I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.
Ursla Le Guin (1929-2018)
The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969
When counting cards change the pace and quantity of the count. This helps make the count real rather than a mindless chant. It focuses the attention onto the count and allows the teacher to linger over difficult numbers. It makes the counting itself a mini activity.
With competitive games individuals or teams often end up counting their cards to determine the winner. With non-competitive games and activities the players often finish with a stack of cards earned by the whole group together. Whether to count or not is one question and how to count is another.
Since competition requires a result to count or not count is usually not an option with competitive games, unless the result is obvious and one-sided which is not only less than fun but also potentially damaging to group dynamics.
With non-competitive games the focus is more on the activity itself. The end result may or may not be of interest. For language beginners counting practise usually makes counting worthwhile. But once basic numbers are fully mastered counting can be a waste of time unless some kind of record is being kept. Some groups of learners can be motivated to beat their previous best scores. With such groups counting and recording the total makes sense. For groups that are more in the moment counting totals can be irrelevant.
Sometimes establishing a target before an activity starts can aid with focus. Sometimes children can be drawn further into an activity by deciding their own target in advance. Of course whenever a target is created the result needs to be checked.
There are various methods for counting cards. If there are a lot of cards and the group is small then one way is to split the cards into roughly equal piles and have the students count a pile each. Jot down the totals and then add them up together. Alternatively, take the whole stack of cards and lay them on the table one by one with the group counting as you lay each card. Vary the speed at which you put down cards to force the group to count the cards rather than just counting up. If the group gets ahead of the count or falls behind then pick up the cards and start again. Aim to make the process of counting a little bit challenging.
In addition to changing the speed of a count the nature of the count can be changed by putting multiple cards down at once. Get the group to count in twos or threes or fours. Another thing to do is pick cards back up and put them to the bottom of the stack to have the group count down as well as up.
One thing to definitely avoid is counting alone. The teacher may start the count to get it going and no-one joins in. If this happens count backwards to zero and then count one over and over until the group notices something is wrong. Alternatively, count the number of cards put down rather than the total. Eg put one card down, say, "one", then put another card down say, "one" again, put two cards down say "three" and so on. At the end ask the group what the total is. This method can be used to get students to count and add up in their heads. They can even scribble answers down on scrap paper and see if their results match.
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