Drills, Dialogues, & Roleplays

Materials and content allowing students to engage in ‘real’ communication, or simulations of what conversations may sound like, should be a goal for many language curriculums.  Drills that develop into dialogues, that in turn pave the way for roleplays, provide a rich repertoire of practice activities to nudge students toward more meaningful, and consequently, less mechanical communication.  In fact, such activities can hold relevance for students at any level of their studies whether they’re beginners, intermediate, or advanced language learners.

Although controlled by the teacher, meaningful drills allow students to provide information in addition to the correct language form, give reason for speaking, and as a result, are more engaging and motivating than mechanical drills.

Let’s differentiate three types of exercises often used in the classroom: drills, dialogues, and roleplays, with each having their own subset of forms.

drills Kinney Brothers Publishing Donald's English Classroom

Drills are a vital part of language study.  Simply put, a drill is a type of highly controlled or mechanical written or oral exercise in which students respond to a given cue.  Drills often have no context and exist for the sole purpose of practicing targeted skills.  They can be practiced in any order without losing the logic of the exercise.  Drills are the easiest for teachers to set up and implement and the exercises students are most likely to forget.  Why?  Because they’re often mechanical and lack meaningfulness.  In other words, students are on autopilot.  When working with drills, you’ll likely be using one of three types: repetition, substitution, or transformation exercises.

Repetition drills focus on a specific target where the teacher’s language or target text is repeated with no change; think flashcards and pronunciation drills.

Substitution drills give students practice in changing a target word or employ a grammar structure in response to a prompt or cue.

Teacher:  Blue.

Student: I like blue.

Transformation drills involve changing the structure of a sentence.

Teacher:  I like to eat cake.

Student:  I like eating cake.

As necessary as they may be, drills don’t have to be boring or lack meaningfulness!  There are a variety of creative and fun ways to liven up your flash card drill work, making the activities more engaging and memorable for your students.  Check out my 41 Flash Card Activities for lots of ideas to shake up your usual drill routines.

If you think of drills as a pathway to dialogues, it will significantly influence how you prepare and implement both types of exercises.

dialogues Kinney Brothers Publishing Donald's English Classroom

While they can rely on the components found in drills, dialogues provide context and, if unordered, lose their sense of logic. Dialogues usually present spoken language in a natural or conversational tone and are typically longer than drills.  They’re beneficial for developing speaking and listening skills. Like drills, dialogues are usually exercises for guided, rather than free language practice.

Dialogues can fall into two categories: standard dialogues and open dialogues.

Standard dialogues present students with an A B exchange.  They are useful for reading, listening, pronunciation, intonation, and other phonological features.

In open dialogues, the teacher provides only one half of the dialogue with students creating the other half.  Surveys are a perfect and extremely useful example of an open dialogue format and give students practice in asking and answering questions.

If you choose to write your own dialogues, keep these ideas in mind:

Use “natural” language as much as possible with idiomatic and sociolinguistic phrases relevant to the students’ age and experiences. “Wassup!” may work well with teens but not so much for retirees.

Keep the dialogue exchanges short enough so that students can easily remember, but long enough to provide context.  Three to five exchanges with salutations works well.

A simple dialogue can happen anywhere. Allow an extenuating or teacher-directed circumstance like an emergency or other conflict to provide urgency.  Delivering the line, “Where’s my phone?” will be quite different in a supermarket as opposed to coming upon an accident.

Depict situations or reasons for a dialogue that are relevant and useful to the learner.  Think of how differently young teens and adults may think and talk about a math test, making a reservation, or a fist fight in the cafeteria.

Allow for more meaningful practice with options for substitution within the dialogue.

Here are some ideas when presenting dialogues:

Before presenting the dialogue, introduce the topic of the dialogue by fielding students’ interest or knowledge of the subject.  Providing students with pictures that may accompany or are similar to the dialogue, can warm students up with relevant vocabulary or grammatical structures.

Have students listen to the dialogue and explore specifics about what they heard.  If you have no recordings, set up two students to read while the rest of the class listens.

Give students only one side of the dialogue and have students participate in reading and listening.

Have students reorder a dialogue that’s been cut up into its individual lines.

Try out your acting skills and use the dialogue as a telephone conversation where students only hear one side of the exchange.  Who was on the other end of the conversation?  Mother, teacher, or friend?  What questions did they ask?

Perform the dialogue in fictional circumstances.  How does the same dialogue change in a library as opposed to a crowded cafeteria, or on a cold day in the park as opposed to a sunny beach?

You may be pleasantly surprised at the willingness of students to play and the creativity they will exhibit if you mine dialogues for expressive and more meaningful practice.

roleplays Kinney Brothers Publishing Donald's English Classroom

As students become more flexible and rely on fewer cues to initiate or carry them through a given dialogue, they are ready to move into roleplaying.

Roleplay is a way of bringing situations from real life into the classroom.  Dramatic scripts are simply extended dialogues grouped into scenes!  Semi-improvisational exercises where scenarios are presented with specific outcomes but nonspecific language, are excellent roleplay activities.  If your students are ready, full improvisation is an especially enjoyable way of getting students to explore a topic, take on specific roles, and employ learned language in a meaningful and expressive way.


Download these sample business roleplays from Trends, a compilation of readings and exercises for intermediate and advanced learners.  Try them out in class or use them as a guide in developing your own roleplays!

Trends Kinney Brothers Publishing Donald's English Classroom

Dialogues For Young Speakers provides guided dialogues and surveys that were created with easy and natural language for beginning students.  Check out these sample pages and they may spark ideas for your own original dialogues!

Dialogues For Young Readers Kinney Brothers Publishing Donald's English Classroom

If you need basic drills for young students, download these sample drill worksheets from Q&A, a compendium of question and answer drills with simple present through simple past tense worksheets.

Q&A Kinney Brothers Publishing Donald's English Classroom

As always, best of luck in your classes!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing

13+ Halloween Activities

When it comes to Halloween class parties I keep it as simple as possible — for the main reason I have to replicate the activities six times a day for a week!  Here are 13+ simple activities you can set up and play again and again.

