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August 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 4

ISSN 1755-9715

Homo Ludens

Iole Vitti is a language teacher and educational consultant from Poços de Caldas, MG Brazil.She has run her own language school since 1972. She uses NLP [Neuro-Linguistic programming], theory of Multiple Intelligences, Meaningful Movement and the most recent research on how the Brain Learns to Learn and Remember applied to language teaching. Her interests and passion for education have taken her all over the world seeking for new learning experiences that she will gladly share with others.


Why do you assign so much homework, teacher?” This is a frequent question we hear while teaching B1, B2, C1 and C2 courses. I came up with a very good answer based on a workshop I attended in Boston in 1993 which was presented by Sivasailam Thiagarajan from Bloomington, Indiana – USA.

This activity explores factors which prevent people from finding and implementing win-win solutions.

Participants: Any number can play. We divide them into teams of three.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes. 2 minutes for briefing, 2 minutes for playing the game and 6 or 11 minutes for debriefing.

Materials: First touch cards, 14 by 20 (one for each triad)

You win
If you get
the other player
to touch
this card

You lose
if you touch
this card

It is quite intriguing to observe the effect of the words win, lose, first touch have on the students. Hardly ever do they find a win-win response, a win-win solution or talk to each other to negotiate a solution. First, you ask the students to organise themselves into triads. Then you appoint one person to be the card holder and ask them to go outside the room and wait for instructions. The other pairs stay in the room.

As for the briefing, the game is very simple and the rule for winning and losing is printed on the cards. The card holder has 2 responsibilities: Hold the card firmly with the printed words down and  parallel to the floor. And to silently observe the behaviour of the players.

The players have to extend their right index finger and hold them approximately six inches above the surface of the card, pointing to the card.


Playing the game

The players can use any strategy they want to. When the teacher says: “Let the game begin”, the card holder in each group turns the card over. The teacher then walks among the different triads, observes what the players are doing and  makes a mental note of the different strategies. After about two minutes, stops the play.



To ensure that the students don’t merely treat this simulation game as a fun activity and gain useful insights from it, it is essential to conduct a structured debriefing session.

We started with a question to provide an emotional outlet.

  • How many of you won/lost the game? How do you feel about it?
  • How many of you have completed the game? How do you feel about it?
  • How many of you talked and negotiated before touching the card?
  • How many of you used the win-win strategy of touching the cards at the same
  • How do you feel about it? How do the others feel about it?

In our group we had 3 losers, one player who didn’t complete the game and in this pair one of the girls tried to win by forcing and pushing her partner’s finger into the card.

The win-win strategy didn’t occur to anybody and nobody spoke to each other while playing.

We asked the girl who had pushed her partner’s finger into the card, how she felt and she told us, she was really embarrassed. We had a nice discussion about this situation happening in different contexts.

The solutions below were proposed by some students and teachers. Everyone was listened to.

  • Less English homework the week they have tests in their regular schools.
  • To students who attend classes Mondays/Wednesdays or Tuesdays/ 

Thursdays, assign less homework on Mondays and Tuesdays and more on

Wednesdays and Thursdays.

  • Do the homework when assigned not to feel overwhelmed in the following

This way both teachers and students benefited from the experience.


Follow-up for the following class

Do you agree…?

Asking questions which will encourage hypothesis generation and reality testing.

  • If both players had touched the card at the same time, they both would have

won. Do you agree?

  • The possibility of a win-win strategy does not occur to most players. Do you
  • Most people immediately assume that if one person is to win, the other

should lose. Do you agree?

  • People automatically assume that all games involve competition. Do you
  • The presence of an observer usually increases the intensity of competition  

between the two players. Do you agree?

  • Some people feel that it is boring to have both people win. Do you agree?
  • Women tend to use win-win solutions more frequently than men. Do you
  • The most intense competition will probably occur in a triad where a woman is

a card holder and two men play against each other. Do you agree?

  • The presence of other triads increases the intensity of competition. Do you



Déjà vu?

Encourage the students to discuss what happened in the game and what happens in the real world. You can ask this open-ended question:


Does this game reflect things which happen in the real world?

Give some examples.


What if?

We can ask a lot of questions to encourage students/ participants to extrapolate from the simulation game.

  • What if the winners received a cash prize?
  • What if 15 spectators surrounded the two players?
  • What if the game were broadcast on network television?
  • What if the 2 players were from different cultures?
  • What if we prohibited the players from talking to each other?
  • What if we assigned a coach to each player?
  • What if two players agreed to touch the card simultaneously and one cheated

at the last moment?


What would you do differently?

  • If we played the same again, how would you behave differently – knowing

what you know now?

  • How would you change the way you behave in similar situations in the real



Please check the How to Motivate Your Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Lesson Ideas 
  • An Ode to Self-esteem: Raising Self-love in the English Classroom
    Clarissa Rosa, Brazil

  • Homo Ludens
    Lole Vitti, Brazil

  • The Sounds of Writing Poetry
    Malu Sciamarelli, Brazil