets in centers and allowed students to complete them there. Since my students typically sit in groups, I’ll often give each group a set of cards and allow them to chat as they grab cards, complete them, toss them back in the pile, and grab another card. All of these methods are great, but sometimes you just want to do something a little different. Back in July I shared with you alternative uses for sort cards. Today, I’d like to share with you five alternative uses for task cards. In no particular order, here are some of the more unique ways my students and I have used task cards.

Bounce It In

To play this game, you’ll need a set of task cards, ten plastic drinking cups, and a ping pong ball for each group. On the inside lip of each cup write a number 1-10 with a marker. Each group should set their cups up like bowling pins, with the number 1 cup in front and a line of numbers 7-10 in back. Set the task cards face down in a pile on the opposite end of the table from the cups. Students take turns turning over a task card and completing the task. Correctly completing the task is worth five points and the chance to bounce the ball into the cups. If the ball lands in a cup, the number on the cup becomes bonus points for that student. The student with the most points at the end is the winner.

Jenga–Two Ways

About a year ago, I shared with you an out-of-the-box idea for using Jenga to practice building sentences. In response to that post, another teacher told me how she uses Jenga with task cards in her class. She numbers the Jenga blocks 1-24 (or however many task cards you usually have in a given set).

Students then play Jenga as normal, but when they push/pull out a block, they attempt to complete the corresponding task before placing the block on the top of the stack. If successful, the student earns two points. Students continue to remove and replace pieces, completing tasks and earning points. If the tower falls before the time is up, that student receives negative five points, and the game is restarted. The student with the most points at the end of the playing time is the winner.

The second creative use of Jenga is a game I like to call Tower Building. Divide students into teams (2-4 per team) and issue each team a set of Jenga or other building blocks. Team members take turns choosing a task card and attempting to complete it. If successful, the student gains two points for his/her team and the opportunity to add a block to the team’s tower. If a tower falls over, the team must restart their build. At the end of the game, the team with the highest tower earns ten additional points. The team with the most blocks in their tower earns ten additional points. The team with the most points (correct tasks plus any bonuses) wins the competition.

Grid Conquest

Two weeks ago I shared with you about Grid Conquest, a fun game inspired by Blokus. This is a great way to use task cards! The game board and some dry erase markers are the only supplies you need in addition to your task cards. The game board is a free download from below the picture in this post and I’m willing to bet you have more than a couple dry erase markers

in your classroom already. You can get all the details in the original post, but the short version is this: student takes and completes a task card, successful students color in a square on the board that is adjacent to a square he/she has already claimed. When all the task cards have been completed, or no students can claim any more squares, students add up the numbers in their claimed squares to determine their final scores. The student with the highest score wins.

Four In A Row

It’s been nearly two years since I first introduced my Context Clues Four In a Row game, and it’s a concept I’ve used to practice quite a few skills since. Four in a Row is also an excellent alternative use for task cards because once again all you need is your task cards, the game board (free download below the picture), and some dry erase markers. Played like

Connect Four, students must successfully complete a task card before making a mark on the game board. The first student to make four marks in a row is the winner.

Baseball Review

This particular idea takes a bit of work on the teacher’s part, but it’s a great way to review a lot of material. Take all of the sort/task cards from the time period you want to review (preparation for summative semester/year exams is a great time for this) and divide them by difficulty into four piles. The

easiest pile becomes your single questions, the most difficult pile your homerun questions, and the two in between are double and triple questions. Designate “bases” in your classroom (place to stand or desk to sit in) and divide your class into two teams. Team one sends a player up to bat who then tells you what type of question he/she would like to answer. If correct, the student moves to the appropriate base. If incorrect, the team receives a strike and the next player comes up to bat. Once a player is on base, he/she advances the appropriate number of bases as each subsequent player gets questions correct. Play continues until the team receives three strikes and then the other team is up to bat. If a particular type of question (single, double, triple, homerun) runs out, you can choose to either shuffle and restart them or state that no more questions of that type may be attempted (forcing students to try more difficult questions). This could also be an excellent icebreaker alternative for the first day/week of school. You could make your own questions with the previous grade’s standards, or ask the previous grade’s teacher for copies of their task cards and/or homework activities.

Now you know some of the more creative uses for task cards I’ve tried out in my classroom. I can assure you there have been other uses attempted that weren’t quite as successful, but it’s only by trying things that we can discover new favorite activities. What are some out-of-the-box uses for task cards you’ve found? Happy teaching, everyone!

