- Keywords: communication, icebreaker, card game
- Learner English level: Beginner to Advanced
- Learner maturity: Junior High School, High School, University
- Preparation time: 15 minutes
- Activity time: 45 minutes
- Materials: paper cut into card-size (20 pieces for each group), pens or pencils
Karuta is a popular Japanese card game played in a small group. The cards are divided into two types—answer cards and hint cards. The latter set of cards is placed face up on a table or other surface. The players gather in a circle around the cards. One player reads the hints, and the others compete to be the first to pick up the corresponding cards. At the end of the game, the winner is the player with the most cards. Although traditionally this game involved matching extracts of classical Japanese poetry, versions with various themes have been created, especially to help children learn hiragana. Hometown Karuta is an English adaptation of karuta, which provides a chance for students to communicate with each other while learning more about one another’s hometowns. Furthermore, it involves the four skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Step 1: Make a few example cards. On one handmade card, write a word related to your own hometown, such as “the Musical Fountain” or “blueberries.” On another card, write a corresponding hint, such as “A popular tourist attraction featuring dancing water and colored lights” or “A fruit used in pancakes, pies, and jams.”
Step 2: Prepare blank cards for the students to use. You should have 20 for each group.
Step 1: Explain that the students will be playing karuta. Demonstrate how to play with your handmade cards, by putting the answer cards on a table, reading a hint, and having a volunteer choose the corresponding answer card.
Step 2: Divide the students into small groups of 3-5.
Step 3: Invite one student from each group to the head of the classroom to ask the teacher for paper to make cards. Hand out 20 pieces of paper to each student who approaches. For additional communicative opportunities, hand out an approximate number of pieces of paper and encourage students to ask for more if they don’t have enough, or to return extra pieces.
Step 4: Tell the students to divide the pieces of paper more or less evenly amongst themselves in each group. Tell students that they will be writing a word or words related to their respective hometowns on ten pieces of paper, such as the name of a famous sightseeing spot, a sports team, an event, or regional food. On the other ten pieces of paper, they will write corresponding hints. Allow about 15-20 minutes.
Step 5: Ask the students to “test” their game in their group. If any of the hints are unclear, they should work together to clarify or write the correct answer in parentheses on the hint cards.
Step 6: Have students exchange cards with another group and play karuta. Repeat until each group has played several variations of the game.
This activity works well in lower-level university classes, where students often come from different parts of the country, or even different countries. Most Japanese students are familiar with this game, and the rules are quite simple, so it is easy for them to understand how to play. The emphasis should remain on communication, not accuracy in grammar and spelling.
For students coming from the same hometown, the theme could be changed to something else, such as animals, fruits, countries, or sports.