Lay a deck of playing cards face-up in front of your group.
Invite each person to select one card from the deck on the basis of how brave they are feeling.
If they are feeling brave, they may choose a high-value card, or if they would prefer to play it safe, they may choose a low-value card.
Once every person has taken a card, invite them to find a partner (see Getting into Pairs for ideas.)
Instruct each person to share as many things about themselves according to the value of their card, ie a person with a Two will share two things while their partner holding a Jack will share ten things.
Invite each person to interact with as many different partners as they can within the allotted time frame, eg 10 minutes.
How To Play Narrative
Here’s another very simple, yet wonderfully powerful exercise that features the use, of what must be, one of the most versatile props available to us.
I also love this particular exercise because it empowers people with a choice.
Start by laying a deck of regular playing cards on a table or floor, face-up, so that all of the various values and pictures can be viewed by your group. It’s okay if they overlap if you don’t have a lot of space to show them.
Announce that, in a moment, you would like each person to grab one of these cards according to whether they are feeling brave or would prefer to play it safe. This won’t mean much to anybody just yet, so you’ll need to elaborate.
Explain that if they happen to be feeling brave, they may choose to pick a high-value card, such as an Eight, Ten or a picture card (they are all valued at ten.)
And then, only after everyone is holding a card, explain the best bit – that you will now invite each person to find a partner with which to share, and most importantly, share that number of things about themselves that accords with the value of their card.
You can expect a cacophony of groans and giggles at this point when everyone realises what has just happened.
You see, if you happen to be holding a Two of Hearts, for example, you are invited to share two things about yourself with your forthcoming partner. Meanwhile, a person holding the Queen of Diamonds will be expected to share ten things about themselves (all picture cards are worth ten.)
When ready, invite the first pairs to form. If you’d like to introduce some form of randomness to this strategy, take a look at Getting into Pairs for some useful ideas.
For purposes of interaction, the activity does not stop once the first pairs have shared. Invite each person to continue seeking out new partners for as long as you want them to mix and mingle.
Ten to twenty minutes is normally enough. Then move on, or try something new from the Variations tab.
Practical Leadership Tips
One of the real benefits of this exercise is the fact that choice is embedded in it. Card Talk empowers choice and encourages participation at the same time.
Works just as well with new or existing groups. In the case of established groups, you may choose to frame the sharing experience with one or more topics to encourage people to share something new.
Without exception, every group I have presented this exercise to has responded (to my announcement about what the value of the card they are holding) with a groan and a giggle. Don’t let this alter your course, they will quickly get over themselves.
In case someone asks, an Ace may be interpreted (by the holder) as either One or Eleven. Or you decide in advance.
Consider handing out the cards as people arrive at your program. You don’t even have to say anything, this will simply build intrigue and mystery about what’s going to happen.
In case you’re not sure, there are 52 cards in a regular deck of playing cards, without Jokers. Clearly, if you have more than 52 people in your group, you’ll need more cards.
If you choose to, you can include the use of the 2 x Jokers and announce that whoever happens to have grabbed these cards will be entitled to share as much or as little as they choose, ie they are wild cards.
Although I’m not a big fan of manipulating the outcome of an exercise, if you are concerned that most people in your group will choose to ‘play it safe,’ then you may want to stack the deck. That is, pull out as many of the low-value cards as you wish before you distribute the cards.
Further to above, limit the number of cards which may be chosen, ie only offer 20 cards if there are 20 people in your group.
You could integrate Card Talk as part of a well-designed SEL program to explore one’s emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviour in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The simple invitation to interact and share is enough to strike fear into the hearts of some people, so this exercise is ideal for exploring emotional literacy. Take for example the suggested framing to choose a card based on how you are feeling – brave or not-so-brave. Immediately this invites your participants to reflect on how they are feeling and also appreciate that there will be a diverse mix of feelings in the group. Then, the emotional safety of sharing with just one person at a time is always an effective strategy to break the ice gently, from within one’s Comfort Zone. In addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, invite your group to reflect on the following questions:
How did it feel to have your brave or not-so-brave feelings acknowledged?
Did it make a difference? In what ways?
What sorts of social cues do you pick up on that suggest someone is not feeling comfortable?
How does confidence manifest itself in people’s behaviour?
What helps people comfortable when they are interacting?
In what ways did today’s exercise work or not work for you?
Random: First, distribute the cards randomly to your group and then describe the brave/safe scenario. Expect obligatory groans from those who are holding the higher-value cards.
Alternate Random: Distribute cards randomly and instruct partners to swap cards with each interaction. For example, a person holding a Three will share three things about themselves on their first interaction. Then, having swapped cards with their partner (who was holding an Eight) will share eight things with their next partner, etc.
Favourite Number: Ask people to choose a card that aligns with or close to their favourite number (between 1 and 10.) Then announce what the value of their chosen card means in terms of sharing.
Focus Your Locus: Guide the sharing within a pre-defined topic, for example, things you like about where you live, or cities/countries you’d love to visit one day.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Let’s assume you or none of your group have access to a deck of regular playing cards. Brief your group as above in regards to enquiring whether they are feeling brave or safe right now. Ask people to pick a number between 1 and 5, or 3 to 8, etc. Then, having revealed what the number actually means, ask a series of volunteers to share to the whole group.
If you have a large group, brief the activity as above and then allocate small groups of 4 to 8 people to a unique breakout room to share.
If you do have access to a physical deck of cards, randomly pull one card at a time from the deck (showing the card to the group) to use as the prompt for the next person to share.
Direct your group to one of a number of software programs online that are designed to randomly pick a card from a virtual deck of cards, eg click this link for one option. Once everyone can access the app, you’re ready to go in any number of directions.
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In some cultures, people have a favourite number and have very good reasons to support their choice. Do you have a favourite number? [ allow time for some response…] Okay, if you could only choose between one and ten, pick a card from this deck that accords with your favourite number…
Without giving too much away, in a moment I’m going to ask you to make a choice between feeling brave or playing it safe. You can’t sit on the fence, and you do not yet know the context in which your choice is being made, but you do need to make a decision…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this simple, interactive game:
When you first learned what the cards meant, what did you think? Why? What does this say?
What factors did you consider before choosing your card?
Did it really matter what card you chose? Why?
Did you struggle to share the required number of ‘things’ about yourself? What was stopping you?
Did you learn something new about another person? Can you give an example?
The inspiration for Card Talk, and many other interactive group games using playing cards, was sourced from John P Grizzle. You can learn more about John and his YouTube channel here.