Candy Jar Guess. Put Halloween candies in a jar and get students to guess how many there are.  Have students write their guess on a piece of paper and announce the winner the week after the party.   This gives students something to look forward to and opens the opportunity to review Halloween vocabulary one last time!  The student that comes closest wins the jar!

Pass the Vampire Bat. Make bat shapes cut out of tissue paper and hand out one straw to each player. Divide and line up the class into 2 or more teams.  Students pass the tissue bats down the line, teammate to teammate, by inhaling and exhaling on the straw to hang onto or release the ornament. No hands! The first team to successfully pass the bats up and down the line wins!

Spelling Banner. Prepare a banner that says Happy Halloween or  Trick or Treat, etc.  Prepare two sets of letters in two different colors that match the words on the banner.  Hide the letters randomly around the room. Divide the class into 2 teams with two captains–the captains sit and wait for their teammates to bring the letters for their banner words. If a student is on the “Werewolf” team and sees a letter for the “Vampire” team she just leaves it alone. The first team to replicate the banner wins.

Ghost Dance Make small ghost shapes out of tissue paper and draw on eyes.  Take a balloon, rub it in your hair to create static electricity.  Hold the balloon over the ghost and watch it rise toward the balloon!  To prevent the ghost from sticking to the balloon, place a small piece of tape on the bottom tip of the ghost fixed to the table.  If the electric charge is strong enough, you should be able to make the ghost dance from several inches away.  Experiment beforehand to see how large you can make a ghost that will react to the static electricity.

Build a Jack-o’-Lantern  This is a fun game and super easy to set up.  Draw all the components of a jack-o’ lantern on the board and number each one 1-6.  Give each student a blank piece of paper and one dice.  As the teacher, you are playing against the kids.  The object of the game is to roll every number and complete the drawing of the jack-o’-lantern before the teacher completes her’s.  The teacher and students (as a group) take turns rolling their dice.  For each number that is rolled, players draw the corresponding component of their jack-o’-lantern.  Once a number is rolled and an image has been used, it can’t be used again.  Each student who completes his picture before the teacher gets a prize.  When the teacher completes her picture, the game is over.

Hot Pumpkin: Like Hot Potato, Hot Pumpkin requires a small, silly pumpkin or gourd, some crazy Halloween music, and kids sitting in a circle.  They pass the hot pumpkin around until the music stops, and whomever is caught holding it is out of the circle. The winner is the last person without the pumpkin!  If you’re working with large groups of kids, and for more excitement, begin with two pumpkins going in opposite directions.  Add to the game Halloween vocabulary like “Trick or Treat!” or “I live in a haunted house!” etc.

Witch, Witch, Ghost! Four or more children sit, stand, or kneel in a circle facing in. One child goes around the circle touching each person on the head as they pass and say “witch”. They continue around the circle tapping and saying “witch” until they decide they are ready to tap someone on the head and say “ghost”. They then proceed to run around the circle. The “ghost” must run around the circle in the opposite direction. Both are racing for the open spot in the circle. The loser gets to be the caller for the next round. Variations on this game are many including hopping, skipping etc.

Ghost Bowling:  Take 6 rolls of toilet paper and paste ghost eyes and a mouth on each.  Stack them into a pyramid and roll a pumpkin or ball into the stack of toilet paper.  Keep score as to how many get knocked down.  This can also be done with large, clear soda bottles or plastic cups painted with jack-o’-lantern faces!

Mummy Wrap:  All you need are two (or more) teams of about 4-5 kids each, and a few rolls of toilet paper.  Each team picks one ‘mummy’ and the team works to wrap him (or her) up!  The teacher is the judge, and the best looking mummy wins!  Have your camera ready!

Pairs  Also known as Concentration, this is a simple game that will also get your kids practicing Halloween vocabulary.  Vary the number of pairs depending on the age range of the class.  This is a classic game that never fails to entertain!  You can download the above Halloween Pairs set for free!

Memory Game  This is a variation on Pairs you can play with the whole class.  Warm up students with three cards in a line on the board.  Instruct students that they have to remember the correct order of the cards.  Then turn the cards over.  With a duplicate set of cards, challenge kids to place the same cards in the same order under the hidden cards.  Increase the number of cards to challenge kids’ memories.

Who is the Ghost?  One child leaves the room and one child in the room puts a sheet or large pillow case that has been decorated with black eyes and a mouth over their head and body.   All the other students change their seats.  The child waiting outside comes back in the room and tries to guess who the ghost is.

Face The Cookie  All players stand in a circle and look up to the ceiling.  A cookie or flat treat is placed on each of their foreheads.  Without using their hands, players must maneuver the cookie into their mouths.  If the cookie falls off their face, they forfeit the cookie and are out. This is an especially fun game for all ages.

Many flash card games can be turned into holiday themed games with a few simple tweaks.  Put your witch’s hat on and I’ll be you can come up with some spooky fun!  If you’ve got a special activity you’d be willing to share, help a teacher out and leave a comment!

Looking for some more Halloween activities to liven up your holiday festivities?  Look no further!  Here are four awesome activities you and your kids are sure to enjoy!  Click on the links to download separately or get the full Halloween Game Pack!

Halloween Bingo is a classic that’s easy to set up and easy to play! With 25 images, this is a bingo game you can play with your youngest ESL students.

Halloween House is a folding craft activity and 3D learning tool that you’ll want to keep around all year!  With ghosts and goblins in every room, just print, cut,  and fold!

Halloween Concentration is free, so download and enjoy!   Halloween I Have Who Has is easy to set up, fun to play, and only available in the Halloween Game Pack!  Also included is a Halloween Vocabulary Chart you can tack to a classroom board or directly in student notebooks.

Wishing you and yours a very safe and happy Halloween!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing

Clock Work

Kinney Brothers Publishing Clock WorkYuki had a green paper watch wrapped around his wrist with the hands of the clock permanently drawn to 3:00.  I asked him what time it was.  “Oyatsu no jikan!” (Snack time!) he replied.  “Oh!” I said.  “That’s something to look forward to!”

