Spoons for Spanish

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Have you ever played the game “Spoons” at a party? This was one of my favorite games throughout high school and college. We played it backstage at all of our school plays, in the lunchroom, in our dorm rooms, in the evenings when I lived in Mexico, at holiday family gatherings…whenever we could! The games were always fun and usually a little bit violent, so that’s something to take into consideration when playing this game with your students.

In the traditional version of the game, four cards are dealt out to each player (up to 12 people can play–although that would be ridiculous and I would never recommend it!), and the remaining cards are placed in a pile to the right of the dealer. Spoons are placed in the center of the circle so that there are enough for everyone but one person. The goal of the game is to (1) be the first person to get four of a kind and (2) to get a spoon. The dealer picks the top card from the pile and decides whether he or she wants to keep it (in order to work toward the four of a kind), and either passes it on to the next person or exchanges it with one of the cards that is already in his or her hand and passes that card on to the next person. Cards keep getting passed around the circle and eventually end up in a pile to the left of the player to the right of the dealer, and they are then recycled until someone has four of a kind. Once one player gets four of a kind, she or he SNEAKILY grabs a spoon, and then all the other players try to grab a spoon. The player with the least Jedi-like reflexes will be left spoonless, and is out of the game. All spoons but one are replaced, cards are shuffled and re-dealt, and the game repeats until one player emerges victorious.

The inspiration for this language classroom adaptation comes from Kristin Duncan, who re-posted the idea from the MoreTPRS Listserv. Kristin has a great blog that collects ideas (activities, strategies, philosophies) from all kinds of TPRS/CI resources. In her post, the game is played in pairs, and requires students to discern the validity of statements made by the teacher about a story. If a statement is true, the first student in the pair to grab the pencil (instead of spoon) gets a point. If the statement is false, any student that grabs for the pencil loses two points. I love this activity!! It is much more tame than the traditional ‘spoons’ game, and requires greater participation from the students, because they are in pairs instead of small/medium-sized groups.

However, it’s always good to have a few untamed games in your toolbox. They serve as excellent incentives to dangle over students’ heads! Spoons is one of those games. Here are some ideas for ways to adapt the traditional game for a language classroom:

  • Vocabulary: Make a set of flashcards that consists of English words and their L2 equivalents. Write the terms on separate cards, and require that students get two pair (two matching vocabulary sets–ex: dog/perro and hermano/brother) in order to grab for the spoon.
  • Storytelling: Make a set of flashcards that consists of groups of four events from different stories. Students can grab for the spoon when they have four events from the same story.
  • Grammar: Make a set of flashcards that consists of conjugated verbs. Students can grab for the spoon when they have four different forms of the same verb (ex: quiere, quiero, queremos, queréis).
  • Storytelling: Make a set of flashcards that consists of some true and some false statements from a story or reading. Students can grab for the pencil when they have four all-true or four all-false statements.

For any given variation, you could lower the requirement from four of whatever the student is trying to collect to three or two. This would make the game go faster and would require you to do less preparation.

CC 2009 Tim Samoff Flickr.com
CC 2009 Tim Samoff Flickr.com

The biggest bummer with this game is that some students will end up just waiting for the first spoon to be grabbed so that they can follow suit, and won’t pay any attention to their own cards (this is an excellent strategy in the real game). I would recommend having students share the cards that are in their hands at the end of each round and explain why those cards meet/don’t meet the criteria for which they were aiming (for example, reading all four statements and pointing out that two of them were true and two were false, then identifying each). In the end, this is probably more fun than educational, and you should stick to Carmen’s idea (via Kristin) to keep up the education of it all 🙂 Save mine for a PAT day!

Please leave comments with more ideas for adaptations of Spoons for Spanish and ways to help hold students accountable and actually learning while playing it!

