Apples 2 Apples Poker

I’m going to start introducing some of my favorite class activities on this blog, both so other people can use them if they want to and so that I can remember how I used to work with small groups of kids.

First up: Apples 2 Apples, customized.  For 3-30 players aged 6 and up.


If you haven’t played this game before, the rules are quite simple:

  1. A dealer gives player a few cards, which are all nouns or gerunds (e.g. “Doing the dishes”).
  2. An adjective card (e.g. “comfortable”) is displayed for everyone to see.
  3. Everyone chooses the best match for that adjective from the cards in his/her hand and puts it face down in front of him/her.
  4. When everyone has chosen a card, the cards are flipped over.  Each player explains why his/her card is the best match.
  5. The dealer chooses which player’s noun card best matches the adjective card, and that person is the winner of that round.

The most common customization, suggested in the rulebook, is to switch the nouns and adjectives so that players are matching adjectives to a noun rather than nouns to an adjective.

The game out of the box is fine for small groups of teenagers to adults, providing intuitive contexts for comment clauses (“I think lightbulbs are expensive”) and comparatives (“Lions are softer than carpets”).  Even as a simple exercise for getting very young learners to think about a limited set of nouns and adjectives a new way, this game is effective if you don’t insist on correct grammar from the start (I certainly don’t).  However, to keep things non-cookie cutter for students and also for the teacher’s entertainment, a little more customization can help too and stretch the life of this game for years.

工夫 1: My favorite by far is having classes make their own sets of cards.  The rules of the game as-is neatly scaffold the use of complex noun phrases (“many angry teachers working on a Saturday”) or gerunds (“sitting in my room with the radio on”).  In my experience kids are capable of coming up with some truly demented and memorable cards.  The fact that they also know the people who made those cards makes them all the more likely to attend to the meanings and wordings carefully.


Not pictured: Several involving dismembering teachers in various ways

In larger classes you’ll need to line the custom-made cards up on a copier and make enough sets for the class split into groups of 3-6.  I did this with classes of 25-30 college freshmen and sophomores and after a demo game with some of the more capable students everyone was ready to go and quite engaged.

工夫 2:  In classes where you want to review parts of speech, you can make or have the students make noun, verb, and adjective cards (sans pictures). You can then choose any two sets of cards for the game, comparing nouns against verbs (“Darth Vader runs more than Yoda”), verbs against adjectives (“Obeying is the more crucial than drinking”) or nouns against adjectives, as in the default rules of the game.  You can also compare sets against themselves, deriving other parts of speech where necessary (“Darkness is scarier than brightness”), although it takes quite a bit of fluency and familiarity with the rules (and exceptions) of derivation for this to feel more like a game than a mental exercise.

I’ve used this version with 帰国子女 kikokushijo “returnees”, kids who have lived abroad, who are struggling to connect the mostly implicit knowledge they have of English with the very didactic grammar lessons they’re receiving at school.  I have also used this with business English students, who need some help remember pairs like “fail/failure”.  The TOEIC test regularly has questions where the answers are something like A) success B) successful C) succeeded D) succeed, making this a helpful test prep activity as well if you teach TOEIC or TOEFL classes.

工夫 3:  You can add a bit more spice to the game if your students have played it too many times by adding poker-like betting.  In this version of the game, the steps are:


  • Players ante up (no small or big blinds necessary).
  • The dealer deals as normal.
  • When players choose a card, they announce it to the group and bet, stay, or fold.  The cards are still placed face down, and the players may lie about what their cards say.  Players do this in turns around the table, poker-style.
  • After each announcement, other players use some target phrase (“I doubt it”/”I don’t believe you”) to comment.
  • Winners are chosen as usual, and the winner gets the pot.

This version of the game works even with elementary schoolers, but it is a good idea to limit the adjectives and nouns to things where direct comparison is possible, e.g. animal cards as nouns and adjectives like “big” or “slimy”.  When the stakes are high you want to limit the chances of opinion or favoritism being a factor!

One final customization: Instead of having a rotating dealer who doesn’t play that round, I have the dealer play as well and pick the winner by having people vote with the stipulation that they can’t vote for their own cards.


2 thoughts on “Apples 2 Apples Poker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s