Yuki couldn’t read a clock yet, but at four years old, his teachers were introducing the concept of analog clocks in a fun way and anchored in a daily event that was important to him.

Those little paper watches are super easy to make and kids really like them.  Download a free set of templates by clicking on the image below.  Teachers also use these watches for sight word and CVC word practice!

Watch Templates Kinney Brothers Publishing

How and when to begin…

I begin teaching my kids clocks when they start learning in their own language.  Because my classes are only once a week for 50 minutes, I regularly teach a little bit about clocks over a very long period of time.  Starting with paper watches, I plan ahead by planting seeds for future practice.

For young English language learners, reading, writing, and speaking the time is a convergence of several different concepts and skill sets.  Numbers alone can be used to teach most of the language skills necessary for reading digital clocks and speaking the time.  Once kids have learned CVC words like six and tensight words like onetwo and it’s, and CVCe, or long ‘e’ words, like five and nine, reading time as text can begin. As for the concept of reading an analog clock, you can give that up to the culture at large and simply ride closely on its coattails.  As your kids learn to tell time at home and at school, be there to support their efforts and begin introducing easy, parallel English lessons.

FYI – In Japan, being able to hear the spoken hourly time and read digital time is part of the first (Bronze) level of the aural  Jidou Eiken tests for young English language students.  Click the link to learn more and download sample tests.  It’s worth investigating, if only to learn about the vocabulary required to pass the three-level tests.

Getting ready…

Practicing time can begin very early on.  I prefer flash cards to plastic clocks with hands that can be manipulated, simply because they don’t break and they aren’t perceived as a toy that older kids may object to.  With a good set of clock flash cards, there are numerous games you can play that will make repetition more enjoyable.

Here are a few fun ideas to try in class:

  • Make sure that clock is part of your primary classroom vocabulary flashcards.
  • Place a clock image of the time your class will end on a classroom board.  Kids will become super clock-watchers.
  • Set a time for a simple event to happen – like dropping your pencil or clapping your hands.  Be sure you’re distracted when the time comes and be surprised when it happens.
  • Hand out hour flash cards and have students play a simple I Have/Who Has activity.  “I have 1:00.  Who has 2:00?”
  • Hand out hour flash cards and have students line up in order of the hours.
  • Tack hour cards around the room (add half hours, quarter hours, etc. as your lessons progress) and have students individually go to the time directed.
  • Hand students a stack of clock flash cards and have them sort the cards into time order.
  • Write digital times on the board and have students match the time with analog flash cards.
  • Once kids start learning to read time as text, write times on the board and have students match the times with analog cards.  Setting this up as a relay brings a competitive and fast-paced edge to an otherwise simple exercise.

Remember, clock exercises are another opportunity to review the challenging numbers eleven and twelve, and later on 20, 30, 40, and 50If you need a good set of number flash cards, you can download them here for free.  If you’re in need of a refresh on your flash card activities, download 41 Flash Card Activities for ideas to get you going.

Diving in…

Once students are comfortable with reading simple hours, it’s time to begin doing worksheets.  Tack completed worksheets into interactive notebooks so they can be reviewed later.  Over time, these worksheets will become an invaluable and easy-to-access reference for future lessons where time is practiced.

If you’re looking for worksheets, here are the first ‘hour’ exercises from my textbook, Clock Work.  Download and try them out in class.  They’re free and I think you’ll like how the worksheets are differentiated.  Click on the image above to visit my web site and learn more about the textbook.

After lots of hour practice, adding half hours is the easy next lesson.  From this point, understanding and retention should begin to happen faster.  Then, it’s step by step, reviewing and practicing numbers in quarters, tens, and fives for times like 9:30, 3:15, 10:40, and 8:55.  To repeat, if you see your kids only once a week, plan on teaching a little over a long period of time and don’t forget to review.  It will add up!

Clock games…

I’d love to hear the approach and activities you use when teaching time to younger students.  I have a lineup of games I like to use, like Clock Bingo, Clock I Have Who Has, 4 in a Row, and clock game boards.  Clock flash cards, and differentiated worksheets provide repetitive practice and handy visuals for explaining time concepts.

Over the years I’ve learned that teaching students how to tell time in English is not a one-off lesson.  From the early skill of reading an analog clock, then reading and expressing time in text, to understanding the language variances of telling time in English, a little at a time goes a long way.  Make sure students are solid in the early lessons and you’ll have fewer problems building their language skills later on.

If you’d like to download a free Clock Bingo game and be kept up to date with Kinney Brothers Publishing, click on the image below and you’ll be playing in a jiffy!  Options for playing include draw cards for simple digital reading of the clocks, cards for using ‘to’ and ‘past,’ plus cards for ‘quarter.’


As always, best of luck in your classes!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing

Teaching Cursive Writing


Some may think of cursive as an archaic form of communication – one best left to history.  Personally, I think it’s a valuable skill and well worth teaching in my ESL classes as part of the English language.  Importantly, Japanese students will learn cursive writing in their junior high school classes where penmanship still holds a revered position in the culture.  Just like CVC words, sight words, or stacked adjectives, I  teach cursive writing from a young age in the hope that it will give them a head start in their future English classes.

I start teaching my students cursive writing from third grade; the same age I learned when I was in elementary school. Early on in my teaching, I discovered that my students’ concentration and efforts at writing cursive were, across the board, excellent!  Having to gently interrupt students’ quiet concentration so that we could move forward in the lesson is nothing short of teacher heaven!  Consequently, I love teaching cursive writing!

Understand your cursive ABCs!

Because I teach the skill, I had to shore up my understanding of why the cursive letters are written the way they are so that I could make the claim of authority in front of my kids!  For example, where is the S in the upper and lower case cursive S’s?  Why does a capital Q look like a 2?  (In our modern social media, 2ueen is accepted parlance!)

Remember, the essence of cursive is speed and connectivity.

