"So if I am able to preserve this writing of mine…I would like you to give it the title 'House of Glass.'"

Student Participation and the MAN poker card series

My counterpart and I created our own deck of cards with information about the world written in both English and bahasa Indonesia. We use the deck as a means of selecting students to participate in class as well as an interesting piece of media to keep the students engaged.

Each suit of the 52-card poker deck is characterized by a specific topic. Hearts are “U.S. Culture,” Diamonds are “Influential World Women,” Clubs are “Important Places in the World,” and Spades are “Globalization.” Each of the four aces sticks to the suit’s theme but compares something relevant in Indonesia to something relevant in the United States.

You can download the Microsoft PowerPoint file I used to make and print the cards here [MAN poker cards, powerpoint file]. The list of all 52 subjects on my deck is listed at the very end of this post. If you want to make your own deck, feel free to change some of cards to fit your own desires.

To whom it may concern, it cost me about Rp 17.000 to get a good laminating job on these cards. My school offered to pay for it.

One major problem I face in my classroom is student participation. I don’t think there’s anything unique about my school situation–or even my job as a Peace Corps volunteer–that separates me from any other teacher out there in this regard. It’s not a given that your students will be interested in your class and willingly participate. Still, Indonesian students are particularly malu (shy) when it comes to speaking English. After all, they’ve been struggling to learn English for nearly eight years without any apparent success–which is a failure I would only put a small part of on the students themselves. In any case, I can relate to my students and any lack of interest in English class. By the time I had been studying Spanish for eight years at the end of junior high school, I wasn’t to keen to participate in class or continue studying the language–I took French in high school.

Despite the reticence to verbalize any English skills they may have, there are a few strategies my students respond well to. Teacher-selected volunteers usually leads to a stalled classroom and little cooperation in my experience. Some teachers and volunteers are better at getting their students to participate, but I had to come up with some other method of selection besides me choosing. I’ve found that peer-selected participation is much more successful. One day I brought an inflatable globe to class (one that I had brought from the U.S.) with the idea that using it somehow–I still didn’t know how that would be–would shake things up a little bit. I ended up throwing it to a student with the rule that whoever it landed close to had to participate. Amazingly, this less-direct method of selection was much more effective than simply naming a student. Then, I let the first student throw the globe to the next student. Most kids made little attempt to catch the globe, and some even ducked out of the way. When the ball hit the student’s desk or head, however, most students stood up with only slight reluctance and temporary resentment towards their classmate. Of course, there were still some students who stalled and barely got any words out, but nobody refused outright to participate.

I decided to test the limits of indirect selection a few classes later by bringing in two decks of cards I brought from the United States. Each student had one card from the first deck, and I had the whole second deck. My counterpart shuffled our set of cards, and when it was time for a student to read a dialogue, we flipped over the top of the deck, read “Five of Clubs,” and more times than not, the student with the Five of Clubs wept dramatically, let out a sigh of displeasure, and then read his/her sentence. These two tricks didn’t revolutionize the classroom, but it did take some burden off of me as a class regulator.

The next challenge I noticed was that some of my students were bored with the material’s ease while others struggled greatly. It’s a small strategy, but I eventually decided to create the poker card set that is highlighted in this blog piece. My counterpart and I liked using the original deck of cards to select volunteers, but I decided that the cards themselves could be a unique piece of classroom media to keep some students slightly more engaged if bored with the class. I designed a 52-card poker set with each suits representing a different topic: U.S. culture, globalization, powerful places, and influential women. Each card has a picture and a few sentences in English. The sentence structures are very basic, and no unnecessary vocabulary is used–though explaining the World Bank, for example, requires some words that most of my students wont know. My counterpart and I worked to write the text from all 52 cards into bahasa Indonesia so that a translation could be provided on the back of each card. Because of this, the back of each card is unique, making the deck worthless for real poker games or memory but great as classroom paraphernalia.

The best part of making the deck of cards was the time spent with the counterparts while we translated all of the sentences into English. I got to learn some more bahasa Indonesia, and they got to learn more English.


Hearts (“U.S. culture”) include a cowboy hat, the Rocky Mountains, winter snow fall, baseball, American football, a lift-bridge (from Houghton, Michigan!), the past-time of grilling, the Alamo, bluegrass music, canoeing, hog-wrestling (thank you for those four years, Indiana), the and the Statue of Liberty. The Ace card places Indonesia’s national motto: “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity)” with an old American phrase: “United We Stand, Together We Fall.” (The original juxtaposition used “The Great Melting Pot,” which is more in line with the message of diversity, but “melting pot” was incredibly hard to explain to students).

Diamonds (“influential women”) include the first woman to dunk in professional basketball, Lisa Leslie (because my school just installed a basketball court); Michelle Obama; the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi; physicist, chemist, and two time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie; Hilary Rodham Clinton; former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto; Editor of the Yemen Times and the first winner of the Gebran Tueni Award (Pulitzer of the Arab region), Nadia Al-Saqqaf (ted talk); French director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde; Oprah Winfrey, a popular TV figure in Indonesia; founder of the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, Meena Keshwar Kamal; Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Su Kyi; and Indonesian director of the World Bank, Sri Mulyani. The Ace card puts the wives of Muhammad side-by-side with Mary.

The Clubs (“important places”) include Antarctica and the Deep Ocean as unexplored places on the planet; Wall Street, New York; Hong Kong, China; the Aurora Borealis; Christ the Redeemer atop Rio di Janeiro, Brazil; India; the world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalafia in Dubai, UAE; Lake Toba, the supervolcano that erupted 70,000 years ago and might have led to significant evolutionary changes in ancestral humans; the world’s largest city, Tokyo, Japan; the Aral Sea, formerly the fourth largest lake in the world but now reduced by irrigation to a chain of small water bodies; Bhutan, a country whose government evaluates the health of their state by using ‘Gross National Happiness;’ and the Sun. The Ace Card places Mecca next to the Vatican as two important holy cities for many people in Indonesia and the U.S.

The Spades (“globalization”) include Sputnik; Vasco da Gamma’s voyage; the Voice of America; the Silk Road; social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and myspace; Suriname, a small South American country with a strong Javanese culture due to its own days as a Dutch colony; the Fertile Crescent; wind turbines; Pangea; the International Monetary Fund; the World Bank; and the United Nations. The Ace card places Jakarta and Washington, D.C. side by side.


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