Memory, customized

I figure I’d better put my class activities up on this blog before I forget all of them.  This will probably be the last such entry to feature pictures since almost all our class materials are in garbage bags at this point.  Today’s activity is another take on an old favorite.

Memory, the game of trying to find matching cards which are lying face down, is a classroom staple in Japan (and amusingly called 神経衰弱 しんけいすいじゃく shinkeisuijaku “neurasthenia”), and along with karuta is one you can expect all your learners from preschool up to be able to play without needing to learn the rules, which with younger learners sometimes is an activity in and of itself.

Our version of this game, like our version of Apples 2 Apples, is flexible enough to be used with almost any type of card you have on hand – months, occupations, TOEIC vocabulary, past tense verbs, or whatever you and your students make.  The game is for small groups of 3-6, aged 7 and up.  I suppose you could use it with bigger groups too if you don’t mind copying and cutting a lot of cards for them.

The examples I have here use animal cards, which were the last materials waiting to be thrown out at the time I took these pictures.

The first step, as in most games of Memory is to put a bunch of cards from any set on the floor.  In our version you don’t need to worry about having cards that match in any obvious way, like “dog-puppy” or anything like that.  It does help because of the abstract and therefore slightly mentally taxing nature of the matching that will be going on to limit the number of cards to 16 or fewer.  Unlike this picture, which just serves to show the kinds of cards we use, the cards in the game should be face down with nobody knowing what they are.

Mixing in some cards from other sets (“Grandma”) will produce some laughs along the way

The next step is to come up with some hints.  We usually have 2 hints that we write on the big whiteboard or on little whiteboards like you see here.  I usually write the hints myself but with students who are fairly advanced/mature and have played this game before you can solicit hints as well.  The hints will be used to form matches.

When the game starts, students take turns turning over 2 cards.  To form a match, both cards must match one of the hints.  Each card matching a different hint doesn’t count.

If students agree that both “are cute”, then this is a match.  I usually take a vote if the students are mature enough not to intentionally sabotage each other, othewise I decide.

When students agree that the 2 cards flipped over are a match according to at least one of the hints, that student states the match (“dolphins and grasshoppers are cute”), collects those 2 cards, and you replace them with fresh cards from the set, taking care that students don’t sneak a peek at them as they’re being placed face down.  In most classes I also refresh the hint, usually keeping the grammar constant, for example replacing “~ eats leaves” with “~ swims”.

The game ends after a set number of rounds.  I usually budget 15 minutes for this activity and call “last turn” when I want to bring it to a close.

This is a definite match, since both eat leaves.

The language learning aspects of this activity can be pared down to just the vocabulary necessary to understand what cards match what hints (and the hints can be made quite simple for beginning learners), but can also be expanded to include verb conjugation, stating opinions, agreeing and disagreeing, and various other skills.

The examples in the pictures obviously require a bit of verb conjugation in order to verbalize the match, but with very young learners I usually let this slide.  An aspect of noun-verb conjugation in English that is frequently neglected in JHS and HS English classes is that plurals in English often stand for the nouns in the abstract, such as in sentences like “grasshoppers eat leaves”, where neither of the plural nouns in the sentence refers to any particular instance or instances of their referents.  For this game, this came up somewhat unexpectedly for me when “dog” emerged as a possible match for “big”, and the student tried to argue that it was a match even though the dog in the picture was a Shiba by saying “this dog is not big, but dog is big” – or put more conventionally “this dog is not big, but dogs are usually big”.  This game helped scaffold what is usually a difficult point of grammar to get across.

In another variation of this game that we played with gerund cards (as seen in the Apples 2 Apples post), students had to un-gerundize their cards in order to explain their matches, like “Sitting under a tree is dangerous, because when you sit under a tree, something will fall on you”.  Practice with verb conjugation is one reason to make sure that students state their matches out loud rather than simply collect their cards.

When students discuss whether a particular card is a match or not, vocabulary and chunks for asserting one’s opinions, hedging, and other debate-related conventional tools of discourse become salient.  The game is exciting enough with just the matching aspects, but I am most satisfied with a session when at least one disagreement erupts.  It is these times when students are most invested in using the language they have to convince others that they indeed have the right to collect the two cards they’ve turned over.

This game is very similar to a published card game called Pictureka, and can of course be played with the cards included in that set too.  Their cards are quite a bit more professionally made than mine.


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