To Be: In The World Series

I’m not a baseball fan, but I’ve had enough friends, colleagues, and students who are to understand at least the basics and to have attended a few games. Yesterday was the first game of the World Series, and even though it’s been a few years since Michigan’s beloved Detroit Tigers have been in the World Series (and even more since they won), I, like most Michiganders, am loyal to our Tigers. One summer my co-teacher and I taught an entire week’s worth of classes themed around baseball vs. cricket and we wore Detroit Tigers shirts every day! (Of course it may have also been a creative excuse to wear t-shirts to school each day…)

The World Series isn’t what really has me turning my thoughts towards baseball though (in truth I had to use Google to find out when it would be), the reason I was thinking about it is because I’m preparing a new-to-me class for next semester, a level one grammar class. Any ESL teacher knows the first grammar subject of any beginner’s level book: present tense to be. I don’t even want to think about how many times I’ve taught this particular grammar structure over the years, let’s just say a lot. When I first started teaching adults, and later middle school, it frustrated me that there were few games and other activities to practice basic grammar and vocabulary, such as present tense to be, designed for older learners. There were lots of cute games that looked like fun, but they were all geared for young children. Eventually I stopped being frustrated and decided to make my own. Am, Is, Are Triple Play was the first of many triple play activities I’ve designed, and one of the first activities I designed ever. It’s been through a few revisions over the years, the most recent of which being a face-lift and conversion to digital last year, but the heart of the game has remained the same.

A triple play activity is an activity that can be played in three different ways. This particular activity has the options of slap, response cards, or task cards. Over time I included board game versions as well, making them quadruple plays, but as this activity is baseball themed, and there’s no such thing as a quadruple play in baseball, so I haven’t changed it. If your students are absolutely in love with board games, you can always use the sentences (task cards) with a random game board and playing pieces to make it into one. For now, let’s just take a look at the three versions of play that do exist with this particular activity.



This is a fun whole-class game that all of my students enjoy. It was just a couple weeks ago I played a different version of it with my advanced adults and they wanted to know when we could play again. To play you need signs for each possible answer (for this game I made full page signs with Am, Is, Are on them), sentences missing the possible answers, and some fly swatters.

To play, divide the class into two teams. Each team sends one representative to the front of the room with the team’s fly swatter in hand. The opponents stand, facing the board where you’ve affixed the answer signs (I use strong magnets), fly swatters at the ready. The teacher reads one of the sentences, saying “blank” for the target word. The students then race to slap the sign containing the correct word to complete the sentence. The first student to slap the correct sign (or whoever’s swatter is on the bottom) wins a point for his/her team. The students return to their teams and new representatives are sent forward. It’s a quick, fun way to practice both the target grammar/vocabulary and listening skills.

Response Cards

Response Cards

Response cards are a great way to quickly assess the entire class’ knowledge of a particular grammar topic. They are also a nice quiet listening practice activity for those days when your ears (and head) need a break from all of the noise. All you need is a set of cards with the possible answers for each student.

To proceed with this activity, give each student his/her own set of cards with the possible answers. I highly recommend printing on card stock and laminating for durability and reuse. The teacher reads one of the sentences aloud, saying “blank” for the target word. The students then hold up, word facing towards the teacher, the card containing the correct word to complete the sentence. The teacher can then quickly scan through the cards and get a sense of who is correct, and who is not (you can also make the cards different colors for even faster checks). If you’re practicing grammar/vocabulary that is new to the students, I recommend telling students that no one can raise an answer card until you give the signal. Read the sentence as before, wait a moment, repeat the sentence, wait again, and then give the signal. This will give students more time to think, and reduce the chance students will “know” the answer because they see someone else put it up first. It’s also possible to do this activity by having students write their answers on white boards and show them to you, but that takes a little longer. If you’re looking for a digital means of checking answers, look into Plickers.

Task Cards

Task Cards

Task cards can be used in so many different ways: as cards for board games, student scoot, card scoot, center work, etc. All you need are cards with individual sentences/problems/questions on them and a recording sheet for student answers.

My middle schoolers always liked using task cards as a student scoot activity. I’d spread the cards around the classroom (hanging on walls, sitting on shelves or desks, etc.) and give each student a recording sheet and clip board. The students would then walk around the room, stopping at each card, and recording their answers on the provided sheet. It’s very important to remind them to pay attention to which number card they are looking at and to record their answers in the correct squares! Even when I remind them to do this, there’s usually at least one who doesn’t follow directions and ends up getting nearly every question wrong because he/she wrote the answers in the wrong boxes. My adults prefer to stay in their seats, so I usually give each group of 4-6 students a stack of task cards and enough recording sheets for all group members. They then pick up a card, read it, record their answer, and return the card to the center before taking another. I still remind them each time to pay attention to the card numbers but it’s not nearly as often that one forgets and has problems as a result.

