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Teaching Material: The Humble Deck Of Cards


When was the last time you used a deck of playing cards? A game of Blackjack? Poker, perhaps? Bridge or Solitaire? Fortune telling? Daifugo with you Japanese friends? Showing off some sleight of hand? Whatever the case, it was not likely in the past week. Or perhaps you don't even remember when the last time was? Playing cards seem to have become a past-time activity in this day and age. Let's try to bring it back again! However, this time is not for your own entertainment, but utilizing it in the classroom.


Cards are an excellent tool for teachers. Think about some basic ideas a pack of cards relates to: 2 colours = day and night, 4 suits = 4 seasons, 12 court cards = calendar months of a year, etc. The uses and possibilities of using cards in your lessons are endless, and only limited by your imagination. Whether for selecting students, making groups, practicing a grammar point, or even just a simple magic trick to catch the class' attention and focus. Cards are a definite choice to add to your teaching kit.


Cards are readily available, are very affordable, and can be bought at most hundred yen stores. In an emergency, they may also be available at some convenience stores. They are extremely portable, and would not add much luggage to your daily teaching material luggage. If you usually carry only textbooks and flashcards, a deck of cards would not be noticeable at all. So get out there and get yourself a pack if you don't have one lying around somewhere already.


Some teachers may be familiar with using cards in the class. They may have used it for numbers lessons, doing quick magic tricks for those last extra few minutes of class, or even used to play games they grew up with such as Go Fish, Memory, Snap, while incorporating the target language. Some teachers may have a deck on hand all the time regardless of which lesson they are doing, and regardless of whether they plan to use them or not. Better to have it when needed than not have it when needed!


Without further ado, some ideas to get started.


Cards for grouping: "Please make 4 teams" is something done on a regular basis. You could simply have students in lunch groups, seating rows, boys vs girls, red vs white, etc. Whichever grouping was chosen, generally the members will not change so much throughout the year.


Enter the cards! Give everyone a card at the start of the lesson. New and random grouping options are now available - red vs black, odd vs even, spade/heart/club/diamond teams, numbers 1-3 vs 4-6 vs 7-9 vs 10-12. Now start thinking some original ideas! *Note: know the number of students in the class and prepare the deck so that there is an equal amount of cards for your grouping choice.


Cards for asking for volunteer: "Can I please have a volunteer to present?" Lucky you if you have a genki class. On most days students do not raise their hands, and the JT is asked to help pick a "random" student. Usually that would be student number so and so, today's date is... so let's have student number..., eenie meenie monie moe... it's not truly random. Also, using the date to select student numbers can get old and predictable.


Enter the cards! Take 2 or 3 cards then add - the sum of the cards will be the student number. Another way is again, to give everyone a card at the beginning of class, then call upon a random suit and number for your "volunteer". Since these are truly random every class, no one would feel like they are being picked on.


Cards for eliciting certain answers: "Please make an original sentence using today's grammar point" or "Please answer the question using the day's grammar point". In a lot of cases when students are called upon for answers, they will answer using the same subjects, verbs, nouns, and objects.


Enter the cards! Set numbers and/or suits to certain subjects/verbs/nouns/objects, for example nouns: card 1 must be a food, card 2 must be an animal, card 3 must be a sport, etc. When students are called upon they must answer using the set category. Say the grammar point is present-continuous tense, and the student must answer with card 1, possible answers could be "I am eating pizza", "I am making pizza", "I am buying pizza". By using cards to force certain answers, the students must think harder, and it presents a challenge. This is just one example with set nouns. Imagine the possibilities with a whole deck of cards for any grammar point.


Cards for fun: This one needs no explanation, really. What was your favourite card game in your school days? Perhaps you still play card games with your family and friends? Think about any game and incorporate it into the day's target language. It is all up to your imagination.


To conclude, cards are a wonderful addition to your teaching arsenal. Keep a pack with you, and you'll see how useful they really are. You might even pick up a few magic tricks on the way.

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