A Card Game: The Nouns and Verbs

Jeffrey Kuhn in Game 101 talks about the nouns and verbs in a game which are the possibility spaces – what the players will do during the game. This made me think of vocabulary.

A bit more than couple of months ago, I was having this class with two teenagers who are 14 and in their 2/3rd year of language course. The topic of our class was card games. After having a conversation about what card games they played, both mentioned UNO with enthusiasm. Following up the conversation, I asked them to discuss in English as much as possible the card game UNO and write down how to play it in their notebooks.

While they were working on that, I realised by observing their interaction and listening to the word choices they were making that they didn’t have the proper vocabulary to discuss the rules of the game. Words like deal, dealer, draw a card, discard pile, wild card and so on were tottaly unknown to them. I also realised that I didn’t know those words either. Jeff Kuhn is right when he says that we ought to have English for Game Purpose (EGP) and this is something I’m investing my time on to learn nowadays.

It made me think of how come we make them learn verbs like EAT, SLEEP, DRINK, WATCH TV, PLAY, and never teach them how to talk about their favorite games, explain the rules and teach us how to play.  Or take into consideration the youtube videos and walkthroughs available.

Learning the proper Nouns and Verbs

Instead of teaching them, they simply had plenty of time to come up with their own version using their eletronic dictionaries; Then on the board, we worked on refining that version with the proper vocabulary which for sure would be used over and over again when reading rules and playing other games.

I used WIKI How as resource to gather words and shared this tutorial with them after the class in our Whatsapp group: http://www.wikihow.com/Play-UNO

After talking about UNO, I invited them to co-create a card game where we would check if players understood the story they had just read in the previous classes. Here is the result of our brainstorming.

?????????????Prototyping: Say it or Pass it!

IMG-20150817-WA0001 IMG-20150817-WA0005 IMG-20150817-WA0007What makes a good game according to Jeff Kuhn’s Game 101:

How motivating is it likely to be?

Are there choices and decisions to make?

Are players free to make decisions?

Does it provide a challenge?

What are the other players doing when it’s not their turn and they have to wait?

Is there a chance for lower-level learners to catch up?

I kept all of that in mind while brainstorming ideas with my students.


*A deck of cards (36 cards) divided intro three levels: easy (blue and worth 1 point), medium (red and worth 2 points) and hard (purple and worth 3 points) questions.

*We decided in the evaluation stage that would be cool to hide the level of difficult of the questions by giving all cards the same back of the card image. And on the front signal the level of difficult or print the points.

How many players: 3-6

The game is pretty flexible in terms of how many cards each player gets. It all depends on how motivated they are to keep playing. For groups with 5/6 students, I started dealing 3 cards to each player. With 3 or 4, I dealt 5. Once all players were out of cards, we tallied each player’s score. Then, I asked them if they wanted to play another round and get a chance to overcome the player winning so far. In all 5 groups, the answer was a big YES.

How to play:

Player 1 chooses a question  card from his hand.

Player 2, tries to answer. If player 2 can’t answer or answer it wrong, player 3 give it a shot. If player 3 can answer it correctly, he collects the card.

If no player in the circle can aswer the question, the player who is asking the question gets the card back and it becomes his bonus card. He or she gets the point and doesn’t need to answer the question.

The possibility of answering the question and avoiding the player who is asking to get the card without having to answer it kept everyone engaged. The one asking the question kept himself really busy having to repeat the same question over and over again. It was a great opportunity to work on their pronunciation as well.

There is also a need for a judge. I functioned as the judge, so everyone had a chance to play the game. But a student whose level is the lowest can have this role. Or even the highest level who is likely to win the game. By changing the roles, we also change the dynamics of the game.

20 teenagers played and filled the Playtest Reflection Template.

How fun was the game?

Six of them thought it was so much fun and the other fourteen that it was fun.

How difficult was the game?

They ALL thought it was nicely challenging.

How clear were the rules?

Two of them weren’t sure. Five of them thought it was a little clear and thirteen thought it was perfectly clear.

What can one learn or practice through the game according to their reflection:

  • Vocabulary (Words/expressions/etc.)
  • The story itself
  • Pronunciation
  • Recall the story, phrases, vocabulary, etc.
  • The lines of the characters
  • Improve comprehension of the story
  • Practice grammar and vocabulary in context
  • Practice speaking, reading and listening
  • Practice giving clear answers
  • Learn how to answer the questions well
  • Learn and practice how to ask questions

When asked what they would change about the game, some of them wrote:

  • limit the time to answer (the same player mentioned that the least favorite thing about the game was the time. It took longer than suppose to in his opinion.)
  • not to use questions that you have to explain
  • the difficult of the questions – it goes from hard to easy abruptally and vice-versa.
  • change some questions
  • add surprise cards (whatever that means 🙂 )
  • some of the questions were colored as easy, but they were difficult. Be attentive to the level of difficult of the questions.

9 Students would change something. The other 11 thought the game was great as it was.

If you haven’t watched Jeff Kuhn Game 101, I think you should.


7 thoughts on “A Card Game: The Nouns and Verbs

    • Thanks, Marc. Actually, I have 5 more games with the same objective to post. The aim was to check comprehension, but I can see it also improved language and comprehension as they discussed the story and the language during the game as learners reported in their reflection. I saw more engagement with the language through this one though. But I’m still organizing my notes, analysing their responses and reflecting. I’ll be posting them soon.

      The fact that was co-created with the students was also motivating for the other students. Plus, they got to playtest and give their opinion based on their experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great idea and very clear description. I attended Jeff’s talk and you covered everything he mentions. To me, the most powerful aspect is that the students themselves created the game. This is in-keeping with what we now know about learning and the brain. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the feedback Isabel. I totally agree that it’s empowering to participate in the process especially for teens that have so much energy and things to share. I just love learning from them and with them.

      After watching about three webinars from Jeff, I came across this video from Scott Nicholson. I had never heard of game jamming. Drawing from what I learned from Professor João Mattar in a course online back in 2012, I thought of learning from students how to design games that attended the content criteria and a learning objective while making the experience fun through the eyes of the learners. I had only jogabilidade (playability) as a concept to guide me while provoking them to attend the learning goal criteria ( check if readers had understood the story). With Jeff Kuhn’s work and others, I could refine the concept I had and I’m having a blast learning about game designing.
      Just added to my library about 6 new books! I’ll be busy in the summer 🙂

      Here is Scott Nicholson’s video on game jamming.


  2. Pingback: Playtest: game #2 reflection | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal

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