Here’s a simple illustration of the evolution of the letter ‘G’ into the cursive letter we know today:

What about writing styles?  How have they changed over the years?  Predictably, there have been many methods in the past two centuries.  First, there was the de facto Spencerian Method, developed for “business and elegant personal letter writing.” In the late 19th century,  the more modern Palmer Method made the claim that it was exceptionally masculine, industrial, would strengthen character, and reform delinquents.  This was replaced by the Zaner-Bloser Method in the 1950s, founded by Master Penmen Charles Zaner and Elmer Blozer, leaders in the penmanship industry.  Finally, the contemporary D’Nealian Method was introduced in 1978.  It is a derivative of the Palmer Method and was designed by a primary school teacher to ease the transition between traditional and cursive scripts.  Whatever method you prefer, my recommendation is to teach what you know, use worksheets if possible, and be consistent.

FYI – ‘cursive’ is from Medieval Latin which means running and was the preferred method to accommodate the limitations of quill pens, which were fragile, easily broken and would splatter if not properly used.  The various reforms in writing methods up through the 20th century had the main intent of competing with the speed of the typewriter.

As we begin the lessons, I teach kids that their signature and writing are totally unique, a reflection of their personalities, and that the police even use handwriting to identify criminals! I ask students if they could recognize whether a note was written by their mother or their father, or whose handwriting is better.  (Sorry, Dads, your kids are throwing you under the bus!)  Also, cursive writing gives them the opportunity to be expressive!  I emphasize this with examples of calligraphy in signage, art, history, social invitations, and legal documents.  I also explain that, being 3rd graders, it’s time they joined the big kids club and learn to read and write in cursive.  Finally, this gives me one last chance to go through every letter one more time.

Tips for Teaching

Here are a few tips when you set out to teach cursive writing.

Always begin with a warm up!  Believe it or not, writing in cursive employs a different set of muscles than regular script (remember how tired your hand used to get?)  Practice writing tall and short loops, consecutive u’s, or the up and down of multiple t’s.    Explain how each lower case letter is written with the intent to connect smoothly to the next letter.  And don’t forget to show the kids the purpose of cursive which is to write faster and with as few pen-lifts as possible.  Show them how the loops facilitate the connections between the letters and that dotting i’s and crossing t’s should occur at the end of each word.

Write all the students’ names on the board and see if they can identify their own name.  Importantly, ask them how they knew their name – what letters are similar and what letters are different.  Make sure that learning to write their name is part of the first lessons. Believe me, they’ll practice.

With a set of cursive flash cards, you can drill, sort, and play all the usual games you played when the kids were younger and learning their ABCs.  Putting a cursive writing chart in their notebooks is invaluable for reference.  If you need a refresh on flash card activities, check out my 41 Flash Card Activities.

Finally, have patience – especially if students are writing from memory.  It takes a LOT of concentration and practice to come up to speed.  My own approach to teaching the topic has improved through the years as I experimented with different explanations and demonstration methods.  Anyone who teaches kids knows there’s always room for improvement and your approach will evolve.

“the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.” – George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion

To help you get started, here are some free worksheets from my textbook, Cursive Writing! It will give your kids repetitive practice with all the upper and lower case letters.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy the lessons.  Once introduced, don’t forget to employ cursive in your regular teaching and assign repetitive exercises to be completed in cursive!

So, it’s time to show off your talents!  Dazzle your students with your expressive cursive writing skills! Look forward to guiding students’ hands as they learn the loops and curlicues of the cursive alphabet.  And most importantly, enjoy!

Here is my Cursive Writing! textbook, a 40-page ESL primer that includes writing two and three-letter words, transcribing, self-introductions, and easy pen pal and thank you letters.  With these step-by-step worksheets, your kids will become the kings and 2ueens of cursive writing!







As always, best of luck in your classes!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing


Teaching Stacked Adjectives

What are stacked adjectives?

Nothing made me feel more inculcated into my own language than the idea of stacked adjectives; a revelation that blipped into my head during ‘me’ time in the shower. In an English speaker’s subconscious mind, multiple adjectives have a specific order.  When they fall out of that learned order, the brain glitches and the meaning can be lost, confused, or even misconstrued.

Let me quote from Katy Waldman’s The Secret Rules of Adjective Order.

Though red big barns and big red barns are semantically identical, the second kind pleases our ears more.  These tricky situations – neither pure correlation nor accumulation – generally occur when you cross the border between adjectival regions, such as size and color.  When that happens, an invisible code snaps into place, and the eight categories shimmy into one magistral conga line:  general opinion, then specific opinion then size then shape then age then color then provenance then material.

Thank you Katy!  Think about the following sentences:

A cat.

A black cat.

A big black cat.

A big black plastic cat.

A beautiful big black plastic cat.

A beautiful big old black plastic cat.

A beautiful big old black plastic French cat.

Even the simple sentence, “A black big cat.” is a language pothole, difficult for an English speaker to mentally ignore, let alone read when the adjectives are out of their stacked order (did you miss it or did your mind reorder the sentence?)  Figure this one out:

A yellow new handsome jacket Indian cotton.

It’s difficult to even say, much less discern what the sentence is trying to convey, coming off more like a word salad to an English speaker’s way of thinking.  In their proper order, the adjectives should be aligned in this way:

A handsome new yellow cotton Indian jacket.

How did it happen that, without any memory of having learned this, I expect my adjectives to be in a choreographed line dance with each other?  At any rate, it’s useful, as it gives me a sense of order when it comes to describing something, and luckily, other English speakers seem to be agreeably aligned. (I know, I know… we can be literary and change order to point to or infer meaning in a different way, but let’s not play with poetic subversion today.)

Now that you’re aware how deeply ingrained your sense of adjective order is, let’s start teaching ESL students, step by step.

You can begin with younger students by exposing them to simple adjectives.  In fact, I recommend that you start off very young – even before they learn how to read.  With a bit of forward thinking, it will make their elementary and junior high school English classes a little easier.  If you’ve been doing chants such as, “Five Little Monkeys” or “Five Little Ducks,” then you’re not only priming your kids to hear the sounds associated with numbers and plurals, but stacked adjectives as well!