Digital Version

Digital Version

This was also one of the first activities I digitized, and I knew I wanted to see my students’ answers to these particular practice sentences, so the digital task cards that students clicked through weren’t going to work. The need for a digital version of this activity also came long before I learned how to make self-grading digital task cards, with or without drop-down answer options, so I needed another option.

What I decided to do was create a drag-and-drop activity. I shrunk my task cards down a bit and made them the background of each slide (to prevent accidental, or not so accidental, changes). I also added four movable (when in edit mode) baseballs to each slide. The students then read each sentence. To indicate their answer, a baseball was dragged and dropped into the correct glove for each sentence. To check students answers I had to scroll through each slide deck and look at where they placed the baseballs. It was not very convenient, but it also didn’t take nearly as long as I feared it might. Let’s just say if I need to use the digital format of this activity again I’ll probably do another redesign and create self-grading task cards instead.

Am, Is, Are Triple Play is far from the only activity I’ve developed to practice the present tense of to be, but it’s always been a favorite. I recognize that’s likely because it’s one of the first activities I ever developed on my own, but it seems to be consistently popular with my students as well. Here’s hoping next semester’s class enjoys it as much as those of the past. Happy teaching, everyone!

Need some more activities/resources for present tense to be? Try these links:

Need multiple activities? Want a discount? Try one of these bundles:

Interested in more baseball-themed activities? Try these links:

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!

St. Patrick’s Day Math

One Step Equations with Integers Mystery Picture: Sheets
One Step Equations with Integers Task Cards: Paper Version
Solving Equations Poster/Anchor Chart: FREE!

Warning: If you haven’t figured it out by now (and the name of my blog wasn’t a clue), I am not a math teacher. I have had the privilege of working with some excellent math teachers, but I am not a math teacher. I will be forever grateful to my math teaching colleagues who patiently answered my many questions, and never once laughed when I walked in their room with my book literally on my head to cover my frustration. That said, as an ESL teacher, I am often required to teach subjects I am not comfortable with (Science! I am definitely NOT a science teacher!), math in particular. It’s taken a few years (OK, more than a few), but thanks to my wonderful colleagues and a lot of practice, I finally feel relatively comfortable teaching math, at least through pre-algebra. Today’s post is math related, and is dedicated to all of the wonderful math teachers who put up with me in PLC meetings (HCA FePi and Pontiac Middle, I’m thinking of you!) and patiently explained the concepts I never grasped as a student.

When faced with teaching content I’m not comfortable with I tend to fall back on teaching strategies that I am comfortable using. For me, that means visuals, games, task cards, and other active learning materials. One year we were approaching St. Patrick’s Day and my students were struggling with integers and one step equations. I’d already provided them with a visual, a color-coded poster that reviewed vocabulary and the steps to follow (use the link to get your own free copy), and we’d practiced more times than I cared to think about. Desperate for more practice activities, I decided to make a set of task cards. Rather than use X or Y as the variable, I used a shamrock outline instead. While this one activity didn’t magically transmit the skill of solving one step equations with integers into my students’ heads, it was a fun and different way to practice. The students enjoyed working in groups and being able to do something that wasn’t a worksheet for a change.

Since this St. Patrick’s Day will be a little different, I wanted to make a digital version of the activity so students could continue to have a little fun while practicing this important skill. I could have created a set of digital task cards, but that would have required me to come up with answer choices and not provided teachers with any feedback on student learning. Self-grading digital task cards were also an option, and it would solve my problems with digital task cards, but I wasn’t overly excited about the idea. I finally decided to make a digital mystery picture (for a tutorial on how I create them, see this blog post).

The hardest part of any digital mystery picture creation, in my opinion, is the creation of the picture. Since these task cards were originally St. Patrick’s Day themed, I wanted to continue in that vein. I settled on the picture that you see above: a pot of gold under a rainbow. I’m not an artist, but basic shapes are doable, and the rounded shapes were easier to create than I’d feared. I will admit that I went a little crazy filling in the background, and ended up with far more squares that needed to be colored in than I’d expected, but it all worked out in the end. I was able to reuse the equations from the paper task cards, but this time I used the traditional variable X instead of a shamrock. I’m quite happy with the end result, and I think it’s a fun way for students to practice. Teachers are still not going to see student work, but they can see their final answers, and students receive immediate feedback as to the accuracy of their answers.

