Using Playing Cards in the Classroom
There's something about playing cards that appeals to almost everyone. The aesthetically pleasing look and feel and the association with fun makes them useful for teaching English. Of course, check local customs to ensure that they are not taboo. In some cultures there may be restrictions due to religion and/or because of the connection to gambling.
An ordinary pack of cards provides almost endless possibilities for activities in the classroom. I've found that various card games tailored to learning English work best in classes of no more than 20 students.
The first time that you pull out a deck in a particular class is a good opportunity to give a brief lesson on their history. You can tell your students that the playing cards of today, with four suits and 52 cards, originated in Persia (what is now Iran) about 1000 years ago.
Then, draw a picture of the individual suits on the board and tell the class that each one represents an important aspect of society (especially as it existed in the past but still relevant today.) Try to elicit ideas from your students regarding what each suit represents before giving them the answers:
The spade is a tool that is used to dig and prepare the earth for planting. Spades are symbolic of farming and agriculture (and by association, food.)
Diamonds stand for money and wealth.
Clubs represent conflict and war.
Hearts symbolize love.
Classroom Game Using Playing Cards: Modal Verbs
This is a simple game used to practice modal verbs. Modal verbs are helping verbs such as: can, could, should, must, will, would etc.
Objective: To practice the modal verbs: will, can, could. For use with the language function: making requests (can also be used for "negotiating" in a business class.)
Material: 1 pack of playing cards will be sufficient for up to 17 students. Up to 34 students requires 2 packs.
Time: This activity takes no more than 15-20 minutes. I've found it works best after students have done some practice using the target language. As a review at the beginning or end of class is good as well.
Procedure: Make sure that all students understand the vocabulary: ace, king, queen and jack. Tell them that the ace represents a one for this activity.
Instruct everyone to write down 3 numbers, regardless of suit, and to keep their numbers hidden from other students. For example, one person might write: 8, 3, jack. Another student could write down: 1, 3, 3 (you can write down the same number twice.)
Now hand out three cards to every student in the class.
Tell them that in a few moments they are going to walk around with their three cards held out in front of them, face out, and try to trade the cards they have for the ones other students possess in an attempt to get the three numbers they previously wrote down.
Now draw their attention to the board. Model the language that they should try to use.
When trying to obtain a card:
"I'll give you an eight for your queen." or "Can I get your 9 in exchange for my ten?"
Responding: "No you can't. " or "Sure, here you go."
Now, advise the students to stand up and mingle amongst each other trying to collect the cards that represent the numbers they wrote down earlier. The student who gets their numbers first will naturally run up to you or shout out. Let the activity run its course as the other students continue making requests.
In all the time that I have used this activity, only one person has received all three of the numbers they wrote down in the first group of three cards that I handed out.
Modifications: Instead of having the cards face out, have the students hold them in the traditional poker style with the value hidden from others. They can incorporate other questions into the activity such as "Do you have an eight?" before proceeding to the modal verb questions listed above. This will obviously extend the time needed.
As you likely may have considered by now, most popular card games have a standard number of requests and statements that are repeated throughout the course of play. It is quite easy to use many common games to suit the particular language function and/or grammar point that you are focusing on.
Actually playing the card game around a table with the hope of just allowing the targeted language to flow can work though you are limited by the number of students who can play.
Modifying any game to work in a "mingle" setting is something that seems to be the most effective. Remember also that simply allowing a game to play out between students while you stand by may create the sense that not much learning per se is taking place. I have done this on occasion but usually only with a group I have been teaching for some time.
Here is a good website with dozens and dozens of card games. With a little imagination you can adjust them to use with whatever you are teaching at any given moment.
I will post more card games and activities for practicing specific vocabulary, grammar and language purposes in the future.