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Question Form Rummy
By John Knight

This game has been donated to the pitstop by John Knight. He has been teaching EFL in one form or another for about eight years, mainly at universities in Turkey and the Gulf and is now living in Brighton, England. He is currently doing an MA in media-assisted language teaching. His email address is :- johno@mistral.co.uk

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I've included a game I've been using with some of my lower level students for a while now. It's not particularly thrilling but it seems to go down well and is, it seems, fairly effective in allowing students to work through some of the joys of question formation in a fun and unthreatening context.

For want of a better name I call it "question form rummy" and it follows the same rules (more or less) as the card game that I know as gin rummy. The rules I've tried to give here make it seem much more difficult than it really is. I hope you can find your way through them.

It's best for 3-4 pairs of players working as teams, but could also be played by 3-4 individuals (you would, however, then lose the collaborative aspect which I think is particularly valuable).

Each team or player is dealt seven cards, the rest of the pack is placed in a pile face down in the middle with one card dealt face up.

The point is of course to make sets of complete questions and get rid of all of your cards.

Each player has the opportunity of putting down any sets of complete questions they have been dealt before the game begins in earnest. These are put down in front of the player teams and checked by the other players for acceptability on the grounds of grammatical structure, meaning, likelihood of actually being said, etc. If for whatever reason it is decided that a particular question form is inappropriate at this point, the team simply take the cards back into their hands and the game continues normally. Once the game has begun, however, an incorrect question form is counted as a foul and that team effectively misses their turn, discarding in the normal way if they had picked up a card from the unknown central pile, or returning any cards picked up from the discard pile if they had elected to pick up from there instead. The teacher could act as a kind of floating referee if there is more than one game being played at a time, though I prefer to encourage the students to use each other as adjudicators and referees, only intervening in situations of riot and/or "disputed calls".

The play then begins going clockwise from the dealer. The first team picks up a card from the central pile and can elect to either keep it and discard another card or simply discard it immediately. The discarded card is placed with the card originally placed face up at the beginning of the game in such a way as to allow the players to see what both cards are. If the first team can make a question with their new card they can put it down, or elect for strategic purposes to keep it hidden in their hand. Having discarded their unwanted card, the first team has finished their turn and play passes on to the next team, and so on.

Instead of picking up an unknown card from the central pile, a team can pick up a card from the increasing line of discards but only if they can use it immediately to make a complete question. They cannot pick one up just because they think it might be useful later. A team is not restricted to picking up the last card discarded by the last team. They can, if they wish, pick up any card previously discarded (again, provided that they can indeed use it to produce a correct question form), but must also pick up any other cards on top of it, i.e. which have been discarded since it was originally discarded. Students are initially unwilling to do this for fear of being left with too many cards at the end of the game, but soon catch on to the strategies involved in the game and realise that the more cards they have, the more likely they are to be able to make sets (and win points). Of course, having picked up a card or cards in this way, they must then discard as they would in a normal game turn.

Occassionally it will turn out that among the line of discards are sufficient cards to make a question in their own right, these can be picked up by a team in the same way as if they were picking up a card to complete a question from their own hand, and should obviously also be followed by a discard in the normal way.

The game is set up so that there are 13 sets of complete questions consisting of 4 cards each with 2 blank wild cards but clearly there are a number of permutations as to how these questions are formed and also a number of 2-card and 3-card possibilities as well. Care should be taken to allow "unusual" possibilities only if the students can provide a convincing context in which it might be used.

2-card and 3-card questions can be completed by other teams possessing the appropriate card/s. For example, "do you?" could be completed by another team with "where" and "live". These latter cards would then be placed in front of the team who used them and would count towards their points at the end of the game without affecting the original question, though it would not then be possible for another team to do the same with that particular 2- or 3-card combination.

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When a team has successfully used up all of their cards the game is over. Points are awarded as follows: 1 point for each card successfully used in a question that has been placed on the table by each team (including cards used to "complete" 2- or 3-card questions belonging to other teams), -1 point for each card as yet unused or remaining in the team's hand. It is therefore possible for a team to receive minus points.

After each game the cards are shuffled and the deal passes on to the next player/team, and so on.

I have found this game to be a lot of fun with both adult and younger learners and once the students have learned how to play it (I find it useful to play a couple of rounds myself to demonstrate how it works) they seem keen to play it again at any opportunity. With single language groups use of L1 can be a problem, though not if they are indeed discussing the question forms themselves, and you do, of course, lose that interactive and collaborative use of English that you get with mixed groups, but provided that you see the question forms as the focus of the game, I do not see why single language groups should not benefit from it, too. Mixed and single groups, of course, would benefit from useful chunks of game-playing language such as "Whose turn is it?", "It's your turn.", "Have you shuffled them?", etc.

I like to follow the game with gap fills and resequencing exercises in which some of the questions are presented in contexts, to balance the lack of context during the game. In the case of the gap-fills, I also generally give the questions as complete chunks to be inserted into appropriate situations to counteract the overly grammatical nature of the game. Question forms are tricky, as they seem to involve both elements of grammatical production and lexical chunking, by trying to balance both aspects in this way, I hope, students should be able to find their own way through them. I have also used the colour coding that I used with my marker pens on the board, as I prefer to use colour and visual recognition of various word types rather than potentially confusing metalinguistic terms such as "auxiliary verb", etc., with my students. I have selected only question forms using the auxiliary "do" in this example as I find that this increases the number of possible permutations, but the game could of course be adapted to included different forms as required.

Once the students know how to play, the game itself can be used to focus on completely different aspects of langauge. I have another set of cards that I use on higher level groups based around rhyming words (e.g., "pair", "wear", "stare", "where") that also seems to work well in increasing awareness of the relationship (such as it is) between spelling conventions and pronunciation. I'm currently putting together a prefix/suffix game, too.

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