As I said in the beginning, a bit of a different post for me. Next week I’ll be happily ensconced back in the friendly world of grammar, vocabulary, and all things English, but I wanted to wish everyone an early Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and give a quick shout-out to my math teaching friends. HCA FePi and Pontiac Middle math PLC, I couldn’t have done it without you! You know who you are, and you know where to find me if you want a copy of the digital activity. Happy teaching, everyone.

Children’s Literature Based Activities for All Levels

It is no secret that I love using children’s literature, especially picture books, in my teaching. My students all love them too. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching children, teens, or adults, they all enjoy being read to. If much time passes between my bringing a book to class, my older students will come up and ask me when we’re going to have “story time” again. This blog is more evidence of my obsession, with posts about The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash, The Giving Tree, Miss Nelson Is Missing, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, How I Became a Pirate, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to name a few. Some day I’ll write a complete post on why I use so many picture books in class, but not today.

One of the most frequently featured authors in my class is Dr. Seuss. On the one hand, as an ESL teacher, his books drive me (and my students) a little crazy because of how many made-up words they contain. On the other hand, his tendency to write primarily with high frequency words makes the books very accessible for language learners. Dr. Seuss’ books have also been translated into 30 languages, which means most of my students are familiar with at least one of them in their first language. Being familiar with the characters and story allows them to more easily access the English content. For those few students who haven’t heard of Dr. Seuss, or those books they haven’t already read, reading them provides the opportunity for them to create common ground with their English-speaking peers, most of whom grew up reading Dr. Seuss.

As a teacher it seems I’m contractually obligated to, as one student put it, “ruin books” with work. While I love to read, and I do believe there is a need for more pleasure reading in education, I rarely have the luxury of just enjoying a book with my older students. Sadly, story time is not an accepted practice in most secondary and higher educational institutes, so there needs to be some objectifiable learning that takes place along with the enjoyment of a good story, and our times with Dr. Seuss are no exception.

When I’m working with beginning language learners, bringing in educational objectives is fairly easy. All I have to do is continue to teach the same things teachers have been using Dr. Seuss books to teach for decades. Green Eggs and Ham is one of our favorites, and we have three different sorting activities that we do. In the first we match picture word cards to form rhyming pairs (also a great way to reinforce vocabulary). The second has various words from the book on green eggs and hams that students sort into alphabetical order. The third requires students to match the contraction green hams to the green eggs that have the original two words. All three activities are available as a discounted bundle, or as a digital drag and drop set.

My more proficient students like Dr. Seuss as well, but it’s a little harder to fit him into their educational objectives. One year my students were really struggling with classifying sentences as either active or passive voice, and especially with rewriting them as the opposite voice. (Side question: why do we even require them to learn that? They can write in the passive voice, they can write in the active voice, they know when to use each. Why do they need to be able to convert between the two?) I had already run through all of my various teaching tools, practice activities, and games when they asked me for one more chance to practice. Not having any idea how I’d deliver, I promised to bring something to our next class. I decided to make a task card set and, to add a little bit of fun to a not-so-fun lesson, to write the sentences about famous Dr. Seuss characters and books. My students loved it! They not only received one more opportunity to practice with active and passive voice (and the conversion between the two), but they started talking, reminiscing about their favorite Dr. Seuss books and characters, introducing classmates to new-to-them books, and learning about books they’d missed out on themselves. It turned out to be one of those lessons that was full of authentic student talk, the kind we ESL teachers dream about. The trend continued the next semester with another group of students, and hasn’t stopped yet. Each time I use this activity the result is the same: happy students, good practice with the objective, and lots of authentic speaking practice as well.

When we went digital last year, I didn’t want to give up the activity and created a digital version of the task cards. In the digital version students move the X to indicate if a sentence is active or passive. They then use the adjacent text box to rewrite the sentence in the opposite voice. While still very effective for practicing active and passive voice, the digital version isn’t nearly as much fun because the spontaneous talk and interactive nature of being around a table, or set of desks, together is missing. A small portion of this activity is included in the writing section English Skillology, level 3, if you want to take a look at it.

While on the surface it may seem that picture books, and especially the silly picture books authors such as Dr. Seuss are famous for, are too “babyish” for older learners, my experience tells me differently. My older learners love them just as much as the younger ones, and sometimes even more so because of the memories associated with them, or the chance to create new memories with their own children. Happy teaching, everyone!