UPDATE:

I have created two different sets of cards for Spoons. The first set is a set to practice the numbers–it includes numbers 0-100 (not all). Students should try to get four numbers in sequence (1, 2, 3, 4, for example). This will work better for my first-year Spanish students than the other set that I made–they had to think too hard about some of the connections for the game to move as quickly as it should.

The second set is consists of four cards that belong to each of the following categories (64  total):

  • Clothing items
  • Professions
  • School supplies
  • Electronics
  • Body parts
  • Physical descriptions
  • Emotions
  • Verbs
  • Places
  • Animals
  • Food
  • Family members
  • Geography
  • Dishes
  • Positional prepositions
  • Numbers

I made six sets on six different colors of cardstock and laminated them (each card has the “Cucharas” image on the front) to make reusable sets that won’t get mixed up. That is enough for even my biggest classes to have six groups of six students playing together.

Download the document that includes both the numbers and the vocabulary groups here.

12 comments

  1. I hadn’t heard of this game before. It sounds great. I will have to try it out. I found your blog after checking our your comment on my blog. Great ideas. Thank you.

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    1. It’s one of my favorite games of all time. The kids love it, and they have to think critically about categories. You can extend it by pausing the game at any given time and having students write stories with the four words in their hand. Or, they have to use the four cards in their hand whenever they get out to write a story.

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  2. Pingback: Games | mjTPRS
  3. I’m considering playing this game with my students, but could definitely see them not paying attention to their cards! I was thinking that after each hand, the students could write down the cards they had on paper and try to identify the sequence (I.e. if the category was descriptions of ideal friends, they could identify positive attributes and negative attributes, nouns, and verbs), so that after each round they are still doing something with the vocab later. Then maybe quiz them over the different categories?

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    1. Those are great ideas!! Any way to extend the game and make it into a productive (writing or speaking) activity is awesome. As far as not paying attention to their cards goes, there are certainly some kids that play with the strategy “just wait until someone grabs a spoon”, but they are a small minority. The quiz is a good idea for accountability, as long as the kids have had sufficient exposure to the vocabulary prior to the game, of course.

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  4. You could print out a generic “Bingo’ sheet and everytime someone is the first (has a 3 of a kind or whatever) they indicate that in one of the squares on the sheet. You could recognize the winner of (filling out their Bingo board first) at each station/make turning the sheet in a grade or something…so there’s a little more motivation to actually try to be first spoon.
    Or on the sheet it could be a simple table that has group member names down the left hand side, and everytime that someone gets their 3 of a kind/first spoon, EVERY group member writes what that person got on their sheet in a box in that person’s row.

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  5. Hi Martina, I have purchased your Spoons game and edited it (over the past 3 hours) to go with a novel we are reading. I am excited to try this out. I do feel the students will naturally skim for the book character’s name rather than read the whole card. I think that is to be expected due to the pace of the game, it’s a good strategy to win. I am going to try to encourage the students to share aloud afterward. I think I will have them keep score where the winner gets 2 points, but everyone gets 1 point if they share their cards aloud. They can keep a tally of the score. Does that sound like it may work? I know that students without spoons then sit out, right? If I understand correctly, that is the case. So, in your experience do the kids sitting out watch the game, or do they get bored and perhaps off-task? Thanks so much Martina! from a fellow CNY girl and SU alum.

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    1. Here is a post from the You Tube link you provided. Someone stated in the comment a way to keep all players involved:

      Except when we play, no one is out so quickly because we keep score. Write everyone’s name on paper and each time a person fails to get a spoon they get the beginning letter in the word SPOON or SPOONS. Each time a person fails to get another spoon they get the next letter in the word SPOON or SPOONS until the first person finally spells out the whole word then they are eliminated and 1 less spoon is removed from the table. We also use two decks.

      This is a good way to keep everyone playing and not having eliminated players. I plan to try something like this with the word CUCHARA. Incidentally this is similar to BURRO from Spain (but with no spoons) and CHANCHO from Argentina (it’s the same as BURRO, just a different word). So fun!

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