Making Sentences Without Words

Start with simple nouns that begin with a consonant, like ‘cat.’  Pull out an ‘A’ card from your ABC deck.  Then grab a select few of your number, color, size, and emotions cards as well. (You can download the color and number flash cards from my online store for free!)

Let’s start lining the cards up!  Start with a simple minor sentence.  Then add a color adjective.  Once kids understand this easy pattern, mix the cards up, and have students reorder or make new sentences themselves.  It may be helpful to teach your kids that ‘A’ means ‘1’ in this context.*  If you think your kids can handle it, make a small ‘period’ or ‘full stop’ card as well.  And don’t be all academic when explaining it!  There will be plenty of time for that in their little futures.  Teach a ‘period’ as a ‘bliiiing!’ or ‘ker-dunk’ or a click of your tongue and I promise your kids will never forget to include it – to the point of annoyance.

Stacked Adjectives Kinney Brothers Publishing

Now, let’s add some more adjectives.

Stacked Adjectives 2 Kinney Brothers Publishing

With emotions, colors, size, and an ‘A’ card, your kids have learned to make their first stacks of adjectives!  And they can’t even read yet!  You’re also teaching them to recognize their first sight word!  Like many teachers, you’ve probably been drilling a lot of vocabulary in separate flash card sets.  This exercise brings that vocabulary together into coherent and ordered meaning that visually mimics language and text.  Later on, as your students move from speech to text recognition, and then to decoding language in connected text, it will be helpful to remind them of this simple exercise and the songs they used to sing when little.  Let the kids make their own sentences or dictate sentences for an excellent listening exercise.  Always ask the students to ‘read’ their sentences and help students who don’t yet understand that the correct order is important.

Upping the Ante

Once students are confident with ordering simple adjectives, start throwing numbers into the mix. And don’t forget the ‘bliiing!’  You’ll also be putting an emphasis on the ‘s’ sounds of plurals that they may already be using in songs or regular verbal exercises.  Remember “Five Little Monkeys?”  Do your kids learn, “I’m four years old”?  Then this exercise will be in full agreement with their regular exercises.

Stacked Adjectives 3 Kinney Brothers Publishing

Now that you’ve introduced these concepts to your kids, keep a board or table available with cards so that students can make sentences on their own.  You may be surprised at what they put together!  It also pays to have a bit of sympathy and patience! Trying to consciously LEARN this order must be terrible!  I’m glad I have no memory of it – a sort of potty training of the brain.  If you introduce this concept early on, it’s going to be easier as their studies become more sophisticated.

To learn more about early reading skills, check out my previous posts Sight Words: What, When, and How and Teaching CVC Words.

Finally, download a stacked adjective worksheet page from Stories For Young Readers, Book 2, a full textbook available on David Paul’s ETJ Book Service.  or my Web site.  The worksheet is very helpful for older students when learning to do the Adjective Conga and includes an answer key.  Again, colornumber, and more flash cards are available from my Teachers-Pay-Teachers store!  Please feel free to visit and download!

Stacked Adjectives 4 Kinney Brothers Publishing

Good luck and enjoy!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing


*OK, you grammar mavens – let’s keep it simple. I understand that ‘a’ is a special kind of adjective called an indefinite article that refers to a singular noun whose specific identity is not known to the listener or reader.  Unfortunately, at their age, my kids aren’t going to get that as an explanation – nor should they be expected to.  I also use numbers instead of written words in sentences until they learn to read the numbers as sight words.  I’m aware that this is a grammatical infraction, but I pay little heed to academic imperatives when it comes to teaching my youngest English learners.  Using easy-to-understand concepts (reduced though they may be) to teach young learners is not damaging anyone.  If you are so inclined to always be aligned to Elements of Style, simply put the words on the front of all your cards and you’ll be covered.


Teaching CVC Words

Teaching CVC Words Kinney Brothers Publishing

In a previous post, I talked about sight words; what they are, when to start teaching them, and how to effectively work with a variety of learning resources.  For the most part, the major points of that post also apply to teaching CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words.  It bears repeating that, like sight words, when teaching CVC words, the what, when, and how are just as relevant.

  •  A CVC word is a word that is made up of a consonant, short vowel, and consonant sound, such as cat, bed, tip, hot and rug.  The goal is for students to use their knowledge of the individual sounds of each letter and ‘blend’ these letter sounds together, so they are saying the whole word and not three individual sounds.  It must be explained, and repeated, that such words have a beginning, middle and ending sound that together create a word.
  • Before you begin teaching CVC words, a child must have a grounding in the ABCs and their phonetic associations.  When students can confidently manipulate letters and identify their sounds, they are ready to begin learning CVC words.
  • Like sight words, CVC words can be exercised using flash cards, word-building activities, games, orthographic practice, and in text reading exercises.

It is also important to note that, whatever the age of your students, reading fluency will only come with practice.  Understanding the steps children work through to understand word constructs and words in context are necessary to determine readiness and track progress.

As you set out to teach CVC words, be prepared with a ready supply of flash cards, games, reading and writing activities, and plenty of review exercises!

CVC Flash Cards

Flash cards are a mainstay for many teachers and can be used in so many ways other than flipping through deck after deck of vocabulary words.  Check out my 41 Flash Card Activities if you’re in need of a refresh with your flash card routines.

Flash Cards Kinney Brothers Publishing

CVC Flash Cards Set

Phonics & Spelling, Book 2

Sorting, matching, ordering, and discovery are the most fundamental components in many flash card activities.  When working with CVC words, it is best to have cards with vocabulary on the front and back to expand their use.  Playing games with flash cards like races, relays, Q&A circles, slap games, missing cards, and game board type games, places the emphasis on activities that employ vocabulary rather than a focus on word drilling.