National Talk Like a Pirate Day

Pirate Vocabulary Treasure Hunt: Sheets Version
Pirate Vocabulary Sort
How I Became A Pirate Sentence Sequencing Activity: Paper
How I Became A Pirate Sentence Sequencing: Digital Version
Noun / Verb Sort: Paper
Noun / Verb Sort Digital
Are/Our/Hour Homophone Paper Activity
Are/Our/Hour Homophone Slides Task Cards

September 19th is National Talk Like A Pirate Day. This is always a great opportunity to act a little silly and have some fun at the beginning of the school year. It was also a horrible day for many of my English language learners though. All of the strange voices and unfamiliar words were extremely confusing to them and they largely felt left out of the fun. In order to help my students feel more included, and to allow everyone to still have some fun with the day (and advance their learning), I developed some ELL-friendly pirate themed activities.

Pirate vocabulary was one of the biggest frustrations for my ELLs. Native speaking students grow up hearing phrases such as “Shiver me timbers!” in movies and cartoons, so they already have a decent working knowledge of the vocabulary, but not so for ELLs. Since this is not critical vocabulary, I really wanted the kids to hear and have some fun with it, not necessarily master it. As with all of the activities, this first activity has two versions: paper and digital. The paper version is a basic sorting activity. The words are on ships and the definitions are on flags. Students match the flag to the correct ship and write down their answers. The written record becomes a glossary of sorts for them to reference as needed.

When I went to create the digital version of the vocabulary activity I wanted something more than a basic sort. I wanted the students to practice a skill that is critical to their success as language learners: context clues. This time I decided to use conditional formatting to create a game that became kind of a cross between my self-grading task cards and my Integer Fishing Game. The game is all on one page and students read the sentence and choose the vocabulary word from the word bank to complete the sentence. They type their chosen word in the box, hit enter, and the box turns green when they are correct. If correct, they choose a spot to dig for treasure and collect their points. The second tab of the game is a glossary that they can reference as needed. Here’s a short video showing the digital game in action:

The digital version of this game comes in two formats: Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. So no matter if you’re a Google school or a Microsoft school, you can have fun with this game!

No doubt one of the most popular books to read on Talk Like A Pirate Day is How I Became A Pirate by Melinda Long. Activities two and three both relate to this book. The second activity I have for our celebration is a set of sequencing sentences. In both the ​paper version and the ​digital version, students read the sentences and put them in order to retell the story. The paper version needs to be cut ahead of time (I recommend printing on card stock and laminating before cutting so you can reuse the same sets each year.), but the digital version is a drag and drop activity that is ready to go.

Our third activity, which also relates to How I Became A Pirate by Melinda Long, is a noun-verb sort activity. While all of the words in this activity are taken from the book, it is not necessary to use this activity in conjunction with the book, it can be a stand-alone activity. In the ​paper version, students sort the word cards into the correct columns on the sorting mat: people nouns, place nouns, thing nouns, and verbs. In the digital version, students drag and drop the words into the correct columns. 

The final activity I like to use to celebrate National Talk Like A Pirate Day is not directly related to pirates, but is a play on the pirate word, “Arg!” Since the word “arg” sounds so much like “are,” I decided to make a pirate-themed homophone activity to practice distinguishing between are, our, and hour. The paper version of the activity is what I like to refer to as a triple play, because it can be used three different ways: as response cards, a task card/scoot activity, or a slap game. To use the response card version, the teacher reads the sentence and students hold up a card with the appropriate word to go in the sentence. Task card scoot can be played by hanging cards up around the room and having students move from card to card, writing down their answers, or by having students pass cards from person to person as they write their answers. Slap is probably my students’ favorite way to play these games. I use strong magnets to attach the large response signs to the board and divide the class into two teams. One student from each team comes forward, takes a fly swatter, and listens as I read the sentence aloud. The first person to slap the correct answer with his or her fly swatter earns a point for his or her team. It’s a lot of fun and students love the competition aspect of the game.

The digital version is an independent digital task cards activity. Students read the sentence on the card and click the ship representing the correct word to complete the sentence. Students are then taken to a slide that tells them if their answer was correct or incorrect, and shows them the correct answer. The best thing about these task cards is unless students click on the boats to answer the question, or the map to go to the next question, the slides will not advance. Take a look and see for yourself:

Nice, huh? No more having students just randomly click through slides without at least paying attention to where they are clicking. As with the vocabulary game, the digital version of this game is available in both ​​Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint, so it doesn’t matter where your school’s affiliations lie. 

Thinking that all of these activities sound great? Want to try them all? No problem, they are available as bundles, as well as individually. The bundles allow you to get all of the activities together at a discount. Three different bundles are available: all four paper activities, all four digital activities, all eight paper and digital activities. Happy National Talk Like A Pirate Day, everyone!