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Target: listening, vocabulary listening
Age: elementary aged and up
Duration: around 5 minutes
Class Size: any
Energy Level: varies
Type: Noncompetitive Activity
Equipment: flashcards

Karuta is a common tool for many teachers of children. In this game flashcards are spread over the floor, the teacher calls out the name of the card and players attempt to slap the card. The fastest player takes the card and the player who gets the most cards is the winner.

There are many variations of this.

One format introduced to me in Hiroshima by Ron Hulkenberg uses fly swatters. Children work in teams of two or three and hold the fly swatter together. This makes the game sillier. Children need to co-ordinate their actions to manipulate the swatter.

However, I'm essentially unhappy with the format of karuta. In one sense the cards are a form of commons. They are available to all. They belong to nobody or they belong to everybody. Karuta ignores the idea of the commons. The game is based on scarcity. It's a series of mini conquests. Children win points by capturing resources (the cards). This is a form of theft. I think the format requires challenging.

In my version of karuta the cards are kept on the table. Children can race to touch the cards but they are kept available. This means that it is possible to call the same card more than once - which is more useful for review than having the card removed from play after a single call. I can also introduce new vocabulary by including new cards and encouraging children to guess.

But I go beyond this. Often I'll name which child should touch which card. Or I'll indicate by pointing whose turn it is. This requires even more concentration from the players. Sometimes, when we play using a table I walk around the outside and name a card to be touched. I indicate who is to touch the card by gently tapping someone's shoulder or head.

Finally I mix up touching the cards with touching real objects. I usually begin this process by saying, "touch the floor" (or "touch the table") and wait to see if anyone can figure out what I'm saying. When this is understood I'll introduce commands that send different players off around the room. This increases the fun and the listening practise.

Too often behaviour that would at least be questioned in 'the real world' is condoned or encouraged within games. I wonder how many teachers use such games without thinking about this. Individuals freely choosing to participate in games is one thing, but teachers encouraging or requiring participation in such games is another.

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