Connect-the-Cards: Making Academia Exciting while Fostering Critical Thinking Skills and Meaningful Conversation

By Sabrina Völz

Ques­tion and answer. Ques­tion and answer. Ques­tion and answer. And then silence. Last­ing silence. It hap­pens to the best of us. The rou­tine of work­ing with texts can be an excru­ci­at­ing expe­ri­ence for both learn­er and instruc­tor. But it doesn’t have to be.

A while back I came across a must-do activ­i­ty that works in a vari­ety of edu­ca­tion­al set­tings from mid­dle schools to under­grad­u­ate sem­i­nars. Con­nect-the-cards may have a painful­ly dull name, but this text-based exer­cise can lead to deep learn­ing and engage stu­dents so much so that they lose track of time and leave their smart­phones in their pock­et. So if you want to know how con­nect-the-cards works, you are only one click away.

Cred­it: Based on Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford’s exer­cise “Connect-the-Cards”in Aca­d­e­m­ic Con­ver­sa­tions: Class­room Talk That Fos­ters Crit­i­cal Think­ing and Con­tent Under­stand­ing, Port­land: Sten­house Pub­lish­ers, 2011. 106–107.

As you can see from the cred­it for the dia­gram above, I stum­bled across con­nect-the-cards in the book Aca­d­e­m­ic Con­ver­sa­tions by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Craw­ford. Their col­lec­tion of best-prac­tice ideas fos­ter mean­ing­ful exchanges and hone var­i­ous skills, such as sup­port­ing ideas with evi­dence, read­ing crit­i­cal­ly, and syn­the­siz­ing information.

The goal of the con­nect-the-card exer­cise is to have stu­dents iden­ti­fy a cen­tral term in a sec­tion of the assigned read­ing and find oth­er key phras­es or words in the text asso­ci­at­ed with it. The cen­tral term is writ­ten on the card in the mid­dle – in this case “Peo­ple of Col­or.” The relat­ed terms or key phras­es used in the text are then writ­ten on the oval cards as shown in the dia­gram. The stu­dents now try to mean­ing­ful­ly con­nect the terms on the oval cards – for exam­ple skin col­or and one-drop rule – while explain­ing how they relate to the cen­tral term. Zwiers and Craw­ford rec­om­mend that the stu­dents then reor­ga­nize the oval cards and redo the exer­cise or switch cards with anoth­er group. If time allows, stu­dents should write a summary.

I have cre­at­ed my own vari­ant in which the instruc­tor fills out both the cen­tral and oval cards in order to save some time and ensure that the exer­cise is chal­leng­ing. The key words in this exam­ple were tak­en from the entry “Peo­ple of Col­or” in Car­los E. Cortés’s Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Amer­i­ca: A Mul­ti­me­dia Ency­clo­pe­dia (2011) from SAGE. Instruc­tors can use terms from dif­fer­ent texts in order to cre­ate oth­er lev­els of dif­fi­cul­ty. I have paired the text “Peo­ple of Col­or” with entries on the “N‑word” and “Col­ored.” After­wards, stu­dents dis­cuss their answers. Once they agree on their answers, they write a key word or phrase on the dia­mond-shaped cards, thus con­nect­ing the words on two oval cards. Then they explain their answer on the back of the dia­mond card. When the groups are fin­ished, the entire group moves to anoth­er table and looks at that group’s work. They try to guess how the term relates to the expla­na­tion on the back of the dia­mond-shaped cards. Every­one will have the same cards in the same order, but they will not link terms on the oval cards in the same way. In the plenum, stu­dents can respond to, affirm, or ques­tion the oth­er groups’ answers.

It takes some time to pre­pare con­nect-the-cards as I usu­al­ly have three sets of cards per group for a 90-minute les­son. How­ev­er, it is worth the effort and brings vari­ety to the class­room. It is time to put ques­tion-and-answer ping pong to rest.

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