CVC Games

Game boards and card games will really engage your kids when reviewing CVC words.   Laminating boards means they’re always ready and less prone to destruction.  Boards, plus tokens, dice, and a few rules, and kids will forget that they are reviewing vocabulary!  Even though the basic function may be the same across many games, it’s the engagement and the opportunity to practice in stimulating activities that brings about the most meaningful learning.

Games Kinney Brothers Publishing

CVC 4 in a Row

CVC Tic-Tac-Toe

CVC Bingo

I Have Who Has

CVC Sentence Fishing

CVC Reading & Writing

Orthographic exercises that employ reading, word building, and writing activities are perfect for fluency practice and accountability.  Worksheets, combined with task cards and other types of manipulatives, make repetition less arduous and more fun.   Word puzzles, exit tickets, write-round-the-room activities, and interactive notebooks are just a few of the teaching resources that keep kids engaged while learning to spell.  I always look for ways to bring CVC word practice together with coloring, counting, graphing, spinners, dice, random choice, and memory skills, for activities that hold students’ focus on a variety of levels.

Spelling CVC Activities Kinney Brothers Publishing

CVC Task Cards

CVC Cubes

CVC Exit Tickets

CVC Puzzles

CVC Write Around the Room

Making Sentences with CVC Words

Once students are comfortable with building and reading words and can recognize them in text, making sentences and understanding meaning in context are the next steps toward reading comprehension.  Creating sentences with image and word flash cards is a great way to get kids to review learned words and learn the most rudimentary rules for sentence constructions.  Here, using flash cards, not as a means to drill, but a way of exploring new connections, gives students a creative way to build on their understanding.  Try keeping these kinds of flash cards available to students outside of lessons to see what kind of sentences they create on their own.  You might even hear them teaching each other!

Making CVC sentences Kinney Brothers Publishing

Sight Word Flash Cards

It can’t be stressed enough that learning the concept of word, sounding out the phonemic components, setting learned words into sentences, and then deriving meaning from sentence context are skills that have to be taught, will occur in that order, and must be practiced for children to achieve reading fluency.

CVC Exercise & Review

One of my biggest pet peeves with many textbook series is the lack of quality exercise and review pages.  Teachers are too often forced to create their own worksheets to fill in these gaps.  For this reason amongst others, I created a phonics series that focuses solely on reading and writing with an abundance of exercise and review pages.  I also made sure to include simple explanations, step-by-step exercises, rigorous practice pages where I could track student progress, and lots of coloring opportunities.  You can learn more about this series here.

CVC Worksheets Kinney Brothers Publishing

I will finish this post by quoting from Sight Words: What, When, & How:

“As you move from ABCs through emergent reader activities, you’ll want to have reading goals in place.  As a teacher, it is important to be able to recognize when a student has a command of the sounds of the alphabet, achieves the concept of word, is displaying rudimentary reading ability, and finally, capable of decoding and deriving meaning from connected text.  These concepts must be developed in this order and practiced to achieve reading fluency.  The habits that you build into the children’s learning activities will help them to acquire new words more quickly, build on their knowledge base to infer meaning, and progress more confidently in their studies.”

Teaching kids CVC words sets the stage for future reading comprehension and language acquisition.  As you move kids from relying solely on their ears and memory to reading and writing, be prepared with a variety of tools to make learning enjoyable, engaging, and productive.

Phonics and Spelling, Book 2 Independent Publishers International

If there are activities that you use in class that are not listed here, help a teacher out and leave a comment!

As always, best of luck in your classes!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing



Sight Words: What, When, and How

What are Sight Words?

Whether you call them sight words, popcorn words or high frequency words, they are, by definition, “commonly used words that young children are encouraged to memorize as a whole or by ‘sight,’ so that they can automatically recognize these words in print without having to use any strategies to decode.” [1]

The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists claims that the first 25 most frequent words make up about one-third of all printed material in English, and that the first 100 make up about one-half of all written material.  Let that thought sink in.  50%!  The obvious advantage of learning sight words is that it can have a powerful impact on student’s reading fluency.

‘Sight Word’ is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that a word is learned simply by seeing it in its complete form.  For this reason, flashcards are the most common way teachers will try to ‘drill’ the recognition of given words simply by repetition.  If students are developmentally not ready in their spoken or orthographic skills, no matter how hard you may try, the words will not stick in their brains.

One problem with sight words is that many, though not all, lack dependable letter–sound correspondences (of = /uv/ and is = /iz/).  Most words are more regular than not, especially in the consonant features. For example, the high-frequency word said is 50 percent regular; what would otherwise be a dependable ai digraph is irregular compared to the pronunciation of words like tail or paint.  Nonetheless, it’s important teachers address these irregularities with students rather than avoiding them or assuming that students will eventually ‘pick up’ the differences.

In addition, high frequency words can be abstract, difficult if not impossible to represent using pictures, and especially difficult to understand where meaning may have an inferred understanding through context (something a second language learner doesn’t have the advantage of in early language development.)  It can be very elusive to create a clear mental model of words like have and get, both of which can cross several different word choices in a language learner’s native language. Just as complicated is a word like was which refers to a past existential state of being.  I remember trying to explain to students that “I win a prize” infers that if I win a game, I will get a prize, whereas, in Japanese, it is akin to saying “I prized a game.”

This is why students of English need to be exposed to the patterns of speech and inferred meaning of sight words early on in oral exercises, chants, and songs.  Inevitably, as you move children from decoding individual words to decoding language in connected text, sight words should be a regular part of your ESL program.

Two popular sight word lists you might want to check out are Dolch’s Sight Words (by frequency) and Fry’s Sight Words (by grade level).  Both of these lists are offered for free on sightwords.com.

When to Teach Sight Words

Easy Sight Words Kinney Brothers Publishing

If you are teaching ESL students with the eventual goal of reading (and you should be), you need to begin thinking about sight words long before students encounter them in writing exercises. Building a vocabulary base that includes high frequency words that is not exclusive to nouns and verbs, contributes to a sense of word and meaning in context.  Vocal chants and early Q&A exercises should include sight words in anticipation that these words will be encountered again in written text.  Reading story books in class is also important for showing children how you read in English and, where possible, should include picture prompts and word cues so children can participate in the reading of the story.

