Card Games as an Educational Tool for ESL Learners

Review of: Reese, Curt, and Terri Wells. 2007. “Teaching Academic Discussion Skills with a Card Game.” Simulation & Gaming 38, no. 4: 546-555. ERIC, EBSCOhost (accessed May 21, 2014).

Review by Amy Cobos

Can Card Games Be Educational?

            Gamification within classroom has become the hottest new craze in the educational realm. Many schools are having their teacher’s change their lesson plans around to include hands-on gaming instead of the normal lecturing of information. While some believe this is not an effective teaching method, others are in full support. One area of learning that is in full support of using games to enhance learning is for ESL, English as a Second Language, learners.

Throughout the United States there are numerous amounts of ESL learners in our education system ranging from elementary school all they way up into our colleges and universities. Many ESL learners are not originally from the United States and are products of immigration and other factors. Because there are so many ESL learners within the United States, it is important to have great ESL learning programs for these students. One way ESL teachers have found a way to teach ESL students is through the use of card games. In the article “Teaching Academic Discussion Skills with a Card Game,” the authors Reese, Curt and Wells state, “Games and simulations, in addition to motivating students, offer the opportunity for experiential learning, which entails active and reflective engagement with the material on the part of the student (546).” The authors are in full support of using this method because they believe that students will be more motivated to learn the material if it is introduced in a more fun an approachable way.

The authors of this article discuss how ESL learners, especially in university settings, have a hard time being able to be a part of class discussions. When many college classes today are very much based discussion, this puts ESL learners at a disadvantage to there English speaking peers. So what the authors decided to do was conduct an observational experiment by creating a card game. “This game was initially designed for international students planning to attend U.S. graduate schools. The curricular objectives of the university intensive English program at which the authors worked stipulated that teachers conduct 30- to 45-minute moderated discussions at least once a week. These discussions were on a wide range of topics that students from various backgrounds and disciplines could understand (547).” Results that they received from this observational experiment were that the more talkative students where the ones who spoke and the student more on the shy side stayed quiet. The ESL teacher would then discuss with the students what she observed and asked that the quieter students speak up more and that the more talkative students not talk as much. The actual game procedure included “THE CONVERSATION GAME consists of twelve 90-minute lessons. The lessons teach students different conversation moves both as leaders and as participants. Lessons can be taught one after another in a short program or interspersed with other lessons for semester-long programs. Typically, for semester-long programs, the teacher chooses one day a week to use THE CONVERSATION GAME. Students must prepare for each game. Students must read a one- to five-paragraph summary of an issue. Students respond to five questions on that topic. Students must give themselves goals for the number of cards they will play. Each student has two decks: a participant deck and a leader deck. Cards are of various colors, and each color corresponds to a particular conversation strategy. For example, expressing one’s opinion is yellow, agreeing is green, and disagreeing is blue. A phrase is printed on each card. For example, for expressing opinion, there are five/seven cards: “In my opinion,” “I think (that),” “My sense is (that),” “I feel (that),” and “It seems to me (that).” Participant decks typically contain two or three copies of each of the five cards (548).”

What is so good about this card game is it allows the ESL students to be the leaders of the classroom. They can participate at their own pace, lead the conversation and grade themselves. This allows the teacher to take a backseat and allow their students to grow and learn on their own. The teacher’s only intervention is to give examples and to challenge their students within the game. Many students reported having felt more confident in speaking English and that they really like how the game built up their confidence. Getting a response such as that from students is proof enough that while it may have been a card game, the lessons and confidence they gained from playing it are worth the risk of gamifying education.