Before teaching children sight words orthographically, it is necessary that children have a solid foundation of the ABCs, phonemes and understand concepts of word.  From there, learning sentence structure and decoding meaning in context should be taught in that order.

In other words, you can’t teach kids the concept of word without first teaching the ABCs.  Trying to use flash cards to teach sight words, like visual designs, out of context and with no relationship to connected meaning, will NOT make the words stick nor will they transfer to automatic written understanding.  Likewise, expecting a child to write and rewrite a sentence when they can’t yet decode the individual words is not going to eventually impart meaning.

When students understand the ABCs and their associated sounds, can combine those sounds into a concept of word, and are capable of understanding sentence constructs, THAT is the time to begin teaching and exercising sight words.  The good news is that many children learn these concepts in their own language at a very young age and have the ability to transfer that understanding to a new language and a new set of rules.

How to Teach Sight Words

There are many ways to strengthen your students’ knowledge and recognition of sight words in text and out of text.

How do you begin to teach sight words?  Again, start early by reading to your classes, and importantly, showing kids how you are reading.  By simply pointing to each word as you read, you’re teaching them much more than just the words associated to colorful illustrations.  You’re also teaching them about print concepts, moving from left to right, top to bottom, and the return sweep.  All of these concepts can operate very differently in a child’s native written language.

Anticipating future exercises by building a targeted vocabulary and sentence pattern base is helpful when it comes time to introduce students to orthographic exercises.  You will rely on that knowledge base to help them transition to written text and a speech-to-print match.

Keep in mind that eventually you’re going to be taking students beyond decoding words and into the realm of decoding sentences. The reading goals you set for your students should begin long before they start reading and writing.

If you have been teaching phonics and simple CVC words and your kids are ready to start using those words in easy sentences, you’re ready to begin teaching easy sight words.  Along with your regular phonics exercises, start throwing sight words into the mix!  If you want more ideas for working with flash cards, check out my 41 Flash Card Activities post or download the pdf from the Kinney Brothers Publishing Web site.

Writing Phrases and Patterning Mentor Texts

Children can write phrases that include high frequency words that build off patterned mentor (sample) texts.  With ESL students, offering prompts and spelling can help children build sentences and understand the importance of the sight words in their placement amongst already learned words from their phonics lessons.


Using flash cards, line up a sentence and have students read the sentence until they are familiar with the order and meaning.  Then cover up the sight words or pull them out and have students replace or match the words of the original sentence.  This same activity works well as a worksheet with cutting and pasting to replace the missing words.

Easy Sight Words Kinney Brothers Publishing

Matching is also an excellent way to reinforce learned words in out-of-text activities.   The pages below, including Bingo, when reduced to their most basic skill, are simply matching activities.  But, don’t tell the kids this! They think they’re playing a game or doing a puzzle!  When you combine sight word matching with writing, coloring, counting, spinners, dice, random choice, and memory skills, you have activities that will engage and entertain students on a variety of levels.

Easy Sight Words Kinney Brothers Publishing


In this example of an in-text exercise, students use a marker to highlight sight words.  Like the sample at the beginning of this post, you can hand out highlighters, choose any random text, and have students highlight the words being learned.  This is also a great cool down exercise for the whole class or activity for early finishers!

Easy Sight Words Kinney Brothers Publishing

Pick Up

Pick Up is a super simple activity that keeps students engaged.  Ask students to pick up all the words that begin with a particular consonant, vowel, or capital letter. Or have students listen to a spoken sentence and line up the words in order.  Sentence Fishing is simply a pick-up type game and kids can’t get enough of it!  Remember, when errors are made, it’s a rich opportunity to lead children to helpful conversations so they can articulate why a word doesn’t fit.

Sentence Fishing Kinney Brothers Publishing


Another out-of-text activity for developing sight words is sorting.  Have children sort their word cards based on letters, sounds, or key words.  Guide students in reflecting on what’s the same and what’s different.  Grouping words with their beginning letters and then putting them in alphabetical order is another sorting plus ordering activity that will serve future dictionary work!  Remember, always think ahead!

Easy Sight Word Flash Cards Kinney Brothers Publishing

Flash Cards

Making sentences is a great way to get kids to review and use learned words to make more orthographic connections.  Here, using flash cards not as a means to drill, but a way of exploring new connections gives students a creative way to build on lessons learned.  Challenge your kids to see who can make the most surprising sentences!

Kinney Brothers Publishing

Word Games

Word games are a fun way to reinforce sight words and can include I Have/Who Has activities, word search and crossword puzzles, and many board game type games.  Introducing and playing these kinds of games in class is important.  Students may be playing these kinds of games in their own language, but the only opportunity to do so in English may be in your classroom.

Easy Sight Words I Have Who Has Kinney Brothers Publishing

Sight words promote confidence. Because the first 100 sight words represent over 50% of English text, a child who has mastered the list of sight words can already recognize at least part of a sentence.  Sight words provide clues to the context and promote reading comprehension.

As you move from ABCs through emergent reader activities, you’ll want to have reading goals in place.  As a teacher, it is important to be able to recognize when a student has a command of the sounds of the alphabet, achieves the concept of word, is displaying rudimentary reading ability, and finally, capable of decoding and deriving meaning from connected text.  These concepts must be developed in this order to achieve reading fluency.  You won’t get there without teaching sight words.  The habits that you build into the children’s learning activities will help them to acquire new words more quickly, build on their knowledge base to infer meaning, and progress more confidently in their studies.

If you are interested in more of the same kinds of exercises illustrated in this post, check out my Easy Sight Words worksheets for ESL students.  If there are activities that you use in class that are not listed here, help a teacher out and leave a comment!

Easy Sight Words Kinney Brothers Publishing     Easy Sight Words 2 Kinney Brothers Publishing







As always, best of luck in your classes!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing


[1] Ravitch, Diane. (2007). EdSpeak : A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, ISBN 1416605754.






A Game with Legs

Animal I Have Who Has Activity Set

I have… Who has…

‘Reading, speaking, and listening’ is the triadic core of this all-in-one activity – and I wish I’d known about it sooner.

I Have – Who Has activities are very simple, easy to set up, can be played with just about any age or grade level, and importantly, can be played again and again as students progress.  They’re perfect for centers or a whole class exercise, as a warm up and a cool down activity.  The topic is interchangeable and, what I’d like to show you in this post, can be extended to get even more out of the game.

I use this activity not only for lessons learned from my textbooks (see my last post), but also extra vocabulary that can only be practiced through games and activities – like flags, sports, or clothing.  If you use another textbook series or want to create games with your own vocabulary ideas, I’ve provided a blank game template at the end of this post to get you started.


Here are two very simple I Have – Who Has sets I created to get my youngest students started playing.  They’re both free to download from my ESL store.  I have 20+ sets available with a variety of vocabulary banks.  I hope I can convince you to check them out and start playing in your own students!


Numbers I Have Who Has Activity SetABC I Have Who Has Activity Set






Again, I Have – Who Has activities are very easy to set up and play. Once students understand the concept, you’ll never have to explain it again.  Simply deal the cards out to however many are playing and have them arrange the cards face up on the table in front of them. Players must be able to see all of their cards.   Then step back.  It’s their game.

All of my game sets have designated “Begin” and “End” cards. The player with the “Begin” card reads their card first by asking the question, “Who has…?”   Whoever has the next card reads their card by stating, “I have…” and asking in turn, “Who has…?” After reading a card aloud, the card is finished and turned over.  When the player with the “End” card reads their card, the game is finished.

Many of the game sets in my collection also have differentiated versions depending on the vocabulary bank.  For example,  Clock I Have Who Has has separate games for the time elements students have learned: hours, half-hours, quarter-hours, etc.  Verb I Have Who Has has three sets; one with phrasal verbs.  The ABC and Phonics cards have letters and phonetic associations so you can play different games each time and challenge kids with prompts.  Click on the images below to learn more about each set and download previews.


Verb I Have Who Has Activity SetCVC I Have Who Has Activity SetCommunity Places I Have Who Has Activity SetABC Phonics I Have Who Has Activity SetClock I Have Who Has Activity SetNumber I Have Who Has Activity Set

Language Variations

You can see how the game can be adapted for a lot of Q&A practice.  With the goal of getting students to use language they normally wouldn’t use in a classroom setting, you can set the sentence patterns and change them each time the game is played.


Community Places I Have Who Has Activity Set

For example, with the Community Places set, determine the language used with these kinds of sentences:

  • I have airport.  Who has restaurant?
  • I’m at the barbershop.  Who is at the fire station?
  • I’m going to the dentist.  Who is going to the hospital?
  • I want to go to the station.  Who wants to go to the bank?
  • I went to the beauty salon.  Who went to the pool?


Food I Have Who Has Activity Set

With Food I Have – Who Has, try this kind of language:

  • I have salad.  Who has soup?
  • I like apples.  Who likes broccoli?
  • I am eating pasta.  Who is having juice?
  • I want potato chips.  Who wants cake?


Flag I Have Who Has Activity Set

With Flags I Have – Who Has there are a number of language patterns that can be used:

  • I have Taiwan.  Who has Italy?
  • I am in Mexico.  Who is in Brazil?
  • I went to Korea.  Who went to Indonesia?
  • I’m going to go to China.  Who is going to go to Canada?

Extend the Exercise

Now, here are some ways to make the game walk across the room!

  • For additional language practice, and to get the kids familiar with their cards before playing, take the opportunity to do a Q&A with each student.  For example, if the game set is using verbs, ask the students questions like, “What are you doing?” or “What did you do yesterday?”  As each card has two verbs,  students can work in small groups or do a round-robin type Q&A.
  • Up the ante on the game by setting a timer and having kids try to ‘beat the clock.’  Post a chart on the wall with group names and challenge classes against each other.
  • In a usual game, a player directs their question to the whole class.  This keeps everyone on their toes and listening.  Try having students move amongst each other asking individually, “Do you have…”  When they find their card partner, they stick together by linking arms or holding hands.  Eventually, the entire class becomes one connected line reflecting the order of the game.
  • Have students sit in a circle.  The player with the “Begin” card asks the person next to them, “Do you have…”  If not, the player answers, “No, I don’t.” and asks the same question to the person sitting next to them in a Q&A chain until the person with that card says, “Yes, I do.” and starts a new question cycle.  Once a person reads their card, they drop out of the circle until only one player is left.  I recommend holding the “End” card so students don’t know when the game will end.
  • Have students arrange the cards in a dominoes fashion on a desktop.  This will work with any set of the I Have – Who Has cards.
  • Set the cards up like a ‘Concentration’ or ‘Pairs’ activity with the cards facing down and the Begin card facing up.  The next card has to be the “Who Has…” aspect from the Begin card.  Leave the matched cards face up on the table or lined up outside of the playing area.  You can also play by finding random pairs.  This really gets the kids thinking forward and backward as they try to find the matching cards.
  • Before sending your kids home, distribute the cards and have the kids line up in the order of the game.  Basically, they’ll have to play the game again to negotiate their place in line.  Once lined up, collect the cards and send the kids home!  This is so much more productive and entertaining than fifteen kids rushing the door to be first in line!

You can see that these kinds of exercises will work well for any grade level or language ability, from kindergarten through adults.  Please help me add to this list by letting me know how you play in class!

As any ESL teacher knows, the value of a game is only as good as the language that can be practiced.  I Have – Who Has activities, though not a game that ends with a winner or loser, has the potential to involve students with all the components of learning a foreign language: reading, speaking, and listening.

If you want to get started making your own I Have/Who Has activities, I’ve created a pdf template to get you started.  It’s free!

As always, best of luck in your classes!

Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing



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